Disaster. This is what many across the political spectrum expect if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. Economic strife, misery for the citizens of this country, sky-high taxes, uncontrollable spending, loss of international relevance, the breakdown of this country – to name but a few predictions. From high tories to former Labour ministers, Brexit Party voters to Remain Alliance leaders, figures both public and non-public have been lining up to deliver dread warnings of Britain’s fate in the event of a Corbyn government.
Yet a Labour majority is a relatively unlikely possibility. Polling results are currently grim reading for the Labour leadership – if not partial collapse or complete collapse, the evidence is that Labour will not be able to govern without the support of other parties. And if other parties in the House of Commons hold the balance of power, and if all these parties are so hostile to so many of Corbyn’s policies, could they fend off the worst of Corbyn’s designs? Could they moderate his policies and only vote through what they can hold their noses at – just enough to let the country function?
A Corbyn premiership is likely – anything other than a Conservative majority will likely land us there. There are already rumours that he has struck an IndyRef 2 deal with the SNP in return for their support in a government, or at least for them propping him up. Independence is their main priority, and it will take precedence over any policy they may have for the rest of the UK, beyond Scotland. Even if they haven’t already struck a deal, Nicola Sturgeon stands an immeasurably better chance of extracting a second referendum out of Corbyn, when any hung-parliament horse-trading kicks off, than she does out of Johnson. Moreover, the SNP inclines to the left politically, and has defined itself in opposition to the Tories too many times to now be seen to be aiding them (they’ll have learnt from the Lib Dems in this). They will prop up Labour, even if just as the lesser of two evils.
But this might not be enough numerically. Labour might need the Lib Dems too. And the Lib Dems have categorically ruled out installing Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10.
But when it comes to it, what choice will they have? Their entire campaign has been based on either stopping Brexit or putting it to a second referendum. Johnson will reject both of these out of hand. Labour has committed to the referendum. The Lib Dems may demand a different leader – but Corbyn is too entrenched. Labour will say no. The clock will still be ticking, 31 January drawing closer. The only chance they will have of extending the deadline, and of stopping Brexit, will be to come to an agreement with Labour. They would have to make a deal.
When this happens, the Lib Dems may argue, indeed surely will, that in propping him up they will only vote through certain measures – maybe only enough to keep the country going – until they can achieve a second referendum or Brexit. This will be feasible, they will argue – after all, Belgium survived 541 days without a government between June 2010 and December 2011. Indeed, the UK itself, while its politicians were locked in endless technical and procedural debates about Brexit and little else, actually grew as an economy, outperforming European economies and proving sturdily resilient to shock. Maybe if left to its own devices, the economy and the country will make it through – perhaps even thrive?
But the fact remains that they will have to vote through some things. For instance, and perhaps most crucially, a budget. They may put pressure on Labour to amend whatever McDonnell wants to bring forward, but if McDonnell doesn’t bend far enough and puts his foot down, what then? If it came to a stand off, the Lib Dems could find that the public sees them as having first blocked a Conservative government (over the last three years on Brexit) and now doing the same to a Labour one – in short, blocking government because, like children, they haven’t got their way. Moreover, as funding runs short for public services, they’ll be acutely aware of the danger of being seen as responsible. They’ll want to avoid accusations of “first they increased my tuition fees, now they’re making gran’s carer redundant, next they’ll be draining our police and fire brigade”. In short, no matter what the Lib Dems say now, during the election, in the event they will be letting a Corbyn/McDonnell government impose at least some of its programme.
But even if it were the case that Corbyn’s programmes were blocked and his policies blunted, many of the suggested dangers of a Corbyn premiership could still come to pass.
The economy would still take a hit, with markets and confidence in the economy reacting in likely terror to an avowed enemy of wealth being at the reins, with investment in the UK drying up at the prospect of five years of hard left government, and with the pound plummeting as savings and resources are frantically withdrawn before McDonnell can get his hands on them through one of his many proposed new taxes.
Internationally, who would take Britain seriously? Its decisions would be being made by a man who, in the words of one of his own MPs, “always picks our country’s enemies” over his own when choosing sides. British negotiators at international summits would become nuisance yappers rather than serious voices, the others around the table knowing that whatever stance or position these negotiators took, their government couldn’t be relied on to back it up, especially if it involved military force.
Britain’s ability to plan and strategise for the long-term would be severely hampered. Long-standing alliances, deals and relationships could be irreparably damaged. Who would willingly enter into meaningful new deals now that Britain had wrecked its reputation for stability by showing that this is, in fact, a country that can elect hardliners?
These are only some of the multitude of arguments that critics of Corbyn throw at him – yet they illustrate that many of the dangers still apply even if he is thwarted in his plan for government.
So to the question of whether Corbyn would even be able to impose his programme if he became PM, the first answer is yes, inevitably, though possibly not all of it.
But the real answer, if you believe in the threat of a Corbyn government, is that it doesn’t matter – the mere presence of him in the office of Prime Minister is enough to badly damage this country. Limiting his programme will not stop that damage being wrought.
If, on the other hand, you do not believe his government will be a threat, then you are probably more concerned that he will not be able to implement his full programme – in which case, you are right to worry, he probably won’t deliver it in its entirety.
But the Lib Dems and their supporters need to come clean to both themselves and the country – a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a Corbyn government. A Corbyn government, as with any government, whether minority or majority, will have consequences – whether these are for good, ill, or no real effect, is a question all voters, in particular Lib Dem voters, must be honest with themselves about.