The polling evidence for Labour’s defeat in the general election last week is pouring in as I type. And while more knowledgeable people than me are working out the full reasons behind the result, it’s obvious that a big factor is the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
There are several reasons why people took against Corbyn, but the must standout is his attitude to his own country. He is notable for having backed Britain’s adversaries in many conflicts since he became an MP, most damagingly by inviting IRA members to parliament after the Brighton hotel bombing, which killed several people linked to the Conservatives, and might have claimed the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
As a rule I suspect most voters are unlikely to elect someone who supports their countries’ enemies. Opposing a government is distinct from opposing a country or its people, but terrorists and armies often blur the distinction by targeting civilians and sending troops back in boxes. The Parachute Regiment’s use of Corbyn’s image for target practice made the point well, even if the constitutional implications were troubling.
Corbyn’s anti-British foreign policy views, which have been detailed by others, are notable for such political effects. But they are also a Cold Warrior’s expression of a modern phenomenon: some people dislike their own country, or even hate it.
My intuition is that it is more natural to like or love your country than to dislike or hate it. Most countries have displays of patriotism and cultural pride, and the evolutionary benefits of championing your tribe are obvious.
For somebody to grow up to dislike their country therefore deserves more explanation than the opposite. In Corbyn’s case I’d guess his dislike of Britain, America and the West is linked to his egalitarian, anti-capitalist views. For Corbs the capitalist, “imperialist” West is something to be opposed, especially when it uses violence to defend its interests.
(An alternative explanation is that Corbyn is a pacifist, but his pacifism is selective. As the leftwing journalist James Bloodworth said, Corbyn “is against war and imperialism, yet can barely bring himself to condemn the Russian bombing of civilians in Syria. Hypocrites of this stripe are ten a penny in his party and they do not enthuse me one bit.”)
My impression is that modern anti-patriots share the assumption that Britain, its allies, or the West in general are a force for bad in the world. Some I’ve spoken to feel ashamed of Britain’s history and its impact – part of a broader phenomenon known as ‘white guilt’. It is hard to love your country if you feel this way about its past.
Conservative writers like Peter Hitchens are justifiably seen as scaremongering when they warn about “the abolition of Britain”. Countries change, and this does not mean they are snuffed out. But some lefties do feel abolishing the West, or at least reducing it, would be a good idea.
It’s fashionable for people on the right to blame indoctrination in the education system for this. It’s unlikely the whole truth, but I suspect there is something to it, and many parents instil similarly critical views of their countries in their children.
These people have a point. Throughout its history the British state has committed many atrocities through direct violence, misgovernance, or pinching other people’s wealth. The effects of this, and the hasty wrapping up of the empire, are still felt, both in the suffering of former colonies and the wealth and stability of Britain.
You can acknowledge that and not think it condemns the British forevermore. For one thing, most Britons alive had no responsibility for what happened. For another, nobody’s interests are served by making Britons ashamed of their society, and there remains much to like about it whatever the country’s past sins.
As the contest to succeed Corbyn begins, Labour must reflect on how it feels about the country it wishes to govern. Those who appear lukewarm in their affections should probably not be in charge.