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The red flag meets the ballot box

28 April 2017


I RATHER love elections, and am not at all surprised that we are about to have another one. It makes total sense for the Prime Minister to seek a fresh mandate for the complex negotiations that will lead to our de­­part­ure from the European Union. But, although she starts from a strong position, a resounding vic­tory for the Conservatives is by no means a foregone conclusion.

The press underestimates the ap­­peal of hard-Left ideology, especi­ally to the young, many of whom dis­mally failed to vote in the ref­­eren­dum campaign and may well be drawn to the stark simplicity of the Left’s political message.

Those so drawn will simply over­look the inadequacies of the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Instead, they will be fascinated
by the idea that society is riven by class conflict and is fundamentally un­­just. The perennial enemy is, of course, the West itself, and the industrial-military-colonialist con­spiracy that keeps the rich in power and steals the wealth of the workers.

The rhetoric of the far Left has never quite persuaded the British people, although we have flirted with it from time to time. But, when I was at university, just after the student riots of 1968, it was widely accepted as the truth. It captivated some of the most brilliant minds of my generation, and many of those with whom I studied theology.

Quite a few Christians still find it an attractive political creed. It supports, and is supported by, most strands of liberation theology. It chimes in well with some aspects of the teaching of Pope Francis. Above all, it construes the whole business of politics as a moral con­flict be­­tween right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus is, of course, on the side of the underdog; so he is inev­itably on the side of those who identify them­selves as victims of capitalism. Everyone else is an op­­­pressor.

I have never believed any of this, although I spent years secretly be­­lieving that I must be an oppressor because I did not feel I was a victim. What I eventually realised was the intellectual sterility of it all, the refusal to have a genuine debate, the bullying and the intimidation re­­­quired to keep the redder-than-red flag flying.

The red flag itself is ambiguous, because it can point either to the martyrdom of the workers under the heel of capitalism, or to the blood shed by victorious revolutionaries’ wiping out the wicked bourgeoisie.

All of which is a long way of saying that, although I would not exclude myself from voting Labour, I would find it hard to vote for Labour led by those who still hold to this inherently violent creed.

Others may be more easily seduced. Let the arguments com­mence. Elections are where big ideas are put on trial.

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