Phil Collins in The Times is not the first person to appeal to the tradition of Orwell and Attlee on behalf of British patriotism for British workers, so to speak – on this occasion prompted by Corbyn’s hesitant response to the Skripal affair. Why can’t that tradition solve the Labour party’s problems?
There seems all the less problem because Putin’s regime is not socialist (doesn’t claim to be), but it is nasty and authoritarian. Yet even that is beside the point shown up by Corbyn’s position. The fears and frustrations of the educated Left who always distrusted patriotism – even from Labour politicians – are domestic in origin, and have little to do with the character of any perceived threats to British security from outside. At the same time, the university educated are now a far larger part of the Labour vote than they used to be, for instance when Orwell was writing. Collins makes the common mistake of assuming the attitude of (British Left) intellectuals that Orwell already protested against in the 1930s is due to hostility to the class system. Hostility to the popular press and its influence back to the Boer War may always have been more relevant. But still more troubling has been the inability of British social democrats since the 1940s to separate their patriotism from right-wing ideology. In particular, David Owen failed to escape coming over as Tory-lite with his support for the British nuclear deterrent, whilst present day critics of Corbyn’s position on defence may also have to avoid being UKIP-lite to boot.
The trap which ‘moderate’ social democrats seem unable to escape is completed by the fact that social democratic domestic policies will not assuage the shame (not guilt) many educated people feel about the past of racism, empire, the slave trade, and so on. But that is also a matter of our confused ethics, not security.