TORY MP Johnny Mercer is scaremongering when he declares that a “Corbyn-McDonnell government would fundamentally change Britain and what it means to be British.”
Mercer seeks to play on the age-old slander that the left is somehow foreign to our country and traditions, a disreputable movement exploited by unscrupulous rabble-rousers and bankrolled by the nation’s supposed enemies (Paris or Moscow gold, depending on the period and the revolution).
But our history is packed with radicalism, from the Peasants Revolt to the English Revolution that preceded its French counterpart by more than a century, giving birth to the inspired revolutionary movements known as the Levellers and Diggers; from Tom Paine’s Rights of Man through the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the birth of the trade union movement to the role played by London, a refuge for continental exiles, as the birthplace of Marxism.
There are countless further examples, but perhaps Jeremy Corbyn put it best when speaking to this newspaper ahead of the Durham Miners’ Gala: “Patriotism isn’t just about waving a flag — it’s about making sure your community is secure, your fellow citizens are secure in work, secure in health, secure in housing.
“It’s about ensuring communities aren’t left behind and it’s about how we respond to the world: to desperate refugees, to climate change.”
The words are worth recalling after Remembrance Sunday, a day intended to honour the fallen which is too often exploited to drum up militarism and future wars by grasping politicians and cynical pundits.
Mercer is apparently piping up to warn the Prime Minister that her government “smells of decline, and the people won’t have it.” Even Theresa May must have clocked this by now, but such is the Tory dread of a Corbyn government that daily humiliation and repeated setbacks in the Commons are preferred to the prospect of another election.
Because in another sense Mercer’s right — a Labour government under the party’s current leadership would have the potential to bring about fundamental change.
The Plymouth Moor View MP might reflect on the fact that “what it means to be British” after four decades of Thatcherism may not conjure up as rosy an image in the eyes of the ordinary voter as it does in his own.
For millions of public-sector workers, it means the value of their pay has shrunk by a tenth in the decade since the crash, with years of “austerity” holding their wages below inflation.
For millions of young people, it means loading yourself with tens of thousands of pounds of debt to go to university, or working every hour God sends in precarious, dead-end jobs on pay so low that a secure home and a family of your own seem impossible fantasies.
For commuters, it means paying the highest train fares in Europe for journeys that are among the slowest and most overcrowded.
And transport is not the only area where we are ripped off: in many parts of the country the cost of everything from housing to watching a football match is extortionate by comparison with our neighbours.
For millions of pensioners, it means penury and the loss of independence as one of the least generous state pensions in Europe combines with a threadbare social care system that exposes the elderly to inadequate care at eye-watering prices which can swallow up a lifetime’s savings in a few years or less.
And for all of us it means being ruled by a Parliament that does not merely “smell of decline” — the institution reeks of entitlement, privilege, corruption and the abuse of power.