With her ruinous trajectory on the economy and public services, Theresa May has made it easier to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, I winced.
It wasn’t just his naiveté on terrorism, antisemitism, and foreign policy. It was also that as a Labour member, I want Labour to win. The Corbynistas didn’t seem too fussed. I didn’t understand.
By the time the election was called, Corbyn struck many in the country as half surrealist punchline, half dystopian nightmare. “If 38 per cent of voters genuinely go for pro-IRA, anti-nuclear, pro-mass-nationalisation Corbyn,” Andrew Lilico huffed,“UK voters are no longer mature enough for democracy.”
And yet, as the campaign has gone on, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with the idea of voting for him, and the polls suggest I’m not alone.
The reason is simple: I prefer Corbyn’s weaknesses to May’s consequences.
Start with the economy.
Unlike Labour, a vote for Theresa May is a vote to leave the customs union, without a deal if necessary. Almost half of European businesses already say they are considering cancelling their contracts with British suppliers, worried about tariffs. The consequences for red tape are also worth thinking about. 10,000 trucks a day go through Dover alone, for example. Just one day’s holdup would mean queues stretching all the way round London to Stansted. ‘No deal’ would necessitate an extra 300 million declarations there a year.
How many jobs will May’s decision to leave the single market cost?
30,000 in finance and professional services, says the Bruegel Think Tank. 232,000 from the financial sector alone, says the CEO of London Stock Exchange. Passporting is over. A vote for May is an endorsement of the biggest act of economic self-harm undertaken by any government since the war.
By comparison, a vote for Corbyn looks like a reasonable last-ditch attempt to prevent it.
Then consider May’s consequences for the public finances. Achieving her immigration target would mean less tax paid in to the tune of £6 billion. It’s hardly a defence to say she expects not to be able to meet it.
Then consider public services.
Today, one in every five people who are rushed to Accident & Emergency then wait four hours or more, sometimes in the back of ambulances. Two years ago it was one in twenty. The Royal College of Physicians recently felt compelled to write to the Prime Minister about “patients waiting longer on lists, on trolleys, in emergency departments and in their homes for the care they need.” You do not need to be a Corbynite to want to prevent May’s planned cuts to real age adjusted per-capita spending making the situation any worse.
Nor do you have to be a Corbynite to worry about what schools will look like after five more years of cuts.
The Public Accounts Committee already says that defective electrics and external walls, windows and doors are now common. So many school buildings will reach the end of their life over the next Parliament that the cost of fixing them will double. Ever more teachers are leaving the profession and ever more parents are being asked to chip in to supplement school budgets. One London school has even asked pupils to vacuum at the end of the day because it can’t afford a cleaner.
Prisons also deserve mention, precisely because their lack of visibility makes them an easy target for the Treasury’s knife.
A fifth of the budget has gone since 2009/10, and many now struggle to find the staff to keep prisons and prisoners safe. Assaults on staff are up 70% since 2009, with order breaking down completely at HMP Bedford and HMP Moorland last November. The Institute for Government’s conclusion is damning: “short-term belt-tightening measures that produced efficiencies in the early part of the last Parliament are no longer working.”
This is not strong and stable. It’s shabby. You don’t have to be a Corbynite to want to protect hospitals, schools, and prisons from further damage.
In calling the election, Theresa May hoped to get a stronger mandate for Brexit. Instead, she has given us a second chance to survey her trajectory on the economy and public services and vote to change course.
The story of the Tories’ shrinking poll lead is the story of millions of people, especially the young, looking at Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May and deciding that it is five more years of the latter which would be the nightmare.