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leaders if they did. They want visible wealth and privilege tackled. So much so that at the Labour conference they voted to abolish private schools and seize their assets.
Whether a Labour government would turn Eton into a comp is unclear (the shadow Chancellor John McDonnell seems to be edging away from the commitment). But no one should doubt that the party is as committed to destroying the country’s economic model as the Thatcherite Right of the 1980s was committed to destroying the post-war economic consensus. Labour favours rent controls on private landlords and giving their tenants the right to buy. It favours workers’ co-operatives over shareholder capitalism, in part because workers are more productive when they have a stake in their firms, but mainly because it sticks by the traditional Left belief that shareholders are thieves who profit from the work of others. McDonnell wishes to create an “irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of working people” by insisting all companies with more than 250 employees transfer a tenth of their shares into “inclusive ownership funds”. The pose of enabling worker ownership is a bit of a swindle. Employees would only be entitled to dividends on the stock worth up to a maximum £500. The surplus will go into social funds administered by the government. It looks like a tax or a partial tax. But the property of shareholders will be raided in any event.
Then there are the commitments to renationalise energy networks, water companies, Royal Mail and the rail operators. How much will it pay shareholders? McDonnell says as little as possible, at least in the case of the water companies. Parliament will decide the level of compensation, he said, citing the nationalisation of Northern Rock as a precedent, while forgetting that the bank was bust when it was nationalised in 2007 whereas the water companies are not.
As with housing, don’t think Labour wouldn’t have support. Few would shed tears for water companies that have loaded their companies, debt-free at the time of privatisation, with debt, in order to pump dividends to shareholders and lavish pay and perks on their senior managers. More generally people have always liked the promise of free stuff at someone else’s expense. Today, after the failure of Thatcherism to deliver truly broad prosperity, and 10 years after the moral and economic failure of the financial crisis, there are clear majorities in favour of renationalisation, redistribution and higher taxes. Labour wants to do all three, and has also made costly promises to students, pensioners, the disabled and the working poor. You can see why it would want to seize assets.
Article One of the Human Rights Act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, states: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.” There are exemptions for taxes and fines. But if the state wants to seize property, the first question for judges to ask is whether it is offering adequate compensation.
Suppose a Labour government simply declares that judges are interfering in politics. Have we not been told by the right repeatedly since 2016 that the courts and Parliament have no right to question “the will of the people”? If a left-wing administration wanted to intimidate or pick off specific judges, they would find the path already mapped out for them. After the Court of Session in Edinburgh said the suspension of Parliament was “unlawful,” the right-wing press went through the Scottish judges’ backgrounds, noting ominously that one was the head of the “Franco-Scottish Society” and another was “a jazz lover”.
I could write the script for a left-wing campaign against the judiciary now. Judges are overwhelmingly white, male and middleor upper-class. Public schools and Oxbridge loom large in their CVs. Conspiratorially minded Labour propagandists would begin by accusing them of failing to check their privilege and finding in favour of privileged interests. It is time, they would declare, for an “inclusive” and “diverse” judiciary that reflected modern Britain—and more importantly reflected the interests of a Labour government. Who could argue against that?
Conservatives have already said that judges are irredeemably politicised. They scoff at the idea judges are trained to leave their political views at the courtroom door. As for the protections of the Human Rights Act, no one has done more than Conservatives to disparage them. It is not just the courts. If a Labour government were to suspend Parliament, politicise the civil service, batter the BBC into submission, or exploit the Queen’s prerogative powers it would merely be following the Conservatives’ example. And if Labour’s opponents said it was taking a huge risk with the economy? Well, it might reply, Brexit does exactly that.
The objection to the above is that Conservatives have nothing to fear from Labour. They can abuse the constitution safe in the knowledge that the left will never have the chance to follow suit. Corbyn is the most unpopular leader of the opposition since records began. Johnson may not be widely liked, but he is following the example of Disraeli and Bismarck, not only by promising to help the working class but by relying on nationalism to win over workingand middle-class voters. It may work. Johnson could wrap himself in the Union flag and sweep through the marginal seats of the North and Midlands showering promises for more nurses and coppers as he goes.
That is the plan. But there is no certainty it will work. No one can guess how four-party politics will play out in a first-past-thepost electoral system. In the desperation brought upon them by the Brexit crisis Conservatives are playing with fire, while imagining that flames will never burn them. The “take back control” slogan relies on the impossible hope that Conservatives will always be in control. They won’t be and can’t be, and that thought should terrify them.