Until now, I haven’t been too worried about Jeremy Corbyn. True, he exceeded expectations two years ago, but that was because no one thought Labour would win. It was a protest vote, a way for Remainers to signal their disapproval of Theresa May’s approach to Brexit. If the good burghers of Kensington thought there was the slightest chance Labour would be elected they never would have returned a Labour MP. And since then the bloom has gone off the rose. It has finally dawned on Remainers that Corbyn has his own, hard-left reasons for wanting to leave the EU and that behind his ‘anti-Zionism’ lurks something more sinister. Not so much ‘magic grandpa’ as a relic of toxic, 20th-century ideology.
But that was before the government committed hari-kari. Thanks to May’s inability to get Brexit through, Corbyn may well win the next election and my thoughts have been turning to the terrible aftershocks that would follow. I don’t mean the calamitous economic impact: capital flight, a run on the pound, asset prices tumbling. No, I mean the threat to free speech. What would a Corbyn victory mean for me and other outspoken critics of the loony left?
The greatest risk would be from the Praetorian guard of Labour’s most passionate supporters — Corbyn’s equivalent of Brownshirts. Numerous Conservative parliamentary candidates were targeted by these thugs in the run-up to the last election, and since then they’ve gone after Labour MPs whom they regard as insufficiently enthusiastic about the Great Leader, such as Stella Creasy. To date, the attacks have been on their property and constituency offices, but it’s not difficult to imagine an escalation — one reason Jewish MPs had to hire bodyguards to accompany them to the last Labour conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if prominent enemies of the new government found themselves being beaten up. Corbyn and John McDonnell would condemn the attacks, of course, and I’m not suggesting they would be orchestrated from above. But given how viciously these activists have behaved, there’s a chance they would be emboldened by a Corbyn victory to go further.
Some people will think I’m being paranoid, and maybe I am. But few can doubt that a Labour government would introduce state regulation of the press. The draconian plans that were drawn up in the aftermath of the Leveson inquiry and which came close to being implemented under the coalition would be fast-tracked into law. All newspapers and magazines would be ‘in scope’ of the new state regulator and their owners would face swingeing fines if they didn’t comply with the ‘code of practice’ drawn up by Tom Watson, Hugh Grant and Max Mosley. More than 300 years of press freedom would come to an end and the UK would be ranked below Pakistan by Reporters Without Borders.
For the likes of Rod Liddle, Brendan O’Neill and me, the consequences could be more grave than simply losing our livelihoods. It surely wouldn’t be long before a Corbyn government passed a new, more censorious version of the Malicious Communications Act and enlarged the number of ‘protected characteristics’ the courts can take into account when judging whether a breach of the law should be designated a ‘hate crime’. That’s assuming the present government doesn’t do that of its own accord, which is entirely possible.
Once the new framework is in place, vituperative satire of the kind I specialise in will be off limits. Indeed, Diane Abbott, in her capacity as home secretary, might urge the authorities to bring ‘hate crime’ charges against me for articles published before the new laws were in place. After all, they’ll still be discoverable on the internet. Given how much trouble left-wing offence archaeologists were prepared to go to just to get me fired from a government job, think how zealous they’ll be if they think there’s a chance I might end up in jail.
I discussed this possibility with Douglas Murray when we last met and he said he was looking forward to being the first political prisoner of the Corbyn regime. Trouble is, Corbs wouldn’t risk martyring any of us in that way, and instead would take a leaf out of Erdogan’s book and jail hundreds of journalists at the same time. My cousin Ben, who spent several years behind bars for drug offences, told me there was an Old Etonian table in the canteen at Wormwood Scrubs. Under Corbyn, I expect there will be a Spectator table, a Spiked Online table and a Sun table.