I initially dismissed this suggestion by David Runciman, contained in this LRB essay, but it’s been reverberating in my mind since reading it:
The contemporary politician who is most present in these pages is Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that his name never comes up. Corbyn first got elected to the Commons in 1983 and for the duration of Thatcher’s second term in office was a minor player on the other side of every major domestic battle she fought, manning the barricades. Indeed, he represented her enemy within. For Thatcher, the IRA, the NUM and the hard-left Labour councils were all of a piece: each sought to supplant parliamentary government with direct action and threats of violence. At the 1984 Conservative Party conference in Brighton she had been planning to deliver a stinging attack on Scargill and the NUM leadership, whom she regarded as ‘an organised revolutionary minority’ determined to subvert the rule of law. She intended her audience to understand that what she had to say applied to Ken Livingstone’s GLC as well. When an IRA bomb exploded in her hotel the night before she was due to give her speech, nearly killing her and succeeding in killing five others, she was determined to give it anyway. She didn’t feel any need to change it: she could simply extend what she wanted to say about the NUM and the GLC to include the IRA. She told the shellshocked delegates: ‘The nation faces what is probably the most testing crisis of our time, the battle between the extremists and the rest … This nation will meet that challenge. Democracy will prevail.’ They thought she was talking about her would-be assassins. In fact she was just reading the words that had been written before the bomb went off.
Corbyn would have agreed with her – not about what counts as democracy, of course, but about the linkages between her most militant opponents. The NUM, the GLC and the IRA had a common cause in his mind as well. Her enemies were his friends; his friends were her enemies. Corbyn was, and is, her mirror image, joining together the same dots as she did to produce the inverse of her tightly organised worldview. In the first chapter of this book, attempting to identify the consistent set of values that guided her actions, Moore calls Thatcher a liberal imperialist. Corbyn is an anti-imperialist. Thatcher sided with American power; Corbyn with those he considers the victims of American power. Thatcher befriended Saudi Arabia and its royal family, whom she viewed as useful trading partners and a force for stability in the Middle East; Corbyn used his first conference speech as leader to launch an attack on the Saudi regime for its abuses of human rights. (His friends in the region are the Iranians, whom he sees as trying to emerge from a history of colonial exploitation.) Thatcher was determined to keep hold of Trident. Corbyn will do whatever he can to get rid of it. The people who voted for Corbyn in the Labour election did so for a wide variety of reasons: taking up the fights of the mid-1980s mattered for some of them, but perhaps not many, and only those with long memories. A great deal has changed since then. But some things haven’t: the Conservative Party is still never happier than when Labour has a unilateral disarmer as its leader.