The British Army is going soft. A week into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and only now has the prospect of a coup been raised.
Labour’s number one comrade pals around with terrorists, fails to condemn the IRA and wants to cripple western military power. I’d have expected targeted airstrikes by Wednesday last week.
A “senior serving general” warned of “direct action” if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister and tried to downgrade the armed forces. The high-ranking officer insisted: “The army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that.”
This is straight out of Chris Mullin’s paranoia-drenched 1982 thriller A Very British Coup. Harry Perkins, an affable Bennite, becomes prime minister but his programme of nationalisation and disarmament runs into resistance from the establishment.
The top brass conspire with the Americans to destabilise Perkins in the national interest: “If anyone had suggested to the air marshal that what he was engaged upon was treason he would have replied crisply that, on the contrary, he was engaged in an act of patriotism.”
The voters, not strongmen with Pinochet complexes, will be the first and last lines of defence against Corbynism. In Mullin’s novel, Washington despairs of Perkins’ election and gropes around for a strategy. “We have one thing going for us,” the CIA director tells the president. “British public opinion.”
Corbyn’s politics are much the same as those of Perkins — Marxist, unilateralist, neutralist — and Labour’s new leader faces the cruel reality of the British public. We are not idealists or romantics. We regard Corbyn with bemusement.
If Corbyn slipped into No 10 on a 35 per cent strategy of economic populism he would soon find his room for manoeuvre limited. The beauty of the British constitution is the manifold bulwarks it erects against untrammelled democracy.
These benign constraints are animated by the public’s attitude to governments that get out of hand. Any attempt by a prime minister Corbyn to ban the bomb or bin the Queen would bring the country and the constitution together in a conspiracy of sedition.
It would be a very British coup.
Originally published in The Times. Feature image © Garry Knight by Creative Commons 2.0.