In light of the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London, leader of the UK Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn made an astonishing statement:
“The ward where this fire took place is, I think, the poorest ward in the whole country and properties must be found – requisitioned if necessary – to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.”
In effect, Corbyn’s solution to the temporary re-homing problem was the requisition of properties of other citizens to house those made homeless by the fire. In a sense, this is of little surprise. Corbyn is a long-time opponent of economic freedom. He has praised Hugo Chavez’s role in Venezuela, for example. Likewise, his closest ally, John McDonnell, is a self-identified Marxist who brought Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ into Parliament. An equally close ally, Diane Abbott, has argued in defense of Mao (in spite of the Chinese leader being responsible for more deaths than any other person in the history of the world). Given this, it is unsurprising that Corbyn would support such an authoritarian measure. However, what is astonishing is the willingness of the public to embrace such a measure.
When Corbyn announced this idea, I had expected it to be greeted with horror. Sure, scores of people backed his proposals to ban people from making certain consensual contracts (through a sharp minimum wage hike and the banning of zero-hour contracts), but surely they wouldn’t go for this? The forcibly seizing of private property by government is evidently a step too far to the left to be palatable to the British public, is it not? Apparently not. Within minutes, social media was alight with people approvingly citing Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s slogan – later ‘stolen’ by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – of ‘Property is theft,’ and endorsing Corbyn’s plan as a great act of justice. Apparently oblivious to the fact that if property cannot be legitimately owned, then the government ought not own property, which creates a real tension in their belief system since Corbyn advocates widespread government ownership.
I sympathize with the victims of the fire, but – in my view – authoritarian measures aren’t the solution. Especially since the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has made emergency funds available and countless charitable organizations are involved. We, as individuals, must help those affected by the fire, but I have to wonder if the support for Corbyn’s proposal highlights a more authoritarian socialist future for Britain. If requisition of private property is now a mainstream idea, what will Britain become like if Corbyn and his allies ever gain power? How far will Corbyn’s socialism go? Of course, worries of authoritarianism are dismissed by many on the left. For many of them, such intrusive and liberty-infringing measures are justice, and Corbyn is ushering in that justice. Yet, as a libertarian, the worries are real – and history shows that socialism has a natural tendency to become totalitarian. Yesterday, it was a proposal to nationalize industries and curtail freedom in relation to employment contracts. Today, it is a proposal to requisition private property. Tomorrow, it could be something far worse – and, given the widespread willingness to accept many of Corbyn’s radical and unaffordable policies, that is not an unthinkable scenario.
Socialism is on the rise in Britain. As libertarians, we need to make the case for less state power, for more personal charity (charity, of course, often treated with scorn in the UK), and more freedom. We need to make the moral, as well as the intellectual case, because the left fights with moral platitudes. I didn’t want to take a political angle on this tragedy, but Corbyn has repeatedly made it a political issue, and it would be wrong not to voice opposition to that perpetual occurrence: statists using tragedy to justify infringement upon freedom – and, if we are not careful, we might find ourselves in a situation wherein the government is increasingly invasive.
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* Matthew James Norris is a British libertarian with a degree in history and philosophy. He volunteers at several organizations, and will undertake a master’s degree from October.
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