In Brief

How business came to embrace Jeremy Corbyn

Labour’s radical socialist agenda deemed less of a threat than no-deal Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn appears to have more support among business than he does from the wider public, as Brexit continues to upend Britain’s political order.

A snap poll by Politico/Hanbury has revealed that people are more worried about the left-wing Labour leader becoming prime minister than the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

The survey comes less than two months before the UK is due to crash out of the EU without a deal on 31 October, and just days before a snap general election could be called.

According to the findings, 43% of respondents said Corbyn as prime minister would be the worst possible outcome compared with 35% who fear a no-deal exit. About one quarter said they were both equally bad options. More broadly the public is split down the middle on no deal, with 30% optimistic about such an outcome and 41% pessimistic.

Claiming it is now a straight choice between a no-deal Brexit and Corbyn government, Daniel Finkelstein in The Times echoed the thoughts of many by saying “leaving the EU without an agreement will damage the country but it’s still just about preferable to the alternative”.

“I could never make peace with no-deal or pretend that I think it’s a good idea. But when it comes to the crunch, I could never choose a Corbyn government. Never,” he says, adding that “for many others, when the time comes, the choice is going to prove very hard indeed.”

But while Corbyn may be less popular than no deal among the public, The Daily Telegraph says “the scourge of bankers and avowed opponent of capitalism, is winning support from unexpected new quarters” with two of the biggest global banks operating in the City of London “warming to the Labour leader”.

According to the paper, he is now seen as the lesser of two evils by analysts at Citibank and Deutsche Bank, two titans of the financial system.

Christian Schulz at Citi says “perhaps” Corbyn is no longer as bad an option as no deal, while Deutsche’s Oliver Harvey says fears about the Labour leader “may be overstated”.

“It is not that the financiers favour the opposition leader’s plans for ‘higher taxes, tighter labour laws, spending increases and the nationalisation of network industries’, but that this may cause less harm than leaving the EU without a deal” says the Telegraph.

“A year ago, a Labour government would have been a big economic downside risk,” said Schulz. “These risks to the longer-term outlook have not changed, but Labour has become more decisively pro-EU over the past 12 months.”

At the same time “a fiscally profligate no-deal Conservative government is no longer as enticing”, he added.

Some, such as Chris Kalin, group chairman of Zurich-based Henley & Partners Group which helps the rich relocate to tax havens, remain wary.

“It’s clear there would be a major outflow of high net-worth individuals and families if a Corbyn government was to come to power” he told Bloomberg. “This is the big fear, not Brexit or even a no-deal Brexit. That doesn’t make any difference to our clients.”

However, “considering he’s a banker-baiting, old-school Marxist with big plans for nationalisation and tax hikes”, Forbes agrees it is “remarkable” Corbyn has the likes of Citibank and Deutsche Bank behind him.

In a further sign of just how Brexit has upended the political order, last week’s editorial in the Financial Times urged a vote of no confidence in the government process, which might “also require the creation of a caretaker government under Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn” in order to stop no deal.

The fact that “a newspaper oriented almost entirely around the needs and interests of the global business elites is expressing sympathy for creating an unelected government, headed by a politician famed for his banker-bashing and pseudo-Marxist posturing” is “striking”, says Spiked! Editor Brendan O’Neil.

On the surface it is not hard to see why. Paul Mason in the New Statesman says “real bosses of real businesses” based in Britain, like Airbus, Honda, BMW and the vice chancellors of the big universities, plus the major law and accountancy firms. “are terrified of no deal, and the atmosphere of xenophobia it will bring. Plus, there’s tens of thousands of small firms – from the metal bashers to the care home chains to the local garden centre – who will see their access to finance evaporate in a no-deal crisis”.

“Insofar as these groups could be described as the ‘British bourgeoisie’, their political tool of choice was always the Tory party. But in July 2019 they lost control of the Tory party”, he says.

Yet businesses' short-term priorities may backfire, says Tim Newark in the Daily Express, warning that under a Corbyn government “as Britain ceases to be a functioning business environment, capital will flee abroad, the pound will fall even lower, inflation will take off, and we’ll become the basket case of Europe just like we were in the 1970s”.

“That’s why when Tory rebels talk about putting nation before party to stop a supposedly ‘catastrophic’ no-deal Brexit, they cannot seriously think that such a scenario is worse than a Marxist Corbyn government. If they do, they really should be deselected on grounds of insanity,” he says.

“The FT’s sympathetic overtures to Corbyn also tell us a fascinating story about what has become of Corbynism,” says O’Neill.

“What started life posing as a pro-people movement, as a movement ‘for the many, not the few’, has ended up being wielded as a weapon against Brexit, against the democratic will…. He came to shake the status quo, but he ended up preserving the status quo against the masses who so badly want it, and need it, to change,” he says.

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