Prime Minister Theresa May’s government narrowly survived a motion of no-confidence Wednesday, and it achieved that in part not by talking up May’s strengths -- but by warning of a grim future for Britain if hard-left Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stepped foot in 10 Downing Street.
"[Corbyn] wants to leave NATO," said Environment Minister Michael Gove in the House of Commons, moments before the vote. "He wants to get rid of our nuclear deterrent. And recently in a speech, he said, ‘Why do countries boast about the size of their armies? That is quite wrong. Why don’t we emulate Costa Rica, that has no army at all?’”
On Thursday, Corbyn was front and center in British political news when he refused to play ball with May on cross-party talks to avoid a no-deal Brexit, refusing to participate in talks until May ruled out the possibility of Britain leaving the E.U. without a deal with a bloc at the end of March. May called for those talks after winning the vote of confidence, but having been decisively defeated in a vote a day earlier on her withdrawal agreement with the European Union
Fortunately for the Tory party – and May in particular - playing the “Corbyn Card” to rally the troops proved successful on Wednesday, and is a tactic they've used before.
In December, The Sun reported that Tory leadership had warned that if rebels didn’t back May, they could end up with “a great dirty lump of coal” for Christmas in the form of a Corbyn government. Rebels in turn reportedly accused whips of “weaponizing Corbyn” to get them to back a withdrawal agreement that they hate and say doesn’t deliver Brexit.
Corbyn certainly makes it easy to spook right-wingers. His selection as Labour Party leader in 2015 marked a takeover of the party from the socialist left after the governments of centrist Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007) and his left-wing successor Gordon Brown (2007-2010).
Corbyn had been on the party’s fringe for decades, and his rise to power shocked the party’s centrists. Tories were initially delighted with his selection, thinking it would make Labour unelectable as long as he was in power. In particular, they accused Corbyn of consistently siding with opponents and enemies of Britain.
The Daily Telegraph reported in 2017 that Britain’s MI5 opened a file on Corbyn over his links to the IRA in the '80s and '90s, amid fears he was a threat to national security and suspicions as he attended events to honor dead terrorists.
Last year, former Czech spy Jan Sarkocy told The Sun that the Labor Party leader was in collaboration with the Soviet-era Czechoslovakian intelligence agency StB in the late-1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.
"Corbyn was recruited. He also received money," the spy said, adding that his code name was “COB.” He also claimed that during multiple meetings between 1986 and 1987, Corbyn passed along information about a British crackdown on Communist spies. The Labour Party called the allegations false and Corbyn has pushed back with a fiery, conspiracy-laden video statement, in which he accused “media bosses” of publishing smears because they are worried about a possible Labor government.
“They are right to be,” a wide-eyed Corbyn said
In 2013, he thanked then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for “showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared.” In a 2014 interview with Russian television, Corbyn blamed strife in Iraq on “Western meddling” and compared U.S. troops to ISIS.
“Yes, [ISIS troops] are brutal, yes some of what they have done is quite appalling; likewise, what Americans did in Fallujah and other places is appalling,” he said.
He has also been accused of failing to contain anti-Semitism within his party and had in the past faced controversy over a meeting where he expressed support for members of Hamas and Hezbollah and called them “friends.” He has since said he was using “inclusive language” as he sought to bring about a peace process, and that he does not support or agree with them.
Corbyn made things somewhat worse for himself when, in a 2016 speech intended for him to condemn anti-Semitism and distance himself from some of the controversies, he appeared to compare Israel to the Islamic State.
"Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organizations," he said.
Yet, despite his radical stances, he was nearly the prime minister at the last election. The Tories, presuming that Corbyn would never win an election in Britain, were given a shock that year when May’s majority was shrunk considerably in the 2017 general election, and she was forced to scramble to form a coalition with the DUP.
If the election was swung just a little further toward Labour, Corbyn could have been prime minister by forming his own left-wing coalition. Since then, particularly as May has struggled to enthuse her party or the public, the prospect of a Corbyn-led government has been a go-to to quiet Tory rebels.
Polling suggests that Tories are right to take the prospect that Corbyn could enter 10 Downing Street as a real possibility. A ComRes poll released this week has Labour two percentage points ahead of the Conservative Party in a future election.
Fox News' Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.