'If Jeremy Corbyn has his way, he’ll drag the labour party back into the politics of the 1980s.’ So sounds the now tedious sound-byte refrain from those whose bowels are twitching at Corbyn’s Blitzkrieg. It’s the most obvious tactic used in the attempt to ridicule the senior candidate in the Labour Leadership race. But what do people fear in a return to the 80s?
At the most obvious and trivial level, it expresses the conviction that this rogue outsider will be unelectable as a prime minister, thus consigning the party to a new era of mere opposition rather than ‘power’.
Never mind that if an individual's primary obsession is to gain power, we diagnose them with a ‘Napoleon Complex’.
Never mind that pundits and polls don’t have a great track record in pronouncing who the British public may elect.
Never mind that those warning of early 80s infighting are implicitly threatening to revive it themselves (presumably because the democratic process offends them.)
Above all, the Labour Party has already secured for itself a decade of opposition without any help from Corbyn. And how is it doing? About as well as the spear-wielding sentry man who, when John Cleese’s Sir Lancalot stormed Castle Anthrax and killed his companion, fought back with the slightly bemused expression, “Hey!” as Lancelot ran past unopposed.
No, if we’re putting the 1980s on the table, then we have to ask who is really stuck there. The 80s saw Neoliberal capitalism take root in Britain. Neoliberalism is not so much an economic theory as an ideology. Classical Liberalism had always stated that governments should be kept separate from (and never meddle with) the Market. Neoliberalism refers to the process that makes democratic governments subservient to the Market.
Neoliberalism has three major strategies:
Cuts (in government support for its people); Privatisation (selling publicly owned assets) and, above all, Deregulation (allowing powerful corporate entities to suck profit from individuals by removing the regulations set up to protect those individuals).
It is deregulation that caused the financial crisis of 2008 – which should have spelt the end of Neoliberalism. But New Labour (like the Conservatives) have remained faithful to this 1980s system of economics that is blatantly failing people. Why? Because they want to be in power, and that means slavishly serving entities other than the British electorate.
It is impossible to drag the Labour Party back into the 80s because we never left them.