A political horror story

From The Oz: Brexit is diverting attention from Jeremy Corbyn’s red flag radicalism. And do not for a second think this might not happen here.

Jeremy Corbyn vowed to reverse Thatcherism at last month’s British Labour conference in Liverpool. Picture: AFP
Jeremy Corbyn vowed to reverse Thatcherism at last month’s British Labour conference in Liverpool. Picture: AFP

If next year Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister of Britain, this political figure, hitherto dwelling in the margins of politics, becomes a world historical figure.

Historic figure? After being in politics for 35 years and serving on the frontbench only when he became leader? But how else to view it? Corbyn is proposing the reversal of Thatcherism, the 1980s program of privatisation and union-busting implemented under the Iron Lady’s leadership, and thought by all to be irreversible.

One columnist has branded Corbyn’s program an “unapologetic onslaught on the crumbling neoliberal order”. He should have added, “And not just in Britain.” If Corbyn wins and starts peeling Thatcherism from the statutes, he will provide an irresistible model for other European centre-left parties being devoured by right-wing nationalists.

Given this, it’s surprising the reaction to his speech to the British Labour Party conference on September 26 was so muted. Here he was proposing the renationalisation of water, rail and the Royal Mail; a tax on second homes to fund expansion of public housing; board-level representation of employees; and pulling 65 per cent of workers under 25 on to a guaranteed minimum wage. Most radically, his government would appro­priate 10 per cent of every company’s shareholdings on behalf of employees and the state. Plus grant free childcare.

In 1983, the last time the Left controlled British Labour, MP Gerald Kaufman branded its explicitly socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history”. It helped Margaret Thatcher consign Labour to 27.6 per cent of the vote in her 1983 landslide.

Right now, however, the red flag radicalism is escaping attention because the debate over Brexit is sucking the air out of British politics. But there is another factor: a striking shift in opinion. Fear of nationalisation and chaotic economic management were, until Tony Blair, well-tested rallying cries against Labour. No more. Expanding the state is popular. Two-thirds of the electorate wants railways back in public ownership. Only 17 per cent of the electorate think capitalism is working for them. Voters born after Thatcher are Corbyn’s strongest supporters.

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