Corbyn: a conservative response to the neoliberal crisis?

‘This is hardly revolutionary,’ said John McDonnell, as he summarised what a Corbyn administration might look like at a recent Momentum rally. Student debt reduction, social housing, rent controls, dignity at work (with anti-trade-union legislation repealed) and ending the privatisation of the NHS. If this stuff is deemed to be radical, the question is: just how far have we fallen?

Even by the turn of the ’90s, student debt (as we currently understand it) did not exist. The main battle with Thatcher at the time was over the size of the student grant, and the fact that certain welfare benefits were starting to be restricted. Sure, council housing was being sold off and not replaced (as rent controls were abolished), yet even as trade unions were clamped down on, all manner of battles were fought on the industrial field. As for the NHS, the Tories boasted that the ‘NHS is safe with us’ and that record funding was being ploughed in to it. In other words, the Thatcher administration was merely laying the foundations for a revolution that was to be continued and embedded by every subsequent government. But if Thatcherism was a conservative (radical) attempt to resolve the crisis of the 70s (the end of the so called post-war consensus), might not Corbyn be seen as radical (conservative) attempt to reconstitute society by retrieving many of the things lost, yet that still live in the minds of many?

There are two main reactions to the crisis in neoliberalism outside of what can be called the political mainstream: Corbynism and ‘kipperism’ (the broad appeal of UKIP). In order for Corbyn to be electorally successful, the rising tide of ‘kipperism’ amongst the working class in Labour’s traditional heartlands must be stemmed. This must involve a realistic assessment as to the nature of the elephant-in-the-room: immigration and perception of non-integrated communities. A blasé liberal internationalism whilst shouting ‘refugees welcome here’ with the implicit implication that any objections are merely ‘racist’ will not suffice. Indeed, it was this type of contemptuous attitude which fuelled the Brexit vote. From our own perspective, we must show empathy and understanding towards attitudes we intuitively withdraw from. The concerns echoed in the Brexit vote were longstanding and deep rooted in social despair and alienation. So if part of Corbyn’s plan to end austerity shores up the labour market, this in itself may undermine certain employment practices associated with the ‘mass migration’ from the EU and other places. In other words, deal with the problem from the demand rather than supply side, putting the responsibility for good employment conditions onto employers and away from migrants. Hopefully this will undermine the traction the ‘kipper narrative’ has amongst many vulnerable elements in our society.

Going into the rally, someone proffered that Corbyn could not win a general election because of Labour’s 1983 defeat on a similar left platform. However, this was a different time and Labour were seen (rightly or wrongly) as offering a return to the bad old days of the 70s, and Thatcher’s universal acid had not finished its revolutionary renewal. But now we have now come full circle. The neoliberal experiment has long since run aground and we are living with the consequences. This is one thing that ‘Corbynistas’ and ‘kippers’ (even if many elements of Ukip don’t) agree on. But simply returning to the old ways will not suffice. Momentum talks of a ‘new kind of politics’, which must mean, for example, that a nationalised railway service does not repeat the kind of mistakes which made the case for its privatisation unassailable in the Thatcher period.

The vision of an outward looking, inclusive multi-cultural society is in danger of being lost. It is Corbyn’s job to continue and renew this one aspect of the neoliberal worldview (intended or otherwise) that we actually like and value. The consequences of a socio-cultural victory of ‘kipperism’ are too dire to contemplate.

Brexit part II: the economy and the left

We were planning to write a second part to our blog on Brexit, but we’ve never seen any point in reinventing the wheel, so here are links to two excellent wheelwrights who got there before us.

Firstly, we wanted to talk about the role of the left as unwitting footsoldiers for the right. People who live in their heads too much are often convinced that they’re being asked questions that they’re not. Ask why the bus hasn’t arrived, and they’ll launch into a polemic about privatisation. Ask whether Britain should remain a member of the EU, and they start dreaming about sovereignty and revolution. Here on earth, the question is a more straightforward one, but with potentially serious consequences, so conservative caution is called for. Vote Remain.

Secondly, we wanted to correct our perhaps too blasé analysis of the potential for economic damage on Brexit. As the post linked to points out, predicting the future is a tricky business, and it’s at least conceivable that Brexit will have no economic effect – perhaps even a positive one. But we are called upon in this referendum to judge the balance of probabilities – to choose between two elites who have done the work for us. Again, the conclusion looks pretty plain. Brexit will damage our economy – or, to put it in less abstract terms, will make us all poorer. Vote Remain.

A close reading of both these links might also, we would hope, put to rest the arguments of that smaller section of the far left who argue for a “plague on both their houses” as there’s “nothing to see here” for the toiling masses. Nothing could be further from the truth – unless you seriously think that living in a poorer country with fewer protections for workers at work, for human rights, and the environment, with neighbours engaged in ever more intense geopolitical conflict, is “nothing”. Remember, please, that you’re being asked a straightforward and serious question about present capitalist arrangements – you are not being asked about the dreams and hopes you have for the future (dreams and hopes that these bloggers share). Vote Remain.

The debate, for those following it, has sometimes been wearying, but interesting arguments have been aired on all sides. We rather wish this referendum weren’t happening at all, but given that it is, we have engaged with it, as all responsible citizens should. But at the end of the day, a decision is called for. We have made ours. It’s got to be for Remain.