Having at the outset of the leadership contest been contemptuously written off as ‘unelectable’, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be surprising everyone that he is now rapidly emerging as a serious contender. But they shouldn’t be surprised. He represents what the majority of the Labour Party have been crying out for for years – a leader who does not think that we should all behave like mini-Tories, who is not an insider member of the enclosed Westminster bubble, and who genuinely engages with grassroots activists campaigning across the country and indeed internationally.
The Blairites don’t get it because they believe that their ideology of light-touch financial deregulation, market fundamentalism, privatisation of public services, relaxed attitude to people becoming filthy rich, keeping the unions on a very short leash, and hob-nobbing with the corporate elite is the natural order of modern politics. But those are Tory themes and they are not shared by the vast majority of Labour members. They are in fact the reasons why throughout the noughties the leadership became so estranged from the grassroots base of the party. To return to these basically Tory themes now would risk not only alienating further a disconsolate party, but actually splitting it altogether.
Above all there is one central dominant issue at the heart of British politics today which is becoming a litmus test for party loyalties, and that is the attitude adopted towards prolonged austerity. Right from 2010, and before, the Blairites have made the absolutely fundamental error of demanding that the way to reduce the deficit was by harsh and persistent cuts in benefits and public expenditure. If that is the message that we’re sending out to the electorate, why should they vote for us when we’re seen as no different from the Tories? And it’s not as though their policy, the same as the Tories’ policy, is actually working. It isn’t: the deficit today is still stuck at a massive £90bn and has hardly reduced at all after 5 years of Osborne austerity. It’s as though Keynes never lived. With the Blairites it’s back to the discredited Montague Norman economics of the 1920s. They have no vision, their only cry is for ‘fiscal responsibility’ which means making the low-paid, the jobless, and the 18-25 year olds pay the price for the arrogance, the recklessness, the greed, and the incompetence of the banks.
The reason that Jeremy Corbyn is so popular, and could actually win this contest, is that he uniquely stands for making a clean break with Tory policies, above all by advocating growth as the way to pay down the deficit, not austerity which is being used by the Tories, with the complicity of the Blairites, to destroy the whole of the post-war social democratic settlement.