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The Labour Party: First Tragedy, then Farce

Is Labour going to be taking a trip back to the 1970's?

John Scotting

Sub Editor of Naked Politics 

Eyes fixed on the middle distance, a dejected soul snaps an elastic band on his wrist, while the re-elected Head Boy burns ants with a magnifying glass and rowdy first year’s blow raspberries at the prefects. Perhaps a level of maturity can be restored by everybody’s favourite geography teacher, Mr Corbyn.

At just £3, Corbynmania tickets are selling fast, as the Labour leadership contest builds to a fervent crescendo, with Corbyn’s surge in popularity reminiscent of Michael Foot in the 80’s. Labour seem to have added ‘Timehop’ to their Facebook page and nostalgically mistaken the ’35 years ago’ photos of impotent protest for halcyon days.

In Monty Python’s ‘Life of Jeremy’ Tony Blair heckles “he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”. Jeremy Corbyn’s disciples are unperturbed; he WILL lead them to Jerusalem. If May’s General Election taught us anything though, it was that opinion polls are no more reliable than a coin toss. Contrary to the forecasts, Corbynites might just be the vocal minority, with an army of Shy-Blarites, Labour’s very own electoral introverts, poised to vote en masse?!

Liz Kendall is right that the best chance of victory in 2020 is to persuade the marginals by reclaiming the middle ground. When guessing the number of sweets in a jar, you hedge your bets by choosing one more/less than your opponent. Yvette Cooper shares the view that positive action can only be affected from a position of power. Yet both are odds-on to fail. So much for common sense! So much for gender equality!

If both female candidates are cast aside, Jeremy Corbyn is infinitely preferable to Andy Burnham. A man that resoundingly rejects “soundbite politics”, then speaks entirely in soundbites. A career politician that dubiously denounces the “Westminster bubble”. He claims to understand our woes because he’s one of us. He isn’t and he doesn’t!

As neither advocate a return to the electoral sweet spot of moderation, they are unlikely to be destined for Downing Street; but perhaps an attempt to reframe the debate is a noble enough cause. It would certainly be impressively laudable when compared to the abandonment of principles that brought success for New Labour. We have already seen the effects of Corbyn’s charismatic gravitational pull, in teasing populist proposals out of the malleable Burnham. It would certainly be interesting to see how the Cameron responds.

Bringing this fiasco to a close should at least help Labour to resolve their Dissociative Identity Disorder and establish a real purpose. From jack-of-all persuasions to master of one. Unless the chosen leader can unite the party, they are in danger of either splitting down the middle or attempting to cover so much of the political spectrum that they’re rendered pointless as an entity. How they can reject membership applications on the basis of not sharing their values is beyond me!In fact, is ‘values’ even the right word? All parties talk about social justice, reward for hard work, strong communities…etc. On the nationalist-to-liberal axis, rather than telling people what they ought to think, Labour would be well advised to leaf through ‘Laissez Faire for Dummies’ and allow the democratic equilibrium to determine their response. As long as the real priority and traditional battleground remains unaffected – the economy.

So why is Corbynomics facing such ridicule? The start point isn’t wrong. Anti-austerity isn’t anti-business. Keynesian theory proposes the opposite as a short-term method of tackling recessions. Governments should use fiscal stimulus to offset reduced private spending. So quantative easing is a rational response, not an emotional one. That’s exactly what happened immediately after the crash, 7 years ago; but does the argument remain valid? Keynes also noted that in times of growth, policy makers should avoid the creation of equity bubbles through inflationary excess spending. While Osbourne’s “surplus in normal times” is unpopular with some, it makes immeasurably more sense than Brown’s insistence on pouring petrol onto a roaring fire during the boom.

Those are two sides of the same coin in comparison to the rest of Corbyn’s views though. When accused of a return to 1980’s politics, his response is to boldly state that he’d actually prefer the 70’s – a time of stagflation and widespread misery. A chilling thought for anyone that was around at the time and in stark contrast to the neoliberal consensus that has prevailed ever since.

Ultimately this is the crux of the leadership question and why it is so important. In all but name, our political system is presidential. This contest isn’t the most important election in 2015, but it will be momentous in shaping UK politics for years to come. Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, then as farce”, a perfect representation of Labour today.

The question is whether we’ll complete the circle that was started in 1979, with Osbourne administering his own brand of Thatcherite-Friedman economics, or will our collective ability to create prosperity be obliterated by the backward-thinking ideals of a bygone era? Either way, when the gripping drama of General Election 2020 hits our screens, politics fans are in for a treat!

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