(Trying to) explain Labour’s leadership woes & the Corbyn surge

by Stephen Tall on July 30, 2015

The parallels between this summer’s Labour leadership contest meltdown and the battle for the party’s soul in the early 1980s are too close to swat away as ahistorical journalese.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from Graham Stewart’s terrific book, ‘Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s‘. Swap 1979 for 2010/2015 and Thatcher for Cameron/Osborne, and you have a replica explanation for the Jeremy Corbyn surge:

labour 1979-2015

As for the Blairites’ current woes, this is also an eerily accurate foreshadowing:

labour 1979-2015 - 2

It comes back to the old issue: what is the left for when there’s no money left?

During the Blair/Brown years, the Labour modernisers made a pact with the party’s left. New Labour would keep pumping more money into public services as the trade-off for accepting market-led reforms. In this, they were greatly assisted by a benign economic backdrop, cheap debt, and an influx of immigrants boosting GDP (which concealed flat-lining productivity).

But now there’s no money, no compromise between the party’s two wings seems possible. The three mainstream candidates, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall, can offer only to paper over the cracks. But their paper is gossamer-thin and the hard-left Jeremy Corbyn refuses to join in their pretence the crack’s not there — so it’s no surprise that, to those looking on, he comes across as more authentic, more honest.

Corbyn’s glib solutions equate to little more than trying to smooth the crack with polyfilla while ignoring the structural shifts beneath Labour which are its root cause. But to many Labour members, grasping for hope as they face a decade out of power, that quick-fix seems a whole lot more plausible. ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’