‘Jeremy Corbyn might represent our views, but if we want Labour to return to power he isn’t the right man.’
This was the tweet that broke the camel’s back. After reading it I was faced with two options – either write an article on why it wound me up, or scream long and hard into a cushion – I opted for the former. So here goes.
The argument against the potential electoral success of Jeremy Corbyn as labour leader can often be summed up in three words, ‘Remember Michael Foot.’ So let us remember Foot.
After Michael Foot’s election as leader in November 1980, Labour enjoyed significant poll leads of between 9 and 15%. Understandably, the departure of Roy Jenkins et. al. in March 1981, knocked public confidence in the party, and poll leads dropped to a four or five point average – but labour kept a steady lead, under Foots leadership, until the Falklands war in the spring of 1982.
The patriotic fervour unleashed by the Falkands’ conflict gave a huge boost to both Thatcher and her party. Riding on the crest of a nationalist wave – which ‘thanks’ to a split left vote Labour could do little to stop – Thatcher won a landslide in June 1983.
So what does all this mean for the comparison between Corbyn and Foot? It means there were factors afoot – pardon the pun – in 1983, unique to that time, that meant whether on the right, left or centre of the party, 1983 was not Foot’s year.
What the establishment have cleverly done, is blame Foot’s defeat on his left wing manifesto, in the same way they have falsely but cleverly blamed the financial crash on Labour’s profligacy. With the help of their friends in the media, Tory lies quickly embed themselves in the public consciousness, rather like a splinter that is never removed, and as a result, the public have brought into the myth that left wing equals electoral defeat. What an ingenious Tory strategy this is. What better way to keep socialists out of power than to convince the socialists to ditch socialism. That way whether Labour or Tories are at the helm, the good ship Brittania always roughly heads in the same direction. Any minor detours along the way can be quickly corrected when the ship is safely returned to Tory hands. No wonder Thatcher claimed new labour was her greatest achievement, an unusual moment of candour.
The Tories are well aware of what might happen if a real socialist, like Corbyn, wins power. They only have to look back at ’45 and their blood must run cold. And no doubt they’ve had a long hard look at Foot’s 1983 manifesto and breathed a sigh of relief they’d had such a lucky escape. They know full well, had Foot won in 1983, progressive tax policies would have reversed, and staunched, the growth in inequality. Homelessness, and housing bubbles, would have been avoided. Utilities and railways would have stayed in state hands, and North Sea oil revenues wouldn’t have been squandered on tax cuts for the rich. The so called ‘longest suicide note in History’ was in fact a prescription that would have spared ‘the many’ a lot of pain.
Should I have ever met the tweeter behind the tweet, he or she would likely have warned me against voting Corbyn, not just because Foot lost, but because Blair won. Like many other Corbyn supporters, I’ve heard this argument time and time again. Blair won three elections, is the general gist of this argument, so that’s the model we need to adopt to win. Well I don’t agree, and here’s why.
Blair was of his time – just as Foot was of his – a unique time when Britain was bouncing along happily inside a credit and housing bubble, a bubble none of us could imagine would burst in the spectacular way that it did a decade later, a bubble that made people feel falsely well off. As a result aspiration was the buzz word of the time. Then there was the relatively recent demise of the Soviet Union, which had damaged the confidence of the left, and the fact Labour was opposing a stale tory government, 18 years long. And there you have it, the perfect recipe for Blair’s stunning electoral success in 97. What Blairites/centrists are less keen to explore is the aftermath of that victory.
Between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost five million core voters, and general election turn-outs fell off a cliff. People didn’t just stop voting Labour, they stopped voting full stop – a collapse in support that ultimately lost us Scotland, and put a rocket booster under UKIP, the new political home for so many ex labour voters.
Under Blair the flame of socialism was all but snuffed out, but with Jeremy Corbyn as our new leader, the flame is burning brightly again; and like a fire on a cold winters night, it is calling us home.
By Michelle (Chelley) Ryan