In the Boston Review, Martin O’Neill gives a detailed account of the shifts in British politics and society that led to the stunning election of Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist, to head the Labour Party. An excerpt:
It is also naive to assume that Corbyn is just reviving discredited socialist politics of some previous era: whatever its deficits, his agenda is a direct response to the country’s most pressing political and economic problems. Ed Miliband acknowledged the importance of such a program in his unusually candid first speech to the House of Commons following Labour’s general election losses. “A huge question facing all Western democracies in the next five, ten, twenty years is whether we are comfortable with the huge disparities that exist,” he said—“whether we are fated to have them, and whether we want to even try to confront them. Personally, I believe we will have to.” Corbyn has a strategy to confront those inequalities, and other politicians of the center-left will have to develop their own. The ground has shifted; there can be no return to the discredited New Labour era, when Peter Mandelson, Blair’s chief lieutenant, could describe the party as “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”
Early signs suggest that Corbyn’s leadership is breathing new life into the party, which has gained 60,000 new members since his election. And his ideas are broadening British political debate at large. Nationalization of the railways, a proposal popular among an electorate tired of inefficient and exploitative private rail companies but kept at bay by Labour’s ideological timidity, is back on the table. Corbyn is also advocating a lifetime public education system, on the model of the National Health Service, whereby the state would play an active role in the development and maintenance of citizens’ skills and job preparation not just early in people’s lives but throughout their careers. The devil will be in the details, but the plan as discussed so far reflects determined engagement with the problems presented by today’s labor market, in which people often change jobs and need to retrain. It is no retreat to old orthodoxies. That such policies—supported in the past by visionary economic thinkers such as James Meade—can be good for both economic growth and personal development shows their considerable potential.
Image of Jeremy Corbyn via the Boston Review.