One of Jeremy Corbyn’s claimed greatest achievements was seeing off the European trend of decline in mainstream social democratic parties. With a party now positioned to remain in opposition for a decade, it seems as if the phenomenon better known as Pasokification – in short, the rapid decline of centre-left parties and the rise of a populist right – though mainly viral in the early 2010s, has finally taken a grip of the British Labour Party.
The 2017 result, which caused a genuine crisis in the political system of the United Kingdom, was widely heralded as a rejection of this prophetic ailment. With a bold move to the left, Labour’s fortunes seemed to completely defy that of its sister parties and conventional wisdom. All that a party had to do, according to the logic of Corbynism, was veer toward redistribution. This move, which in relative terms was easily observable against the 2015 program, undoubtedly shook off any preconceptions of Labour and allowed the party to pursue democratic legitimacy by genuinely provoking the boundaries by which all politics was restricted by. The end of history had ended.
Labour is right to pronounce its radicalism – it is its greatest strength. It’s the light that shines through the cracks now present in the old, worn armour. It is the new waiting to be born. The issue is, though, that Labour seems only to understand its radicalism in relative position to conditions it has subject itself to since the 1980s. Labour has internalised its opponents’ view of itself, in neoliberal assessments of the state, of the commons, and society.
Take, for example, the confidence with which Labour argues whenever it bellows that its manifesto has been “fully costed”. This is a nonsense, and a dangerous one – but not for the reason that the right will take. It is probably taking as much out of the economy as it’s putting in concerning day to day spending, under self-applied restrictions under the Labour Fiscal Credibility Rule. The books are, somehow, balanced. But Labour’s zeal for change does not come and will never come as a menu item where voters are asked to judge the price signals of a variety of manifestos. This is the sort of society that Margaret Thatcher sought to establish, and it’s a sort of thinking that Labour has buckled to, internalised, and reinforced.
Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, of course, did not win because the voters, a mass cohesion of Rational Economic Men, decided it was more cost-efficient for him to win. Because that isn’t how people think, and we as socialists should know and reject this. He won because he professed revolution where Labour was addicted to politics as politics has functioned for decades. Johnson’s Conservatives, for absolutely the worst, advocated a new form of conservatism and nativism, while Labour presented a neoclassical Marxist flop of an offer.
This is not to say that the Labour offer wasn’t going to be a huge departure for the way things are – things would have most definitely changed. But the changes would have been of a 1997 notion, not that of a 1979 sort. In this way, the Blairites, simply by not changing the ideological space that Corbynism accepts challenges, won their argument. Economic rationalism and market psychosis reign supreme in even John McDonnell’s offers.
By economising a democratic socialist pitch; selling free broadband instead of promoting an ultrademocratic online society, saving on train fares instead of opening our lives to more opportunities to visit family and travel as its virtue, and most disastrously of all, suggesting the core public interest in climate disaster is the price point and job losses, rather than the impending destruction of all life on Earth, neoclassicism is the ideological Achilles Heel within Corbynism. The Thatcher revolution continues, with Jeremy Corbyn, not Tony Blair, her greatest achievement.