Jeremy Corbyn roused his enthusiastic followers at the close of the party’s Liverpool conference by outlining what he called “the socialism of the 21st century”.
He proclaimed it to be forward looking and visionary – and necessary because politics and the economy are undergoing a fundamental change. As he said, “the old model is broken”.
He knows a few things about old models, does our Jeremy.
He came into Parliament in 1983 – the last time Labour offered a radical left-wing manifesto. If you work through his speech of yesterday, there are multiple echoes of Labour’s “longest ever suicide note”.
Corbyn 2016 – a £500bn public investment programme, financed by borrowing.
Labour 1983 – an £11bn public investment programme, financed by borrowing – “borrowing is what every government since the war has done”.
Corbyn 2016 – a National Investment Bank.
Labour 1983 – a National Investment Bank, “to put new resources into our industrial priorities”.
Corbyn 2016 – allow councils to borrow money to build houses.
Labour 1983 – “allow public sector bodies to raise funds on capital markets” – and “increase resources for public sector house building”.
Corbyn 2016 – repeal the Tory Trade Union Act.
Labour 1983 – “repeal Tory legislation on industrial relations”.
Corbyn 2016 – nuclear disarmament, and a personal position to abandon Trident.
Labour 1983 – cancellation of Trident and a “non-nuclear defence” policy.
Corbyn 2016 – a £10 minimum wage.
Labour 1983 – “a fundamental shift in the balance of wealth in favour of working people”.
Corbyn 2016 – end arms sales to repressive regimes.
Labour 1983 – “we will not supply arms to any countries where there is internal repression”.
Corbyn 2016 – a reluctant Remainer.
Labour 1983 – “British withdrawal from the European Union is the right policy for Britain”.
Of course, there is plenty of new content now – but is it really forward looking?
Corbyn pledges to bring the railways back into public ownership. That’s where they were in 1983. He pledges to reverse cuts in Corporation Tax, in order to raise additional funds for education. In other words, take levels back to where they were. He pledges to end private sector provision within the NHS. Again, winding back to where we once were.
There are new pledges on broadband improvement and tackling climate change. Not issues in the world of 1983.
So, is he really offering a new 21st century socialism? It’s a line that enthused his ardent supporters, made up of new idealistic members and traditional ‘old Labourites’ who have come back into the fold after the passing of New Labour. But they are rapturously applauding 1983. When Labour polled 27% and was nearly beaten into third place by the new Social Democrat party.
They applauded because it’s comfortable. They are old, familiar Labour tunes, and they are reassuring when the music of contemporary politics is so discordant.
Mr Corbyn doesn’t have a 21st century vision of socialism to offer. Nor has anyone else on the European left. The world has indeed changed, as he pointed out. But in doing so it has dismantled the foundations of traditional Labour politics. Gone is the coalition of its wide industrial base, aligned to liberal middle class. Gone are the ties of loyalty built around trade unionism and stable working class urban communities, attached to manual industries. Gone is the stability of life-time jobs and unchanging class identity. Gone is the concept of the powerful, interventionist state. Gone is the interlocking of state policies and national economies.
The European left has yet to figure out how it succeeds in the new politics. Mr Corbyn has no idea either.
Maybe he is proud of the 1983 manifesto which got him elected into Parliament. Maybe he feels he owes it a debt of gratitude. Maybe he still thumbs through it late at night in Islington, and dreams of what might have been.
But he would be wiser to heed his own words yesterday – “the old model is broken”.