Since Mrs Thatcher, British politics has been horrifyingly right-wing. Big business, the financial sector, the corporate media and the Westminster political establishment have colluded to present an extreme neoliberal vision of what society should be like as somehow being ‘centrist’, ‘moderate’, ‘sensible’ – the country’s unquestionable default setting. ‘Fiscal responsibility’ and being ‘a credible alternative’ now mean governing in the interests of the corporate-financial elite, and the wealthiest people in Britain. Politics is now a one-way pipeline – to ‘modernise’ is to give even more ground to the overpaid, overpowered and sociopathically self-interested.
Austerity and the all-consuming fixation with ‘the deficit’ and ‘balancing budgets’ is just an ideological smokescreen, masking the most radical upwards redistribution of wealth in modern history. Between 1997 and 2012, the wealth of the richest thousand people in Britain quadrupled from £99bn to £414bn. In the years since, it’s risen to £547bn. During the same period, wages and living standards for the vast majority have fallen – ignoring inflation, the average worker’s wage is now lower than it was in 1979, a fifth lower for the very poorest.
Labour’s done nothing to challenge this situation. In fact, it’s been a major driving force in bringing it about. Every time the party’s centre-right ruling faction has been faced with a choice between rebutting Tory distortions and endorsing them, it’s done the latter. Rather than responding with grit and principle, digging in and getting down to the pain-staking but worthwhile business of offering people an alternative, they’ve just gone along with the elite-pandering Tory narrative. Because it’s easier. And when you give in and give in and give in, repeatedly endorsing your opponents’ elite-skewed worldview, you help mainstream opinion float further and further away into libertarian-right fantasy land and away from objective reality.
The Tories have cut £35bn of government spending, and plan to cut £55bn more, allegedly to try and plug the deficit, which stands at around £100bn. Overwhelmingly, the poorest and most vulnerable have been worst affected. The consensus among even quite mainstream economists is that austerity doesn’t work. George Osborne has now had to borrow more than every other post-war British government combined. Meanwhile, patients with terminal illnesses are told to get a job or lose their benefits. And all the while, the deficit, nowhere near as important as it’s made out to be, could’ve been wiped out completely without cutting a single penny in government spending by simply seizing back a portion of the grotesque gains made by the most affluent in recent years. The richest 10% have personal wealth totalling £4,000bn. Even just a one-off 20% tax on that wealth would raise about £800bn.
Elite Labour remains vehemently pro-austerity – yes, calling for less of it, but still endorsing the fundamental idea that it’s urgently needed. That’s not just Liz Kendall’s position, but Yvette Cooper’s and Andy Burnham’s too. Depending on who they’re speaking to, they might dare state the obvious – that New Labour’s paltry government spending didn’t cause the financial crash, the banks did. But they’ve now helped cement the socially disastrous idea that government spending is inherently a bad thing. And because of that, over years if not decades, tens of millions of people will suffer – at least without a radical turnaround.
More fundamentally, the ‘mainstream’, ‘sensible’, ‘respectable’, ‘party of government’ position is based on the assumption that an impossible situation will just keep on going – that balls-to-the-wall consumer capitalism will trundle on forever, Labour will tinker with it ever so slightly if it gets in power, but do absolutely nothing to question the viability or sustainability of our way of life. Inextricably rooted in the trite, petty, Murdoch-and-Mail-mediated here and now, mainstream politics doesn’t even acknowledge the fact we only live the way we live because of the frenzied exploitation of exhaustible resources, and that quite a few of those resources are going to run out relatively soon. We now know that the planet can only stretch to providing hyper-materialistic Western lifestyles to 1.4 billion people. Within 35 years, the world population will have topped 9 billion. The politics we’re going to need to survive the next century or so, let alone thrive, will make even Corbyn’s comparatively excellent Vision for 2020 look like it was drawn up by Nick Clegg.
Jeremy Corbyn is the only candidate – and about the only person in Westminster given broadcast coverage – who opposes neoliberalism. He’s the only chance we’ve got of getting someone anti-austerity remotely near Ten Downing Street any decade soon. And he’s offered us an opportunity to shunt British politics back in favour of the vast majority. It’s why the Labour centre-rightists, who’ve built careers around the Diet Tory approach, will oppose him for all they’re worth. It’s also why we need him to win.