The prospects for Labour, the Left and Social Democracy

Can Corbyn win the Labour leadership election? Yes. Will he defeat the Tories in 2020? No. Despite the current transformation taking place across British politics, Jeremy Corbyn does not have the credentials to win a General Election and this is what Labour needs to seriously consider. Does it want to win elections or adhere to its historic principles? The question is genuinely difficult because the contenders are hardly a precocious bunch. While Burnham, Cooper and Kendall bitterly attempt to detach themselves from the ‘continuity’ tag, Corbyn offers a throw back to a political age which many people thought was a bygone era.

In some ways the groundswell of support for Corbyn is somewhat ironic because Cameron’s victory at the polls offered the most comprehensive indication that we’re willing to continue along the path of globalisation and neoliberal economics. Moreover, the noises were that Labour had lurched too far to the Left, infuriating business and those ‘aspirationals’ that want to get on in life.

Yet the reality was somewhat different. The Tories were elected by only 24% of those eligible to vote, which indicates their success rested on something else, something other than politics or economics. It was electioneering. George Osborne, the most political of chancellors was supremely effective at forging a strategy which juxtaposed almost everything that was positive about the Conservatives with all those malign streaks in Labour’s armour. Something about a long term economic plan and Ed Miliband not being tough enough, I remember?

But for the Chancellor’s impressive ability to construct a compelling narrative, it could have been Ed Miliband in Downing Street and we would be looking at a sorry band of introspective Tories. As it is, Labour faces at least a decade in opposition, compounding the woes of Europe’s centre-left, as it attempts to reassert itself amidst a sea of conservative dominance. While you would expect austerity to offer fertile conditions for a social democratic recovery, the centre-left seems powerless to deliver a commanding message, whether it be in Dublin or on the Danube.

Francois Hollande’s tenure illustates this better than any other. The socialist president has all but abandoned his political principles in order to revive a faltering economy and desperately low poll ratings. Having been spectacularly unsuccessful at squeezing more from large corporations and affluent individuals, the Frenchman turned to his PM, Manuel Valls to initiate a series of tax cuts to the tune of €40 billion, as €50 billion for public services was shelved.

Nowadays, it doesn’t matter whether you France or Finland, there’s no shying away from the overwhelming presence of the globalised economy. In democratic states, assets are so easily transferred that society’s power brokers simply move away if they are unhappy with domestic taxation policy or government regulations. The leverage that Hollande should expect to hold, given the history, culture and consumer base that France retains, should have stood him in better stead. Therefore his failure to implement a reformist agenda in a nation that should still be capable of sheltering itself from the worst excesses of capitalism is perhaps the most chilling indication of how enduring neoliberalism will be in Western societies in the future.

So is social democracy dead? Well in its current guise, the answer is yes. And to return to our theme at the beginning, the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn victory has been heightened as a result. The three contenders who represent a semblance of social democracy are dead in the water. Burnham is desperately trying to shake off his poor showing in 2010 while rising to the mantle of bookies’ frontrunner, as Cooper and Kendall battle it out to repudiate their Blairite past. And to add to their woes, they all lack charisma; with everything seemingly too scripted and manufactured. Conversely, Corbyn’s unvarnished manner, the rare sight of an MP unbridled by the demands of his political advisors appeals to many people fed up with the technocracts who regularly saunter up and down the Commons’ lobbies, offering their deference to their political superiors.

The prospect of a leading politician cut loose from image consciousness, telepopulism and orthodox political views may yet just win the Islington North MP this bout. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed though, for regardless of our political creed it’s our democracy that’s at stake.