After a lifetime of trying to find a nationwide answer to the progressive dilemma, I've given upby David Marquand / October 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Scroll down to see contributions on this topic from Andy Beckett, Ben Jackson, Rachel Shabi and Gregg McClymont
Labour MPs forced a great showdown with their unloved leader this summer, less than a year after he first took the helm. But they left their Liverpool conference with nothing resolved, at least not in any way that they would have wished. Jeremy Corbyn was even more firmly entrenched than before, having been re-elected with a higher share of the vote, and on a bigger ballot.
Understandably enough, the party’s current travails are being debated using the familiar terms of ideology and class. The Jeremy Corbyn surge that transformed the contours of Labour politics a year ago was undoubtedly powered by revulsion against the ideological vacuity of the Tony Blair-Gordon Brown New Labour regime of 1997-2010. Blair’s insistence that Labour now stood for a preposterous “Third Way” designed to turn Britain into a “young country”; the contempt for civil liberties that pervaded a series of “anti-terror” laws; and, above all, the unlawful folly of the Iraq War stank in the nostrils, not just of the so-called “hard left,” but of idealistic progressives of all ages. Brown’s assiduous courtship of the City and insistence that financial regulation would be “limited touch” and not just “light touch” were less obvious, but another affront to traditional social democracy. Meanwhile, the Gini coefficient, which had measured a sharp climb in inequality under Margaret Thatcher, stubbornly refused to fall. Against that background, Corbyn’s election and now re-election are not just understandable; they were predictable. The shock and horror with which the Westminster village greeted them only shows that its denizens have lost the plot.
Unfortunately, the Corbyn remedy has proved to be poison. The civil war between extra-parliamentary Corbynites and the New Labour retreads in the parliamentary party has made Labour unelectable. If a general election were held tomorrow, Theresa May would sail to victory. Almost certainly, Labour would suffer a crushing defeat—perhaps as crushing as 1983, conceivably as crushing as 1935 or 1931. All the signs are that the party I joined at 20 is in terminal decline.