Over the last two decades, the economy has been de-politicized in the UK. In the meantime, the wheels have come off the neo-liberal bandwagon. The ascent of Jeremy Corbyn, a hithereto non-runner, has shaken up the British establishment because of the possibility of the economy being re-politicized.
The British establishment has been blindsided by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the impression given on the news, Corbyn is no outsider and is a long time member of the Labour party. But, from the perspective of the political class, he has stepped outside his station and now no longer knows his place on the backbenches of the Commons and the periphery of UK politics.
Corbyn has become somewhat of a punch-bag for the political class. Gordon Brown is the latest Labour heavyweight to ‘have a go.’ Yet Corbyn refuses to throw in the towel or be knocked down. As of time of writing, he is virtually a shoe-in for the Labour party.
Corbyn’s rise has been astounding but more wondrous is the extent to which his peers fear the spectre of a left-winger leading a Labour party!! The upstart is proposing everything that the economic orthodoxy amongst all shades of British political opinion has classed as heretical. But if the numbers come out as expected, then an alternative to the current economic dogma will be rammed down David Cameron’s throat at the despatch box come the autumn.
Now, I am not a rosy-eyed left winger, in fact quite the opposite. In fairness to Corbyn, however, he has thrown down to the gauntlet to the ‘trickle-down’ economists and their spokespeople in Westminster. Expanding the State with massive social projects may have been shown to be bankrupt during the era of Keynesian economics that existed after the war up until the Thatcherite 1980s. Charges to that effect have been levelled at Corbyn. Rebuking his critics in kind, Corbyn has consistently pointed out, quite rightly, that corporate welfare and austerity is less of a tough medicine and perhaps more of a clever swindle.
‘Trickle-down’ neo-liberalism, with its principle of defending the ‘integrity’ (!) of those who grease the capitalist wheels, has been shown to be no better than Keynesianism. It has one thing going for it, nonetheless. Not an economic advantage, but a cultural one. In the UK, and in countries like the US, there is a ‘Puritan work ethic’ at play. Those who are at the top deserve their good fortune, those at the bottom deserve their ill fortune.
New Labour bought into this work ethic to win power. In doing so, they de-politicized economic matters. No longer would the Tories and the Reds clash over neo-liberalism. Thatcher was widely extolled as a visionary, albeit an undiplomatic one at times. The great fear now exercising minds is that Corbyn is once more making an issue of the poverty, inequality, and inner-city despair that is glossed over by images of hungry young Turks plying their services-based trade within ever more oddly shaped skyscrapers.
Corbyn’s plans may be no more effective than that of the current economic paradigm but at least there may be some social solidarity amidst the economic wreckage. Why facilitate the ruin of many at the expense of a few? What sense does that make? Predictions that he is unelectable may be inaccurate, moreover. He may be unelectable as of time of writing but what if the poverty in Britain, with its well-frequented food banks, accelerates? Look how wrong the British establishment were about Corbyn even having a chance about taking the reins of the Labour party in the first place. It could easily be a case of ‘cometh the hour …’ with the economy ceasing to be a taboo subject.
Colm Gillis has authored two books on ‘history of ideas’ type topics, neither of them re-politicizing the economy. His latest book is The Exceptionally Decisive Carl Schmitt.