There is a new platitude floating around British politics: a left-wing Labour party is unelectable.
This misunderstands the nature of politics. The assumption here has to be that the electorate has become inherently right-wing and will remain that way. We are at 'the end of history' as Fukuyama might say. Well, leaving aside the political successes of Syriza, Podemos and the SNP, politics simply does not work that way.
Political belief is a whimsical thing. It buffets in one direction and is swayed to another by seemingly insignificant happenings. More importantly, it is highly malleable.
Political debate shifts to wherever those with the loudest voices want it. If swathes of the media and politicians are espousing Conservative ideology, then the electorate will become a little more Conservative. Thatcher understood this. When asked for her greatest achievement, she is said to have replied: "New Labour".
Why did Labour lose the last election?
The political debate was framed by the Conservative party to suit their interests and Labour fell into the trap. Cameron set up the cause of our economic woes as overspending and set up the only solution as austerity. Labour did not provide an alternative way of thinking about things. Desperate to be seen as a grown-up party, they promised that they had learnt from their mistakes of the past and now accepted austerity, albeit a less brutal form.
If I am a voter who does not know very much about economics - not all Brits are economists - and I hear from one party that austerity is essential and from the other that austerity is essential but that it needs to be done a little slower, then I will come to the false conclusion that austerity is essential. I will turn to the party whose commitment to austerity seems the most credible: the Conservative party.
The trick in politics is to frame the debate in your own terms - to set up an alternative narrative. That narrative is out there. Nobel prize winning economists, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Ha Joon Chang, amongst many others have provided the analysis.
The theory goes a little like this.
There is a global financial crisis, which throws country X into a recession. Its economy struggles to grow: not enough people are making or buying things and everyone is too scared to invest money to facilitate this much needed growth. Now, country X has a large amount of debt. This debt used to be manageable but since the recession and the bank bailouts, the debt has grown in size and importance. There are two ways to alleviate this debt: cut government spending, or increase government revenue.
In a recession, country X suffers from a lack of confidence: no-one wants to part with their money. People and companies won't buy goods or invest in things, and banks won't lend to facilitate either. This means there is less demand in the economy and so companies lay people off. Unemployment increases.
If a government increases spending, this will stimulate demand for goods, so people and companies will start to buy things again. It will also stimulate confidence in the economy, since the government is increasing demand and stimulating investment. The vicious cycle of a recession is reversed. The economy starts growing, the government receives more revenue through taxes and pays out less through benefits and so the debt can be reduced through growth.
Austerity, does the opposite. It stifles both growth and confidence. As a result, tax revenues decrease and unemployment increases. The government has to pay out more money through unemployment benefits and receives less money through taxes. The debt becomes harder to pay off.
The message is simple: spend in a recession, save in a boom.
In the 1930s, America suffered a deep depression, austerity was tried, unemployment rocketed and the economy was depressed even further. It was only until Roosevelt's New Deal and the massive spending increases of the Second World War that America recovered.
In Sweden and Japan in the same period, austerity was tried. It pushed their economies into a slump and increased unemployment. Again, it was only until their governments turned away from austerity and increased spending that their economies began to recover.
A similar story can be seen throughout history. Time and again, austerity has been tried; time and again it has failed.
The progressive arguments are there, but they need to be spoken before they can be heard.
The Labour Party should learn from Thatcher: political debate shifts to wherever those with the most powerful voice wants to shift it. The ballot box follows.
A vote for Corbyn is a vote to shift the debate. A vote for Corbyn is a vote for a more progressive politics. A vote for Corbyn - far from being a vote for the Tories - is just about the only thing which could make Labour electable again.Suggest a correction