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With Corbyn on the Ballot, This Election Could be The Most Significant in a Generation

08/07/2015 12:21 BST | Updated 07/07/2016 10:59 BST

The momentum achieved by Jeremy Corbyn's campaign to be Labour leader in recent weeks has struck horror into the hearts of many senior party figures. To the Labour establishment, Corbyn is a relic. An unreconstructed '1983 man' spouting an ideology that has long since gone out of fashion. His very presence in the contest is an embarrassing threat to the party's centrist credentials.

According to Corbyn's rivals, all the big questions about our economy were definitively settled thirty years ago. For them, the leadership election and the general election to follow are a chance to argue that they are the best candidates to manage the status quo, (following a strict neoliberal job-spec). They are confident that above all, the public want stability. A firm hand on the tiller.

But thirty years is a long time to go without offering the public a meaningful choice on Westminster's economic consensus.

I don't for a second think the nation has taken an ideological lurch to the left. In fact, I doubt most people really think or care very much about political ideology. But people do care about jobs that have become less secure and wages that have stagnated in real terms. They care about the spiralling costs of keeping roofs over their heads. About their increased reliance on personal debt just to make ends meet. About the onerous costs of care for elderly loved ones and the uncertainty they face in their own autumn years. They care about the fact that their children will be the first generation in a century and a half to face the prospect of lower living standards than their parents.

A lot has changed since the 80s. The richest 10% now possess more wealth than the bottom 80% of the population. Power and opportunity are becoming ever more concentrated. Fewer and fewer people are served by the status quo. More than ever, the country needs a Labour party that will fight for decent living standards and fairness. Instead, Burnham, Cooper and Kendall have pledged their allegiance to Tory austerity.

Austerity isn't a 'tough but sensible' approach. Inflicting spending cuts on an already depressed economy is an illogical experiment, discredited by most mainstream economists. Austerity is eroding our public services and accelerating the redistribution of wealth to the rich. As it squeezes living standards for the majority, austerity is also quietly inflating another private debt bubble and laying the foundations for the next financial crisis. It isn't just that austerity is unfair, it's that it's downright dangerous and unsustainable.

Another way is possible.

While his rivals waffle emptily about aspiration, Corbyn connects with the practical, everyday challenges facing people up and down the country. What's more, he offers real solutions; building homes, stimulating the economy by investing in real jobs, instituting a living wage and closing the gaping tax gap. Far from dragging up a dead argument, Corbyn is unique in basing his campaign on the needs of real people in the here and now. The Labour establishment might scoff that this is socialist fantasy but the reality is that Corbyn is arguing for straightforward social democracy. Policies that will improve living standards and opportunities for the vast majority of people at a minimal cost to those who can well afford it.

Of course, it goes without saying that a Corbyn victory would take a miracle. Powerful vested interests inside and outside the Labour party will do all they can to discredit his campaign and obscure the inherent logic of his arguments. But these are interesting times. Public discontent with mainstream politics has never been more apparent. While his rivals maintain their myopic focus on winning over a slice of the 24% of the electorate who voted Tory, the Corbyn campaign has the potential to inspire and re-invigorate millions of voters turned off by a politics which for too long has offered no answers.

With anyone but Corbyn at the helm, we will have five more years of Labour surrendering to Tory austerity and a status quo that serves an ever-shrinking minority of the population. With Corbyn in charge, we can build a new kind of politics. A politics of courage and hope. A politics that believes it can actually make a difference.

While his opponents deride him as a dinosaur, the irony is that on the generation-defining issues of the past three decades - apartheid, the Irish peace process, the Iraq war - Corbyn was well ahead of curve. Whatever the outcome of this contest, I suspect that when we look back on this moment, Corbyn's stand against austerity will also read like prophecy.