There is more than a whiff of irony surrounding claims that Corbyn and his ilk are stuck in the past because a left-wing manifesto failed in 1983, an irony that quickly graduates to outright hypocrisy when Blairism is then quickly suggested as the formula to emulate. Selective readings of history are, however, nothing compared to the screeching crescendo of protest that the reactionists have reached over the past weeks, stopping within a hairs-width of proclaiming all-out apocalypse should Corbyn be elected. The utter terror and internal meltdowns emanating from 3 corners of the Labour camp are starkly reminiscent of the Westminster elite's panic in the days before the Indy Ref, made to look all the more preposterous by the calm and dignified figure of Jeremy Corbyn.
They seem almost to be a party in denial of its own success. As Mark Steel only half-jokingly (I presume) pointed out, they seem to be so busy reacting in horror at Corbyn's alternative message that they are missing the fact that rarely has Labour been so popular in recent years (40,000 have joined them since the election, with the total registered supporters reaching 65,000), with Corbyn behind much of its success. Storming ahead in the polls amongst his own party, coming out as the most popular amongst other parties' members as well, broad support for many of his policies with the public, the firm backing of the unions and even managing to make some headway in the electoral wilderness that is Scotland... it's hard to see in what way we have gotten the impression this man is less electable than his three contenders.
Those decrying left-winger Jeremy Corbyn's chances are defeatists. They are assuming we'll lose the argument before we've even had it: not exactly the stuff of leadership. A leader should lead, not follow public opinion like a docile sheep. Or maybe it's worse than that. Maybe they don't want us to have the debate at all. Labour's complete inability to defend its own spending over the last Parliament becomes more suspect: maybe many of them simply ended up in the party by happenstance and never really agreed with its left of centre agenda at all. As has been regularly pointed out, if the candidates had laid into the current government with half as much vigour as they have with regards to Corbyn they may have done better in May. The fact that they don't speaks volumes.
Maybe it is the hyperbole and the lazy thinking it breeds, the unfortunate stuff of politics, that has them so worried. One example of lazy thinking is how we now conceive of government spending. Spending is now exclusively seen as something an inept or overbearing state does. Whilst inept and overbearing states probably do spend too much, it doesn't follow from this that any proposal for increased expenditure is economically illiterate: indeed, many types of governmental spending are a social and economic good, the stuff of responsible and forward-looking economics.
The charge of being 'anti-business' stems from another lazy stereotype that assumes that because the Left is critical of unscrupulous multinationals and an out of control financial sector we see no role for businesses at all. It is quite possible to wish to challenge the wealth and power consolidated at the top of society that is wielded by big business whilst still wishing to pass policy that helps smaller businesses thrive: a bit more nuanced than the centrally planned economy the press assumes we all want.
This is why the Blairites have thus far failed to inspire the way Corbyn has. They are all tied to a broad ideology that they share with the current government, one which fails to understand the dynamic and vital role a government can play in a modern economy, leaving them with relatively little to offer voters (indeed, opting to take rather a lot away instead). Far from offering compelling alternatives fit for a modern age they rely on a simplistic and outdated understanding of a political movement that, believe it or not, has actually moved on since the days of Marx. Corbyn is not 'anti-business' at all, as his recent proposals have shown, and nor does he have a desire to 'run a deficit into perpetuity'. Believe it or not, the Left has developed nuanced (and better) solutions to these problems and has much to offer the debate. It is the Blairites that are being left behind in this debate, their protestations at Corbyn's rise failing to grasp the new spirit being breathed into left-wing politics.
We are told that we now must be speak to people's aspirations and perhaps this is where the Left should take note. Slowly but surely the Right has advanced the notion that the Left are controlling to the point of recklessness: well-intentioned but utterly hopeless bureaucrats weighing society down with needless spending and regulation. This is, of course, nonsense. What could be more liberating than universal health care and free education at all levels? What could be more empowering than protecting and advancing workers' rights, whilst fending off the power grabs of multinationals? What better way of ensuring that people can 'get on in life' than by ensuring that workers are paid a living wage and that there is a strong safety net for those that encounter difficult times? Assuming that this aid from the state creates a culture of 'dependency' which saps people of their desire to innovate and work lacks any basis in psychology. Bizarre as it may seem, when you help people, we all end up better off.
It is quite easy for someone of my generation to see the British Left and in particular the Labour Party as continually on the back foot, because that's the way it's been for the majority of our political lives. It has not, however, been a condition that has only afflicted the Left. For a long time after the Second World War the Conservatives were forced into accepting a consensus that ushered in the welfare state that many of them would have been profoundly unhappy with, and then again more recently the Tories matched Labour's spending penny for penny right up until the financial crisis (a fact conveniently forgotten by them). The Tories have broken out of this consensus and enjoyed considerable electoral success both times by offering a bold, alternative vision for society, one that was not at all in line with what the public necessarily was saying they wanted.
This is because Thatcher and Cameron/Osborne understand the role a political party plays in shaping public opinion: it is, after all, it's primary purpose, although we seem to have forgotten that. If you chase votes and continually compromise, you'll be caught out: the masses are not as ignorant as many like to think. If you conjure a compelling vision for society supported with solid arguments and encased in a narrative that speaks to both head and heart, you might just have a shot at winning.
Ultimately we need to ask where the Blairite pessimism ends. The famous British humility exemplified as a political doctrine, not daring to dare or trying to try, stuck in a politics of conservatism for all eternity. Politics and social change does not trade in plodding through a consensus-agreed 'pragmatism', one that leaves little room for innovation or alternatives. Rather it thrives off the passionate clash of the bold, and then makes the bold workable. History scoffs at the 'realists', for they fail to grasp the power that is in the human race and what it can achieve when it decides it wants something enough. We've worried for so long about what we are told we can or can't do we've ceased to ask what we should do. So let the Blarites and the concessionists continue to rumble about doomsday, but I suggest the rest of us get on with real politics and real change.