The surge in support for the British Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the recent election has buried the “Third Way” policies of the former leader Tony Blair.
Blair and his ilk insisted that parties of the left had to essentially occupy the centre in order to succeed. They claimed that if the party was seen as too far to the left it would lose support. The purpose of this stance was to say to the establishment that a Blair-led party would not be a risk to their interests. They were a safe pair of hands for managing capitalism in the UK. On that basis, Blair got support from media baron Rupert Murdoch and finance capitalists in “The City”.
The fundamental problem with this approach is that the vast majority of people are actually on the left when it comes to solutions needed on big social and political questions. People are concerned about health, jobs, inequality, housing, transport, climate change. As a rule, these are usually much more important than dog-whistle policies around law and order or immigration.
This was true in the UK before the recent election. When polled even a majority of Conservative Party voters wanted the railway network renationalised and the National Health Service protected.
The same is true in New Zealand. The vast majority of people have been opposed to past privatisations, they want serious action to end the housing crisis, the see the need to extend access to quality public services in health and education and they want action to end the grotesque inequalities in wealth.
What the Green and Labour parties have failed to do is to get people to believe they are serious about tackling the problems that exist. The joint pledge for “Fiscal Responsibility” both parties made recently is actually a pledge to the establishment, not their supporters.
Jermy Corbyn, in contrast, is being seen as a rock star of British politics at the moment because people know he is an anti-establishment politician with a serious programme radical change which the unashamedly called “For The Many Not The Few”.
The June 17 issue of The Economist magazine, which has been a mouthpiece for the British ruling class for 174 years, made a remarkable admission of the failure of their system when analysing the British election results. Sometimes right-wing magazines targeting an upper-class readership are more honest when talking to themselves. They wrote:
For the past 40 years, Britain has been dominated by neoliberalism, a creed that sought to adapt some of the tenets of classical 19th-century liberalism to a world in which the role of the state had grown much larger. It emphasised the virtues of rolling back that state through privatisation, deregulation and the reduction of taxes, particularly on the rich; of embracing globalisation, particularly the globalisation of finance; of controlling inflation and balancing budgets; and of allowing creative destruction full rein.
The Economist praised the fact that these ideas had become common currency for the Labour Party as well and quoted Stewart Wood, a former adviser to former Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown that: “One of Margaret Thatcher’s great achievements was to turn a fundamentalist faith in free markets into the hallmark of moderate centrism for the next generation of leaders.” Now the Economists fears that the pendulum has swung in the other direction because of “the failures of neoliberalism” but which is actually a failure of capitalism.
The biggest factor was the 2008 global financial crisis. It hit Britain particularly hard because financial services play an outsized role in the country’s economy, generating 8% of its GDP, and because of its ‘light touch’ regulation. The crisis made Britons significantly poorer: British workers saw their wages (adjusted for inflation) fall by 10% in 2008-14, and are unlikely to see them reach pre-crisis levels until at least 2020. It played havoc with the public finances: faced with large deficits the coalition government chose to cut back on public spending….
The crisis also undermined the public’s faith in their rulers… Many British politicians also did very well, and not just through their expenses. Politicians such as Mr Blair, Peter Mandelson and Mr Osborne have made millions by offering advice to banks, making speeches and otherwise transforming themselves from gamekeepers into poachers…
But the financial crisis did not just entrench distrust and anger. It also laid bare longer-term problems in the economy…
That division was made more poisonous by the fact that the elite did very well in the neoliberal years. In 1980 the average CEO of a company on the FTSE All Share index earned 25 times more than the average employee. In 2016 the bosses earned 130 times more. Between 2000 and 2008 the index fell by 30% but the pay for the CEOs running the firms on the index rose by 80%.
Privatisation has fed resentment too. Labour’s promise to re-nationalise the railways, which would have been unthinkable ten years ago, is popular today: thank high fares and private profit. The bits of the public sector that stayed public did pretty well by their overseers, too. Mark Thompson, then the director-general of the BBC, saw his pay soar from £609,000 in 2005-06 to £788,000 the next year and £834,000 the year after that. The average pay of a university vice-chancellor is now more than a quarter of a million pounds…
And all the while Brexit will be hurting the economy. Even Brexiteers concede that Britain will suffer short-term shocks as it renegotiates its relationship with its single biggest market. Most independent experts predict long-term harm as well…
The result is likely to be a partial reprise of the 1970s. Politics will be paralysed—this time by negotiating Brexit rather than fights with unions. The economy will stagnate thanks to a mixture of uncertainty and business flight. Public services will be squeezed. The roiling discontent that produced Brexit will find new targets. In the 1970s, though, Britain edged its way towards solving the problems of its former dispensation. It is much harder to see it doing the same this time round.
The traditional party of British capitalism the Conservative Party is now in crisis. It is deeply divided over whether to be part of Europe or not. They have been forced into negotiating an exit from Europe after promising a referendum to appease their right wing, then unexpectedly losing the referendum when many people used the vote to register a protest at the system failing their communities.
They now have lost all political authority by being forced into a coalition with the deeply reactionary Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland at the cost of some billions of pounds.
The Grenfell Tower fire and the deaths of probably hundreds of people have turned into a moral, as well as political crisis for the government. The policies of deregulation, so-called social housing with profit-driven managers, and simple contempt for the lives and safety of working people has exposed a criminal negligence.
The Conservative Party has lost all right to govern as it cannot protect the lives of its own citizens – especially if they happen to be working class. Prime Minister Theresa May was driven out of the area of the fire to cries of “shame”, “murderer”, “scum” while Corbyn was completely at ease and welcomed as a friend.
The days of capitalism are numbered because it can’t get the basics right – including the right to life itself. People need jobs, housing, health care, education. To achieve those goals for all requires a radical attack on wealth inequality. The rich treat tax as a voluntary activity and ways must be found to force them to pay in full. Radical policies are needed that challenge the power of the 1% takes back the wealth they have expropriated from working people. The planet needs protecting from a system based on perpetual growth and wasteful resource extraction. There is no “Third Way” to that end.