Socialism has been shrouded in negative imagery for decades and Corbyn’s Labour will suffer the effects unless he can get it together and show that the party is more than an accusatory mirror of justice
The disparity between Labour and the Conservatives during Thatcherism appears to have repeated itself 20 years on. Cameron’s government of 2015 has striking similarities to that of Thatcher’s in the 1980s whilst Corbyn’s opposition is as distinctly divided as Labour was under Foot and Kinnock. Furthermore, whilst Labour opposition back then was not perceived to be a credible government-in-waiting, Corbyn’s Labour appears more like a pressure group protesting against the malign ideology of our current Tory government rather than offering a distinctive form of opposition. The majority of the electorate would likely agree that Labour in its current form does not appear to be a government-in-waiting, but instead is crumbling to pieces on the issue of where exactly the party stands in terms of both policy and ideology.
To some extent, it seems as if Labour enjoys being in opposition. Corbyn, a maverick throughout his political career, must relish Prime Minister’s Questions where he can directly attack and criticise his ideological parallel instead of lurking in the backbenches. Labour is now ruled by a group of polished protesters who seem to criticise the incompetent Tory government at any chance possible without comprehensively outlining what their own stance on various policies would be if they were in power. One of the crucial roles of the opposition government is to propose opposing policies and legislation to that of the incumbent government’s; and yet, Labour is still in its heyday of ‘point and punish’. What Labour ought to do is focus more on analysing the government’s legislation in order to propose amendments that reflect their commitment to social justice instead of point-blankly accusing the government of leading the country into an ultra-conservative state of inequality.
The Conservatives may indeed be using their right-wing ideology to justify the crippling cuts in government department spending and tax credits—something which has so far been working to their advantage. Labour’s criticisms of the government’s right-wing policies seem to be of no avail to most of the general public however, since it views Labour as no more than a far-left socialist opposition party.
Socialism to many people still seems to be taboo. Associated with Communism and Marxism, it is largely seen as the idea that public ownership of goods is what society needs to thrive. To most people in modern society, such ideas feel repulsive and incompatible with our way of life, however, what most people do not realise is that socialist values underline many of our common values and beliefs. Despite this, Corbyn and his fellow compatriots are maliciously labelled as ‘socialists’ by the media, as if being a socialist was one of the worst things a human being could be. Fighting for the eradication of poverty, the provision of state services for the neediest and dismantling inequality, are these things really that terrible?
‘New Labour’ is now a nostalgic cry from the cemetery of the ideologies of days gone by, but could Labour potentially take the route of claiming that the current Conservative government has learnt many of its lessons from the era of Blair and Brown? Cameron’s free schools agenda is simply a continuation of Blair’s academies whilst the introduction of the national living wage is simply a betterment on the minimum wage that New Labour introduced. Ministers have appointed fellow Labour advisers to chair committees, such as Osborne’s appointment of Andrew Adonis to head his new National Infrastructure Committee—an idea that was directly stolen from Labour’s 2015 manifesto. Thus, it seems plausible that Labour could take the line of ‘well we’ve taught you so much so far, why not keep copying us?’ towards the Conservative government, yet given the more radical agenda of Corbyn’s opposition team, the Conservatives are as detached from their opponents as they could ever wish to be.
Discussing Labour’s current dilemma with a university professor just the other day, he shared my view that Miliband’s reforms to the membership system have well and truly damaged the party. We both agreed that Corbyn’s election to the leadership would never have occurred if Miliband had not made those drastic reforms. The Labour leader may have legitimately won by a huge margin, yet the unofficial verdict is that it was those £3-affiliated supporters who swung the vote in his direction. Whilst 50 per cent of official members did back Corbyn, the legitimacy of his win is somewhat undermined by this new sense that Labour has become more of a massive social movement or pressure group rather than a government-in-waiting.
Labour has little time to waste deciding its exact positions on policies such as trident and the EU, and needs to form a reliable opposition before the calculating Conservatives attempt to reclaim some of the centre ground ahead of the divisive referendum and next year’s mayoral elections, which will prove to be judgement day for both parties.