THE arrival of Jeremy Corbyn as leader has marked the first time in 40 years that the Labour Party has seriously pushed back against the neoliberal tide — his re-election can ensure that the process continues.
The political agenda has been drifting steadily rightward for the best part of the last 40 years, ever since Margaret Thatcher came to power.
During that time there has been a succession of governments, both Labour and Conservative, which have continued the rightward movement of Thatcher’s agenda.
The Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did give social justice more of a priority, bringing in measures like the minimum wage and trade union organising legislation, but these were only really token offerings falling from the neoliberal table rather than the fundamental programme of change needed.
Indeed, the most radical moves from those Labour governments came following the 2008 crash, when the wheels fell off the neoliberal bandwagon, resulting in measures like taking several of the banks into public ownership.
However, rather than look to change the neoliberal system entirely, governments worldwide simply sought to put the wheels back on — making those who had nothing to do with causing the crash pay the price via austerity measures aimed at destroying public services. The bankers who caused the crisis were never seriously affected as they continued with business as usual, operating in a largely insulated bubble of immunity.
The corporations saw the opportunity to make profit out of the crisis. Not only did they manage to nationalise the losses caused while privatising the profits, they also saw the possibility to widen their remit into other areas in the public sector that had previously been sealed off.
So as Polly Jones, head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, recently highlighted, big corporations have argued that in order to get the growth needed to boost the world economy, they should be allowed into previously restricted areas.
This has seen trade agreements being negotiated that allow private companies virtually limitless power to intervene in the public sphere. The most recent form of this has been the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being pushed through at the moment.
If made law it would enable companies to sue governments if anything they did infringed the corporations’ ability to make profit. In a case being taken under a similar type of agreement that is already in force, a private company has taken the Egyptian government to court for its action in raising the level of the minimum wage. The company claims this has restricted its profits.
There have been concerns voiced here about what would happen to the NHS were TTIP to come into force.
Fortunately, there has been growing international opposition to the implementation of TTIP in its most parasitic form. The Corbyn-led Labour Party recently announced that it would veto TTIP as it stands. Previously, Labour had been supportive of TTIP.
The government is broadly supportive of the deal, enshrining as it does private-sector involvement in the public sector.
The new Labour Party stance on TTIP is just one example of the party taking a radically different line from the government.
The party under Corbyn’s leadership has started mapping out a whole raft of policies across government that when enacted will mark the beginning of the turning of the neoliberal tide that has been coming in for the past 40 years.
It would not be over-exaggerating to say the election of Corbyn as leader marked the moment when the labour movement really began pushing the other way for the reversal of much of the damage that has been done by neoliberalism over recent times.
There is though still much to do. Policy positions have not advanced very far in Britain, in no small part due to the ongoing efforts of a number of Labour MPs to undermine Corbyn ever since he became leader.
Many of these individuals seem totally wedded to the neoliberal dogma that has seen so much of the wealth accrue to a very small number of people. Meanwhile, the mass of people have continued to struggle along on stagnating incomes, while public services have been stripped away in the name of austerity.
The time for change is now at hand. Tony Benn said that there was a major shift in the political configuration every 40 years, pointing to the Attlee government of 1945 and the reforming Liberal government of four decades earlier.
It is a sobering thought that the policies on offer across the mainstream parties today are all well to the right of those operated by the Wilson governments of the 1960s and ’70s.
Corbyn marks the start of the fightback. His opponents in the PLP seem to favour the continuation of the neoliberal project, happy to post up the odd crumb of gain from the rich man’s table.
What is needed is fundamental change across the board to bring policies that serve the many not the few.
Brexit was a cry of anguish from the mass of people against the neoliberal agenda that has brought the unacceptable situation whereby more than 100 billionaires live comfortably, while a million plus people go to foodbanks.
The Brexit vote was directed at those elites which continue to plunder the wealth created by the mass of people.
It is high time that the politicians across the spectrum began to listen to what the people are saying.
Corbyn has begun the process that could lead to the rolling back of the present unjust manner of conducting the economic and political system. Re-electing him as leader provides a mandate for the continuation of this process, which will lead to a more socially just and safer society for all.