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The Tories are obsessed with Jeremy Corbyn because they know how popular his ideas are

The i 07/07/2022 Aimee Meade

From his prison cell in 1930, the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote, “the old is dying but the new cannot be born”. But it wasn’t watching Boris Johnson cling on to power in recent days that caused me to remember that quote.

Instead it was when Sajid Javid resigned and told the disgraced soon-to-be former Prime Minister, “You will be forever credited with seeing off the threat of Corbynism”.

What threat was that? Decent wages? Council housing? Public ownership? Scrapping tuition fees? Oh the horror!

There is still a weird fascination with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that scars the Westminster psyche, two years since he resigned. Johnson referenced the now backbench MP from the dispatch box in what might have been his final PMQs on Wednesday. Nadhim Zahawi also mentioned him in his not-quite-a-resignation letter, and even Labour frontbencher felt Jess Phillips felt compelled to reference her opposition to him on BBC’s Politics Live yesterday.

Corbyn threatened the post-Thatcher economic consensus (of privatised services, weak trade unions and low taxes for the corporations and super-rich), and the consensus in Westminster that believes politics is a convivial parlour game for politicians to play, rather than a real-life battle of ideas drawn across class lines.

As the UK is halfway through its second decade of wage stagnation and low growth, following the banking crash of 2007/08, it’s really time to evaluate where we are as a nation. Our country’s leaders could learn a thing or two from the former Labour leader.

Compared with 15 years ago, we have longer waiting lists in our NHS, more children in poverty, more pensioners in poverty, more homelessness – and our wages are lower in real terms.

We’ve had sustained campaigns from politicians telling us our nation’s woes are because of scroungers, skivers, migrants, failed asylum seekers, Brussels bureaucrats, the wokerati – anyone but politicians or the multinational corporations that have profiteered from our increasingly privatised economy.

Since the banking crash we have been stuck at a juncture where we need to shift, but lacking politicians of the calibre to deliver it. We’ve had no answers just slogans: “Big Society”, “we’re all in it together”, “Get Brexit Done”, “Levelling Up”. But they can only distract so long before reality intrudes.

After the Second World War and again in the late 1970s Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher were capable of leading a fundamental shift in our politics and economics. You can debate the merits of either, but their legacies still exist today. They created fundamental shifts and institutional change that endured.

Our leading politicians today are, as Keir Starmer said in Wednesday’s PMQs, “the charge of the lightweight brigade”. Unfortunately, that description applies equally to the Labour frontbench, which appears utterly bereft of ideas too or even a memorable slogan (it’s currently “security, prosperity, respect”, but even I had to look that up).

Gramsci was writing in 1930 in the immediate aftermath of the Wall Street Crash and global recession and as a fundamental battle of ideas between democracy and fascism was ravaging a discordant Europe.

He commented that “in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Boris Johnson, a moral degenerate populist, was one such morbid symptom. But there have been others. The riots of 2011 were the outpouring of dissent against racist policing, and growing poverty – with no political leadership to channel those concerns into positive action.

Corbynism or “Corbynomics” was an attempt to end the morbid symptoms and birth a new order – a fundamental shift in the economy: ending austerity, with redistributive taxation and public ownership. That was a chance to reset the state and the economy. And that is why Corbyn was so feared and despised by his opponents. He offered solutions not scapegoats.

The reason the now backbench MP is rarely out of political discourse, despite barely doing or saying much of note for the last couple of years, is because what they know and fear is that the material basis for Corbynism is still there: it can be suppressed on the Labour frontbench but reality cannot be shut out so easily.

From the Black Lives Matter movement to the growing spate of strike action, from the rise of renters’ unions to collective action from Glasgow to Peckham to stop immigration deportations, people are resisting a failing political order without any formal political leadership.

The earthquake of Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing policies gaining over 40 per cent of the vote and denying the Tories a majority in 2017 still has them traumatised. It should traumatise them. Life is getting harder for many people – work has become more insecure, living standards have fallen (as the proliferation of food banks attest), and even life expectancy is stalling and going backwards for some groups.

The UK needs a reset. The economic system is not working for most people. As a report by the Unite union showed last month, profit margins for the UK’s biggest listed companies were 73 per cent higher in 2021 than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The money is there. We are a rich country. Our workers are producing huge wealth but it’s being creamed off by those at the top. The country is being run for the few not the many.

But we as voters must take responsibility too. If we keep getting duped into believing our enemy is the migrant, the benefit claimant, the “woke metropolitan elite”, or human rights lawyers, then we deserve our penury.

Celebrate Johnson going, but let the demise of this morbid symptom be a wake-up call: the system needs to change. Jeremy Corbyn had that right.

Andrew Fisher is a former executive director of policy for Labour

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