The Bennites’ revenge: how Jeremy Corbyn and his allies survived political exile

The Labour left never made the mistake of deferring either to Washington or to Rupert Murdoch or Paul Dacre.

Tony Benn, the unrivalled leader of the Labour left during the 1980s, died in 2014. He had long since ceased to wield any mainstream political influence.

Less than four years later, the Bennite tradition has undergone a remarkable revival. Benn’s protégé, Jeremy Corbyn, appears on course to become the next prime minister. Michael Heseltine – a Tory giant of the Eighties – has said he would be willing to accept a Corbyn-led Labour government. It would be preferable, he suggested, to a hard-Brexit Tory regime.

Many factors have contributed to this astonishing state of affairs. But here is one which has attracted little commentary. The Bennites are the only faction of either main political party not to have been compromised by two damaging tendencies in British politics: deference to the United States, and complicity with the right-wing press.

Loyalty to the US and belief in the “special relationship” has been an article of faith shared by most Labour and Conservative leaderships since the 1940s. Both Tony Blair and David Miliband have expressed regret that they did not do more while in government to promote a positive case for European Union membership among the British public. What they didn’t acknowledge is that this would have required them to make a case for why being “European” was an attractive prospect for UK citizens. The only way to do so during the Nineties would have been to advocate a more traditional western European social democratic agenda, against the “Washington Consensus” in favour of open markets and borders.

Instead, New Labour argued for the American neoliberal agenda within the EU, strongly supporting the eastern European enlargement and labour market deregulation. These are precisely the factors that have led to the immense unpopularity of the EU among working-class English people in recent years. These voters have seen their living standards continually eroded, and come to perceive eastern European immigrants – rightly or wrongly – as direct competitors for jobs and housing.

Almost no section of the Conservative or Labour parties opposed the Blair government’s pro-American alignment. The traditional Labour right has been obsessively Atlanticist since the aftermath of the Second World War, when the US actively encouraged the growth of western European social democracy as a liberal bulwark against Communism. Labour’s “soft left” has long enjoyed a close relationship with the US Democratic establishment.

As for the Conservatives, the Tory right was never going to argue that we should look to Germany as a model of a more efficient, egalitarian form of capitalism. Transfixed by the success of Reaganism, its admiration for the Republicans was always evident.

When Tories such as Boris Johnson began to make Euroscepticism their great cause, from the late Eighties onwards, they were drawing direct inspiration from the anti-government rhetoric of the American right. Lacking an actual federal government to rail against, they began to concoct a mythical “federal superstate” of their own in the form of the …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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