In a moment in politics where the centre ground has been ripped apart, the ‘Overton Window’ of politics has shifted. The great British public looks to be starting to ditch Thatcher’s Neo-Liberal ideas that the markets will look after themselves and the needs of the majority.
Polls suggest that people are now backing more left-wing policies. For example nationalisation of the railways and Royal Mail, with 60% and 65% supporting the nationalisation of these industries respectively. We are seeing a two-party system where on one side you have a Labour leadership that contains some veteran left-wingers and Socialists. And on the other, you have a centre-right government pressured by their right-wing backbenchers who demand a ‘hard’ and dangerous Brexit. But does this show a real shift in British politics or is it just Labour under Corbyn having a post-election honeymoon?
How similar are the leaders in 2017 to those in 1983, and how would the context of their rule affect their chances?
On the Conservative side in 1983 there was Margaret Thatcher. A Prime Minister who at one point looked finished, unemployment had just hit 3 million, and many were being forced into poverty with her Pro-business and Anti-Unions policies. But she had her secret weapon. Her victory in the 1982 Falklands massively increased her popularity. She rode on a wave of patriotic support, she went into the election to win 38 seats and won a majority of 71 seats. She was popular because of her stern and robust leadership and was seen by many as standing up to the country. She ended up receiving an uncosted state funeral, which many argued was just used as a ‘public display of the neo-liberal establishment order.’
Currently, in 2017, we have Prime Minister Theresa May. A leader who went into an election as a ‘Strong and Stable’ leader, who called the election to destroy the opposition and increase her majority for the Brexit negotiations. But she has come out of it ‘weak and wobbly’, with her Chancellor’s recent budget not committed to solving the housing crisis. She has lost her authority and is now leading a weak demand and supply deal government with the anti-gay and climate-change doubters of the DUP.
On the other side of the house, like in 1983, you have the opposition Labour Party. Although, unlike in 1983, you have Jeremy Corbyn leading the party, not Michael Foot. Both are very similar figures, both are associated with the left-wing of the party and both are staunch Republicans with Foot turning down a knighthood and peerage on several occasions. Both also are heavily in favour of Nuclear Disarmament. Foot served for years in the cabinet. He ran as the leader of the party once they had been voted out in Thatchers 1979 landslide victory in the 1983 General Election, facing the ‘Iron Lady’ herself. Although the election was a disaster, his election manifesto was dubbed ‘The longest suicide note in history’ by Gerald Kaufman, who was a former advisor to Harold Wilson. The manifesto included Nuclear Disarmament, Higher taxation, stronger Unions and higher public spending. All vast amounts of these policies were blamed for the cause of the ‘1979 Winter of Discontent’, which allowed Margaret Thatcher and her Neo-Liberal buddies to sweep to power with a 71 seat majority. Although now Labour has Jeremy Corbyn, a man accused of being a 1970s throwback and an IRA sympathiser, he has brought the left of the party closer to power since Harold Wilson was the leader. Although he still has his critics among his own MPs, his position within the party is stronger than ever. His economic plan has been proven credible by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, shutting down any criticism that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy. After having won two leadership elections, one in 2015 (59.1% of the vote) and in 2016 (61% of the vote), as well as the invasion of young and new members and groups like Momentum, Corbyn now has got a strong foothold within the party.
What we see now is the Labour Party on top. Unlike the Conservatives in 2017, it was Labour who had a terrible manifesto in 1983. The Tories’ manifesto ultimately lost the election, with the ‘Dementia Tax’ losing them thousands of votes.
Corbyn appears ahead in the latest polls with 42%, with the Tories two-points off that or more. At PMQ’s this week, for the first time, he properly attacked the PM on her shambolic Brexit. He won’t have the problems that Foot had: majority of the public backs his policies, with over 60% supporting nationalising of the rails for instance. While May is no Thatcher, like May, Thatcher was struggling at the beginning of her leadership. Thatcher was saved by the Falklands War. Will May be saved by getting a good Brexit deal? Probably not, this seems very unlikely, she’s a ‘weak’ Prime Minister leading a minority government with little authority. And now that the EU negotiations are stuck in a deadlock, it looks like we are heading for a cliff-edge no-deal Brexit..
Jeremy Corbyn addressing the crowd at Glastonbury 2017 (Flickr / Raph_PH)
Like in 1983, Britain is changing. But it is going into reverse. Whilst in 1983 Britain was swaying towards more neo-liberal and right-wing policies, it is moving the other way in 2017. People want more nationalisation, stronger Unions and higher taxes on the rich. The rise of Corbynism signals the end of Thatcherism. Thatcher may have been a strong leader, but her party fell into years of squabbles and her policies have killed vast amounts of vulnerable and sick people.
Labour are in a position to take over. Now, they must prove themselves. Corbyn has got the support. Momentum and Labour are campaigning around the country. Try to force an election, stop a ‘Hard Brexit’ and deliver a ‘jobs first Brexit.’ Times are changing, just like in 1983. But this time maybe, we will shortly have a government that finally governs *‘For the Many, Not the Few.’*🔷