Corbynism: a Lesson from Thatcherism

As unlikely as it seemed even this time last year, Corbynism is now the driving force along British Politics. From being a fringe group at the edge of the Labour Party, the political ideas of Corbyn, McDonnall and Abbot now dominate the party which is most likely to win the next General Election. In addition to this, for all of Vince Cable’s talk of being the “Macron of Britain”, Liberal Democrat economic policy is basically “Corbyn-lite”, while areas of the Conservative Party, particularly with Sajid Javid’s stance on housing, – Robert Halfon’s alternative budget – are even being dragged to a position closer to Corbynism than when Cameron was Prime Minister.

Although Jeremy Corbyn and Margaret Thatcher’s policies are at almost polar opposites to eachother, the rise of each have ran at complete parallels to one and each other, and as I will show, Corbyn and his brand of socialist politics is almost repeating the history made by Thatcher and her brand of conservative politics. This link can be traced through, from what came before Corbyn and Thatcher in either party, in the governments they are/were in opposition against, and the amount of support they gathered over time.

If you even look to the leaders of Labour and Conservative before Corbyn and Thatcher, there are similarities. Although Heath was Prime Minister and Miliband was not, both of their brand of politics can be seen as an entry level, especially when coming to rhetoric, to its successors. Ed Miliband used rhetoric about the failure of neo-liberalism which would not look too out of place within a Corbyn rally, while Edward Heath spoke of wanting to make people more economically “free”, a free market precursor to Thatcherite rhetoric on the economy. Both also in policy, did go to the left and right respectively of Blairism and One-Nation Toryism. Of course, both Corbynistas and Thatcherites would see both respectively did not follow through or go far enough. Miliband, for all his tough talk, didn’t reject austerity or put forward even the most popular forms of socialist economic policies like renationalisation of the railways, while Heath did little to change the status quo of Britain at the time in a government which was brought down by strikes and the 1973 Oil crisis.

ed miliband

Miliband’s rhetoric; a precursor to Corbyn?

The rhetoric with Miliband and Heath used, which both Corbyn and Thatcher would go on to capture, were responses to the idea of a failing economic systems; the rise of Corbynism a response to the 2008 financial crisis, and Thatcherism a response to economic stagnation in the 1960s and the 1973 Oil Crisis of the 1970s.

The comparison between the current government and the Jim Callaghan government is also uncanny. Political Historian Martin Pugh describes Jim Callaghan as “not an intellectual member of the Labour movement” compared to his contemporaries in the previous government, matching the analysis of many towards Theresa May compared to the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Gove. Like May, Callaghan enjoyed high popularity at the beginning of his term, with Labour getting a 5 point bump in his first few months in power. However, like May, Callaghan saw his popularity wain as crisis after crisis hit his Labour government and Callaghan, like May was seen more and more as an ineffective leader.

Going to Corbyn and Thatcher themselves around the same time, the similarities are clear. Both were elected from the more unfashionable sections of each own party and faced much resistance. You could argue that Corbyn faced a harsher backlash than Thatcher, but it must be remembered, Thatcher’s cabinets were always at war between the so-called “wets” like Michael Heseltine and “drys” like Nigel Lawson. It must be remembered that although both Corbynism and Thatcherism in the early days found support from new trends in academia, economists and the like, they were not instantly popular. While, as known, Corbyn’s first 18 months of Labour left the party 20 points below the Tories while Thatcher, who despite Labour’s disastrous decision to agree to an IMF Loan which left wages falling well lower of the speed of inflation, saw an early poll lead evaporate by 1978.


A poll of Thatchers road to power

The IMF Loan itself led that Labour government to introduce monetary policies similar to what Thatcherism would go on to offer, and in a way, this government is on the precipice, like that Labour government at the time, of either diving towards Corbynism to try and cover off both the countries problems and its parties electoral problems, and going completely the other direction into is lesser supported extreme (it must be reminded that Tony Benn’s radical left wing of the Labour Party was waiting in the wings at the time). You have had Damien Green advocating adopting Labours policy on tuition fees, Sajid Javid wanting to put into place Labours Housing policy, and even some Conservatives such as Robert Halfon suggesting the Conservative government should adopt many of Labours economic and Trade Unionist policies. While this is going on, old Conservatives like Jeffery Archer are already resigned to the fact that their party is already destined to lose the next election. And while this is going, like how in Labours late 1970s left wing, the right wing of the Conservative party, sported by the likes of Rees-Mogg and Patterson, are waiting in the wings with policies going completely the opposition direction with a realistic chance of getting in come another leadership election.

Both Corbynism and Thatcherism won more admirers as their respectively enemies made mistakes, notably Theresa May’s disastrous campaign and as said before Callaghan’s choice to follow the IMF Loan, but as all readers who happen to vote Conservative will point out, we have a Conservative government, not a Labour government. This is true, but it was not the IMF Loan which led to Margaret Thatchers government, it was the crisis which followed it, the winter of discontent. I believe our modern day version of the winter of discontent in electoral terms is coming, and you guessed right, its going to be as a result of a poor Brexit trade deal. This disaster I believe will see a Corbyn government come to pass and a very similar way and indeed a very similar time frame to the Thatcher government.

winter of discontent

The Winter of Discontent, the final nail in the coffin for Callaghan

Yes there are some differences in the rise, Thatcher, although remaining fairly unpopular in her early days quite like Corbyn, did get her party leading the polls quicker and naturally received more business support. There also was no Momentum to lead the Thatcherite cause like there was for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Despite this, in terms of history, and the rise of each sub-ideology are markedly similar, and to see the likeliness of a Corbyn or at least a Corbyn-ite government and its level of strength, you can do a lot worse than looking at the last time the country elected a radical change to the status quo.