Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for a stronger and fairer country outlined in Doncaster yesterday is a breath of fresh air because it challenges the helpless pessimism that pervades our political life.
For decades we have been subjected to the pernicious Tory dogma known as Tina: “There is no alternative.”
The mantra that deregulation, privatisation and outsourcing are the only options for our economy began with Thatcher.
The state has steadily abandoned what former generations saw as its responsibilities, from the provision of high-quality public services such as health, education and transport to an interventionist economic strategy encompassing fair development and wealth redistribution. In so doing, it has removed democratic control over the economy. And that cuts at the heart of democracy itself.
Liberal mythologists praise the “wisdom” of markets. The endless fluctuation of prices and the decisions to buy and sell made by millions of individuals supposedly produce better and more democratic outcomes than a planned economy could.
The evidence suggests otherwise, however: Britain, whose workforce has suffered the biggest drop in living standards of any European country bar Greece since the 2008 crash, has learnt that to its cost.
The unfettered rule of the market is not wise. Nor is it democratic, as we can see by the way workforces can be cast on the scrapheap by the greed and short-sightedness of tycoons like Sir Philip Green or the grasping bosses at CitiLink. But a refusal to consider democratic intervention in markets to shape the outcomes we as a society would prefer has crippled the left.
Working people have been told to accept “things getting worse and more insecure,” as Corbyn states. Job security, affordable homes, reasonable pay and a decent pension, a healthy work-life balance — all have become fairy tales for a generation, yarns spun by grandparents to sceptical kids.
The liberals, who harp on so endlessly about “aspiration,” have shown a miserable lack of ambition when it comes to the economy.
Anyone who proposes reining in the banks or taking public control of the monopolies bleeding us dry for our water or energy is immediately denounced as “unrealistic.”
Corbyn explodes the myth, which is why he was elected Labour leader in the first place.
Pointing out that the sheer scale of government procurement gives it the power to insist on certain standards might sound basic, but what a contrast from years of politicians who pretend otherwise.
Full trade union recognition and collective bargaining will empower workers and help resist the race to the bottom on pay and conditions.
Prompt payment of suppliers will stop massive firms bullying smaller ones and inject money into the real economy. And insistence on high environmental standards should see jokers like Thames Water stripped of their contracts — which would ideally return to public hands — following its outrageous behaviour in dumping more than a billion litres of raw sewage into our waterways.
Corbyn’s Doncaster speech also demonstrates that the left has better options available than wailing about an inevitably disastrous “Tory Brexit.”
We can fight for an exit deal that removes the straitjacket of EU competition law, enabling authorities to boost development, create jobs and help the environment by giving preference to local suppliers and native industry.
These proposals show far greater clarity than anything Theresa May has had to say about our departure from the EU.
Yes, the Conservatives are in government and yes, they will seek to enforce a Brexit deal which undermines workers’ rights and creates a bargain-basement, tax-haven Britain.
It doesn’t mean we have to let them. As the great — and Eurosceptic — trade union militant Bob Crow had it: “If you fight you won’t always win. But if you don’t fight you will always lose.”