Forget minority governments, and forget opposition. An Attlee 1945 style revolution is there if we want it and if we fight for it. The times are a changing
Whenever an odd political scenario occurs, many people often refer back to the history books for guidance. Often too, there is attempts to make, sometimes lazy analogies to the past that seem to resemble the present.
The current snap election and subsequent hung parliament is being compared to the 1974 election that resulted in Harold Wilson’s return to power. Many predict a similar rise for Jeremy Corbyn.
However, the truth is, though the late 70s was a beginning of a revolution, it wasn’t Wilson’s, it was Thatcher’s.
Wilson and Heath battled for power for over decade, in the dying years of the post war social democratic consensus. Corbyn has unlike Wilson, not come from the mainstream but from out of nowhere.
Back to the 70s, when Heath was defeated and Wilson eventually gained a majority, Labour tried to sustain a crumbling government. Yet inflation was out of control and crucially IMF imposed cuts lead to strikes and parliament threw out Callaghan’s government with a motion of no confidence.
Waiting in the wings was a radical. A little known member of parliament who didn’t pander to any “consensus”, who had beliefs, an ideology and a vision. Originally the party feared their rise as they regarded them as “too extreme”. Yet the rest of the political classes were lacking ideas and taking such lukewarm stances at what was clearly a turning point.
Thatcher’s rise went complete against the political conventional wisdom of the time. She not only returned her party to office but crucially, to power. Office and power are used exchangeablely but they are not the same thing. Battling over who manages the accepted political consensus is one thing, but to actually make your own is another.
Thatcher in 1979, as Attlee did in 1945 did, re-wrote the rules of politics. If you are brave enough to put your own politics forward, you can change everything. After Thatcher’s rise the Labour party fell apart. It quite literally split itself into two with the SDP defection and after this helped Thatcher smash Foot, Labour spent the next two decades falling over itself to give up ground to Thatcher in order to gain power. Her once extreme ideas became common sense in just a few years.
Labour leader Neil Kinnock adopted Thatcher’s right to buy and refused to join the miners on the picket lines, because Thatcher had blew Labour away and they had no response. Eventually Labour were returned to office in 1997, but much like the Heath governments they weren’t in power. They had to accept the majority of Thatcher’s ideas, expanding not reducing privatisation, abandoning common ownership and selling its soul to the likes of Rupert Murdoch to get into office so it could operate within the consensus set. New Labour was able to ensure increases in public expenditure and policies like the minimum wage which can’t be dismissed. But they did not win the hearts and minds of the people, they did not change the terms of debate.
In defense of the New Labour project, it’s not difficult to see why they went down the road they did and Labour shouldn’t be scared to be both proud and critical about period. It did however have its day and was itself rejected.
When the Conservatives returned to power they capitalised on a crash of Thatcher-Blair deregulation’s making and attacked the only thing we’d been able to to win back, public expenditure.
Now after 7 years of this the consensus is crumbling and this time it’s crumbling across the whole world.
But our country’s mainstream Blairite style social democratic party didn’t suffer the fate of those on the continent. It was rescued by another unelectable racial, who said what he believed in and not what the spin doctors wrote for him.
Thatcher shifted what the intellectualls call the “Overton window” and clearly Jeremy Corbyn has just done that. Thatcher said herself she was out to change the soul if the British people, not just get the votes. Very sadly she did, but we can now win them back and change them not into Thatcher’s vision of a rate race but our vision of new just and free society.
Labour is now on the rise and the Thatcherite consensus is there for the taking. Already the Tories are taking of diluting their policies and adopting Labour’s in fear of Corbyn. UKIP barley held even a few parliamentary offices but they had immense power as there existence forced Cameron’s referendum. They changed the direction of the British politics.
Now is Labour’s chance to do the same. Forget minority governments, and forget opposition. An Attlee 1945 style revolution is there if we want it and if we fight for it. The times are a changing.
Chris Lowe is a Young Fabians member. Follow him on Twitter at @chrislowe1405
This piece was first published on his blog at https://chrislowesite.wordpress.com/