Veteran Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, has won the leadership election of the Labour Party in one of the most surprising electoral races in history. Earlier on in the race he was considered the least likely to win the election but the support of the unions and his opposition to a welfare bill that the rest of Labour abstained from helped Corbyn to surge ahead in the polls. His victory comes even as senior party members, most prominently Tony Blair, warned that electing the leftist Corbyn could cost Labour in a general election.
Corbyn’s victory has drawn comparisons with the recent successes of left-wing parties like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. He has already been compared with the independent democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, who has surged past Hilary Clinton in polls in New Hampshire and Iowa. Young people have played a big part in the surges of these anti-establishment parties and candidates, leading some commentators (like Blair) to attribute the rise to idealism that would prove inadequate to win major victories. That view is wrong.
It is true that young people (globally) are largely disillusioned by establishment parties and candidates and are therefore drawn to those who speak up against a system which appears to favour banks and the wealthy against the majority of the people. The argument goes that disillusionment will not keep driving people to the polls. It will do the opposite. However, I am convinced that not only will this enthusiasm continue but that it will be enough to build establishment parties who would truly represent the people. I feel it is the beginning of a new kind of politics.
Inequality globally has worsened. The UN reports:
while income inequality between countries may have been reduced, inequality within countries has risen. There is growing consensus that economic growth is not sufﬁcient to reduce poverty if it is not inclusive and if it does not involve the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.
A study by researchers from Princeton showed that government policies in the USA represent the wishes of wealthy individuals and business organisations and that the ordinary citizen has “little or no influence on policy at all”. I do not know about similar studies elsewhere but if this is any thing to go by, then citizens are going to feel unrepresented by establishment parties for the foreseeable future. This will continue to help anti-establishment parties and candidates.
Information has become more available and it has become more possible for alternative views on politics and economics to be heard. For the left, the works of several prominent economists like nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, Simon Wren-Lewis and several others that dismissed austerity as an ineffective and harmful policy have formed a credible basis for their challenge of current economic orthodoxy. The fact that the conservative IMF has admitted to their mistake in their belief in austerity has not only made the left’s economic thinking the mainstream, but it is also shifting the right’s view to the fringes and making it look like an ideological position which is being clung to despite the evidence against it.
The coming into prominence of such economic thinking also provides the ideological basis for the new left. Corbyn’s economic policies, dubbed Corbynomics, is developed largely by the respected tax reform campaigner, Richard Murphy and has been endorsed by over 40 leading economists. Accusations of old style communism are easily dismissed by pointing to the work of prominent economists in this era. Accusations of wanting economies like the old Soviet Union can be dismissed by pointing to the success of the Nordic model.
The final reason why I believe the rise of the left is not a flash in the pan is the increasing adoption of leftist economic policies by the far right such as the True Finns of Finland, National Front of France, Donald Trump and so on. If parties far to the right of the establishment right prefer leftist economic policies, then the centre right becomes a weaker force. Political expediency would force them to compromise.
As a Ghanaian watching the events in global politics, I cannot help but think of the effects they will have here. In a country in which the underemployment rate is 33% and 69% of the working population are in vulnerable employment (full stats here) there has been a commitment to reducing the government’s spending on public sector wages without commensurate efforts to ensure employment for a young and fast growing population. There has so far been little political challenge to the goal of reducing public expenditure at the expense of decent livelihoods for the people. This is because of distrust of government spending, the country’s need of donor support in a time when commodity prices are down and especially the adoption of neoliberal economic policies by both the ruling party and the main opposition. I do not expect an immediate change in Ghana politics even if the global economic opinion tilts to the left. But the political challenge will come and the parties had better get prepared to listen.