Rethinking Europe

UK: Can Corbyn Sell Britain on His Hard Left Turn?

In three weeks British voters decide on the fate the biggest left-wing political offer made in a western democracy since 1981.

Credit: Garry Knight -


  • Corbyn is proclaiming the end of the Blair, Clinton, Schröder political model as he ardently declares Thatcher to be part of history.
  • Corbyn is aiming for not so much the reversal but the burial with a stake through its heart of the Thatcherite liberalization of the UK economy.
  • Corbyn’s manifesto is the most left-wing set of proposals seen in a western democracy for almost half a century.
  • For Corbyn, a 1970s-style leftist who entered Parliament in 1983, this is the moment he has dreamed of for four decades.
  • No one can say with certainty what the outcome of the 12th December election in the UK will be.

Alea iacta est – the die is cast.

These words used by Julius Ceasar as he crossed the Rubicon to launch his attack on the Roman republic and put Rome under his control well describe the outlines of the bid now placed by Jeremy Corbyn in front of the British electorate.

Corbyn’s manifesto is the most left-wing set of proposals seen in a western democracy since the programme commun drawn up by France’s Socialists and Communists in an alliance under François Mitterrand in 1981.

Corbyn wants to put back under state control railways, water, energy utilities, postal services and broadband infrastructure. Also most health care provision currently provided by private firms on contract to Britain’s National Health Service, and prisons would no longer be run by private firms.

If voted for and enacted, what Corbyn is aiming for is not so much the reversal but the burial with a stake through its heart of the Thatcherite liberalization of the British economy.

For Corbyn, a 1970s-style leftist who entered Parliament in 1983 as Mrs.Thatcher ended the 1945 mixed UK economy with its wide social provision, this is the moment he has dreamt of for four decades.

Very different from Blair

After 1997, the “New Labour” government of Tony Blair increased social investment for poorer, vulnerable citizens and quietly poured money into the UK’s hospitals, schools, infant care provision and put scores of thousands of uniformed police officers on the street.

But Blair never interfered with the core of the capitalist, profit/driven private sector.

Corbyn is proclaiming the funeral of the Blair, Clinton or Schröder political model (and that of Emmanuel Macron) as he ardently declares Mrs. Thatcher to be part of history. He sees none of their ideas as relevant to his idea of Britain.

Labour’s hard left turn

The left’s wish-list goes on. Small independent or free schools would be municipalized.

The private schools like Eton and Harrow which reproduce the ruling elites of England (including Boris Johnson, Prince William or David Cameron) would be examined with the intention of making them state schools, free for local students to enter.

Free schools and academies would be brought back under the control of local authorities and communities.

Paid paternity leave would increase to 12 months and children between 2 and 4 years old would get 30 hours of free nursery care.

A million new social public sector homes allocated for rent by municipal councils would be built. There would be a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund, so that the UK has a net-zero carbon energy system within the 2030s.

New petrol and diesel cars would face being phased out by 2030. Local councils would control bus services with under-25s travelling free.

The manifesto is full of other radical measures including an examination of the crimes committed by imperial and colonial Britain.

The minimum wage would go up to £10 an hour (€11.70 / $12.95) and all public service workers would get an immediate 5% pay hike.

All this will be paid by increasing taxes on firms, on those earning more than £80,000 (or €93, 500 / $104,000), a windfall tax on gas and oil firms and a milkshake tax.

This is a telling, if antiquated detail: No one in Britain drinks milkshakes any more — but they were very popular when Jeremy Corbyn was at school.

The nationalizations would be paid for by borrowing via low interest bonds. This tests the strongly held argument from many economists not just on the left that, with low or zero interest rates for borrowing, now is the time for government to borrow massively.

This should be done to rebuild infrastructure and upgrade training and investment in education – goals which the enrichissez-vous capitalism since the end of communism and the rise of globalization has not delivered.

Labour, Corbyn and Brexit

On Brexit, Corbyn maintains his policy of saying that, if he becomes Prime Minister, he will renegotiate a new deal with the EU that keeps the UK close to, but not as a Treaty member of the EU.

He would then submit that deal to a two-question referendum with the option to remain fully in the EU. It is hard to see how the question of confirming the 2016 Brexit result is not on the ballot paper of a future referendum.

That problem, however, will be resolved by voters if they decide to embrace the Labour manifesto and elect a further 80 Labour MPs to the House of Commons controlled by Corbyn and a Labour Party elected on the most left-wing manifesto seen in decades in Europe let alone Britain.

Johnson’s problem

Boris Johnson currently has a comfortable lead over Jeremy Corbyn in opinion polls. Johnson’s problem is that his numbers are going down, not rising. It is no stronger than the lead Theresa May had over Corbyn at the same stage of the election in 2017 (when the Tories lost 30 seats as well as their majority).

No one can say with certainty what the outcome of the 12th December election in the UK will be. Talking to voters in different seats I get the impression of an irritated, bored electorate that is fed up with Brexit.

There is no warmth for either Boris Johnson or for Jeremy Corbyn, nor for any other political leader. Labour MPs report from their canvassing returns that the Labour vote is solid especially in London and amongst minority ethnic voters).

On the other hand, nearly 9.4 million of the UK’s 52 million voting-age electors are not registered to vote. Young people, ethnic minorities and the poor far less likely to be on the voting register than the middle classes.

The question will be how is the Corbyn leftist/statist manifesto perceived? Will voters run away from any suggestion of much increased state control over the economy, increased state borrowing and higher taxes even if Labour claims the rich and wealthy corporations will pay the lion’s share? Or will they buy it from Corbyn?

Attacking more statism will be Johnson’s obvious attack line. It has worked well for the conservative right for 40 years. Recall that even in France, Mitterrand after 1981 had to backtrack fast on the last classic 20th century socialist program of more state and less private enterprise based on a rise in borrowing and higher taxes.

Are we in a new democratic era where voters now embrace big government and a much bigger role for the state? In three weeks’ time, we will have the answer.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a former UK Minister for Europe, a Contributing Editor at The Globalist -- and author of “Brexiternity: The Uncertain Fate of Britain”.

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