So not laughing quite as loud now, are we?
The Corbyn surge has obviously rattled the Tories, who are now going out all guns blazing, attacking his morally reprehensible past at every opportunity.
In one sense they have only themselves to blame: Theresa May’s everywoman popularity was wholly based on her sphinx-like persona and the projection of people’s prejudices onto the blank slate of her personality. The problem with being a sphinx is that you have to remain one: once people see past the enigma, they are invariably disappointed, and May has shown herself to be the easily scared, unimaginative careerist she really is.
This weekend’s appalling events in London may well have slowed Corbyn’s rise. Even so, the real question is why a man like Corbyn and the Labour Party he leads are doing reasonably well. He won’t win the election of course, but nonetheless time is very much on his side: capitalism is in very serious trouble.
The stark truth is this: workers are simply not sharing in the success of the economies they help to create. Although productivity continues its upward march, the link between it and the salaries of average people is being broken.
This trend is most advanced in the United States, where astonishingly median wages have almost stagnated in real terms since the early 1970s. If you look at household income the picture is marginally better, due to the rise in the number of women in work, but the lag is still very substantial.
Put it another way, pretty much an entire generation of American workers have never experienced the American Dream. In that context, the rise of Trump becomes totally explicable. It also explains the rise of Bernie Sanders – something until very recently thought even more unthinkable than Trump – a genuine socialist with popular appeal running to be the President of the United States.
Why this is happening is a matter of debate: the authors of the study from which the graph is taken take a left-wing view, blaming the weakening of the minimum wage and a host of other laissez-faire policies. Alternatively Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots, points the finger at – you guessed it – automation. Either way, it is an absolute scandal for America that this phenomenon is not better understood, let alone acted upon, and shows just how isolated its elites have become from the concerns of ordinary people.
In Britain the picture is not as extreme as in the US, but nonetheless productivity started to decouple from wages around 1990. Nor is it just an Anglo-Saxon thing: similar trends are apparent across many global economies: you really don’t need futuristic and dystopian “robots eat jobs” scare stories – a malaise is already well entrenched and widespread.
In our own country, there are some quick wins in policy terms that could help: limited immigration, the scrapping of the morally revolting Common Agricultural Policy and idiotic green energy targets. No doubt Brexit will deliver some of these.
However, Britain must also use the unique paradigm shift that Brexit represents to restructure its society radically in order to extricate it from a developing social disaster. For that some very deep thinking is urgently required: how can we re-establish stable family life that is so central to psychological and economic wellbeing? Is the decisive shift in innovation from the macro to the micro world to blame for inequality? If so, why did this happen, and could it be reversed? Do corporations have too much power? Has the feminisation of society gone too far? Will we ultimately just have to accept Scandinavian-style levels of redistribution, and if so how could we create the ultra-high levels of social cohesion that would require?
Tragically but predictably, the Tories are already squandering this opportunity, acting like the chancers they are while the Left plays the long game. To most of us Corbyn may seem like a bad joke, but just like Bernie Sanders in the US, Labour have very considerable support amongst younger voters, who have absolutely no recollection of just how awful socialism turned out last time around.
If existing trends continue, we could be in for a rerun of Britain’s dismal post-war period, a period that formed the current Labour leader’s personal politics.
Ah, Jeremy Corbyn! A man first after – and then before – his time.
(Image: Christian Reimer)