It feels like we have stepped into a time machine. In scenes reminiscent of the slick media management that marked Michael Foot’s tenure as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto comes tumbling out of the cupboard and splashes itself all over the front pages. Corbyn, complete with his Lenin cap, has got the programme he always dreamed of. We are back in the good old 1970s.
Renationalising the privatised industries, swingeing taxes on the rich and business, new powers for the unions, borrowing an extra £250 billion, scrapping university tuition fees and the House of Lords, quasi-pacifism, and protection for the gipsy lifestyle. All we now need is the Austin Allegro, bell-bottomed trousers and Watney’s Red Barrel and comrades of a certain age will feel very much at home.
Foot’s 1983 essay, the “longest suicide note in history” (Tory majority 144), looks tame by comparison. Jeremy has indeed penned a thrilling sequel and can look forward to a similar result. Can he do worse than Foot? It is not impossible.
But the Tories should not be too smug as they conjure up a lost world of strikes, blackouts, uncollected rubbish, flying pickets and the IMF coming to the rescue of a bankrupt economy. Philip Johnston, in a perceptive piece in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, pointed out that Mrs May, an Oxford student in the 1970s, has her own entry in the nostalgia stakes. She speaks of government as a force for “good” and the State stepping in to provide what individuals, markets and communities cannot. Her rhetoric has a suitably retro feel to it.
So she wants an energy price cap, regulation of the ‘gig” economy, workers on boards and defending British firms from foreign takeovers.
With Labour, it is as if the Blair years never happened. With the Tories, the long shadow cast by Mrs Thatcher’s relentless commitment to the market economy is slowly fading.