Margaret Thatcher's greatest achievement, according to Margaret Thatcher, was "Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds."
Two symptoms of this mind-change were:
a) Jeremy Corbyn being the only left-wing candidate nominated for the Labour leadership election in 2015.
b) Jeremy Corbyn's extreme difficulty getting nominated at all by Labour MPs.
The Guardian newspaper reported that 15 minutes before close of nominations for the leadership election Corbyn was still 3 votes short of the 35 needed to get on the ballot. In the end he scraped in with 4 more last minute nominations. Corbyn admitted some of his nominators only wanted him in the arena to be eaten alive during a full debate with the other three righter-wing candidates. Corbyn said:
"I fully acknowledge and recognise that those colleagues who nominated me – MPs who nominated me – may not necessarily agree with me on the pitch I’m taking or my views on many things...But they also felt there needs to be a full debate on policy in the party"
A former Blair advisor described the 36 MPs who did nominate Corbyn in order to have an inclusive debate as "morons" who needed their "heads felt" and "should be ashamed of themselves". Some of the 36 would probably, with hindsight, agree with him.
So what did Thatcher convert the New Labour mind to? According to the BBC's "What is Thatcherism" article:
"At its most crude, Thatcherism represents a belief in free markets and a small state. Rather than planning and regulating business and people's lives, government's job is to get out of the way."
Thatcher's conversion of New Labour meant the political tug-of-war was reduced to the Tories pulling to the right at one end, and New Labour pushing to the right at the other. Less a tug-of-war, more a sprint for the cookies and orange squash on the benches of power.
New Labour, during its years in office, edged the government even more out of the way of "business and people's lives". New Labour presided over the chronic decline of the manufacturing industries and enthusiastically pursued the ultimately catastrophic Tory policy of unleashing the finance industry.
The illuminating graph below from a report by the Open University and Manchester University, "Rebalancing the Economy (Or Buyer's Remorse)", illustrates the decline of manufacturing in Britain from the rise of Thatcher to the fall of New Labour. Note that Western Europe, and not the low cost countries in the East, was the biggest gainer from the UK's loss:
The report states:
"the British economy boomed from 2002-07 but there was no cyclical upturn in British manufacturing output as there had been in the general economic recoveries of the late 80s and 90s."
The same report shows that the rewards of increasing worker productivity were not reflected in increasing wages for much of the period of the New Labour government.
Those who say Corbyn would never attract Tory, LibDem and UKIP voters may well be correct. But they miss the point. A more left wing Labour Party, led by Corbyn or whoever, does not need to win power by convincing the Tory or any other party's voters to change to Labour. Labour needs to convince those who don't vote at all, who feel left behind, that Labour offers them something worth voting for.
Adrian Beecroft, a venture capitalist who advised the previous Tory led coalition, recommended allowing employers to sack workers on a "no fault" basis. Beecroft said this approach would:
“produce an instant improvement in performance in a significant part of the national workforce”.
In plain English, Beecroft reckoned "a significant part of the national workforce" is slacking and could do with a bit more fear to perk them up.
Jeremy Corbyn would have the same effect on British politics. To paraphrase Beecroft, fear of a left wing alternative would produce an instant improvement in the treatment of a significant part of the national workforce.
Britain needs effective parties on the Left and on the Right. If Labour decides to move Right in order to win elections, then it may gain power but will lose its soul.
His critics say Corbyn lacks the guile required to lead the Labour Party effectively. But will any of the other three more guileful candidates shake off their fixation on doing whatever is needed to achieve power, and achieve power by doing whatever is needed to represent the Left Behind?