Turning Corbyn into a deliverable political philosophy

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The FT's youthful, and unashamedly Tory, political commentator Sebastian Payne has a piece in that paper today in which he suggests that the Labour Party conference had little of substance to offer but was, instead, all about the cult of Jeremy Corbyn.

Let me get the obvious statement over and done with. Of course there is a Jeremy Corbyn cult. And I know the man well enough (not well, but well enough) to suspect he may be rather embarrassed by that fact. That would not be surprising. After years in the political wilderness this has, I am sure, not only taken some getting used to but was quite clearly not what he sought. That, if anything, probably only adds to its appeal to those in Labour who want to exploit it for advantage. Let me also note that if they do so it would hardly be surprising. May, after all, thought she could play the same card until it spectacularly backfired.

It's worth drawing out that comparison, briefly, because it is telling. May thought she could run a general election on the basis of her believed appeal to the exclusion of others. It failed. The others did not feel indebted to her. The appeal of her as an individual did not survive scrutiny. That was because there was found to be no substance to back up the claimed personality.

In contrast Corbyn does now have the loyalty of the majority in his party, and even if they are surprised by it they realise that their future prospects are largely dependent upon him. But he's also quite specifically not excluding them: indeed, he's conciously highlighting their contributions. Corbyn may have a following but he is highlighting the strength that brings.

More importantly, there is substance to Corbyn and those following him. I strongly suspect that this is what worries Payne and many like him. The fact is that what is really behind the cult of Corbyn is a belief that he represents something different. For the first time a whole body of people believe that there is a way of saying that not only is neoliberalism a failed economic philosophy, both in principle and practice, but that there is a popular political leader who is willing to say that who has a chance of being elected on the back of it. It is this that is the real substance to the cult of Corbyn, and is what makes it so different from the belief in May that so extraordinarily vapourised when put to the test.

Of course this scares the right: Thatcher may be put into reverse.

But that too is the risk to Corbyn and those around him. A vast number of people have been signed up to Labour. Let's not beat around the bush: democrats on all sides of the spectrum should be applauding that fact. Politics is cool again. But most of those signed up now were not around in the sixties, seventies and eighties. And, unlike The Rolling Stones, Corbyn cannot play a back list to deliver Satisfaction.

The world has moved on. Corbyn deserves his popularity. He's done something extraordinary. And he's right to call out neoliberalism. But he has to do more than offer to buy out PFI, renationalise railways, deliver rent controls and build more social housing to deliver the alternative.

Neoliberalism is a simple cult. All it really says is that competition is the only way to efficiently allocate resources in society and that to achieve this the state must keep its nose out of almost everything so that market mechanisms have the best chance of being effective by ensuring that the tax take is kept to a minimum, maximising the impact of personal spending preferences as a result. There is nothing more to the philosophy than that, although of course there are many unspoken themes behind that statement. That's why it is so easy for its proponents to be so effective: the message is easy to deliver, however wrong it may be in theory, evidential support and consequence.

Corbyn's challenge is to now build on the following he has created and the intellectual opposition that underpins it to build an alternative to neoliberalism that is as deliverable. I have a suggestion. Corbyn has to offer a vision of a world in partnership, where the state and private sectors and individuals and organisations, all work together to best effect to ensure that the most appropriate person or organisation delivers what people need with regulation making sure that all honour the obligations to which they commit, whilst in those areas where there is either a natural monopoly or where need and not income dictate demand then the collective power of society at large, operating through the the medium of government, will ensure that the best possible services that can be supplied with the resources that are available are on offer to all who need them.

Is that quite as succinct? No, it isn't. But it has the benefit of being plausible, and is evidentially appropriate.

Is that socialism as some knew it? No, it isn't. It quite specifically embraces a properly regulated private sector where private ownership of business continues to be acceptable.

Is that green? Yes, I think so. The reference to available resources is meant to suggest that.

Is that sufficient to both guide and explain policy? I believe so. Just try it against most of the promises made this week and they fit.

And might it be explained on the doorstep? I'd have thought so.

I'm not saying that I have got the wording perfectly right. As usual, this is being written before breakfast. But I'd suggest it's a basis for discussion. Because something like this moves Corbyn beyond the allegation of cult and retro-fitted 80s style politics into a turbo-charged force for change.