Be a Voice: Just How New is the "New" Socialism of the Labour Party?

By Blog Writer Ewan Ogden

It is hard to miss how awash the news and social media are with the ‘New Socialism’ of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. From his unexpected rise in 2015, the Labour leader has created a new appealing vision for British socialism, especially among young adults and some people on the left. Liam Young’s Rise: How Jeremy Corbyn Inspired the Young to Create a New Socialism is one such example of the growing genre of ‘New Socialism’ in political writing. Momentum is the other side of ‘New Socialism’ with its dominant online presence. The Momentum campaign creates its content to attack the current establishment and show how socialism works in favour of everyone in its ‘true form'. The strongest argument of ‘New Socialism' is that they are better than the previous proponents of the ideology. Let’s look then at some of these new ideas.

Social ideas are very appealing and give hope to voters after a decade of Conservative austerity; however, some of the ideas within Labour are wholly flawed for the twenty-first century. Digging only at the surface of the manifesto, ideas of a bygone age dominate the text. Re-nationalisation of the railways, Royal Mail, and water and energy suppliers are but a few that are unfeasible without drastic debt. The manifesto also charges the top 5% with tax increases, over 80k a year would be taxed 45%, over 120k 50%, which would ultimately drive away the country’s highest earners. These ideas are not a new brand of socialism but instead the same ideas that Michael Foot was spouting over thirty years prior. However, the principal theme of the Labour manifesto and the party as a whole since Corbyn, cannot be underestimated; they gave the voter something different than Tory austerity. Within 'New Socialism' is a message of hope that the Conservative party could never dream to have and is something the country needs at this moment.

Another aspect of 'New Socialism’, which contributes to the idea that it is a relic of the twentieth century, is the uncompromising nature of those at the top. The ongoing controversy surrounding antisemitism and numerous resignations are evidence of this. Frank Field was the most recent MP to bow out of the Cult of Corbyn, citing a ‘culture of intolerance, nastiness, and intimidation’ within Labour as his reason for resigning his post as party whip. This, like other resignations and re-shuffles, shows that the ‘truth’ of the Labour party is dictated solely by Corbyn. His level of influence over the party is such that it would not be surprising that everyone will be taking their tea, his way. 

The refusal to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance guidelines on anti-Semitism is another flexing of Corbyn’s control of the party.  The only consequences of this debate have been strictly internal, in the form of resignations. However, when this storm is compared to, for example, Gordon Brown's ‘bigoted woman' statement, the reactions are poles apart. Brown was back grovelling at the house of the woman in question in less than an hour; Corbyn cosily and ominously issues statements of peace and justice from his Twitter account.

However, despite the turbulent events that surround Corbyn’s tenure, Labour’s support continues to grown, as shown by the shock result of the 2017 election which resulted in a 40% share of the seats. This was a result that no one could have predicted and Labour’s political campaign, particularly their social media presence, is readily credited for the growth in seats. Social media outlets are rarely effective at changing voters’ minds, rather they let people organise and communicate within party networks. Instead, seven years of Conservative austerity wore thin among a section of the population. This, as well as Brexit, led people to vote Labour (many people who had voted UKIP before Brexit returned to Labour). Labour’s policies are neither new nor radical: instead, they give hope to a population tired of drab Conservative policy (and dance moves). 

To call Labour’s ‘New Socialism' a lie would be ignoring what the current Labour Party stands for and what voters see in it; a bollard against Dementor-like Conservativism and a beacon of hope for the young. However, to accept socialism as a reformed ideology within labour is far from the truth, as shown by the resignations, re-shuffles, and rampant claims of anti-Semitism.    

Sources and Further Reading