Corbyn at the Adelphi: Vintage 80s nostalgia that would deliver a vintage 80s Labour result

by Richard Scorer

Liverpool, Saturday evening: 1100 people cram into the Adelphi ballroom to hear Jeremy Corbyn. My political identification is old Labour right, and I’m probably voting for Liz Kendall, but my Scouse in-laws are Corbyn supporters and invited me along. It was a good opportunity to see what a  Labour party led by Corbyn might look like.

First, the warm up acts, starting with the Liverpool Socialist Singers. The compere jokingly asked if anyone present wanted to sing the national anthem. This having elicited the intended booing, we were all invited to join in singing the Internationale. An interesting choice, I thought. The Internationale, not The Red Flag; at this rally, even traditional English socialism is seen as too tame .  Then we moved on to the speakers. The quality of oratory was high, the content unrepentedly hard left. The leader of the Bakers Union called for a general strike: wild applause. Paula from Unison quoted Blair’s “heart transplant” comment. Her answer to Blair:  “my arse”. It was amusing, and Paula was a powerful speaker.

Then Jeremy himself. He comes across as palpably decent, but with a touch of naivety, just like Tony Benn (who, you’ll remember, got through an entire interview with Ali G without realising that he was a fictional character). His themes were anti-austerity, anti-welfare bill and anti-war.

Austerity was never quite defined. I think in Corbyn’s mind it means any cut in public expenditure, unless it’s cutting spending on something he sees as bad, like defence. Corbyn sort of implied his economic programme has been costed: subject to bit more work by the guys in his policy team, the abolition of tuition fees would be fully paid for by an 0.2% increase in corporation tax. But really, he doesn’t think that costing a programme is necessary, because you can borrow more: “debt is now only 80% of GDP. Under the Attlee government it was 250% of GDP. And they still increased public spending, and so can we”.

We finished with questions from the audience. One speaker wanted to know whether Corbyn, in abolishing tuition fees, would also write off the debts of all past students who had had to pay them. Corbyn was happy to confirm that he would.

My wife wanted to ask Corbyn whether abolishing tuition fees , a policy which targets resources on the 40% most successful members of society, is actually the best expenditure priority compared to , say, spending on early intervention or better apprenticeships for those who don’t go to university. But there seemed little point , because the answer was predictable: in Corbynland you don’t have to make difficult policy choices, you can have everything.

Then Tony Mulhearn, leading member of Militant and president of Liverpool District Labour Party in the early 1980s, but expelled by Kinnock 30 years ago , addressed the meeting . He felt he was getting his party back. It was time to revive the old clause 4.

There wasn’t much discussion about the electoral strategy of a Corbyn led Labour party, but talking to his  supporters, on this subject they seem to divide into 3 camps. A sizeable number seem to acknowledge that Corbyn has no hope of ever winning a general election , but “Labour is going to lose anyway, so we might as well go down fighting for our principles”. You can’t persuade this group that the severity of any defeat might affect how long it takes us to return to government.

A second group  believe that Corbyn’s policies are so obviously right, and so manifestly appealing to the electorate , that it is inconceivable that he could ever lose. This group pray in aid the success of Syriza and Podemos. When you point out that Greece and Spain have 25% unemployment – the equivalent of 7 million unemployed in the UK- and thus might be rather more fertile ground for Marxism than here – they tend to get tetchy. One told me that as a middle class lawyer, I clearly didn’t understand the depth of poverty and despair in the UK.

Many of Corbyn’s supporters argue that it would be “suicidal” to chase Tory votes; the answer is to win the votes of people who didn’t bother to vote last time-  starvelings who just need to be roused from their slumbers.  It’s impossible to persuade this group that they might have a rather romantic view of non voters . They aren’t interested in knowing how many non-voters live in seats already held by Labour.  They aren’t interested in hearing that Australia , where voting is compulsory, has a Tory government. They aren’t interested in the fact that non-voters don’t, on the whole, actually vote.

But my strongest impression? To coin Yvette Cooper’s phrase, the atmosphere of the Corbyn campaign is “strikingly retro”. Corbyn is no Yanis Varoufakis or Paul Mason, conjuring up a novel economic theory or fascinated by the social potential of new technology. Corbyn’s is the leftism of the 1970s and 1980s. A long section of his speech was a paen to Eric Heffer, and it’s clear that Corbyn is most comfortable refighting the battles of those decades, and the ideas associated with them, like Benn’s siege economy. It simply hasn’t occurred to him that the ability of governments to run up debt might now be more compromised by capital flows in a globalised economy.

Seeing the turnout in Liverpool , and the energy of his campaign , I have no difficulty believing that Corbyn may well win the leadership.  We’ll then have a leader and a coterie around him who believe in unrepentant fiscal profligacy and want to sing the Internationale in public. Jeremy Corbyn is probably a lovely man, but if this happens, as a party that hopes to govern, and needs to win votes in Nuneaton, we’re going to be in a really , really bad place.

Richard Scorer is a former Labour PPC

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28 Responses to “Corbyn at the Adelphi: Vintage 80s nostalgia that would deliver a vintage 80s Labour result”

  1. Madasafish says:

    “under the Attlee government it (debt)was 250% of GDP. And they still increased public spending, and so can we”.

    And then they had REAL austerity…

    “Crisis hit the economy in 1947. In 1948 Labour chancellor Sir Stafford Cripps introduced an austerity budget including a wage freeze. He told the TUC congress, “There is only a certain sized cake. If a lot of people want a larger slice they can only get it by taking it from others.”

    So anyone who claims that Asuterity is here now is wrong. And it was a LABOUR Government which brought it to the UK….

  2. Richard says:

    Fantastic article, though terrifying. It is indeed frustrating that you can’t debate with most Corbynites because they’re not interested in electoral or economic reality.

    Most Corbynites in my local party are simply hostile to me and suggest that I should join the Tories, but I had a chat with one I get on with and asked if he thought Corbyn could win. Of course he didn’t. Then why vote for him? Because he would ‘talk about austerity’. Wouldn’t it be better to win power and mitigate or reverse austerity? No, he wasn’t interested in that. What he really wanted was a leader who would talk about austerity.

  3. Richard says:

    On debt under the Atlee Government, it was high because we’d just fought a world war. But there wasn’t a budget deficit under Atlee. He ran a surplus. It’s therefore completely inappropriate for Corbyn to claim him as an example. Corbin has no interest in running a surplus.

  4. Mike says:

    All good points made about Atlee and the deficit. People forget that we haven`t really had austerity in the UK. Public spending in absolute terms has not gone down year upon year in 2010-2015. We had large areas of spending protected (education, foreign aid, NHS) and we had some tax cuts (increased personal allowance for all). True austerity would have frightened people.

  5. Janice says:

    Help. If this is the new reality, being able to add up is going to be a serious problem for members of the Labour party. Those with numerical ability, or any understanding of economics, will become confused and disorientated and might start suing for the distress caused while attending meetings.

  6. Jonathan da Silva says:

    Both sides miss the point. Blairites are living in a fantasy they offer something when it’s clear they don’t believe in anything and are a 90 00s nostalgia cult. Neither sides economics founded on anything – name one credible economist who backs either? Blairites by not challenging this ridiculous consensus at least would not frighten or provoke too much and get mere mockery from media.

    Other thing is the Blairites will not dent the Tories 25% (of electorate who turn out and vote) as they will not have the Govt teet. Pensioners will not come back. Pandering to racism has not worked. Rural folk know Tories best for their subsidy. Large corporates Banks also ditto Fossil Fuel interests and landlords and Land holders know who represents them and hands them money. Labour do not have the media to do it.

    Labour should and can look to beat the Tory coalition of spongers by targeting poor, women and especially the youth and getting them to vote. It could build an alliance with SMEs. Maybe even some traditional friends too by having a coherent NHS/education policy not one that just pays 3rd party oligopolies to manage things with lower wages/service. A grass roots campaign aimed at the young. Inspire FFS. Chasing the people who voted Tory would appear an even more stupid policy than the one Corbyn offers.

    Corbyn or the 3 drones hardly matters but Corbyn would at least come across as believing a word he says.

  7. Stephen W says:

    It would be terrifying if it wasn’t so laughable. The electorate will never buy it. 1983 will look like a triumph in comparison.

  8. ad says:

    I am not really happy about the analogy between Corbyn and Syriza. Are his supporters really happy about the idea that he would govern like them, given that they had a banking crisis within six months of getting elected? They ended up implementing all the cuts they promised they would stop.

  9. Kieran says:

    OK I get it you are a fully paid up member of the current market driven economic orthodoxy, and blinkered just as you claim “corbynites” to be.

    You in your delirious blindness can not grasp that policies such as a national investment bank, state owned infrastructure such as trains and utilities, can lay the foundation for a society where people as well as business can flourish. Yes the closed shop of the 80’s was to much, the state did need to stop trying to pick winners. However, laissez faire is also now a discredited dogma.

    I have one question, how is it possible that France’s state owned rail company has the ability to make a profit, and subsidies its own network by profits made running UK lines?

    Just like goldlockes we should settle for the porridge which is just right and accept that market fundamentalism is just as rotten as any other historic political economic structure.

  10. “Austerity was never quite defined” Richard Storer

    “And then they had REAL austerity…” Madasafish

    Let me have a try of making some sense about what we mean by “austerity”. Given the size of the GDP now relative to the GDP in the immediate post-war period it would be inconceivable to people then that we’d we poor in the year 2015. And we aren’t on average. Yet young people can’t get decent jobs. We have a homeless problem. The NHS is underfunded. Schools are struggling for resources.

    So, obviously that must mean there is a inequality problem. The rich have too much and the poor must have too little. If there is another explanation please let me know what it is.

    If the economy was working at its full potential then we could afford to have greater inequality. Everyone would still have jobs, but maybe we’d have a bit more inflation too as the demand for labour would be higher. So why would workers want to work for minimum wage if there were better wages on offer? So “austerity” in Keynesian terms is the regulation of the economy which leads to insufficient aggregate demand to enable everyone who wishes to be employed to find that employment.

    “There is only a certain sized cake. If a lot of people want a larger slice they can only get it by taking it from others.” Stafford Cripps

    Is that the position now? We can have a larger cake, or more cakes, if we utilise the workers who are lying idle to bake those cakes. If we ask the question of whether we should live within our means, most people would say yes. However they are thinking in terms of real resources when they say that. There’s only so many workers available to staff the hospitals, repair the roads, work in the factories, teach in the schools etc

    If we called upon resources in the economy which are greater than the economy can provide then we would be living beyond our means. But at present we have a big problem of unemployment, underemployment and low productivity employment.

    That’s living BELOW our means and that’s a self induced form of austerity.

  11. Mike says:

    I am becoming increasingly worried that Corbyn will win. This is not helped by articles like this. Many new Corbyn voters are under 25, they have no idea what you are talking about. I am nearly 40 and struggled.

    You, without any self awareness, accuse Corbyn of wanting to fight battles of the past. The other campaigns need to wake up, sign up some supporters and stop banging on about the 80s. Can I suggest giving them a reason to sign up.

    I find nothing more boring, in any election, than the sound of people blaming the electorate.

  12. Peter Scott says:

    Comparison with 1980’s or 1940’s are futile. We are facing the present problems and we need current solutions. Maggie was saved by the Falkland War and the treachery of SDP. Major won because Kinnock was ridiculed in the press and he appeared to take winning in 1992 for granted. Corbyn offers hope and can attract voters back to Labour by offering free education, work and homes for UK citizens and fair taxation of the wealthy

  13. ant says:

    I’m not a natural voter for any party – I tend to swing around based on what/when/who is on offer.

    I do look at this website because what happens to Labour next is important.

    When I see and hear Mr Corbyn, I see someone who probably does not spend alot of time with people who don’t agree with him.
    That leads to alot of earnest nodding and singing but lacks a real world applicability on how to get things done.
    Gordon Brown had the same problem – pulling and pushing on the same ideological policy levers whilst ignoring the fact they were’t working.

    Ultimately, that road leads to failure in every sense.

    I prefer my leaders to be able to get things done to improve the lot of people in this country. Something Mr Miliband seemed so clearly (to me) ill-equipped to do and he was spectacularly found out.

    btw I respected him for running against his brother – I think if you think you can win, you should try to – irrespective.

    People who follow politics closely seem to forget that talking about “the good fight” is just childlike naivety in a complex multi dimensional world.

    Until Labour address this, they’ll neither be an effective opposition or a credible government in waiting.

    Of the candidates, the one I would be most inclined to vote for is Kendall, followed by Cooper. I can’t see any circumstances that I would vote for either of the other two.


  14. Benjamin Mackie says:

    Perhaps the Labour Uncut crew and the Blairites could organise their own vibrant and well attended events if they don’t like the flavour of JC’s… Oh wait on…

  15. David Walker says:

    Richard, all the points you have made are correct and you didn’t even mention that Corbyn has already threatened to sling Labour’s most successful leader of all time in jail!

    But Labour’s mainstream prospects are now so bad that I still think Corbyn is the best bet. He needs a miracle to become prime minister, but Labour is now very much in the market for miracles.

    When it gets to rent day and you find yourself with just a tenner in your pocket, there is no point walking into the bookies and backing the even-money favourite. You have to stick what little equity you have on the 100/1 shot and cross your fingers.

    Burnham, Cooper and Kendall would all make a decent fist of the job, but none of them will ever become prime minister. they will just lose respectably. The electorate knows that the Tories can deliver the kind of government that all three are promising with far more competence and conviction.

    With Corbyn in charge, literally anything could happen. I think he gives Labour a 5% chance of winning the next election and that is 5% more than the other 3. He will also make the Tories more arrogant and complacent.

    Given that the only thing that looks capable of beating the Conservatives is themselves now, that might not be a bad thing for the left.

  16. John. Reid says:

    David Walker, Corbyn give slabour a 100% chance of us not winning the 2025 and 2030 elections

  17. Jimmy says:

    “One speaker wanted to know whether Corbyn, in abolishing tuition fees, would also write off the debts of all past students who had had to pay them. Corbyn was happy to confirm that he would.”

    But does this go far enough? Surely fairness demands that those who have paid be reimbursed?

  18. Tafia says:

    John. Reid – Corbyn give slabour a 100% chance of us not winning the 2025 and 2030 elections

    You have paid absolutely no attention whatsoever to anything Corbyn has said or you would know that both 2025 and 2030 are irrelevant – he wouldn’t be leader then.

    Thatsaid, none of the other three will win in 2020 either and the leader of Labour in 2025 will definately not be any of this four irrespective of who wins next month.

    You – like many others , still can;’t seem to grasp that 2020 is totally out of the question and this time around you need to be picking a leader who will be – and more importantly will be seen to be and heard to be, an effective Opposition leader to the tories. If you are picking your candidate on the grounds of who you want to win the GE2020, then you are not only seriously deluded but you are going to be badly disappointed as well.

  19. Tafia says:

    Jimmy “One speaker wanted to know whether Corbyn, in abolishing tuition fees

    This evening, Burnham has also come out in favour of the abolition of tuition fees.

  20. Luke Thomas says:

    This is such a standard anti-Corbyn article: 1980s; any cut is austerity; Militant; unelectable; uncosted … BINGO!

    Corbyn is broadly right about the usefulness of ‘fully-costing’ government spending plans – a term that is almost entirely political, a sop to the electorate, and continues the confusion between a household and a government in budgetary terms. We can currently borrow at fantastically low rates, or apply ‘People’s QE’ to fund infrastructure spending which grows the economy if done properly, and grows the debt away. These are not fanciful ideas, but ones finding broad support among leading economists, and yesterday getting a very positive wrote-up in the Financial Times. Corbyn has also repeatedly talked about the minutes of his economic policies – there is no sense in which he considers spending to be drawn from an infinite pot of money.

    The importance of government spending on infrastructure for growth is not the bizarre insurgent view; austerity is.

  21. David Brede says:

    What is lost on the majority of Progress supporters is that for all the picking over of policy Jeremy Corbyn has some charisma that is motivating a whole lot of people who previously didn’t support Labour and certainly would not have turned up at events.

    Tony Blair also had that.

    Burnham, Cooper and Kendall lack this and are constantly being advised to play safe by well intentioned apparatchiks who learned their politics at university and have never gone out in the real world much. To be fair to Burnham when he talks of Hillsbrough some sparks of passion appear.

    Politics is about passionate beliefs and how can you motivate a voter to believe in your passion when you scarcely believe it yourself?

  22. John Reid says:

    Peter Scott,3 million ex labour voters voted SDP in 1983 because they didn’t like Labours new policies, no one can take anyone’s vote for granted to stick with them, the ex labour who voted SDP werent traitors,the didn’t like Labours new policies and if labour had listened to the right of the parties concerns they’d have known it, plus, although the Falklands helped a it, Thatcher had just gone ahead in the polls a week before the Falklands all be it,on 35% and even if Ex labour voters hadn’t gone SDP shed have still won, but with a smaller majority,

    As for the Sheffield rally, and the Tory press, yes years of criticism of kinnock gave a bad view, but he’d done a lot of damage to himself, let alone how could someone who endorsed the 83′ and 87 manifestos stand on a platform in 92 totally different,but the idea that the 2.5m votes extra Kinnock would have needed to win disappeared was due toThe rallying illy, he lost because the public hadn’t forgot the winter of discontent, the deputy leadership race of 1981 and he loony left

  23. Metro Elite says:


    best article on here for a few weeks, well played.

  24. Stephen W says:

    “a sop to the electorate”

    What a phrase. And Lefties wonder why everyone thinks they’ll crash to a historic defeat.

  25. Jimmy says:

    “This evening, Burnham has also come out in favour of the abolition of tuition fees.”

    Not really. He just wants us to call it a graduate tax instead.

    Must be a lot of students signing up.

  26. Vetch101 says:

    I find it surprising that Corbyn’s economics are being so roundly ridiculed when, unlike the policies of austerity, they are based on text book macroeconomics.

    Keynesian investment to increase aggregate demand and kick start the economy, improving growth through both investing in core infrastructure and reducing unemployment at the same time are ideas which have been extremely successful in the pay when monetary policy has run up against its efficacy barrier – the zero lower bound.

    The reason that the 250% of GDP debt from the 40s is critical is that was when Keynesian economics was first practiced and it was what dragged us out of the depression. The fact that we can now borrow at historically low rates just emphasises the point the borrowing in the short term to grow the economy is both rational and economically justifiable. It is entirely accurate to say that austerity is unnecessary, ideologically driven and self-defeating – an opinion supported by the IMF, that hotbed of socialism.

  27. If Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall wins, top of their to-do list should be how the party engages with all these new supporters and brings their passion and enthusiasm on board. But I am profoundly worried by some of the people the Corbyn campaign is bringing on board.

  28. Norman Thomas says:

    Adenauer set up regional business banks in Germany , and he had the Mark. Loans were guaranteed by his government , 1948-98 .
    result : prosperity.
    Ask the Blairites what their economic recovery plan is. They don’t have one.

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