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Extreme? Back to the 80s? How Corbynomics compares with the SDP manifesto

Corbyn SDPJeremy Corbyn’s economic programme may be seen as radical by many today, but economist James Meadway finds it has a surprising amount in common with the 1983 SDP manifesto

There’s been a lot of excitable chatter about Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies. Newspaper pundits and Labour Party grandees have queued up to denounce his plans as a return to the dark days of 1983. This is the year Labour stood in the election on a left-wing platform, and lost by a landslide to the Tories, led by Margaret Thatcher.

The talking heads have a point. Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto is close to one of those from that fateful year. But it’s not Labour’s. It’s the Social Democratic Party.

The SDP was set up by a small group of leading Labour Party figures, disenchanted with Labour’s shift to the left. They stood, in 1983, in alliance with the old Liberal Party. They are today best remembered for splitting the anti-Tory vote, and so helping Thatcher to two successive election wins.

This is their 1983 manifesto. And here is what Jeremy Corbyn says about the economy.

The SDP denounced Tory spending cuts and called forcarefully selected increases in public spending and reductions in taxation… to increase public borrowing to around £11 billion” and to “to reverse the reduction in public investment”.

Corbyn, too, attacks Tory spending cuts and calls for “public investment in new publicly-owned infrastructure”. But unlike the SDP, Corbyn thinks “Labour should not run a public deficit”.

Corbyn is more fiscally conservative than the “moderate” SDP.

There’s more. The SDP called for government spending to directly create 250,000 jobs over two years, plus another 100,000 in the NHS and social services. In total, they wanted to reduce unemployment by 600,000 in two years.

Unlike the SDP, Corbyn sets no target for reducing that level and does not call for the government to directly create jobs.

Corbyn has called for monetary policy to be used to boost investment, in the form of “People’s Quantitative Easing”. The SDP wanted less “restrictive monetary policy and management of the exchange rate” to help create 400,000 new jobs.

Both the SDP and Corbyn are concerned about what the SDP call “excessive” pay in the private sector, with the SDP pushing for a “Prices and Incomes Commission” to regulate pay. Both agree on the need for an industrial strategy, backed by investment in high-tech research. But the SDP also wanted to radically expand the range of worker participation in their businesses, including a mandatory employee right to information.

The difference is clear. Corbyn’s economic policies, today, place him to the right of 1983’s moderates. If we must make decades-old comparisons, perhaps this is the one to make?


  1. David Ellis says:

    Corbyn really isn’t all that left wing. He’s really a sort of extreme liberal. His campaign is worth supporting though because it will break the consensus and the grip of the Labour Party machinery over the labour movement. It will open the debate.

    1. Robert says:

      I think sadly labour will just be refused help by the Progress drones and everything Corbyn does like Miliband will have to pass the Progress test.

      Miliband lost he could not even beat a Tory coalition which was hated, Miliband was seen as weak and in the grips of progress, Corbyn will need to try and break that lot up, can he do it I doubt it.

      I’m sorry but I think the next election is already being celebrated by the Tories no matter whom wins.

    2. john P Reid says:

      liberal isn’t left wing, one reason that The SDP left was deslecting sitting MP’s via militant, yet Jez said if MPs vote agaisnt him and the party whip they could face deselection, or words to that effect ,those who left to form the SDp suggested in 1981 getting rid of clause4 yet he wasn’t it back

      I recall in 1986 Tony Benn said to those ex labour who left for the SDP, come back to labour we’ll carefully listen to what you’ve got to say, then use the union block vote, to vote against it,

      1. Robert says:


  2. john P Reid says:

    by the way, the centre ground has changed since 2010 the crash has made it move tot he right on the EU and immigration, where labour was authoritarian, the snoopers charter and the like are more right wing too ,even thatchers cuts to the state weren’t like the ones the Tories have made to defence, and the Tories have just won

  3. Jim says:

    Why do you call Him Centre left, you and the morning star called Diane Abbott centre left when she stood in 2010 ,her of white people love to play divide and rule, you call the CPLD slate centre left, that’s Ken Livingstone and his mate Lufthur Rhman, Christine Shawcroft,current,y suspended,and Kate Osamor who put on Twitter , the police killed Pac blakelock, now you reference the SDP, when Berni Grant stood for parliament in 87′ 7 labour MPs told the Tottenham people to vote for the SDP candidate, I take it ,if Jeremy wins, they’ll be calls to vote libdem

  4. David Ellis says:

    He is also a pacifist which is an outlook antithetical to the interests of working people valuing as it does peace above all else including justice which is no good for exploited classes and oppressed peoples struggling for liberation. He needs to break from that view and also from the wretched pro-Putin Stop the War Coalition and the Zionist’s bogus two state peace lie which even if successful and it is not intended to be would be an alliance against the Palestinian people.

    As for the 2020 election it is going to be extremely difficult for anybody to get Labour elected by then as the hatred for New Labour is intense and the memory of their calamitous spell in power will still be fresh but if anybody can it will be an anti-austerity candidate. For sure any of the other three winning will see Labour wiped out.

  5. Bazza says:

    There has always been this almost obsession with Labour needing a great Leader.
    But if Jetemy wins he may just be right for what the grassroots of Labour needs – a facilitator of power.

  6. […] Since I started writing this, Caron Lindsay drew my attention to this post on Left Futures: […]

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