February 4, 2020 - 8:29am

Grace Blakeley stirred the pot this week with a series of tweets attacking “vitriolic socialist-hating journalists” who “used to be socialists themselves.”

I’ve no idea who she’s referring to, but her argument is that these dastardly turncoats have exaggerated the significance of the 2019 general election because they so nearly found themselves “on the wrong side of history” in 2017: “Which is why they are so keen for 2019 to be our generation’s 1983 — they’re desperate for us to abandon socialism and prove that we are just like them.”

1983 refers to Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory over Michael Foot — a calamity for the Labour Left, from which they took a generation to recover.

But things aren’t nearly so bad now, Blakeley insists: “But it’s not 1983. 2008 changed everything. And wherever you look — from Ireland to Iowa — the centre is collapsing and the left is on the rise.”

“Wherever you look” is doing some heavy lifting here. The Left (by which Blakeley seems to mean full-blooded socialists as opposed to the capitalism-lite parties of the centre-Left) is not on the rise everywhere. Not in the UK or France or Germany or Italy or the Netherlands or Scandinavia or lots of other places. As for Greece and Spain, the Left (in the form of Syriza and Podemos) is now a diminished force.

And yet Blakeley is right about one thing: 2008 (i.e. the global financial crisis) did change everything. Pre-crash, there was no significant challenge to the neo-liberal order, post-crash there is. For the first time in decades socialist alternatives have received a serious hearing — even in the US.

So far, those alternatives have been rejected (with the brief and unhappy exception of Greece). Furthermore, the alternative to the alternative — i.e. Rightwing populism — has often made more headway. As for actual power, that is mostly in the hands of the centre and centre-Right.

That, however, is no reason for establishment capitalists to breathe easy. They owe their continued supremacy not to their own innate strengths, but to the ineptitude of their opponents. In a few countries, populists have already shown they can win at the ballot box — therefore it’s possible that a halfway competent socialist could do the same.

If you spot one, do write in.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.