Corbynism And Democracy: A Political Movement In And Against Neoliberalism

  • Lewis Bassett-Yerrell

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis has three aims: i) to provide a characterisation of Corbynism; ii) to understand how Corbynism is shaped by the context in which it appeared; and iii) to consider the relationship between Corbynism and democracy. The thesis argues that Corbynism was a political movement, comparable to the sense in which Stuart Hall famously diagnosed Thatcherism. Following Hall, the thesis examines Corbynism's ideological repertoire and its political-economic objectives. But departing from Hall, the thesis emphasises the differences between the intentions of Corbynism and Corbynism in practice. For instance, the thesis' qualitative methods show that Corbynism was neither a social movement nor was socialist, at least in terms of its short to medium term strategic horizon. These differences between movement ideology and movement practice are understood by examining Corbynism in its context. Here, neoliberalism and the recent history of political-economic change since the 2008 banking crisis forms the key contextual backdrop of the movement. This analytical perspective is ordered via the lens of the movement's political opportunity structure, referring to both the contextual opportunities and constraints for political action. The thesis argues that ultimately Corbynism was both in and against neoliberalism, meaning the movement was constrained by its neoliberal context and unable to transform that context without first achieving state power. The thesis shows, therefore, that the major agent of substantive change within Corbynism was intended to be the state. Hence, Corbynism sought to affect political and social change from the top-down rather than led from the bottom-up. In regards to democracy, Corbynism provided political support for liberal institutions, a "function" of the Labour Party that was once diagnosed by new left commentators, foremost Ralph Miliband. Therefore, rather than populist, in the sense of being illiberal, Corbynism both legitimated liberal institutions and proposed reforms that were meant to provide a renewed social and political basis for contemporary liberal democratic capitalism. The thesis argues that to comprehend this latter point requires putting to one side thin understandings of democracy and instead considering democracy more broadly as an instituted process.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorIan Bruff (Supervisor) & Kevin Gillan (Supervisor)


  • Labour Party
  • Corbyn
  • Neoliberalism
  • Democracy
  • British Politics
  • Populism

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