Jeremy Corbyn is what you get when you mess with capitalism

A delayed reaction to the bank bailouts is behind the surge in popular support for protest politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn, says Merryn Somerset Webb.


Jeremy Corbyn: riding a wave of popular discontent

We've been pointing out for some time now that the rise of extreme political parties and politicians across the West is a clear symptom of the discombobulation and betrayal felt by populations in the wake of the great financial crisis. My interview with Bernard Connolly effectively forecast it, I've mentioned it with reference to the rise of the SNP, and John Stepek summed it all up neatly in his Money Morning on Jeremy Corbyn. But the idea is now on the move.

A few days ago, Dan Hannan picked it up in a column in the Washington Examiner. Look at Jeremy Corbyn, he says. How can such a man be three weeks away from becoming the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition?

It isn't charisma: "he shuffles about like a scruffy geography teacher muttering hesitantly from the depths of an unkempt beard". And it isn't his sincerity he appears to genuinely believe his own nonsense, but sincerity alone is never enough. And it isn't Labour's new voting system. Instead, says Hannan, it is all "part of the same phenomenon that has seen Syriza become the dominant party in Greece, Podemos surge in Spain, the SNP win power in Scotland, and even old Bernie [Saunders] enjoy his moment in the US".

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What we are witnessing is a "delayed response to the bank bailouts". Hannan's point here is that the bailouts undermined the legitimacy of capitalism, wiping away the broad support it had for decades on the basis that free markets are both "efficient and meritocratic". The crisis and the bailout made the whole thing look neither.

The far left have always argued that capitalism is a "crook, a racket in which the rich rigged the rules in their own favour". The wealthy get the profits when things go well, and subsidies when they don't (quantitative easing being the greatest subsidy of all time).

You may point out and we constantly point out that the bailouts and the last six years of super-low interest rate policy and money printing have nothing to do with real capitalism or real free markets. They are symptomatic of the abandonment of the rigours of real capitalism. But that, clearly, isn't how much of the population sees it. And that's why we are where we are three weeks away from having Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.