People like Gwyneth Pendry (Reasons to be hopeful that Labour can come out on top, Letters, 25 November) take encouragement from comparing Labour under Clement Attlee nearly 75 years ago with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn now. John Bew’s biography of Attlee, Citizen Clem, published in 2016, establishes two highly relevant, and sadly inconvenient, differences: Corbyn is not remotely any kind of reincarnation of the Attlee who emerges from Bew’s 560 pages; and the world in which Attlee triumphed only very remotely resembles our political world today.
In 1945 Britain was just emerging from six years of war in which many voters had witnessed severe destruction and suffered the loss of people close to them. This was a serious time, and a serious nation: not one in which a morally dubious, careless, flippant, cynical operator like Boris Johnson today could have been taken seriously.
In the circumstances of war, both Churchill and Attlee had earned the respect of most British people. The attitude surveys in today’s opinion polls, often far more telling than what gets into the headlines, provide another inescapable indication of the way in which politicians, and politics generally, operate in a vastly different context from that of 1945. In this less committed, less deferential, more disillusioned world, they have ceased to command respect; Corbyn, however unjustly, more so even than Johnson.
• As Francis Fukuyama has painfully learned, a dogmatic belief in historical inevitability is a dangerous foundation when analysing the political world. Rather than asking whether the “new left is yet capable of winning power” (Can the radical left win power? This matters beyond Britain, 28 November), Aditya Chakrabortty might more usefully take a cold shower, look at polling data and ponder why a newly radicalised Labour party appears to be heading for its greatest defeat since 1983 against such a poorly performing incumbent, and even whether the lack of broad electoral appeal of the Corbyn project is not giving licence to the Conservatives to veer further to the right than they might have done against a more credible opponent. But then again, that might only lead him to conclude, as Brecht did, that the people have lost the confidence of the party.
• I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn since he was a young Haringey councillor in the 1970s. I was sceptical then of his idea that significant societal change could come through the Labour party and parliament. I thought that more would be required in terms of extra-parliamentary activity and pressure as a start and still do. The two of course are far from being in opposition, and Corbyn himself has an impressive track record as a campaigner, notably against racism.
Jeremy Corbyn has kept at his strategy and, as Aditya Chakrabortty notes, has recruited to the Labour cause thousands who were involved initially in the politics of protest. If Labour wins on 12 December it will be a significant marker in that debate from the 1970s about whether the Labour leader was right about how to change the world, or whether we had a point about the difficulty of reforming capitalism bit by bit.
I hope I’m proved wrong after the best part of 50 years, but stand ready to continue the fight for a better world whatever the outcome.
• Join the debate – email email@example.com
• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters
• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition