Under Corbyn the haves will have a little less and the have nots will have a little hope, writes Steve Beauchampé.
I did not vote for Labour in the 2015 General Election. I have not voted for the party since before Tony Blair and his New Labour ideologues ascended to power in the mid-1990s. But should Jeremy Corbyn win the current leadership contest and lead the party into the 2020 General Election, it is quite possible that I will give Labour my vote.
This is not because Corbyn is a conviction politician (rather than a politician who should be convicted, a description applicable to several of his critics) or because he is the anti-politics candidate (I have no idea what that means but I don’t think that he’s it). It is because I am in broad agreement with many of his policies and am sympathetic to the kind of society that he aims to create.
Jeremy Corbyn’s overarching vision involves the creation of a form of social democracy that appears not dissimilar to that championed by the SNP – and I’d have voted for them had they stood in the Birmingham constituency where I live. The society Corbyn envisages differs vastly to that produced by the ultra free market economy so loved by George Osborne and many luminaries of the New Labour era, an always and ever open for business society where everything has its price, but nothing is valued, money is power and the vulnerable are scorned.
But to portray Corbyn as anti-business is incorrect. Although he is committed to policies designed to narrow Britain’s increasing wealth gap, and to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable are not scapegoated for the results of a banking crisis and subsequent recession for which they were not responsible, he is supportive of those businesses who behave responsibly to their employees, customers and the environment whilst also being cognisant of their impact upon wider society.
Corbyn proposes a high tax economy for the wealthy, a low tax economy for the poor, increased public spending and a strengthening of those democratically accountable local institutions laid waste, first by New Labour, and then by Osborne’s austerity mantra. He envisages improved and more sympathetic working conditions and practices and a rebalancing of the economy away from a reliance on financial services to the manufacturing sector. Corbyn would tighten banking regulations (Osborne intends relaxing them further), re-introduce a 50% rate of income tax and raise Corporation Tax (currently at a historically low level) by 0.5%, this as a means of paying for the abolition of tuition fees.
In many areas Corbyn has been quite specific, more so than he probably needs to be almost five years out from a general election. Thus we know that he wants to re-nationalise both the railways (by not renewing private sector franchises) and private utilities in the energy sector, remove all elements of privatisation from the NHS, bring Free Schools and Academies under effective local authority control and re-introduce rent controls to reduce the amount the state pays to private landlords.
He also pledges to create an investment bank overseen by the Bank of England to fund large-scale infrastructure projects such as transport, housing and renewable, energy projects, as opposed to the current policy of filling the banking sectors’ coffers via quantitative easing as a means of trying to stimulate investment and growth.
JMindful that Britain’s demographic includes millions of young voters, Corbyn has stated that apprentices would be paid the minimum wage and young people would no longer be denied housing benefit simply because they are young, two of a raft of measures designed to reverse the Conservative’s unrelenting discrimination against the economic and social rights of under-25s.
There’s much more – the scrapping of Trident, Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, a substantial increase in the number of ‘affordable’ homes being built (at the expense of ones property speculators can afford), including those by local authorities, opposition to fracking and the creation of an elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords.
Corbyn’s agenda for devolution includes a loosening of Treasury controls over Local Enterprise Partnerships, a re-balancing of transport policy away from the South East and opposition to the imposition of metro-Mayors without approval via a local referendum. However, it should be noted that his devolutionary thoughts are thus far largely focussed on the north of England, rather than areas such as the West Midlands.
This broad sweep of policies gives lie to the myth that a Jeremy Corbyn-led administration offers nothing more than a return to the politics of the 1980s, that he would make Labour the party of protest, permanently in opposition. On the contrary, many of his ideas offer forward thinking answers to contemporary issues. For sure he proposes to finally right certain ideologically driven decisions that were taken under Thatcher and Blair, but so he should, these were wrong then and are still wrong today.
As might be expected with any policy programme, there are a few oddities that might be hard to support, such as a proposal that Britain should leave NATO or the reopening of some coal pits. But to portray Jeremy Corbyn’s policies as being ‘hard left’ or ‘old-fashioned socialism’ shows lazy, inaccurate or disingenuous reportage by those voicing such criticisms to the point where I wonder how many of his detractors have seriously studied his ideas.
Indeed, in most western democracies Corbyn’s programme would be regarded as routine social democracy, and only in the context of a political centre ground that has travelled inexorably to the right for much of the last 35 years, and particularly since 2010, are they viewed as extreme.
As former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said, the Labour Party needs a leader who is radical, credible and electable, someone who gives hope. That would be Jeremy Corbyn then.