Policy differences are normal in democratic politics but Brexit...
The June election gave Jeremy Corbyn and his team a hunger for office, making them impatient to replace the Conservative Government which he dismisses as a “coalition of chaos” tearing itself apart over Brexit. This week’s Labour conference set out the alternative he offers. He described it as a programme of “progressive socialism”.
This includes the nationalisation of the Royal Mail, the railways, water industry, energy suppliers and the construction industry. It also includes measures to regulate interest rates on credit cards and take PFI contracts back into the public sector.
On Brexit Corbyn “Accepts and respects the referendum result” but distanced his party from the Conservatives by assuring the three million EU citizens currently living in Britain that they are welcome here and should be given the “full guarantees they deserve”. He agreed with Theresa May that “Britain should stay within the basic terms of the single market and customs union for a limited transitional period” but was vague about what should happen after that. He talked of a settlement that delivers jobs, rights and decent living standards, without saying how that is to be achieved.
John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, was amazingly frank in admitting the possibility that Labour’s programme might lead to a financial crisis if they win the next election and implement this programme. He has brought together a team of ‘scenario planners’ to plan for a crash in the value of the pound and investors pulling their capital out of the UK. Given the socialist character of McDonnell’s plans this seems realistic, but it raises questions as to whether the voters will support them.
The Conservatives will inevitably remind voters of the massive budget deficit the last Labour Government left them, which has still not been eliminated. With a weak pound and inflation rising, most people are worse off and living standards are falling, creating pressure for wage rises and benefit increases. In his long speech, Corbyn promised pay rises for doctors and nurses, teachers, police and the security services. To maintain standards, keep existing people and recruit new ones, this makes sense but add all this together and substantial tax increases would surely be necessary with big business in Labour’s sights.
Homelessness is a growing problem and a review of social housing policy was promised. Labour will control rents and stop cuts to benefits. Regeneration of dilapidated estates should be for the benefit of local people not private developers. People living on those estates “Must get a home on the same site and on the same terms as before”, Corbyn insists.
There is no question about the radical changes he wants a Labour Government to bring about. His oft repeated mantra of government for the many not the few, where the rewards are more fairly spread, where people “have a continuing say in how society is run, how their workplace is run, how their local schools and hospitals are run” is his goal. He wants “power devolved to the community, not monopolised in Westminster and Whitehall” but he said nothing about how this is to be achieved. He concluded with the claim that “We are now the political mainstream”. Given the quasi Marxist nature of this vision, that claim is questionable. Whilst there is no denying the hero worship he receives from his young supporters, Labour still won 55 fewer seats than the Conservatives despite their unconvincing leader and open divisions. Many will admire his vision for a more participative democracy but it will take massive changes in people’s attitudes and lifestyles to make that a reality.