Saturday, 12 September 2015

Congratulations Corbyn.

Elected by 59.5% of the voters.  Wow.

His acceptance speech demonstrated that he is no polished performer, but his percentage demonstrates he is a game changer.

Yet within minutes of the announcement  one of his senior colleagues had resigned.

Yesterday Corbyn was quoted:

"[The Labour Party has] a big job to do in exposing the government's austerity programme and what it's doing to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, their bill on welfare reform and their bill on trade union issues, and the way they are actually systematically slicing up public services in Britain through massive cuts and local government grants."

So what's not to like?  Yet between seven and 12 of his senior colleagues are also reported to be contemplating refusing to serve on his front bench. Liz Kendaall has sad that her " differences on the economy and foreign policy [are] too fundamental."

Yet most of Corbyn's economic policy is mainstream, or it would be if the Tory PR machine had not so successfully distorted the truth to suit their own agenda. (See the respected Oxford Professor Simon Wren Lewis's  "mainly macro" on11th September for details of how.)

Cotbyn is also keen on taking the railways and energy companies back into public ownership, and retaining at least one of the bailed-out banks as a publicly-owned facilitator of regional investment.  All power to his elbow for these popular and sensible policies.  I'm not, however, too keen on his "People's Quantitative Easing,"  which is a confusing blur of monetary and fiscal policy, and should prefer that he stick to tried and tested fiscal stimulation.  (I concede that makes me a conservative (!) Keynesian.)

Of course the Tory PR machine won't waste a moment in tearing hie record, character and politics to shreds. We had a flavour only yesterday of what is to come, when David Cameron is reported as saying:

"It's as if the financial crash . . . never happened . . .[T]his is now a party that has completely vacated the intellectual playing field  . . .It is arguing at the extremes of the debate, simply wedded to more spending, more borrowing and more taxes."

This "broad brush" innuendo does not, of course,  bear close scrutiny
  • yes, the financial crash did happen - and it was  the result of the Tory policy of deregulation;
  • Corbyn is not at the extremes of the debate - his proposals for stimulating the economy are mainstream, based on both economic theory and historical experience, and supported by the majority of macro-economists;
  • more spending is needed to upgrade the infrastructure (not least the upgrading of out Northern rail network, which, after their unequivocal promise in the election, the Tories have now put on ice;
  • with interest rates at an historic low this is an excellent time to borrow - indeed it is akin to criminal negligence for the government not to borrow;
  • and most of us have the sense to realise that we can't have a decent society without paying for it.  As well as chasing tax evasion and avoidance, how about a land value tax, a financial transaction tax, and a reduction in tax exemptions for pension pots designed to generate more than the median wage?
Of course, the bulk of the press will not bother to analyse either Cameron's taunts or Corbyn's policies in this way, and it is a tragedy that so many of  Corbyn's own party, and indeed his three rivals, seem to have lost heart, and fail to defend Labour's economic record or advocate anything but Tory-lite policies.  Indeed, some senior figures even help the Tories along by adding to the smears.  Jon Cruddas yesterday referred to fears of " a Trotskyist tribute act,"  With friends like these . . . .? 

After the neo-con hegemony of the last 35 years, which, sadly, even the leadership of the Liberal Democrats  has failed to  challenge, I believe there is a very real chance of Corbyn becoming a game change for the entire country.  He has shifted the views of the Labour party grass-roots: now let him now reach out further.

In this it is desperately important he is not  tribal.  Martin Kettle has pointed out the dangers of "Labour's combination of blindness and disdain towards tradition other than its own."  To achieve the seismic shift we need in British politics he needs to be prepared to work with we Liberal Democrats, the Greens and, yes, even the SNP.

Corbyn has shown his willingness for a collegiate approach to policy-making within the Labour Party.  I hope doesn't triangulate away too much. At the same time I hope he will offer the hand of friendship to other parties of the left.  I wonder again what his views are on proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies?

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