Jeremy Corbyn has done remarkably well since the general election was called, argues Alan Thornett.
He hit the ground running and launched Labour’s campaign with a speech that attacked the rich and pledged to speak on behalf of the dispossessed. He and other key members of the shadow cabinet have been speaking at big public rallies up and down Britain, while Theresa May has been hiding from the electorate in closed private meetings. Over 2,500 people joined the Labour Party the day the election was announced and many more since. Corbyn has faced down not only dire poll ratings— deliberately generated by the right inside the party against him—but also the Tory campaign of personalised vitriol enthusiastically backed by the media.
It is absolutely clear that a Tory victory would be a disaster. It would not only be more of the same but full speed ahead with austerity policies for the next five years and a hard-line anti-working class Brexit with all that means for political and social conditions in Britain for a very long time. The message is clear: if you want your wages to remain frozen, if you want the NHS to be destroyed, and if you want to continue to have zero rights at work, if you want a hard Brexit—vote Tory.
Corbyn’s response has been to turn to politics, with Labour policy announcements coming out thick and fast since the election was announced. In fact this process had already started before May’s announcement and was then quickly accelerated. Clearly a lot of preparatory work had already been done and that could quickly be called on.
Labour is also rightly campaigning to get people onto the electoral register. More than 100,000 young people registered in the first three days after the election was called – but with voting figures low amongst the under 25s there is still a way to go before the deadline of May 22.
Whilst the Labour manifesto has not yet been published it is clear that Labour will be standing—after 7 years of vicious Tory cuts—on a radically different (anti-austerity) platform than any other party in the election. This has already started to have a resonance with the Sunday Times poll showing a reduction in the Tory lead from 23 points to 13. Some other polls are not so clear. Jean-Luc Mélenchon was at least as far behind in the polls at the start of the French presidential election campaign as Corbyn is now.
As the editorial in the Sunday Mirror says: ‘The battle lines in this general election become clearer as each day of this campaign unfolds’.
Kick out the Tories
Labour still has a mountain to climb, but the big Tory majority May is banking on might be wishful thinking—a Labour victory in the form of a Labour led anti-austerity government with the support of the SNP, the Greens and Plaid should not by discounted.
This is going to be an election based on competing policies and visions of society more than any other election for a long time. As Mark Serwotka pointed out at the London May Day Rally on Monday, this is completely different to the last two elections where the challenge was to spot the difference—elections that Labour lost. It is also completely different to the Blair years when the watchword was reach out to the Tories.
Blair along with Mandelson and Hattersley—who have all intervened against Corbyn since the election has been called—have been roundly slapped down by John Prescott in the Sunday Mirror who called for unity behind Corbyn during this election campaign and has told them to ‘put up or shut up’. He argues that a united campaign will put Labour in the lead within three weeks.Labour policy announcements continue to come out everyday day and the list is impressive.
- A £10 minimum wage,
- Renationalising the railways,
- Higher taxes on the rich, reverse the Tory’s £72 million tax cuts
- Higher corporation tax
- Repealing the Tory anti-union laws
- Ending zero-hour contracts
- Full employments rights from day one
- Ending under cutting by posted workers
- Pay for interns
- The right to trade union representation
- Outlawing the sacking of women because they are pregnant
- Tackling the gender pay gap by forcing companies to publish pay differentials
- Four new bank holidays, reflecting Britain’s national diversity
- Abolition of fees for industrial tribunals
- Ending the pay freeze in the public sector
- Giving a pay-rise for NHS staff
- Ending privatisation in the NHS
- Halting all current A and E closure proposals
- A pay cap – not more than 20 times the average – on public sector bosses and those companies with government contracts
- Defending Britain against the environmental effects of Brexit
- Banning fracking
- Increasing carers allowance by 17%
- Reversing the £3 billion education cuts
- Abolishing tuition fees
- Reintroducing NHS bursaries
- Reversing the housing benefit cut for 18-21 year olds
- Free school meals
- Ending the opening of free schools, no new grammar schools
- Building a million houses over 5 years, half of them council houses
- Acting against rogue landlords in the private rented sector to ensure rented accommodation is fit for human habitation
- Banning weapons sales to repressive regimes
A detailed policy on Brexit has been presented that includes that includes: a unilateral declaration that EU nationals living here will be allowed to stay; opposition to a hard Tory-style Brexit; insistence on a meaningful vote in the Commons at the end of the process; that Labour would seek to stay in the customs unions; tariff-free access to the single market (by way of a trade deal) with freedom of movement for those with a job offer. It includes scrapping the proposals in the Great Repeal bill and replacing it with a positive bill enshrining key rights that would be lost with the termination of EU membership.
If this accurately reflects the manifesto, and we can assume it will, it adds up to exactly the kind of radical anti-austerity platform that Labour needs to cut through in this election, completely different from what Labour has offered in recent years. It is a platform that represents not just a different set of economic policies but a vision of a different social model; for the many not the few. And Corbyn himself has been to the left of the ‘official’ stance and likely manifesto positions, arguing for unrestricted movement in terms of single market access, and insisting that Trident would be the subject of a strategic defence review in the event of Labour winning the election.
There is no sign as yet, however, that there is any intention to include a pledge for electoral reform in the Labour manifesto, however. This would, in my view, be a very big mistake, and a missed opportunity. Such a commitment would not only attract a lot of votes to Labour from many desperate to see a grossly undemocratic system changed, but given the changes that are taking place in the political structure of the country, first-past-the-post is getting more undemocratic as each election goes by.
Why did May call the election?
Three principal imperatives appear to have brought about the dramatic U-turn involved in calling this election— which has destroyed the Fixed Parliament Act and reintroduced the grossly undemocratic position of the election date being determined by the incumbent.
The first was a realisation of the risks of waiting until 2020. Predicting the political situation in two-year’s time with Brexit negotiations underway is impossible—anything could happen.
The second was that the Tories were 20 points ahead in the polls and have a trump card to play—in the Brexit vote. May calculated that the already Ukipised Tory Party, with her as leader, could speak for the Brexit vote (which is still intact) and appeal for a majority on the basis that she will ensure that Brexit takes place with no back-sliding.
The third was the right-wing Labour MPs who were still campaigning to get rid of Corbyn—many of whom would rather see a Tory victory than a Corbyn victory.
If this works and she gets a significantly increased majority, this would put her in a strong (if possible unassailable) position to determine the character of Brexit—which going to be unambiguously hard-line and no one should doubt otherwise. She wants a big majority that would allow her to dictate terms that could be very unpopular without credible challenge from either inside the Tory Party or outside.
At the same time, the Ukip vote appears to be collapsing and the much-vaunted Lib Dem revival appears to be fizzling out. In the Sunday Times poll, Ukip were on 6 points and the Lib Dems were on 11.
An anti-austerity alliance
Given that Labour is continuing to defend a unionist position in Scotland, opposing a Yes vote in a second independence referendum, its electoral position is not going to change—in fact it might well get worse. This means that a Labour overall majority in the Commons is extremely difficult so if Labour is going to ‘win’ the election this will mean Labour being the biggest single party governing with the support of other anti-austerity parties: i.e. the SNP and the Greens. Corbyn’s current hostility to this makes no sense and needs to change. If Labour does become the biggest party after the election, it will anyway have the choice of working with other anti-austerity parties, including the SNP, or inviting the Tories to form a Government. Put like that, it’s really not a choice at all
But whether it is cooperation before the election or afterwards with Labour as the biggest party, we are talking about an anti-austerity alliance and not the ambiguous concept of a ‘progressive alliance’ as defined by and campaigned for by Compass for example. Unfortunately that’s also what the Green Party are pushing too—an alliance which includes the Lib Dems—the same Lib Dems who propped up the Tories for 5 years enabling them to force through their austerity programme the hard end of which is currently being implemented.
That’s not the message that will galvanise the hundreds of thousands that have stayed at home in recent elections, feeling that there is no difference between politicians of any hue – who can be most effectively mobilised around a clear anti-austerity message.