Corbyn’s relaunch

Photo: Steve Eason

Susan Moore looks at what the Labour leader has been doing since Christmas:

Corbyn’s relaunch since the start of the year has seen him take a more combative and pro-active approach in putting forward his anti-austerity anti-war agenda and engaging more with the media in doing so.

Corbyn and his key allies are well aware that they are operating in an extremely hostile and difficult environment – both in terms of the overall political situation of a hard Brexit and Trump’s election, but also in terms of the continued attempts by the PLP majority to undermine his leadership – most recently taking the shape of the resignations of the sitting MPs in Copeland and Stoke Central. It’s no surprise that Labour is paying the price in the opinion polls.

There is however one issue – free movement – on which he made a serious error in his speech in Peterborough on January 10, saying that he was not wedded to free movement.

As we have pointed out previously, the referendum campaign and its aftermath unleashed racist attacks and the normalisation of racism the like of which we have not seen in Britain for generations. This reactionary development is also reflected and reinforced by Trump’s election and by May’s commitment to hard Brexit and the concomitant UKIPisation of the Tory party.

Migration is an issue on which there have always been differences amongst Corbyn’s supporters. Corbyn’s speech came in the wake of McCluskey’s disgraceful article in the Morning Star in which he describes support for free movement as ultra-left utopianism[1], which probably put pressure on Corbyn, but McCluskey has always been to Corbyn’s right on the question. Dianne Abbot’s earlier article in the Morning Star was so far the best defence of Corbyn’s position on migration from Labour front bench.

All of this underlines that there is a battle going on in the Corbyn camp on this question, sharper than on any other issue. Our role should be to strengthen those forces that support the position argued by Abbot and argue for Corbyn to defend free movement openly and vigorously. As we argue elsewhere if Corbyn is to form a government in 2020 it will be on the basis of him holding a firm line and putting forward a radical left programme.

Positives

Corbyn’s overall programme; anti-austerity, anti-war, pro social justice and pro-migrant– which he has been defending and extending – continues to be unacceptable to the ruling class. This is evidenced by the continued attacks on him in the media and of course by the Labour right. But despite that he has been doing an effective job, including at each of the PMQs since Christmas

Other than the Peterborough speech, probably the most important examples of Corbyn’s intervention’s outside Parliament in the post–Xmas period were his speech to the Fabian Society on January 14 and his appearance on the Andrew Marr show on January 15.

On both occasions Corbyn returned to his previous principled stance on migration which where it is critical, focuses on issues of undercutting and exploitation, while also stressing the positive contribution of migrants. On Marr he responded to the interviewer asking if he wanted to see fewer migrants: ‘what I have been talking about all along is ending gross levels of exploitation and the undercutting that goes on – let’s not blame migrants but look instead at an economic system that has created this injustice and levels of inequality’.

On both occasions he also focused on people feeling excluded and Labour’s economic response to this, edging beyond his previous anti-austerity approach –which points out that there is an alternative to making the poor pay for the crisis with fewer services and higher prices without wage rises to one which talks more about the system.

Corbyn told the Fabians: “People across this country feel the system is rigged against them, that it’s just not right,” argued that “Cuts to capital gains tax, to inheritance tax, ditching the 50p rate, slashing corporation tax and reducing the levy on the banks” and that: “we will make sure the corporations and the richest pay their fair share of taxes.” On the Marr show he said: “the very wealthiest in this country outsource and offshore their profits into tax havens around the world, that we have been privatizing services for a very long time, that we have a growing gap between the richest and the poorest and that we have a political system that leaves a lot of people behind” before talking about Labour’s plan’s for a constitutional convention.

He talked extensively about tax havens, cuts in corporation tax, and the need for proper funding for local government. On the NHS he pointed to the extent of privatisation (following up his statement on January 12 in which he talked about it doubling). He pointed out that corporation tax and cuts in the top rate of income tax steals 70 billion from NHS and said Labour would commit adequate funding for social care by ending cuts in corporation tax. In response to Marr, he said he is not generally in favour of hypothecated taxes – pointing out that it could be an endless road but did say it should be debated in the Labour Party.

This followed the aspect of his Peterborough speech which has received less attention than his awful statement on free movement, in which he talked about the need to reduce inequality and put forward the idea of a pay cap as one way of doing so, as part of a raft of measures. In the following days this was concretised by focusing on those firms that government has contracts with and proved a strongly popular policy in subsequent opinion polls.

Corbyn does sometimes talk about wages, incomes and wealth rather interchangeably in a way that may make some readers cringe and doesn’t talk enough about income tax and scarcely mentions land taxes but the difference between what he says and what has been said by all previous Labour leaders in living memory.

Team Corbyn’s economic approach however appears to be still committed to to the Fiscal credibility rule excluding borrowing for current spending in what we call social infrastructure in education, care, heath etc. and to the independence of the Central bank, which excludes using the Bank of England to buy government bonds directly. These remain key weaknesses which need to be challenged for putting a break on his radical agenda.

Supporting unions

Other key themes his interventions include the most open support for industrial action from since he was first elected leader. He supported the strikes on Southern on January 10 and said he would be happy to join picket lines. In terms of the January 9 strike on London underground, branded as unnecessary by Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, Corbyn took a different view. And on January 12 he made an implied criticism of the mayor in urging him to reopen ticket offices – the very issue at the centre of action by the RMT and TSSA. Further Corbyn underlined on the Marr show his commitment to repealing the anti- union laws – pointing out in particular that “Sympathy action is legal in most other countries, it should also be legal here”

Behind all of this lies the spectre of the by-elections in Copeland and Stoke Central. When Corbyn was asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr if he would be “toast” if they lost those by-elections he said: “You’re making the assumption that everything is a problem. It’s an opportunity to challenge the government on the NHS. It’s an opportunity to challenge them on the chaos of Brexit. It’s an opportunity to challenge them on the housing shortage. It’s an opportunity to challenge them on zero-hours contracts. That’s what we’re going to be doing.” Similar approaches were taken by both John McDonnell, who strongly asserted that Corbyn would lead Labour into the next election [2] and Dianne Abbott[3] in media interviews on January 21.

Clearly these are difficult by-elections in the context of the current, difficult, political situation, and ones which Labour will be doing well to hold. However all of this underlines the fact that what Team Corbyn have set out since the New Year is a strategy to rebuild Labour’s credibility over the next year and more.

 

[1]  In fact its also the case that McCluskey signed a number of articles around this time for example here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/len-mccluskey/i-am-standing-on-my-recor_b_13659322.html?1481871687 in which he does not use this deeply reactionary argument.

[2] On the Andrew Marr Show http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08cbpsf/the-andrew-marr-show-22012017

[3] On the Sunday Politics show

2 Comments

  1. Yes, his statement on free movement was a serious error. Given this, how is Team Corbyn’s strategy a coherent one for rebuilding the LP?

  2. On a very positive note to start with: Labour continues to be the largest social democratic party in Western Europe. To what extent it is continuing to grow I don’t know.

    BELOW IS MEANT TO BE AN HONEST AND HOPEFULLY CONSTRUCTIVE CONSTRUIBUTION

    i think the article all too easily glosses over a lot of the presentational problems and policy errors of the Corbyn Team for Labour to become a credible alternative that can win the next General election whenever that is called.

    Yes, Corbyn is a highly principled and likeable man of The Left and a great speaker for social movements outside of Parliament but we need to be honest.He clearly isn’t an effective leader of the Labour party within Parliament or a future Prime minister in the making. His performances at Prime minister’s question time leave a lot to be desired, he allows himself to be bullied and put down by Theresa Trump, The toady Appeaser. He is not winning the arguments and simply does not cut it when he has had numerous t opportunities with open goals against the Tories and Appeaser Theresa over the NHS and Social care crisis, the Government Brexit ‘mayhem’ and chaos, The on-going Prison riots and crisis,The Housing crisis, rising privatised rail and energy costs, The Trump visit etc etc

    1.All too often Corbyn looks drained, tired and stressed and comes across as unsure and uncertain of himself. He often over complicates his message and fails to get his message/s across clearly and coherently.

    Many of his very inexperienced and often changing front bench all too often fail in this respect too. This matters ! Where is this ‘new politics’ ?

    2.If the ‘re-launch’ was supposedly exactly that then it was an absolute dismal flop. Where was the dynamism ? Just a sound bite about capping corporate pay.

    3.If we are on a General election war footing as Corbyn says, then where is the media offensive incorporating dynamic film, media, music and arts,social media and the internet strategies ? Where are the visible,dynamic imaginative creative full page newspaper ads, posters on billboards, the fliers in every letterbox and the mobilised party membership and activists on the door steps promoting the re-launch of the ten pledges ?

    4.What happened to all the talk of a ‘democratic revolution’ at the end of the last leadership contest and a constitutional convention for a new dynamic relevant vision of radical democracy in this country ?

    5.Crucially,I realise Labour has a very very difficult job straddling the fact that 60% of the party’s support base voted remain and 40% vote to leave which also ran counter to the overall result but it urgently needs to be seen, to get down, make itself be relevant and responsive and genuinely LISTEN TO PEOPLE, to people both sets of voters and no voters across the country and come up with something much more clear credible and coherent than it is at present.

    6.Where is the Labour party’s and for that matter the TUC’s full political endorsement and financial backing of the NHS march on Saturday 4th MARCH ? NO WHERE TO BE SEEN !

    If Labour were to lose in Copeland and Stoke Central then Corbyn should then seriously consider his position but whoever leads the Labour party has to somehow UNITE the party and inspire and give confidence to the membership and base of support and far beyond.

    With the forthcoming boundary changes Labour will lose seats, without radical change and much movement and activity in the party in Scotland then Labour will continue to lose against a very very dominant SNP for many years to come.

    In conclusion , whoever leads the party has I feel to recognise that Labour is in an unprecedented existential crisis and it is highly unlikely that it will ever win a General election on it’s own.

    So it needs to wake up, swallow it’s pride, accept that is the case, the reality, whether it likes it or not and start working towards forming a strategic and tactical progressive alliance ‘where possible’ on policy and elections with the other ‘centre Left’ parties, The Green party, The Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and the Lib Dems. There is no sooner time than that in respect to holding and wining Copeland and Stoke Central.

    Yes, of course we could argue till the cows come home about the problematic respective politics of each of those parties, the contradictions therein but so too with the Labour party itself, with it’s rump of right wing Mp’s forever undermining the leadership and right wing Labour city councils throughout the land continuing to contract out and privatise public services while implementing tory austerity cuts and closures ably assisted by the right wing of the Trade union movement !!

    Time is of the essence and we need to seriously work towards A UNITED POPULAR DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT incorporating THE LEFT, THE BROAD LEFT, THE LIBERAL AND CENTRE LEFT, THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT and the growing PROGRESSIVE SOCIAL MOVEMENTS for HOPE and VISION against neo liberal Austerity,imperialist War and Fascism,disastrous CLIMATE CHANGE, the poison of sexism, racism,homophobia and discrimination against disabled people and the wholesale trashing of our human rights, unless we actually want to see a World in which Theresa the Appeaser and her right wing Tory government consolidates it’s grip on power with increased support for a Hard right neo liberal imperialist Brexit,which in turn will strengthen the position for the likes of the Tyrant Trump-Netanyahu-Erdogen-The Saudi alliance and the far right UKIP ,Wilders in Holland, the fascist FN and Le Pen in France, Golden Dawn in Greece,The AFD in Germany and Jobbik in Hungary amongst others!UNITED WE STAND ! DIVIDED WE FALL !

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