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, 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.
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.
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  and Dianne Abbott 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.
 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.
 On the Andrew Marr Show http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08cbpsf/the-andrew-marr-show-22012017
 On the Sunday Politics show