Before discussing the Corbyn phenomenon, let’s nail a myth. Labour did NOT do badly. Despite the SNP wipe-out and inroads by UKIP and the Greens, Labour increased their total vote by 741,000, up 1.5% on 2010. The Tories gained only 0.8% (631,000), with only UKIP on their backs, and so many Lib Dem votes in what used to be Tory heartlands as carrion waiting to be scavenged. Labour lost, as they deserved to, for supporting a system which allowed huge consequences to depend on a handful of seats.
Corbyn is the latest beneficiary of a search for something to fill a vacuum. The SNP, UKIP and the Greens all have more to thank this search for than their own efforts. Labour are a less vicious version of the Conservatives, but apart from the minority affected by, or in danger of benefit cuts, the Tories can make out a credible case that they are dealing with austerity. OK. OK, I know that is largely trumped up. I lived through WWII, remember? But why do Labour keep mentioning their mistakes when the main cause of the recession was a housing bubble collapse which started in the USA?
So the ‘Miliband was too left/Labour needs to move left’ debate needs to be seen in this context. I think whoever wins the leadership will fail at the next election if they have not come up with anything new. For all his protestations, to describe Corbyn’s statement last week as pre-Blair Labour policy would not be unfair.
I am leaving out any consideration of Corbyn’s qualities as a leader, which others have questioned. I am discussing the pros and cons of a Labour Party continuing along its current zombie path, or one with stirring echoes of 1945. Whilst I believe Labour would fare no worse by changing from their present pro-austerity strategy, such a course will fail. This is not 1945. Corbyn thinks he will be able to stimulate economic growth. Some of us long standing Green Party members are nervous about the ecological consequences of making that the centre- piece of a political platform nowadays. We do need a healthy economy, but indiscriminate economic growth is no longer the best way to achieve that.
Corbyn is on stronger ground when he stresses social justice, and less inequality. But he still fails to realize why this message is lost on the general public.
Although means testing was a serious flaw from the outset – 1945 – that did not matter as long as rapid economic growth was possible. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Lady Rhys Williams, a member of the Beveridge Commission, realized the problem in 1942, and suggested a Basic Income then. The post-war boom lasted long enough for her prediction not to come true for more than a minority until the Thatcher era.
It would of course be naïve of me to hope that Corbyn will see the sense in the Basic, Citizens’ Universal, guaranteed Income. Like George Osborne and Natalie Bennett, he still thinks enough jobs at high wages are feasible in a world of increasing automation, never mind threats to the environment. But John McDonnell MP, a close Corbyn ally, has at least heard of the Basic Income. Much of Corbyn’s speech would be quite consistent with it.
But the Basic income would shake Jeremy Corbyn to the core. He would welcome the drastic redistribution, and that it solves many problems associated with austerity and the inability of the economy to grow rapidly, but it would also allow many ideas to make sense which he has fought against tooth and nail throughout his political life.
I have used zero hours contracts to illustrate this in previous blog posts, but that is just one concrete example of the wider principle. Once you have the right to do nothing, provided you are content with basic subsistence, market forces can determine wage rates. Topping up from a Basic Income, many will go down, but jobs will come into existence, especially start-ups, which could not otherwise. The rate per hour for nasty jobs will rise. How will ‘nasty’ jobs be determined? Market forces. I envisage large numbers doing such work part time. Persuasion is better than force.
Perhaps a word here about the amount of the Basic income is a good idea. £500 per week has been mentioned by the left. The right think in terms of £15. Neither side addresses Green issues. For me, it should be sufficient to allow everyone not to need to damage the environment in any way, but it should be no more than that. One need do nothing from leaving school to the grave, but (s)he will need to work for anything more. The Green Party proposal for JSA equivalent is a necessary first step, because housing costs complicate the issue. My suggestion is that an appropriate full Basic Income for Leeds would be £175 per week for an adult. , but if this rate is made national, Housing Benefit will no longer be necessary anywhere with housing costs no higher than Leeds. As I keep saying, I await improvements on details of that proposal rather than rejection.
There is an opportunity there for some party to offer a new vision to the public. It can begin the culture shift to a new world view, where boss and worker are no longer synonymous with oppressor and oppressed. Once that conflict is history, we can begin to tackle how to save a planet fit for future generations.
I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn is capable of such a vision. He is still fighting old enemies who will remain enemies without the Basic Income, or some brighter idea which does the same job. Mind you, I would still rather the Green Party woke up.
Since posting the above, I am informed that at a meeting in Bristol, Jeremy Corbyn was asked about the Basic income, but just ignored the question. End of story.