I believe Jeremy Corbyn will have more impact than his detractors and jubilant conservatives expect because he will bring about a culture shift. Not quite the Green one needed, but it will serve as a stepping stone.
If that does happen the political landscape in 5 years’ time will be very different, but in case nothing changes, my forecast is that Labour will give the Tories a bigger fright than they think, but they will not quite make it. 10 million watching Mhairi Black leaves 50 million who don’t give a shout, and he won’t quite manage to convince enough of them.
The chief factor in Corbyn’s emergence from nowhere is that he embodies a widespread feeling that austerity is a ploy rather than a reality. One has to look no further than Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, no Corbynite, for comments such as why benefit cuts and Inheritance Tax cuts at the same time? and puzzlement as to why the Labour Party failed to rebut allegations of irresponsible spending, when the real culprit for the economic collapse was reliance on an increasingly unreal banking system on which the Conservatives would have been just as reliant. The crunch merely happened on Labour’s watch.
But that failure by the Labour Party to defend itself is a symptom of a much deeper malaise. Unlike many Greens I regarded the leadership election of another Party as none of my business, but if asked who I wanted to win, it was Corbyn. But for me the whole Corbyn phenomenon is just too bizarre. It feels too much like an apparently lifeless corpse sitting up again. In 2013 the Labour Party abstained (8 exceptions – guess who) on an unspeakable reinstatement by Iain Duncan Smith of an oppressive DWP measure ruled unconscionable by the Supreme Court. What the Hell do well wishers think Corbyn can make of such a party? And the resignation of what were deemed the ablest members of the Shadow Cabinet? And Corbyn was the arch rebel, with neither expectation nor likelihood of any responsibility whatsoever. Do I really have to take this seriously? We can leave side the fact that Corbyn expects to be 76 at the end of only his first term as Prime Minister. After all, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister until 81.
The SNP landslide in Scotland and a large part of the Green Surge, were I believe both due to chiefly this feeling that there must be a better answer to austerity, and the SNP and Green Party were claiming to offer one. Now that Corbyn may offer a more realistic challenge, how much impact the new regime will have in Scotland remains to be seen, but in positioning itself as what the Labour Party should have been, and now looks as though it might become, the Green Party has laid itself open to the likelihood of defections.
But all these reasons for doubt will pale into insignificance if a culture shift emerges. Without something which deals with means testing, I argue that the anti-austerity movement will get nowhere with the majority who are not personally hurt by benefit cuts. They think the government is on the right track. If that was all there was to it, Corbyn’s bandwagon would be no more effective than the charge of the Light Brigade.
But the involvement of Richard Murphy changes all that. In 2013 Murphy and Howard Reed published a paper Financing the Social State: towards a full employment economy which includes a proposal for a Basic Income scheme. Murphy is Corbyn’s chief adviser on economics.
The Basic Income did not figure at all in the leadership election campaign, but the gist of the rest of the paper did. It advocates government spending financed in a way analogous to Quantitive Easing, for large scale infrastructure projects. I am intrigued to see how the Basic income is launched, it not having been mentioned. That will be financed by tax increases, for example 70% on incomes over £150,000. I recommend Murphy & Reed’s costings in preference to either the Green Party’s election proposals, or the Citizens income Trust figures (2011), because Murphy & Reed’s figures take housing costs into account.
But some people are never satisfied. You might think I would be pleased by the possible adoption of a Basic Income proposal by a possible future Prime Minister. I am, but the major flaw in Corbyn’s and Murphy’s whole approach is that it depends on economic growth, and the system is predicated on full employment at a Living Wage. It would have worked in 1945, and it might just work if all that activity could be achieved with no demands on the ecosphere, but there is no need to take the risk that that is impossible.
But the chief weakness as I see it of the Murphy/Reed approach is, I fervently hope, its supreme tactical advantage. It is completely Socialist. I agree with its unapologetic nearly war-time tax rates, but there is no hint of the ability of a Basic income to appeal to employers and entrepreneurs, no question of harnessing market forces, and certainly no suggestion of Persuasion being better than Force – jobs will be compulsory.
But this links up with a blessing in disguise: the exodus of members who really only wanted the Green Party to become what Corbyn thinks he can transform the Labour Party into. That will enable the rest of us to do what I hoped the Green Party could have done from the outset, appeal to both sides of the old tribal class conflict in pursuance of a new culture which aims to preserve the ecosphere. With two slightly different Basic Incomes with somewhat different aims competing for mainstream attention, today’s big question, will Corbyn lead the Labour party to triumph or oblivion will look quite odd in the light of the erosion of The Tory vote by those who think higher taxes are both fair, and a price worth paying to save the environment.