By Kumar David –
Britain is stunned that a bearded septuagenarian is front runner for Labour Party leadership all because the man had principles and stuck with them through a 32 year parliamentary career. How shocking! Isn’t party leadership reserved for hypocrites like teflon Blair, vulpine Gordon and hither-and-thither Miliband? Labour youth and rank and file are trekking back; membership has risen by 80,000 since the last election and 150,000 additional supporters have registered. About 550,000 are now eligible to vote in the leadership contest. The party machine is on a witch-hunt to weed out pro-Corbyn applicants; the attack by the rightwing press and the rightwing of the Labour Party is so heated that predictions are difficult. Nevertheless, when the 12 September deadline is crossed the stunning feat of a principled leader at the helm of the Labour party may have come to pass. Most Lankan’s have not heard of Jeremy Corbyn so a little primer may be useful.
Laurie Penny writing in the New Statesman splits her sides teasing that surely it must all be a spoof: “Corbyn will pull off his suspicious bearded mask and underneath will be some baby-faced student prankster declaring that it was just a scam to see what Labour would do with a real left-wing candidate”.
Penny then hits it on the head: “Corbyn has been re-elected by the people of Islington North consistently since 1983 and seems as surprised as anyone to be reaping the rewards of a lifetime of sticking to his principles – principles that make him look in the estimation of much of the press like the nightmare offspring of Che Guevara and Emma Goldman for proposing a modest increase in the top rate of income tax” (Abbreviated). [Emma Goldman was an early 20-th Century anarchist].
The rightwing press is not taking it lying down. The Daily Mail: “Barely a fifth of voters would back Labour with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, a poll reveals. Although the veteran left-winger has electrified the Labour leadership contest, he appears to have little appeal to the wider electorate – and would lead the party to a historic defeat. Only 22% of people said they would vote Labour if Mr Corbyn is in charge, compared with the 30.4% recorded by Ed Miliband in May and the 27.6% achieved by Michael Foot in Thatcher’s 1983 landslide”. The Mail should be delighted, eh! Didn’t people say this about the rise of Syriza in Greece (whether Tsipras is blundering now is a different matter) and aren’t they saying it about Podemos in Spain? The concern of the rightwing press for the health and wellbeing of leftwing politics is much appreciated!
There will be a rise in Labour’s influence and ability to win over marginal voters if Corbyn-momentum is sustained. Penny perceptively adds Corbynism “is an immune response from a sick and suffering body politic trying to fight off a chronic infection that threatens to swallow hope for ever”. It is not only in Lanka that people are fed up with the self-serving hypocrisy of political establishments; Sirisen and Ranil beware. For what reason in pluperfect heaven did the former put a corrupt thug who ruined higher education and wags a filthy tongue and a gambling tycoon in parliament after their rejection by the electorate? What madness it would be to make them Ministers and Deputy Ministers if indeed Sirisena and Ranil are planning this? Aren’t they aware of the outrage sweeping the nation? I have often spoken of President Sirisena’s dignity and good judgement, but I will have no choice but to endorse spreading disdain if these two are made ministers. The National List may be an SLFP affair but the Cabinet concerns us all.
Corbyn is remembered for defying the three-line party whip over 200 times in the Labour Party under Blair, Brown and Miliband and most famously for his defiance of poodle Blair on the Iraq invasion, and more recently for opposing the invasion of Afghanistan. He drew hostile criticism for meeting ex-IRA leaders in the House of Parliament to discuss conditions in Northern Ireland prisons, like the venom spewed on us proponents of a negotiated settlement of Lanka’s ethnic civil-war instead of killing tens of thousands of civilians. He is a leading figure in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and opposed to Britain retaining the Trident nuclear-armed submarine. He has been active in Labour Party politics and trade unions since 1978 and an MP since 1983. He is opposed to further austerity and is a supporter of the ‘People’s Assembly Against Austerity’. Wikipedia sums him up as follows.
“Democratic-socialist, Corbyn has advocated the renationalisation of public utilities and railways; combating corporate tax evasion and avoidance as an alternative to austerity; abolishing university tuition fees and restoring student grants; unilateral nuclear disarmament and cancellation of the Trident nuclear weapons programme; quantitative easing to fund infrastructure and renewable energy projects; and reversing cuts to the public sector and welfare made by the government of David Cameron”.
To win the next elections, he will have to tone down some of these promises until the economy recovers and there is a working surplus. Some proposals such as the renationalisation of the electricity industry and railways are welcome roll-backs of Thatcher madness. I know a little bit about electricity markets and restructuring; it is my research speciality and IEEE Fellowship citation. What happened to British Rail (BR) was a monumental disaster; privatisation of the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was a less ruinous mistake.
When privatising the CEGB in 1990 ownership of the core public-goods asset, the National Grid (NG), was retained in the hands of the 12 distribution entities (Regional Electricity Companies – REC) till it was floated on the London Stock Exchange as NG plc. By millennium’s end the RECs sold off their shares in NG plc, which in turn in 2005 combined with National Grid Transco (the gas utility) to form National Grid Gas plc. A heavily regulated company, its character as a monopoly public goods provider has been retained. Secondly, privatising power generation to induce competition and reduce costs has been partially successful. So there are some saving features to CEGB privatisation. But privatisation of distribution (the supply side) has turned the life of ordinary consumers into a nightmare. Though I have glossed over details and cannot pause to explain what the new structure should be, I have enough expertise to confidently endorse Corbyn’s proposal to renationalise the electricity supply industry.
BR was a good state owned railway, but not in the class of France’s SNCF, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, JNR (state owned till 1987) and China Railway; it was a good and affordable means of transport. Now the tracks are owned by one private company Railtrack, while trains are run by numerous other operators. Imagine the mess; financial, investment and operational! If Thatcher had had her way would she have been loony enough to divest the two sides of the rail-track in two private owners! Railway privatisation in the UK is a supreme example of neo-liberal economics gone mad. When Japan privatised JNR it did not take this loony road. Different geographic portions of the network were sold to different companies like the famous pre-BR days of LNER, LMS, SR and WR. Though I do not have expertise to offer plans on the renationalised structure, it is sensible that the railways be renationalised.
Some genuine Labour supporters and con-artists like Tony Blair (whose motive is to sabotage a left shift of the party) have pressed the panic button that though Corbyn has inspired the Labour Party, Corbyn led Labour will be unelectable in an election because it would be perceived as too far left by the electorate. This is a bit rich coming from Blair the man who lost 4 million votes on his watch as prime minister. It also overlooks the fact that Labour gained over one million votes in England in 2015. Where it suffered a huge setback was in Scotland, a traditional Labour stronghold were labour was wiped out by the Scottish National Party (SNP) which stands to the left of Labour. Let’s get one thing straight; the centre is vacant in the UK; when it became an appendage to neo-liberal scorched earth economics its days ended. Anti austerity parties SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens between them polled 2.8 million votes (9.1%), the Liberal Party 2.4 million (7.9%) and UKIP on the right polled 3.9 million (12.7%). If one adds all this to the Labour’s 9.3 million (30.5%) in 2015, the sum exceeds the Conservative 11.3 million (36.8%) by over 7 million – nearly 23% of the votes cast in 2015.
Of course these are not all voters who will rush to a more radical Labour, especially UKIP’s anti-immigration extremists; UKIP will hold half its votes even in the face of a radical Labour challenge. On the other hand Corbyn’s democratic devolutionary thinking will facilitate stronger alliances with SNP and Plaid Cymru. What these numbers says at this early stage is the opposite of Balirite scaremongering. (Blair himself is likely to cut and run to the Conservatives, his true home, if Corbyn wins). Much water will flow under the bridge before the next election and a Corbyn led radical Labour challenge is likely to do much better at a future election than a visionless party staggering along for another five years on the road to nowhere on which it is now stranded.
I wrote about Syriza, Podemos and Turkey’s HD party on 28 June 2015 (Left-Democracy gains ground in the European periphery: Good news from Turkey, Spain and Greece) where I spoke of the peripheral countries of Europe, but the Corbyn phenomenon shows the trend moving to the core. Corbyn and Labour favour Britain’s continued membership of the European Union and will call for a Yes vote in the ‘Shall we Stay in Europe?’ referendum that Prime Minister Cameron will hold next year. However it is possible he may yet consider a UK exit from the EU. On the one hand, he believes that Britain should play a crucial role in Europe by making demands about arrangements across the continent, the levels of corporation taxation and on environmental regulation. On the other hand, he has cited the treatment of Greece during bailout negotiations as a reason for a potential exit. It is too early to talk about Corbyn as prime minister but as Labour leader his influence within the European Union will be positive.
Corbyn is strong on Palestinian rights and this will be felt from day one. His remark five years ago that Bin Laden should not have been assassinated but brought to trial is being played over and over again in an effort to damage his leadership campaign. A more radical Labour stance on the Middle East is certain with Corbyn in the driving seat. It is also likely that questions such as nuclear disarmament and quitting NATO will come into prominence. No wonder Tory leaders are describing him as a national security threat! Jeremy Corbyn has empathy for the poorer world outside America and Europe his choice as labour leader, and I hope one day as British prime minister will be good for us.