Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally transformed the image and values of the Labour Party. It is hard to think of an example where a political party has changed so unrecognisably, where its only leader to win an election this century now regards it as “hostile territory”.
Corbyn’s disciples probably regard the political exile of people like Tony Blair as a good thing, believing they have moved away from the “style over substance” approach of the New Labour years.
Many relish the idea of abandoning the ideas of spin and “triangulation”, however Corbyn’s party has espoused both these hated practices more than under any other labour leader. His ideologically radical rhetoric of policies like renationalisation excite his left wing support base, but do nothing for average people. He will change the political rhetoric for a generation, but his policy legacy will have zero impact.
Corbyn, and the people around him, take great pride in calling themselves “radical reformers”, proudly rolling back the “neo-liberalism” of the Blair years. However, this portrayal, only too eagerly furthered by the media, of Corbyn as a politician of deep rooted left wing convictions does not mean that his government would have a positive impact on the people he purports to help.
Tony Blair was vilified by the ideological puritans in the Labour movement for reaching out to the ambitious “Mondeo man”. They believed that his embracing of the middle classes, believing we should tax solely for the purpose of funding public services and growing the economy, rather than for penalising wealth, was a betrayal of “true socialism”.
It is evident that Corbyn has rectified this, proposing to re-introduce the 45p tax rate for earners over £80k, and 50p for over £125k. It would stand to reason therefore, that these tax hikes would be used to transform the lives of impoverished working classes who have been neglected by a decade of Tory austerity. Wrong.
The ideological fanatics running Corbyn’s labour have got their priorities all wrong. Without doubt the biggest threat to working people, not just in Britain, but all over the world, is the climate emergency. Labour propose spending £60bn on a “green new deal”, which largely involves re-insulating energy inefficient homes.
This is great, but doesn’t touch the sides of the radical agenda needed here. Why then, is Labour spending over £200bn on renationalisation of the rail and water industries?
Whilst there are undoubted advantages to nationalisation, it is hardly very important who owns the railways if we haven’t got any land above sea level to build them on, as could be the reality by the end of this century unless we get climate change under control. This demonstrates how Labour prioritise ideological purity over the practical need of the many, and why they are not the change we need right now.
Putting the key issue of climate change to one side, the NHS is undoubtedly always one of the deciding factors in general elections, and Labour are keen to promote a “rescue package” for the NHS, which it certainly needs it after a decade of under-funding, but Corbyn is guilty of more unsupported spin than his New Labour nemeses.
Labour now propose to increase NHS funding on average at a rate of 3.9%, pledging to “tackle the worsening health crisis”, condemning the Tories empty promises. They frame the argument that the shoulders of higher earners “are broad enough to bear this” tax burden. This impassioned promise with emotive language of “saving” the NHS is in fact an ill-conceived farce.
Not only is Corbyn’s proposed increase less than the average of 4%, under the demonised New Labour, NHS funding increased on average at 6% per year, bringing the amount of people waiting over 6 months for an operation down from 283,866 in 1997 down to just 199 by the time Blair left office in 2007.
There can be no denying that this resulted in tangible improvements in the lives of ordinary working people, far more than Corbyn’s plans would achieve. Furthermore, the New Labour improvement was achieved without demonising high earners, however small a proportion of society they make up.
Blair’s government framed the argument that as a “national” service, everybody had to pay in a bit more in order to receive a better service. They raised national insurance contributions by 1% in the 2002 budget, and in doing so fundamentally reaffirmed the principle of our NHS belonging to us all.
Corbyn’s demonization of wealth might ideologically chime with his left wing cronies, but it won’t help working people half as much as the pragmatic progression of New Labour.
Aside from the rise of the extremes both sides of the political divide, the issue which dominates politics today is Brexit. Anybody who has looked at the likely impact of any Brexit on ordinary people in Britain knows it will be devastating, shrinking the economy by anywhere between 3% and 8%. It would stand to reason therefore that the Labour party, founded to represent the interests of the working class, would be leading the way in vehemently opposing this attack on all of our wallets.
Indeed, during the campaign, there was some hope that Corbyn would abandon his decades of Euroscepticism and recognise the benefits of the EU, saying “people in this country face many problems, from insecure jobs, low pay and unaffordable housing to stagnating living standards, environmental degradation, and the responsibility for them lies in 10 Downing Street, not in Brussels.”
However, since then, Labour’s Brexit policy has been the most embarrassing, incompetent, and politically damaging example of triangulation imaginable.
Don’t forget, Corbyn was swept to Labour’s leadership promising a “new kind of politics” free form the media manipulation and triangulation of the New Labour years. And yet, rather than coming clean and making the case for his Euroscepticism, or articulately juxtaposing the Tory mess of Brexit with the promises made in the referendum, Corbyn pursues a badly advised, badly executed fudge, of “negotiating a credible leave option” whilst having “a second referendum with the option to remain”. This has left leave voters believing Labour is a remain party and therefore doesn’t represent them, and remainers perceiving Labour as supporting Brexit, and therefore doesn’t represent them either.
Their “credible leave option” is so close to EU membership, with us remaining in the customs union, single market, and paying into the EU fund, that there is no real point pursuing it, other than it enables Corbyn to avoid making a decision, naively believing he is viewed as intellectually bringing both sides together. The Brexit saga demonstrates not only that Corbyn’s Labour is guilty of constant triangulation and that they disregard their principles to appease the electorate, but that their approach on this is incompetent, and may cost Labour the election.
It is clear therefore, that Corbyn really is the opposite of Tony Blair, but not in the way he intended. Blair used spin and triangulation to keep a hostile media on side and ensure his government facilitated business and economic growth, whilst pursuing a transformative legislative agenda which tangible transformed lives.
Corbyn meanwhile has cultivated this image of him as the “godfather of socialism”, whilst pursuing ideologically puritan policies of renationalisation and tax rises. He actively encourages the perception of him as anti-business and anti-ambition believing it make him some kind of working class hero. Wrong.
He will be remembered as just another firebrand who talked the talk, but ultimately failed to deliver substantial meaningful change.