Looking For A Leader
It’s a little over two months since the Tories won the general election with a majority of just twelve seats on 36.9% of the vote. Not enough to form a government, if their proposals on trade union strike ballots were applied to general elections. But the Tories have always advised, “don’t do as I do, do as I say.” It’s a party that knows its place in British politics is to run the country in favour of its class. This applies to the current Bullingdon Club elite, who run the government, as it did to Major’s and Thatcher’s governments. Cameron and Osborne may say they believe in One Nation Conservatism, but the One Nation Conservatism that appealed to voters had a life under Macmillan and ultimately died under Heath.
Under Miliband’s leadership, Labour had a shot at a ‘One Nation’ strategy but it never really left the drawing board. Labour had little idea of the kind of One Nation it wanted to create. Miliband simply cherry picked from a popular list and seemed to believe that a range of disconnected issues added up to a coherent election strategy. Labour failed abysmally to respond to the Tory charge that Britain’s debt and deficit were the result of economic mismanagement by Brown and Balls. It should have combated the widely held belief that Tory governments manage the economy better than Labour governments. The records do not bear this out, for example Osborne’s efforts to rebalance the economy have been a failure, but the myth constantly repeated by the Tories and their media supporters became the reality for voters.
Miliband resigned immediately it was known that Labour had lost. He may have been an honourable man, but he was an ineffective leader easily caricatured by the Tory press as a geek. It was repeatedly said that his brother would have been a better choice, but it is hard to believe so given his record as Foreign Secretary. He was Blair’s right hand man in his thirst for military adventures and in many other areas of policy. Now the party is in the throes of an election to choose a new leader. A process that began on 24 May, will end on 25 September with the announcement of the new leader. Initially, four candidates declared their interest: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna. Umunna dropped out of the contest early pleading the potential effect of pressure on him and his family. This is a pity as he at least understood the changes needed to provide sustainable jobs for all, but the policies of Burnham and Cooper could not be separated with a cigarette paper, with Kendall out on a limb sounding more Tory than Ian Duncan Smith.
The three candidates acquired the support of a minimum of thirty-five of their party colleagues. But in the interests of political diversity calls were made for a representative of the left to come forward. Enter Jeremy Corbyn, a modest, self-effacing man, and apparently a reluctant candidate, who offers a clear alternative to the other three. It was said that voters wouldn’t be attracted to Corbyn, a political dinosaur in the eyes of the Tories and many in Labour’s ranks. But, surprisingly, the more he has been exposed to voters, the more voters have liked him and agreed with his political alternative. The media have highlighted the fact that he has rebelled against his party on more than 500 occasions. But this includes voting against amendments to Parliamentary bills, of which there are many, as well as on Second Readings. By refusing to toe the party line Corbyn has shown he is his own man, a rare presence in today’s Commons. His views on foreign policy and nuclear weapons are derided by the Mail and the Sun, but polls have shown they resonate with voters. Cameron wishes a Corbyn victory, knowing that his press friends will crucify him. He may get his wish, but live to regret it.
Labour’s new leader will have their work cut out to mount an effective challenge to the Tories and their newly confident Chancellor. Osborne’s sleight of hand, of which the late Tommy Cooper would have been proud, turned an increase in the minimum wage into a statutory living wage. Rebranded as a national living wage, it took Labour by surprise. But no one should be fooled by Osborne’s apparent largesse. The ‘national living wage’ of £6.70 an hour in October 2015 rising to £9.35 an hour in October 2020, excludes workers under the age of 25. It sends a clear message to employers, who normally resent being told what to pay their workers, to increase the number of under 25s in their employment. The free market is to be cast aside and replaced with compulsion.
The so-called national living wage is in any case well below what is required for a family to live on without extra support. And the proposal carries with it a sting in the tail. Working tax credits will be cut or frozen for four years plunging hundreds of thousands of working households into poverty. They are the people Osborne and his sidekick Ian Duncan Smith lauded as ‘hard working families.’ Millions more households will be pushed deeper into poverty as their tax credits are cut or withdrawn altogether, when their earnings rise. Child tax credits will be limited to two children, punishing children in large families. There is a case for reducing the £30 billion tax credits bill, but Osborne’s assault on the working poor and those who genuinely depend on state support is a callous way to do so. And his further assault on young people from poor working class families with the transference of the (£3,300) student maintenance grant into a loan, will increase the total amount of student loans making it more difficult for them to get to university.
Of the candidates, only Jeremy Corbyn is pre-disposed to challenge the dogma of austerity. Osborne’s aim of a low tax, low welfare economy is ideologically driven. Corbyn understands that austerity for families, coupled with further cuts in government department budgets and the imposition of a 1% rise in public sector salaries for four years, is an attack on public services and the welfare state. Cameron and Osborne are doing what Thatcher failed to do, or was perhaps reluctant to do. The claim that cuts in the welfare budget are necessary to balance the books rings hollow when about half of the budget cost is taken up with pensions and pensioners allowances, left untouched by Osborne.
The press made much of the news that UNITE, the largest trade union, had declared its support for Jeremy Corbyn, ignoring the fact that the result will be decided by a one member, one vote electoral system. Labour has said that anyone can vote in the election providing they pay a fee of £3 to join the party, with a closing date of 8 September. This is a temporary measure which excludes full membership. It could help to elect Corbyn if a significant number of those who left the party, disillusioned with Blair’s leadership, rejoin to vote for the left candidate. Victory for Corbyn will be opposed by the party’s right wing, but welcomed by the Tories and their press supporters. His victory or a very good showing could be a catalyst for a long overdue shake up of Labour which has become Tweedledee to the Tories Tweedledum.