“It’s not my way to try and control the way people do things. I want people to come together…Come together with ideas and come together in enthusiasm.”
In a story that must sound familiar to many of the American voters who supported Bernie Sanders in the run up to the 2016 election, the current leader of the UK’s Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, not only has to run against his Conservative opponents led by Theresa May, but also the majority of the British press.
The attacks have been coming in quick succession since the long term back bencher, almost by accident, wrested control of Labor from the neoliberal Blairite faction after the party lost to the Conservatives in the 2015 election. Most recently, the British media has created a fresh controversy out of decades old protest actions and diplomacy by Corbyn directed at ending the troubles in Northern Ireland.
Defending himself against charges that he emboldened the IRA by engaging in talks with their representatives and appearing at protests organized by sympathizers with the Irish Republican cause during the 1980s, Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, “The violence was wrong on all sides and I’ve said so all along. My whole point was that if you were to bring about a peace process, you weren’t going to achieve it by military means.”
With so many crises facing both the United Kingdom and the world, this appears to be inappropriate dredging up of the past for its own sake, similar to attacks on Sanders for his support of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas during the same time period.
The often ridiculous accusations flung at Corbyn, who also faces heavy criticism from within his own party, hasn’t stopped Labor’s recent rise in the polls under his leadership. This probably comes as a surprise to many Conservatives, who passed a motion through the country’s parliament on >April 19th to hold a snap election on June 8th against what they probably saw as a weak opposition.
Although the Conservatives seem to have secured most of the hardcore nationalist vote previously held by the faltering UK Independence Party (UKIP) (just under 13% in the last election), May’s decision could go down as almost as great a miscalculation as disgraced former Conservative leader David Cameron calling for the Brexit referendum in the first place. This earlier misreading of the pubic mood, which assumed an easy victory for the Remain side, will surely be studied in the future as one of the great political blunders of our time.
Interestingly, Corbyn, who’s long criticized the European project, was given a great share of the blame for Cameron’s mistake by the press. This, despite the fact that he went along with the consensus position of his party and campaigned to stay in the EU.
Labor reclaims its roots
One of the most interesting aspects of Corbyn’s decisive victory in his party’s 2015 leadership race was that it was the result of a more open and democratic process. Labor previously gave extra weight to elected officials and unions in picking the party’s leader but in 2015 offered party membership and a vote in the leadership contest to all UK citizens for just 3 pounds ($3.88). This had the effect of giving an equal voice to the working class base of the party, who helped their new leader take almost 60% of the ballots cast.
Desperate to get rid of Corbyn, after the Brexit loss, the centrists in the party demanded yet another leadership contest in 2016 in which, rather than losing his position after the party raised the cost of a voting membership by a factor of ten, he increased his share of the vote.
Although he faces many of the same Neoliberal forces funded by elites and corporations within the ranks of his own party, just as Senator Sanders did in the Democratic primaries, there are also a large number of Corbyn’s colleagues who were always against the ‘centering’ of the party or have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ politics have been a disaster for their constituents.
These MPs (Members of Parliament) are aware there are many voters who remember formerly nationalized services that have been privatized and have watched helplessly as prices go up while declining in quality. This is most notably the case in terms of the National Health Service (NHS), the longtime pride of the Labor Party, who created the system of universal healthcare in 1948.
One aspect of the Brexit vote related to this that hasn’t received the attention it deserves was the claim made by many on the Leave side that a vote to exit the EU would save the country over $450 million a week that could then be put back into the NHS, a promise that was quickly walked back by all concerned after the vote.
While the NHS has never been perfect, the constant cuts to the system and in social care (defined as “the provision of social work, personal care, protection or social support services to children or adults in need or at risk, or adults with needs arising from illness, disability, old age or poverty.”) undertaken by successive governments, both Labor and Conservative, may have contributed to 30,000 “excess deaths” in the country in 2015 alone. These cuts have also increased waiting times and hit vulnerable communities particularly hard, especially the elderly.
“With an ageing population, the NHS is ever more dependent on a well-functioning social care system,” researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine explained in a report this past February, “Yet, social care has also faced severe cuts, with a 17 per cent decrease in spending for older people since 2009, whilst the number of people aged 85 years and over has increased by almost 9 per cent.”
The Conservatives seem to have lost some of their support not through Corbyn’s efforts but by promising a cap on the costs of social care, which are set to sky rocket over the next decade, mainly due to an ageing population. These proposed cuts could have a calamitous effect not only on the elderly but also those living with disabilities and has come to be called the ‘dementia tax’ by outraged citizens.
A platform for real change
Increased funding for healthcare is far from the only proposal unveiled by the Labor in its recently released ‘Manifesto’ (the equivalent of the platforms offered to American voters by their political parties). One issue that seems to be on the minds of voters across Western nations is the hoarding of capital by private banking interests who would rather use their almost interest free money for speculation over investing it in their communities through loans.
With the goal of working toward solving this problem, the Manifesto looks toward some of the achievements in this regard in northern Europe, stating, “Following the successful example of Germany and the Nordic countries we will establish a National Investment Bank that will bring in private capital finance to deliver 250 billion (pounds) of lending power.”
Bowing to the logic that it is mostly small businesses that create jobs, the Manifesto clearly recognizes that starving them of capital has the inevitable effect of slowing down the local economies that are the true foundation of a nation’s growth.
On education, Labor is calling for something that establishment politicians and media ridiculed when Bernie Sanders offered a much less ambitious proposal during the 2016 American election campaign: tuition free higher education.
As succinctly explained in the Manifesto, “University tuition is free in many northern European countries, and under a Labor government it will be free here too.”
Although it’s admittedly short on details, one of the most interesting sections of the Manifesto is called “Extending Democracy” and relates to increasing local autonomy and changing the upper house of Parliament from an unelected to an elected body.
Although they have become less and less relevant over time, the very idea that there should exist an unelected House of Lords in a supposedly 21st century democracy is almost as ludicrous as the continued existence of a monarchy, constitutional or otherwise. Pomp and ceremony aside, inequality is literally baked into such a system.
With the horrible attack on a concert in Manchester and the expected rightwing frenzy in its aftermath leading the UK’s major parties to suspend campaigning, we can’t be sure what effect this will have on the upcoming election but, with the exception of Spain in 2004, when that country pulled out of Iraq and ended the threat to its citizenry by taking this action, these events tend to work in the favor of Conservative parties, partly due to an immoral willingness to exploit people’s fear in the name of getting votes.
Although he stands to the left of his own party on some issues, Corbyn has shown himself to be more of a team player than many in Labor who oppose his leadership. The Labor Manifesto provides an optimistic view of the future and a return to the Party’s roots as a coalition that puts working people over capital. While the media is dismissive of such ideas and prefers to give its attention to the antics of the rising far right, from Podemos in Spain, to Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the United States, these sensible positions are not going to go away so long as rampant inequality and austerity politics remain the order of the day, not only in the West but throughout the world.