Autorka: Klára Šašková

It has only been a couple of weeks since Jeremy Corbyn, a bearded man often dressed in corduroy, was elected the new Labour Leader. Already during his campaign his candidacy led to lots of discussions among the politicians as well as the general public. Now that he was elected, the discussions seem to be even louder and more frequent. The question on everybody’s lips seems to be if Jeremy Corbyn can save the Labour Party or if he will destroy it and turn it into a fringe party. I believe him becoming the new leader of the Labour party can do a lot of good for British Labour and also for the British society and in this paper I will try to explain why I think so.

Jeremy Corbyn was born to middle-class parents – a maths teacher and an electrical engineer – two activists that met at a rally against the fascist regime in Spain – on May 26th 1949. Young Corbyn attended Adam’s Grammar School in Newport, and was already beginning to become involved in politics in his school years. He was one of the few students at his school that were supportive of Labour, and he even joined the local Labour Party in Wrekin constituency. He left school with two A levels and spent two years after the end of his education in Jamaica. After he returned from abroad, he started being active in trade union politics and it did not take long for his political career to take off. In 1974 he was elected to Haringey District Council in North London and nine years after that he was elected MP for Islington North, the smallest UK parliamentary constituency. He has held this constituency ever since – for more than thirty years – and in the last elections he has managed to gain more than 60% of the votes in his constituency.[1]

Jeremy Corbyn is well-known for his activism. He has been a fixture on the British political scene for the past forty years, and he has been a vocal participant of marches, demonstrations and a champion for controversial causes. He has always been a vocal opponent of wars and British involvement abroad; he was even one of the MPs who called for an inquiry into the invasion to Iraq in 2006. During his political career he has supported gay rights, Irish republicanism, and nuclear disarmament, and vocally opposed apartheid policies in South Africa. His anti-apartheid protests even got him sent to prison once, when he broke a protest ban in front of the South African embassy in 1984.[2] Corbyn is famous as the most rebellious MP of the Labour Party – he has spent the past thirty-two years in the House of Commons on the backbenches fighting against his party’s abandonment of policies and values from the 1980s. He is thought to be a hard-working MP and is one of the MPs with the lowest expenses submitted to the parliament. Although his opponents see him as a caricature of the “bearded leftie” and an unelectable figure coming from the 1980s, when Labour was different, his supporters see him as “the only honest man left in politics”. He is one of the MPs who didn’t stray from the Labour principles when the party started abandoning them for the sake of winning elections under New Labour.[3] But how did this rebellious backbencher ended up becoming the Leader of the Labour Party?

After the results of the general election in the United Kingdom Ed Milliband resigned from his position as the Labour leader which brought the need for a new leader of the party. Jeremy Corbyn announced he would be running for the leadership back in June – he decided to participate as he himself said “to give Labour Party members a voice in this debate” and on an “anti-austerity platform”.[4] He was considered a dark horse of the elections, and he even struggled to secure votes of 35 MPs required for the nomination. But during the campaign something about Corbyn triggered a widespread support among the public and the unions – the so-called Corbynmania. He started being viewed as a serious candidate after he polled as the top candidate in several opinion polls. Corbyn, at first seen as a outsider, ended up beating his opponents in the first round and won 59,5% of the votes. Right after his triumph on 12th September, he did something that couldn’t have surprised anyone who knows him – he went to a rally supporting the refugees.[5]

I would like to argue, that Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour Party leader could be a good thing. In the following part of this paper I will explain why I personally think Jeremy Corbyn being elected the leader of Labour is a beneficial thing not only for the Labour Party itself, but also for the United Kingdom and its society.

Like it was already mentioned earlier, Corbyn has in the last months been a source of the so-called Corbynmania. He has been a part of the Labour Party politics for decades now, but it wasn’t until this summer that he was very quickly propelled to stardom. He attracted a great level of public support. The way he acts and the way he presents himself makes people believe in him. He also managed to persuade people to take interest in politics again. Support for Corbyn comes from all levels of society; remarkable is definitely the support coming from younger people. Young people have been disappointed by the ruling politicians in the past years. The university fees are getting higher and the benefits are getting lower, and young people have problems finding a secure job and affordable housing. Lots of students suffered because of the measures introduced by (but not exclusively) the Conservative Party in the past years. And now they want a better future for themselves, so lots of them have been supportive of Corbyn, who has promised to help them. And it’s not just the students he made a strong impression on. A group of his supporters launched Momentum, a campaign made up of volunteers that should continue in instigating people’s ambition for politics and changing the current situation. It is a grassroots network trying to create “a mass movement for real progressive change in every town and city” that sees itself as a successor to Corbyn’s promises of new politics. Another proof of the power of Corbynmania is that the Labour Party has seen a surge in membership numbers. According to sources from the Labour party more than sixty thousand people have joined the party since Corbyn won the leadership election. This brought the membership figure closer to the 400 000 mark, which was the amount of Labour members during the heydays of the New Labour.[6] Some of Labour’s or more specifically Corbyn’s opponents have been saying that he will change the Labour Party and make it unelectable. But after seeing the surge in the membership figures one might disagree – maybe people will actually end up liking the new Labour more than the old one.

The United Kingdom has been dealing with its fair share of social issues in the previous years. The Conservative government has introduced measures causing a great amount of people being worse off than they used to be – most of those affected are lower working-class people, children and disabled. The widely criticized under-occupancy penalty (known as “the bedroom tax”), the benefit cap, the increase in the maximum university fees – all of those had a negative impact on the British people, who are now struggling more than they used to. This is where Jeremy Corbyn’s becoming the leader of the opposition and the Leader of the second-strongest party could help. Like he says on his website: “We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is absolutely no reason why anybody should have to live in poverty.”[7] He opposes the cuts introduced by the Conservative government in the past years and believes in introducing a higher minimum wage that could help fight poverty. He showed that he is willing to fight for what he believes in when he clashed with David Cameron over tax credit cuts during the Prime Minister Questions just a couple of weeks ago.[8] The tax credits, devised by the previous Labour government as an incentive for people to work instead of relying on benefits, now cost the UK around 1,8% of GDP every year and cutting the tax credits is one of the ways Conservative’s George Osborne wants to save money on welfare.[9] Corbyn opposes these cuts, because they would seriously harm poorer British families. ‘

Corbyn is not only trying to change the welfare system, he has come up with a whole economic strategy, often referred to as Corbynomics – this economic strategy was devised by Richard Murphy. Corbyn believes that the Bank of England should be able to print money to invest into public services – some worry that this could lead to inflation, but there are economists who are supportive of Corbyn’s theory. He also supports increase in taxes for businesses – this could bring money into the budget and this money could be later spent on infrastructure or as a support for people who are struggling. Corbyn also wants to zero in on tax avoidance.[10] His economic policy could help people get back on their feet, and it could also bring additional income into the budget – if he manages to tackle tax avoidance and is able to push through his ideas for taxes for bussines.

Apart from him managing to gain support across the electorate and his economic policies, there are two other reasons why Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on England can be beneficial. These two are renationalisation and military spending. After the Second World War, along with the welfare state came an era of nationalisation. This era ended with the return of the Tories at the end of 1970s. The privatization that followed led to mainly positive results, but in the railway sector it caused lots of problems as well. The trains nowadays are overcrowded, the infrastructure is decrepit and the tickets too expensive. The return of railway sector to the public hands could bring the prices down and make the service more reliable, the same way it works in other countries in Europe, where the railways are operated by the state. Corbyn’s wish for renationalization of railways was met with a certain level of approval, although some still think his views are too extremist and not realizable. [11] But almost everyone wishes for the rail fares to be lower, so what actually speaks against his plans?

Another sector where following Corbyn’s lead might be beneficial for the British public is the military spending. Corbyn is very openly against British engagement in foreign wars, which is a position that is hard to disagree with. Not only does it cost a lot of money to send soldiers abroad, it has some long-term negative effects as well – like the wave of refugees currently running away from conflicts in the Middle East. His stance concerning the Trident nuclear deterrent also sounds reasonable. The new Trident system would cost a huge amount of money, definitely more than the UK can afford in its current state. It is also questionable, how useful the Trident system can be. [12]

As I have tried to show in my paper, Corbyn leading the Labour Party might be beneficial, not only for the Labour Party, but for the broader public as well. His attitudes towards some crucial issues resonating in the British society nowadays could bring Labour more supporters – his opinions on university fees, benefits and defence budget are already strongly resonating with the affected groups of the general public, and his adamance and stubbornness, that he has been showing as a backbencher for decades will come in handy in high politics. Obviously, only time will tell if he can actually change anything in the United Kingdom, but I believe that if anyone has a chance to change things, it’s Jeremy Corbyn.

 

 

Sources & Notes

Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/70023venus2009/21668486331

Sources

Notes

[1] „The Jeremy Corbyn Story: Profile of Labour’s new leader“, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34184265 (accessed on 4. 11. 2015); „Jeremy Corbyn MP“, The Official Site of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/jeremy-corbyn/185 (accessed on 15. 10. 2015).

[2] „Biography of Jeremy Corbyn – in 60 seconds“, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11679607/Who-is-Jeremy-Corbyn-In-60-seconds.html (accessed on 1. 11. 2015); „The Jeremy Corbyn Story: Profile of Labour’s new leader“, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34184265 (accessed on 4. 11. 2015).

[3] „The Jeremy Corbyn Story: Profile of Labour’s new leader“, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34184265 (accessed on 4. 11. 2015).

[4] „Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn enters race“, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-33000155 (accessed on 19. 10. 2015).

[5] „Thousands join Solidarity with Refugees rally in London“, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/12/london-rally-solidarity-with-refugees (accessed on 19. 10. 2015).

[6] „Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign gives rise to new social movement“, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/08/jeremy-corbyn-leadership-campaign-new-social-movement-momentum (accessed on 25. 10. 2015); „More people have joined Labour since Jeremy Corbyn became leader than are in Ukip“, Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/more-people-have-joined-labour-since-jeremy-corbyn-became-leader-than-are-in-the-lib-dems-10512815.html (accessed on 29.10. 2015).

[7] „Welfare“, The Official Site of Jeremy Corbyn, http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/priorities/pensioners/ (accessed on 15. 10. 2015).

[8] „PMQs: Corbyn and Cameron clash over tax credits“, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34529138 (accessed on 3. 11. 2015).

[9] „Tax credits Q&A: What makes the Government’s defeat in the Lords so important? What happens next?“, Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tax-credits-qa-what-makes-the-government-s-defeat-in-the-lords-so-important-what-happens-next-a6711161.html (accessed on 5. 11. 2015).

[10] „A beginner’s guide to Corbynomics „, The Spectator, http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/08/corbynomics-what-is-it-and-where-it-came-from/ (accessed on 5. 11. 2015); „Can Corbynomics guru Richard Murphy fix Britain?“, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/22/richard-murphy-corbynomics-tax-social-housing-britain (accesed on 5. 11. 2015).

[11] „Fare rises show why British railways should be renationalised“, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/02/fare-rises-british-railways-should-be-renationalised-caroline-lucas (accessed on 1. 11. 2015).

[12] „Five good things about Corbyn (even if you’re not a Labour supporter), The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11846603/Five-good-things-about-Corbyn-even-if-youre-not-a-Labour-supporter.html (accessed on 7. 11. 2015).