Editorial of the Socialist, issue 949
Corbyn’s manifesto: An important step in the right direction
Mobilise to fight for socialist change
The leaking of Labour’s draft manifesto broke through the right-wing media’s relentless assaults on Corbyn, and brought the policies into the light. Social media was alive with enthusiastic discussion. Labour went up in the polls – up to 32% in mid-week polls by Opinium and ORB, and 35% in a ComRes poll taken after the leak.
Socialist Party members experienced more people wanting to stop and talk, take leaflets and buy our paper in the morning as people heard the news. We are confident the headline policies in the manifesto will inspire many.
A million more people have registered to vote since the election was called. 42% of those registering are young. One reason for that will be a new generation reaching voting age. The introduction of individual voter registration meant that the number of school leavers on the register dropped by a quarter, at least some of whom are now registering.
It is also likely that they are registering in order to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s programme. Labour is significantly ahead of the Tories among the under-40s.
The right-wing press immediately went on the attack, naturally. The Daily Mail screamed that Labour would take us back to the 1970s – to which many responded, better than the 1870s with the Tories! Big business and their political representatives will move might and main to prevent a Corbyn victory.
Theresa May called the leaked manifesto “disastrous socialist policies”. Ordinary working class people would be “appalled”.
Actually the truth is the opposite. Polling showed overwhelming public support for Corbyn’s policies. 52% support public ownership of railways, 50% of Royal Mail and 49% of energy. 71% back banning zero-hour contracts. 65% support higher taxes on those earning over £80,000. 54% support building more council homes.
In reality the Tories and the rich they represent are terrified that these policies are very popular. Recent elections in France, in the US, and the EU referendum, have been used by working class people to rebel against the wealthy capitalist establishment. That basic class anger goes further for many, seeking out a working class alternative. This has been shown in the huge support for Bernie Sanders in the US and Melenchon in France.
Polls currently show that while people support the policies, they are sceptical about Corbyn himself. This is hardly surprising considering the offensive launched on him every minute. Those around Corbyn complain about the attacks on him by the press, but do not sufficiently rebut those coming from the right of his own party. Unfortunately, over the last year Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message, which has twice swept him into the leadership of the Labour Party, has not been heard by the majority of the population. Endless attempts to compromise with the pro-capitalist Blairite wing of the Labour Party have, to put it mildly, muffled his voice. Scepticism also comes from a lack of faith in any politician to actually do what they promise.
But a bold campaign could overcome this. Corbyn and his trade union backers, like general secretary of the Unite union Len McCluskey, need to get out to mass rallies and workplaces, with fighting talk against the rich, the “rigged system”. If they boldly argue for jobs, workers’ rights, homes and services, they could defy the ‘experts’ and win.
Theresa May called the general election gambling, based on the opinion polls, that she would be able to increase the Tories’ currently puny majority. But as the Socialist explained, hers is a very high-risk strategy.
Jeremy Corbyn in York, May 2017, photo by Nigel Smith
A video has gone viral of one working class woman with a learning disability managing to break through the tight control and confront Theresa May about cuts to disability benefits. This speaks volumes about the real lives and views of working class people.
So the very policies May lambasts as “disastrous”, she rehashes and offers up a ‘Corbyn-lite’ version, with pledges on council housing, ‘workers’ rights’ and caps on energy prices. Corbyn is setting the agenda. The debate has been pushed to the left.
While the Tory press do their utmost to discredit him on defence, Corbyn’s statement that a “bomb first, talk later” strategy has failed and is a “recipe for increasing, not reducing, threats and insecurity” will chime not only with young people but also the millions who opposed Tony Blair’s war in Iraq and were turned off from voting Labour. Similarly, “no more hand-holding with Donald Trump” will also be popular with the hundreds of thousands mobilised against the racist, sexist billionaire.
Unfortunately, the manifesto shows that concessions have been made to the right of the party, in a vain hope at achieving unity. Many Corbyn supporters will be disappointed, for example, that the manifesto commits to renewing Trident. While the headline renationalisation of the railways is very popular, the small print shows that actually the rail companies will be renationalised as franchises expire. While the manifesto specifies a number of benefits that will be strengthened, and pledge to reform and redesign Universal Credit, there is not a general commitment to reverse cuts to social security.
Housing campaigners are disappointed that the manifesto does not commit to repeal the 2016 Housing and Planning Act. The original announcement by Corbyn that a Labour government would build a million homes, half of them council homes, has become half of them “council and housing association homes, for genuinely affordable rent or sale”. The Socialist Party argues that we need a million council homes! Similarly, on rent controls, the manifesto promises to control rent rises, rather than set a cap on rent levels.
These are retreats made in the face of Blairite opposition. But the popularity of the policies, and the shift of the whole debate leftwards in response to them, shows that in reality there has never been a need to compromise with the Labour right.
The Socialist Party fully supports Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity stance. Since he was first elected as Labour leader we have done all we can to support the anti-austerity party in formation in its battle against the Blairite right of the Labour Party.
Representatives of the capitalist establishment exist inside the Labour Party as well as out. As last summer’s coup attempt showed, the big majority of Labour MPs are desperate to ditch Corbyn. Contrary to their claims, this isn’t because he is ‘unelectable’ but because they fear he might be elected.
We argued for democratising the Labour Party, allowing the readmission of expelled socialists, and introducing mandatory reselection of MPs. If that had been done, the anti-austerity wing of the Labour Party would be in a much stronger position than they are today, where the Blairites are circling ready to pounce beyond the general election, whatever its outcome.
The Blairites dare to suggest that they hold the key to electoral success, yet they want to continue with the same old pro-austerity policies that have seen France’s equivalent of Labour – the PS – reduced to 6% in the first round of the French presidential elections.
After seven years of Tory misery voters have no interest in voting for an ‘austerity-lite’ version of Tory policies, the negative consequences of which many remember from New Labour’s time in office.
Disgracefully, an unnamed right-wing source described the manifesto to the Mirror: “all it amounts to is a load of freebies for every special interest group. It’s all concern for the ‘feckless poor’ and nothing for the hardworking majority.”
Blairite MP Ben Bradshaw in Exeter declared that he would have nothing to do with it, and would produce his own Exeter manifesto. This is no different from the big number of right-wing MPs who are giving out local leaflets with no mention of Corbyn or his policies. One example is Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, who also claims on her leaflets that “I fought and won the battle for the Butterfields estate,” when actually it was the brave fight of the tenants, backed by the Socialist Party, that led to victory. The likes of Wes Streeting and John Woodcock blatantly declare they couldn’t support Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.
Never before has it been clearer that this is two parties in one: a pro-capitalist Blairite party and a new anti-austerity party in formation.
In 2016 Tony Blair declared that Corbyn becoming prime minister would be “a very dangerous experiment” which he wouldn’t be prepared to risk. No surprise then that he is now going all out to try and prevent it happening – even suggesting that Labour voters consider supporting Liberal Democrats or Tories if they are ‘pro-remain’.
The pro-capitalist wing will never give up attempts to strangle a new anti-austerity party. No more concessions should be made to them. We need a party that stands in the interests of the working class – not the billionaires!
A clear anti-austerity programme – in the interests of the working class – should also define Labour’s approach to Brexit. Workers who voted for Brexit did so primarily because they were in revolt against all the misery they have suffered over the last decade. The Socialist Party has argued that Jeremy should make clear that he is fighting for a Brexit in the interests of the working and middle class majority.
The manifesto goes some way towards this – talking about prioritising jobs and living standards, protecting workers’ rights and “every community” – but still makes concessions to the right wing by not spelling out a clear challenge to the role of the EU in enforcing austerity.
The manifesto argues for retention of “the benefits of the single market and the Customs Union” without spelling out a rejection of its neoliberal rules. While it talks a lot about preserving the workplace protections in EU law, it makes no mention of the EU regulations that have driven the race to the bottom, such as the ‘posted workers directive’, or that attempt to enforce privatisation. Correctly, the manifesto clearly opposes racism and defends the rights of EU migrants.
The policies in the manifesto could transform the lives of the majority of people – providing a living wage, affordable housing, decent public services and more. But a socialist, anti-austerity party would need to go further to solve all the problems faced by working class people.
For example, the plan on energy is actually to achieve government control of the distribution grids in stages over time, and to “support the creation of” publicly owned energy companies in each region, operating alongside private companies. However, continuing to operate in a profit-seeking market will make it impossible to control what happens to energy supply, prices, and sustainability. To ensure stability, genuine affordability, and to plan and invest in the rapid expansion of renewables, would require democratic nationalisation of the whole industry.
The economic plans in Corbyn’s manifesto on investment represent a significantly bigger role by the state in the economy than has been posed for decades. Nonetheless, the proposals are extremely modest in terms of challenging private ownership of the main parts of the economy. The Labour manifestos in 1945, 1972 and 1983 included commitments to much more widespread nationalisation.
But it is such a departure compared with what has been on offer from the Blairite Labour Party and the Tories that it has the potential to shake everything up.
It is what the manifesto opens up that is so important, which is what the Tories and the Blairites fear so much. It says “it doesn’t have to be like this”. It opens the door to discussion about what society could be like.
The campaign in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto means standing up against not only the Tories but also the representatives of capitalism inside the Labour Party, to continue to fight for a party that is capable of implementing this programme. And it means campaigning for an extension of socialist policies.
When the Tories and the capitalist media attack these policies as ‘unaffordable’, they mean that they might be detrimental to the gargantuan profits of the capitalist elite. There is no lack of money in Britain. The richest thousand people in Britain own £658 billion – up £83 billion in one year! Corbyn and McDonnell’s tax measures aim to raise an extra £48.6 billion.
We support Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to tax the rich and big corporations. For most of the 1970s, big corporations paid 52% of their profits in tax. But that percentage has been reduced step by step to 20% today. Even with their proposed increase, big business would still be paying the lowest level of corporation tax in the G7.
But we also recognise that the ‘markets’ – that is capitalism – will never meekly accept dramatically increased taxation and regulation, or piecemeal takeovers of private companies.
The ‘rigged system’ that Jeremy Corbyn refers to is run by and for a tiny number of wealthy individuals and companies. Today a tiny group of people, in Britain and worldwide, own and control industry, science and technique, and harness them in order to maximise their own profits.
Globally eight people own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity; the greatest polarisation between rich and poor in human history. There are around 125 major corporations that completely dominate the economy. It is the tiny elite that own those companies and their hangers on who are the real establishment and are determined to try and stop Jeremy Corbyn coming to power.
The billionaires who are already squealing about Jeremy Corbyn’s profligate policies will do all they can to sabotage their implementation if he is elected. Even the modest aims in this manifesto will eat into their profits too far for their liking. But mostly they are terrified that the expectations of working class people would be raised and would push Corbyn to go further than he currently intends.
This would include attempts to remove Corbyn from the premiership. But additionally, they would try to sabotage through measures like investment strikes, and removing their money from the banks. The enormous pressure applied to the Syriza government in Greece stands as a warning to any government that challenges the interests of the rich and big business.
This is why fighting for Corbyn’s policies and more needs the workers’ movement to mobilise mass active support. And it means being prepared to go further with socialist measures.
It would mean nationalising the big banking and finance companies, with compensation to shareholders paid only on the basis of proven need. A crucial step towards solving the economic crisis would be to take into democratic public ownership the 125 or so big corporations that control around 80% of Britain’s economy. Unlike nationalisations in the past, this time it should be based on popular democratic control involving workers, trade unions and the community.
This would provide the possibility of developing a democratic, socialist plan of production that could very quickly transform the lives of millions.