Jeremy Corbyn looks set to become Labour Leader and may soon trigger a realignment of the variety show called British parliamentary politics. Don't get me wrong, Jeremy Corbyn was one of the few Labour MPs to take a consistent stand against recent military interventions and oppose the government's love affair with global corporations. I'd certainly agree with him on some other other issues such as the re-nationalisation of railways and energy companies, which are natural monopolies. Yet on other issues such as his steadfast opposition to welfare reform and immigration controls, he may tick all the politically correct boxes and win much kudos among the rhetorical left, but fails to present a coherent alternative that can stand a moment's scrutiny. Corbyn's campaign appeals mainly to emotions and widespread rejection of the kind of corporate politics we've seen from all governments since, well err. 1976 when the then Labour government went cap in hand to the IMF to negotiate a bailout.
I still recall the last time the gullible loony left temporarily held sway in Britain's main opposition party after a decisive defeat in the June 1979 General Election that saw Margaret Thatcher's Tories sweep to power. Unlike real alternatives such as ecologism or communitarianism, the loony or trendy left merely offers a wish list of virtuous policies with little consideration to their holistic viability. With massive job losses and a rising cost of living, in early 1982 Michael Foot's Labour Party, committed to the re-nationalisation of privatised industries, unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC, held a healthy lead over the governing Conservatives. Had there been a general election in March 1982, Labour might well have won. I suspect a combination of vested corporate and military interests would have tamed the government's radical agenda. Then in April 1982 Argentina's General Galtieri kindly invaded the Falklands (aka Malvinas) to give the Iron Lady a decisive lead. Michael Foot joined the chorus of engineered public opinion calling a Naval Task Force to liberate 1600 British citizens in windswept islands, some 250 miles from the Argentine coastline (but 10,000 miles from England). The Tory government's monetarist economic policies, far from promoting British workers' interests, furthered those of global corporations who deemed British workers too expensive, too lazy and above all unreliable. It was cheaper for industry to subsidise welfare handouts in the UK than it was to maintain inefficient manufacturing plants. Overnight the public mood changed from one of disaffection with Thatcherite policies to one of nationalistic support for the heroic liberation of some remote Islands, many had never heard of. Four ministers of the former 1974-79 Labour administration left to form the Social Democratic Party in alliance with the Liberal Party. In the end Labour did not do quite as badly as many feared. Michael Foot tried his best to keep Labour grandees such as Dennis Healey and Roy Hattersley (both very much in favour of the EEC, NATO and a nuclear deterrent) on board and tame the more radical elements of the loony left, personified by Tony Benn. Yet with just 27.6% of the popular vote (with a turnout of 72%, so effectively just over 20% of the electorate), Labour sank to its lowest level of popular support since 1918, despite over 3 million unemployed and growing social unrest.
The new Consumer Classes
Labour could not persuade working class voters that their policies were either viable or desirable. Skilled workers no longer wanted to travel by bus from council houses to manual factory jobs with an annual holiday in Blackpool or Clacton, they aspired to enjoy faster cars, home ownership, better-paid office jobs and Mediterranean holidays. Progress for the working classes did not mean lower train fares or more council houses, but the new era of inexpensive consumer gadgets marketed by Maggie's business friends. Under Thatcher, the service sector, especially the toxic financial services industry, blossomed as factories shut and moved abroad. The British working class seemed happy to watch Japanese tellies, drive German cars, buy Italian washing machines and holiday in Spain. Many were left behind, especially a growing underclass of NEETs (Not in Education or Employment) and single mothers. Despite all Thatcher's rhetoric about living within our means and back to basics morality, her premiership saw the further decline of traditional families and the emergence of a hot-air economy where real jobs were increasingly outsourced. Oddly far from downsizing Labour's beloved welfare state, the social security system continued to expand in large part to manage the growing underclasses unable to adapt to the new dynamic but perennially unstable service economy. National governments became powerless to change the fundamental logic of the global market economy. Governments could merely regulate businesses, adjust tax rates, provide infrastructure, incentivise inward investors and ensure some degree of social stability.
The New Left
The political debate no longer focussed on the nature of the global economic system, but how to tame or harness it to our best advantage. Within just a few years the Labour leadership under Neil Kinnock embraced the European Union and gradually dumped commitments for the re-nationalisation of privatised industries or nuclear disarmament. The left turned its focus to social issues. Rather than champion the majority of working class people, the left began to promote the identity politics of various victim groups, whether they were ethnic minorities, single mothers, homosexuals, disability groups and the growing array of disadvantaged individuals who claimed some sort of victim status. Rather than advocate a different model of development, the new left embraced globalisation and planned to regulate corporations to be more environmentally friendly, respect workers' rights and promote their various victim groups in the name of equality and diversity. As the global economy became more tightly interdependent, big business started to co-opt the language of the trendy left. International corporations began to embrace and promote multiculturalism, feminism, LGBT rights and mental health advocacy. All these issues were honed to meet business needs. Multiculturism tended to mean multi-coloured cultural homogenisation. Feminism no longer supported women's rights as women, but coopted women into wage slavery. LGBT rights served not to remove prejudice against sexual minorities, but to change the family as it had emerged in diverse cultures around the world. Mental health advocacy far from making society more tolerant of natural human diversity, imposed a new concept of social normality. Capitalists had not suddenly had an epiphany, with a burning urge to undo all the evils of 500 years of European colonialism and 250 years of industrialisation. Rather their marketing departments had instructed them to embrace the new ethnically diverse and culturally metamorphosing demographics of their expanding consumer markets. Global capitalists genuinely believed their economic model would emancipate not only women, but also the poor of the third world. To do this they needed a new alliance of transnational businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations. Big business now marketed itself as a force for progress and no longer needed to pay lip service to the cultural whims of the old aristocratic and ecclesiastic elites. Indeed, big business much preferred to deal global institutions and bypass national and local governments altogether. They also preferred atomised consumers with new and forever morphing cultural identities to rival national and religious communities with more stable identities, and thus less malleable to the kind of cultural change required in a dynamic consumer society.
Britain's most Radical Government
Just as Thatcher's government was way more radical than Callaghan's more conservative 1970s administration, John Major's cautious stewardship of UK PLC gave way to one of the most disruptive management teams the country may ever see. Rather than undo the Thatcherite revolution, New Labour rebranded it and attracted the support of large swathes of the corporate media. Many Labour supporters welcomed Scottish and Welsh devolution, the minimum wage, working family tax credits and Good Friday Agreement that saw the apparent end to an anachronistic feud between protestants and catholics in Northern Ireland. Though sceptical of Blair from the very outset (I couldn't vote Labour in 1997 because I was still in Italy, but probably would have), I welcomed these developments too. What too few realised was just how fast the world outside was changing and how even these modest reforms in part enabled a much greater transfer of power away from national governments to supranational organisations. Within the context of Federal British Isles, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution make perfect sense, but soon the UK itself would be a mere region of a wider European and eventually Global superstate. The minimum wage seemed long overdue, but soon became the maximum wage of an overheating service economy that generated hundreds of thousands of low-paid jobs. Working family / child tax credits merely incentivised low wages and, paradoxically, family breakups (as families were redefined). Retail inflation remained deceptively low as property prices began to rise much faster than salaries. By 2006 a typical 3 bedroom house in the outskirts of London cost the equivalent of 10 times the average salary and mortgages, not included in retail inflation, became the largest item in most households' budget. Unsurprisingly the Blair era saw a shift towards the private rent sector as millions of young adults could no longer afford to step on the property ladder, while other mischievous homeowners became landlords using convenient buy-to-let schemes.
Yet it was on the international stage that New Labour showed its true colours. Not content with the rebranding of big business as a vehicle of enlightened social change, Blairite spin doctors sought to rebrand military interventionism, which had gotten itself a bit of a bad name during the Vietnam war and post-colonial escapades such as 1956 Franco-British occupation of the Suez Canal. Blair became one of the world's most vocal advocates of a new form of global colonialism, in which an international alliance of progressive countries would intervene against repressive regimes to spread freedom, democracy and free trade. In 1998 a vast majority of Labour MPs, with the support of a large body of public opinion, supported NATO's airstrikes over Kosovo and Serbia. Despite protests from the rebellious fringes (including Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway), the concept of humanitarian wars had been successfully sold, especially as the intervention aimed to save Muslim Kosovars against orthodox Christian Serbs.
While Blair appealed to Britain's lingering patriotism, his entourage didn't really believe in nation-states or self-determination at all. Labour had long championed the rights of racial minorities, especially with the influx of immigrants from the British Commonwealth during the 50s, 60s and 70s. However, the indigenous working classes remained sceptical and as most Commonwealth countries gained independence and Britain remodelled itself as a modern West European social democracy, the political consensus shifted towards integration and managed limited migration. Indeed by the early 1980s Britain had negative net migration, which returned to modest migratory surpluses by the late 1980s. By the mid 1990s migratory flows had risen everywhere. The world was on the move, but some destinations were much more appealing than others. Many talented British physicians and engineers preferred better pay in Australia, Saudi Arabia or the United States. State education had also failed to train millions of disadvantaged youngsters for the world of work. While manufacturing had mainly moved abroad, we still needed plumbers, bricklayers, electricians, chefs, nurses, mechanics, carpenters and care assistants. These jobs had failed to capture the imagination of the growing underclass who failed in academic subjects. Indeed employers began to complain about UK school leavers and graduates who lacked even basic literacy and numeracy skills or simply failed to turn up for work. Without any public consultation, New Labour decided first to relax immigration controls (something largely welcomed on the left) and then in 2003 opted not impose transitional work restrictions on the new Eastern members of the European Union. As a result net migration grew from 20-30,000 a year in 1970s, 80s and early 90s to 320,000 a year in 2005. Even this masked the true picture of ethno-cultural transformation, as 650 thousand entered the UK and 330 thousand left with very different groups of people moving either direction. Little has changed since the fall of Gordon Brown's Labour administration in 2010. Under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, net migration reflected wider global economic imbalances. The UK population has grown from 58.5 million in 1997 to 65 million now, while in the previous 20 years the population had hardly changed (56 million in 1981). Unsurprisingly, we now have a dire housing shortage and need to import an even greater proportion of raw materials and food. Despite growing concern about the scale and sustainability of these rapid population movements among ordinary British workers, the political classes have continued to argue that migration is good for the economy. The Labour Left may rightly oppose gangmasters and low wages, but they still think mass migration is always a good idea or the best way to tackle global inequality. Jeremy Corbyn may be sceptical of the corporate grip on the European Union, but he embraces the free movement of labour. Yet too few on the left admit the chief beneficiaries of the current waves of mass migration is a global corporate elite who really do not like self-determination in any form. Indeed the current Conservative Government would rather cut workers' rights and downscale the welfare state for all, than protect British jobs.
Having your cake and eating it
In life you sometimes have to make choices. You could stay in bed all day watching Youtube videos or get up and go to work. Both choices have their appeals, especially if the state subsidises your worklessness and you can justify your idleness as a consequence of depression or eating disorders. However, most rational observers agree that despite technological advances, effort and diligence should be rewarded. Likewise, we could choose to cut air traffic and save our countryside from the blight of a new airport or we could continue to fly abroad more regularly, but be prepared to allocate more arable land to new airports. If you want more people to enjoy motoring, then we'll need to build more roads.
If you listen to some on the wishful thinking left, you'd seriously think only rabid right-wingers want us to face these dilemmas. Do we reduce carbon emissions or do we let our population rise to boost our economy? The trendy left does not want to face this dilemma. They believe some magic bullet technology will enable us to have the best of both worlds. We can keep growing our economy, welcoming more newcomers, building more houses, improving transport infrastructure, while leaving plenty of countryside, arable land and only trading fairly with the rest of the world. In the minds of the loony left, pollution and limits to growth are right-wing inventions.
So just for a short summary of Jeremy Corbyn's policies.
- Boost the money supply to avoid any cuts in welfare.
- Oppose immigration controls.
- Grow the economy to pay off debt and accommodate a growing population.
- Stop hydraulic fracturing.
- Reduce nasty pollution.
- Re-open closed coal mines.
- Stop resource wars.
- Tax global corporations
- Develop a high skill economy
Few politicians would disagree openly with the last point, though a global labour market place reduces the need to train local workers and corporate moguls would rather keep the masses relatively unskilled. Moreover, our current comprehensive education system and generous welfare state fail to motivate excellence in our underclasses, while middle and upper classes opt for cushy careers or prefer to migrate to sunnier climes. However, the remaining policies are inconsistent. Unless you are prepared to cut total consumption by stabilising the population and cutting per capita consumption you cannot reduce our dependence on resources imported from war-torn countries. Even much green technology increases our dependence on finite resources. Electric cars require lithium batteries and the world most abundant reserves just happen to lie in Central Asia and especially in Afghanistan. You might think trendy lefties want you cycle to work instead and grow vegetables in your back garden, but not if you can claim to have a special medical condition such as obesity or have to drop off your kids on the way to work in an out-of-town business park. A global labour market requires an increasingly mobile and versatile labour force, which in many practical situation necessitates some form of personalised rapid transport. Last but not least, it defies logic that the loony left expects global corporations to subsidise welfare largesse in the UK. Any attempt to impose higher taxes on multinationals will simply prompt them to migrate for tax purposes or pass on the local tax to local consumers as an additional cost of operating in the UK. If we introduced some form of European corporation tax, then multinationals would move their HQ outside the EU and local governments would have even less control over fiscal policy. Indeed the only way to tax multinationals fairly would be to enforce a global fiscal regime backed up by a global military. However, an independent country could ban multinationals with bad records on environmental protection or workers' rights. However, that would fall foul of the WTO,
If these policies do not seem wacky enough, just consider Jeremy's brother, Piers Corbyn, who has been running a 15-year long crusade against the religion of Global Warming. I have little faith in our corporate elites, but the one consistent strand in all mainstream economic thinking is the need for perpetual growth. The issue at stake is not whether the climate is cooling or warming or whether Sunspots play a role in weather cycles (Scotland has just had its coldest summer for over 50 years), but whether massive human activity on an unprecedented scale can destabilise our delicate ecosystem. Yet another dilemma, the loony left refuses to consider. Amazingly Piers seems very supportive of Jeremy's campaign. However, there is one small influential political cult that would entirely endorse a combined Jeremy + Piers Corbyn manifesto, the Spiked-Online brigade of media-savvy intellectuals. At least they are consistent, they are outspoken techno-optimists and climate change deniers.
Whose interests does Corbynmania really serve?
It doesn't take a genius to realise Jeremy Corbyn's policy platform could never be implemented in its entirety. Most policies would be vetoed by supranational bodies like the EU. In some ways I wish Corbyn's dream of plenty for all could be true. I too would like cheap food and well-paid farmworkers, clean cities, abundant wildlife, clean rivers and efficient inexpensive rapid transportation. However, I also detect a centralising and potentially authoritarian statist streak in Corbyn's agenda, not least his talk about mental health and support for more social workers.
Like or not, big business only agrees with two of Corbyn's policies, more migration and economic growth at all costs. If the main opposition party, albeit a rump Labour Party deprived of Blairites, could oppose even the most feeble attempts to regulate unsustainable people trafficking, the government can pose on the middle ground of public opinion while covertly pursuing an unashamedly globalist agenda. That leaves the settled working classes only with another bunch of climate change deniers in UKIP while the greens back a rebranded Labour party.
The other 3 candidates behave like overgrown school students trying hard to impress their politically correct social studies teacher and gain favour with their classmates. I guess Andy Burnham tries to appeal more to his classmates, while Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper want to get full marks for their Labour leadership project. Only Andy Burnham, in a sop to working class voters, has dared to criticize Labour record on mass migration, but this is probably as credible as similar musings from Tory politicians. All support the EU and free movement of Labour. Yvette Cooper even suggested David Miliband's charity, Rescue International, help with the refugee crisis in Calais. Now, why would a staunch Blairite and supporter of Iraq war (which together with other interventions in Aghanistan, Libya and Syria helped create a much bigger refugee crisis in North Africa and Turkey), be so keen to help refugees? It's like selling double-glazing services to someone whose windows you have just smashed. What matters most to global corporations is to keep the range of acceptable public debate on message, which is simply there is no alternative to the curent globalist model of development and any attempt to regain control over the levers of economic power will be ridiculed and sidelined.
If something sounds too good be true, in my experience it probably is. The loony left cannot change the laws of thermodynamics, but it's up to us on the rational left to suggest coherent alternatives to our current economic system.