Corb-limey! One Hundred Days of Jeremy Corbyn
He has opposed the Tories with a vigour rarely seen from Labour
One of my biggest hopes after Jeremy Corbyn's leadership victory was that his election would enable a clearer view of the left/right political spectrum. Slavish adherence to free markets would no longer be the default mainstream ideology, the Conservatives' pretence of centrism would be debunked, and rafts of alternatives would finally be aired.
100 days later, to what extent has this occurred? Many of Corbyn's greatest challenges - a hostile media, opposition from within Labour - persist, but has he in some way re-awakened a sleeping giant of British socialism, presumed dead and buried since 1979?
While it was the House of Lords that ultimately blocked Cameron's tax credit cuts, Corbyn was instrumental in mobilising opposition, arguing against austerity with a vigour rarely seen from Labour prior to his election. However, something that penalised workers was never popular anyway and might still have floundered without Corbyn.
Likewise, success in the Oldham by-election wasn't a necessarily a victory for Corbyn himself. Having backed Liz Kendall for leader, Jim McMahon was hardly a typical Corbynite candidate, and it was positive work as a local councillor that truly cemented his win. Nevertheless, that voters felt confident electing a Labour MP with Corbyn at the helm speaks positively about shifting public perceptions of the party.
The vote on air strikes may seem a more straightforward loss. That said, it was far from a straightforward debate, and Corbyn was again crucial in providing a firm, rational face for pacifism just when it was beginning to become a dirty word. It wouldn't be presumptuous for him to claim some responsibility for ever-rising anti-war and anti-nuclear sentiments in Britain.
The Conservatives' illusion of centrism is fading, too. Cuts and inequality are under intensified scrutiny at PMQs, and their attacks on Corbyn (after the Tory Soundbite Factory deemed he would forever be referred to as a 'threat to national security') often appear desperate, unfounded and - in the case of Cameron's 'terrorist sympathisers' jibe - wildly ill-judged.
The world hasn't shifted on its axis quite yet. That doesn't mean, though, that the discussion and wider recognition of leftist values enabled by Corbyn's leadership have been without effect. The past 100 days give little solid indication of his future prospects, and it will take much longer than that to determine which way the British political winds are blowing. Labour supporters of all strands could find themselves bruised, elated, vindicated or humiliated. One thing's certain, though - they'll rarely be bored.
A fierce critic of austerity who would make the tax system more progressive
If Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have done nothing else, they have injected excitement into the dismal science of economics.
Since Labour decided to seek a return to power in the early 1990s under Tony Blair it realised that to win over voters, the motto should be “to beat the Tories, you need to join them”.
Both parties embraced orthodox monetary policy, rejected hikes in income or corporation tax, approved of privatisation and foreswore direct government intervention in markets in favour of independent regulation.
On economics, at least it was hard to fit a Rizla paper between their manifestos.
However the Corbynistas have rejected that rush to conformity. Instead they have adopted policies that will put clear red water between them — assuming they are still in charge — and the Conservatives at the 2020 general election.
As one City economist put it after the leadership election finished and the shadow cabinet was announced: “Corb-limey.”
Corbyn is a fierce critic of the austerity adopted by George Osborne in the current and last parliament. He plans to balance the “current budget” that excludes investment but has not set a timetable. More importantly he would make tax rises rather than spending cuts to do the work.
With the tax arena, he would make the system more progressive, so the wealthiest pay a higher proportion of tax than they currently do. Here he is an agreement with Oxford Professor Sir Tony Atkinson. He also wants “modest” rises in business tax.
He would redirect quantitative easing away from helping banks by insisting the Bank of England buys bonds from a proposed National Investment Bank. And he wants to nationalise the railways, the utilities and the part state-owned banks.
Many of Corbyn’s ideas have been enacted before and they only look radical compared with the last two decades. The big question is whether they are vote winners.
No modern political leader has defied such a crushing first impression
Political commentators have allowed a great lie to take root: that the polls got it wrong in May. While it was not the pollsters greatest moment, the fine print consistently showed that David Cameron was a more popular prime ministerial candidate, and Labour not trusted on the economy. That exit poll was not a shock.
As Jeremy Corbyn marks his first 100 days as leader his supporters will take comfort not only from a warm Question Time audience in Tory Bath, but also victory in the Oldham by-election. The latter certainly stopped the flow of blood from the mess surrounding the Syria vote. Yet the first by-election of the 1997-2001 parliament saw the Tories retain a safe seat with an increased vote share of a similar amount. They crowed but at the next election they gained one seat. The first three by-elections in the last parliament (all in comfortable Labour seats) saw Labour increase its vote by 10-14%. We know what happened next.
The sky has not fallen in but in contrast to 2010 Labour languishes in the polls. Comparisons with past leaders three months in do not look good either: he is viewed more favourable than Miliband by voters (17% to 25%), but already viewed more negatively. Even IDS and Michael Howard scored positively. Only Michael Foot had worse ratings. When voters see Corbyn they swing into the negative column. Just 17% trust him with national security. The only silver lining is that people think he will have a positive impact on politics.
Without credibility Corbyn cannot shift politics his way or hold this government to account. Based on past trends Labour’s vote will decrease in 2020. History does not always repeat but no modern political leader has defied such a crushing first impression and none of his supporters can show how this will be turned around except by talking in vague generalities.
Then again, the polls might be wrong. Things might actually be worse for Labour. They were last time.
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