So we have yet another figure from Labour’s past, Betty Boothroyd, sharing her opinions on the current Labour leadership race with the right wing press and guess what, she fears that a win for Corbyn will be the end of the party as she knew it. That’s exactly the point though, the Labour party that Betty knew and which she gained so many benefits from disappeared somewhere around the time of the Millennium. I remember so well, my visit to the Millennium Dome where I was so totally underwhelmed by the pile of tat that New Labour had assembled as a homage to The Best of British that it was a long time before I felt able to vote for the party again. However, looking back on it over a decade later it was a fairly accurate portrayal of the prosaic, soul-less country we now live in. A Britain where the unemployed and those who simply need an extra income compete for minimum wage jobs which require no more than a desire to please and accept whatever is thrown at you. Betty and her like may warn that a vote for Corbyn will take Britain back to the 1980s but surely, that would be better than the 1880s which is where we seem to be at the moment with the gap between rich and poor growing ever wider.
It could have been so different. Britain certainly had the talent to compete with any other country in the world including China but greed got in the way and our most talented entrepreneurs simply chose to bed down with the international bankers rather than the workers. What became New Labour’s undoing was that by trying to remain popular with the more affluent sections of society and those public sectors workers who were enjoying unprecedented levels of pay [some head-teachers and council officers being paid more than the Prime Minister] , they failed to impose a more equitable share of the tax burden on those who could afford to pay more. It is hard to imagine that any individual being paid a six figure salary by the state and living in a low rent council property would balk at paying a little more income tax but that’s obviously what Blair and Brown thought at the time. However, there was ample scope then just as now, for a more progressive tax model to address the disproportionality in levels of income tax paid by employees and employers alike. I think that it was the billionaire, Warren Buffet who said that his secretary was paying a far larger proportion of her salary in income tax than either himself or any of his senior managers.
However, putting that to one side for now. What is it about Corbyn that frightens the old guard so much, not that any of them including Ms Boothroyd, are in anyway at risk of losing the privileged positions they have enjoyed for years. They may feel entitled to those positions and I’m not disputing that but what gives them the right to undermine the views of millions of people who have yet to make their marks on the world or who just want a fairer society. Interestingly, Ed Milliband based his election campaign on the need to create a fairer society and if you listen to what Jeremy Corbyn is saying, he too is seeking to establish the same thing. You may wish to attack Corbyn’s views on the Economy but when 41, largely conservative, economists including a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee agree that Jeremy’s opposition to Austerity is actually mainstream politics, that argument falls flat. Jeremy Corbyn knows, just as we all do, that the Free Market Dogma brought in by Mrs Thatcher and left largely unchecked by New Labour is not a panacea for all of our problems. However, before you accuse me of being against capitalism, I’m not. It’s just that there are some things best left to The Market and those things such as health and public services which should always remain in public ownership. There may well be those who argue that collaboration between public and private interests can result in a Win – Win situation but it would be an incredibly rare outcome going by how the Free Market operates. The Free Market is all about Winners and Losers and this has become more and more apparent since Mrs T. left office in 1990.
At this point I’d like to explain why I support the Labour Party and why I have voted for Jeremy Corbyn. To begin with, it’s quite simple. I’ve never been a member of a trade union so I didn’t come to the party via that particular route. My socialist leanings are the result of being brought up in the Roman Catholic faith by a single mother who held Liberal views [politically speaking that is] and having fought prejudice throughout my formative years. I remember living in two rooms as part of a shared house with both of my parents before moving into a brand new council house with a garden only to have to give it up three years later when my father left us and we were deemed unfit to live in a home designed for families. Imagine that happening now? However, back then The Nuclear Family had yet to be defined and Welfare Benefits were almost non existent, not that my mother would want them, she preferred to work even if it meant holding down two jobs at times. I became interested in politics around the time that I became interested in The Rolling Stones, George Orwell and Bob Dylan. My mother always liked that nice Mr Grimmond from the Liberal Party but I was more taken with another man who lived not far from us in Yorkshire, Harold Wilson. I don’t why I liked him more than the other politicians but I do remember him having a twinkle in his eye and would use his prop, a pipe, to appear serious when the occasion demanded it.
The Labour Party however, is a strange beast. It started out as a movement towards the end of the 19th Century and was first led by Keir Hardie who had previously been a supporter of the Liberal Party. The Independent Labour Party, as it was first named, then became the Labour Party in 1906 and by 1922 it had grown to become the second largest political party in Britain, replacing The Liberals. Hardie was eventually replaced by Ramsey MacDonald, the illegitimate son of a Scottish farm labourer who went on to become the first ever Labour Prime Minister in 1924 when he headed a short lived coalition known as the Natural Government [ a coalition of Tory, Liberal and Labour ministers] and again in 1929 when the Labour Party won the election outright. Political historians will know only too well how Labour Governments fared after MacDonald but few will own up to the fact that whenever things haven’t gone well for the party, the establishment has always been the first to attack them. We are seeing the same thing now with Corbyn but what makes it worse is that members of his own party, okay, Ms Boothroyd has conveniently declared herself an Independent, have joined the establishment in attacking Jeremy.
I feel that the problem stems from the historical relationship between the founders of the Labour Party and The Fabian Society, Sidney and Beatrice Webb in particular. The Webbs were a strange couple albeit, very well connected and highly intelligent. They founded the London School of Economics amongst other things but were largely interested in social engineering which they carried out under the guise of social work. Along with their close friends including George Bernard Shaw, the Webbs were very supportive of the science of eugenics however, they later became great admirers of Joseph Stalin and would spout Soviet propaganda at every opportunity. I have been informed by friends in the North East that there are those in the current Labour Party who share the same beliefs as Sidney and Beatrice Webb where Stalin is concerned. However, I strongly suspect that none of those individuals are supporters of Mr Corbyn which brings me to the accusation that Jeremy is a Trotskyist. I can see no evidence to prove such accusations however, whilst Britain has grown to become more like its’ Uncle Sam [The USA] year upon year, then as in America, anyone who confesses to being a socialist is automatically assumed to be a communist.
Calling anyone who doesn’t hold right-wing views a leftie, [ a communist ] appears to be the rule of the game in Fleet Street and unfortunately, the more Corbyn uses the S word, the more he will be labeled as a communist. However, is socialism something to be frightened of? Is it the flip side of the capitalist coin and does the future health of our country depend on which side the spinning coin lands? Of course not, that would be far too simple. It would be like imagining that a country can be united by turning neighbour against neighbour, employed person against unemployed person, able person against disabled person, old person against young person and so on. However, regardless of what some people believe, opposites are not usually attracted towards each other, we tend to hunt in packs made up of like-minded others. Socialism however, abhors such selfish behaviour because history has shown that any society run along those lines eventually results in anarchy and destruction. That’s not the world that people like Jeremy Corbyn or myself want for ourselves and our children however, it is one that we are blindly, stumbling towards. We have already reached a situation where Food Banks have become part of the informal Welfare State, where innocent people are pleading guilty to offences they didn’t commit because they cannot get legal aid and where public libraries are asking the public to loan them books!
Ed Miliband may have lost the election for Labour in May but seriously; did the party have the makings of a good government? Of course not. Apart from Ed, there were very few members of the Shadow Cabinet who had anything to say other than what was already being said by the Tories. In 2005, Oliver Letwin [Head of Tory Cabinet Office] let it be known that the NHS would cease to exist once his party returned to government so what did Labour do? They started to privatise parts of the NHS and when they lost office in 2010, Andrew Lansley [Tory Health Minister] escalated what Labour’s Alan Milburn had started. However, when Lansley became unpopular, he was replaced with a less abrasive doppelganger, Jeremy Hunt. Labour, in opposition to the coalition government, deployed Andy Burnham to take on Mr Hunt however, going by what I observed in the media, Milburn, Lansley, Hunt and Burnham were all singing from the same hymn sheet and it wasn’t Rock of Ages.
I’m not exactly sure what Corbyn’s plans for the NHS are other than that he will probably reverse much of what has been introduced over the past decade. However, there are ways in which the private sector can benefit the NHS, for example, it could become compulsory for people who participate in dangerous sports whether football, rugby or sky diving to have private health insurance to cover NHS costs. The government could also take a harder line with Drug companies and just as any private sector business would do, demand lower prices. However, as I have learnt from personal experience, what we believe our NHS is there to provide is not always what we get therefore, whatever Jeremy has in mind, it has to benefit everybody and not just the few who happen to live in the best post codes.
It’s the same with education. You’ve got posh people for want of a better description, being allowed to run their own schools at the tax-payers expense and calling them Free Schools! Then we have Academies which are centres of excellence according to this government and exempt from public scrutiny whilst non-academies, Comprehensives, are constantly being inspected by inconsistent auditors who can somehow rate a school as “Failing” on one visit and yet “Outstanding” just a few months later. This suggests that either, someone got it wrong on the previous visit or that the goalposts had been moved by the time of the following one. However, does anyone know where the current Labour Party stands on education? Tony Blair may have turned the word education into a mantra but nothing has changed in almost twenty years. Young people are being pushed harder and harder to achieve and when they do, the government pats itself on the back before moving on to other things, leaving those same young people with their hard earned certificates to ponder a life flipping burgers on a zero hours contract or incurring a student debt that they will never manage to repay.
However, the problem does not end there because with more young people having to accept low paid, insecure employment, they will not be able to contribute enough to guarantee themselves or anybody else for that matter, a reasonable state pension nor will they have much in the way of disposable income to invest in a private pension. Of course, this will not be every young person’s experience but it might be so for a significant portion of the hugely increased percentage of school-leavers going onto higher education at a time when Britain has a skills shortage. Corbyn however, is clear on what he wants for the education sector and not surprisingly, it involves placing all schools back under local authority control. However, I also hope that Jeremy will take on board something that Ed Miliband suggested and increase the number of apprenticeships available to school leavers.
A policy that is rarely mentioned is Housing although, there are policies in place which protect landlords but very little to support the homeless and I don’t just mean those who are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation. Having worked with the homeless myself, I know how difficult it is to house people especially when they may have become so disaffected by society that they would rather sleep rough than go into a hostel. However, it isn’t easy for those hard working families that Cameron and his cronies keep going on about to find a suitable place to live either. Somewhere that not only can they afford but which will provide them with the security necessary for them to establish themselves and create a desirable and loving home in which to raise their children.
The Tories have been pouring money into the new Homes and Communities Agency which is helping to provide new homes across the country for first time buyers at reasonable prices as well as assistance for those without a large deposit to put down. However, when I’ve looked at the sales literature for some of these housing developments, they appear just as keen to sell the properties to Buy to let customers which obviously means that properties intended for families on low incomes will end up in the hands of private landlords who will then charge higher rents. The Tories also want to allow Housing Association tenants to purchase their rented properties thus removing even more affordable social housing and it’s the same with council housing. Not content with the fact that since Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy policy which saw thousands of properties move into private hands, many of them belonging to greedy investors, Cameron is pushing harder than ever to complete the job that Mrs T started. The problem is however, that we are not replacing the homes that are being sold off. For example, my local authority which holds the current record for having sold off the biggest proportion of its’ housing stock in England has told me on numerous occasions when attempting to secure accommodation for clients that I would be wasting my time filling in an request for housing application form. So where do you go from there?
I say that it is time for a change and not simply one whereby you replace one group of public school educated tailor’s dummies with another similar cohort of Oxbridge graduates. We want a government that speaks to all the people of Britain and not just those who are already well placed in society. Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband [ who I suspect will play a large part in Labour’s future ] want a fairer society which isn’t a bad place to start in my opinion however, there is always going to be a debate over what one person considers to be fair compared to what another person may believe to be the case. However, governments have to work for the greater good and as long as politicians are constantly reminded that their sole purpose is to uphold the equality of all people and not simply serve a powerful elite, then we may be okay. I say may, because we can never be certain of what is around the corner however, with the right leadership in place, there is a far greater chance that things will go well and let’s be honest, things could not be worse than they are right now!