Is it really Corbyn offering a "one party state"?

Maybe he is unelectable, maybe he isn't, but there is more to long term political change than simply who wins the next election.

Oliver Huitson
10 September 2015

Flickr/Downing Street. Some rights reserved.

I find Jeremy Corbyn's politics sometimes puerile and stupid - on serious issues - though often sound. But clearly there is no one else to vote for. This was confirmed by Yvette Cooper's first attempt at actually saying something, like a drone switched from human-lite to human-active mode. This was mid-August. What she came out with clearly delighted the Telegraph's resident Blairite, Dan Hodges, but for many people will have only confirmed two things: Corbyn is the only person worth voting for, and the New Labour project really does need to die.

Had you been in a coma for the last 8 years you would possibly not find anything unusual in her comment, so bereft it is of any recognition, whatsoever, of the actual state of the country and its ruling ideology.

“Tell me what you think is more radical, spending billions of pounds we haven’t got switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle aged men in Whitehall as Jeremy wants, or extending Sure Start, giving mothers the power and confidence to transform their own lives and transform their children’s lives for years to come?"

It's definitely the former, Yvette; that you think otherwise is testament to your sheer pointlessness. In one deeply facile remark you have summed up the entire New Labour project. You suggest, quite explicitly, that if either the energy execs or the Whitehall employees concerned were black women of mature years, or young Latin women, then this renationalisation malarky might be a worthwhile topic.

This is the New Labour reality. It doesn't matter that, unlike most civilised countries, we allow all our key infrastructure to be run for the benefit of a handful of shareholders and tax exiles at considerable cost to the public - what would matter is if some women and ethnic minorities were involved. This is the depth of political thought in Her Majesty's Opposition, from the mouth of someone cited as one of it's sharpest minds.

The case for renationalisation is overwhelming. And it matters. It matters because it shows clearly what sort of country you are - one where the public can be routinely screwed for the profits of the few, or one where the public own key elements of infrastructure and operate it for their own benefit. Britain is the former. New Labour are champions of the former. The public want the latter. In simple terms, that is why Corbyn is winning.

According to research by CorporateWatch and We Own It, by renationalising the utilities and rail we could save each household in the UK £250 a year. This is calculated on the basis of dividends and finance costs only, yet there are many other factors, as the authors acknowledge, that would suggest the savings would be considerably greater. But even this very conservative estimate would give every household £250 - that includes female households, black households, Asian households, even the households of the ghastly white men; many of whom are poor, young, pensioners, disabled, but who cares - probably not Cooper. They don't tick the right boxes.

Rail travel is now so expensive that even the rail staff are spending over £500,000 a year on internal flights around the UK because it's cheaper than using the train. This is firstly quite insane, and secondly a direct and inescapable result of privatisation which has sent both prices and subsidies skyrocketing. If Cooper really cared about mothers, wouldn't she want them to be able to take their kids out for the day without being robbed at the ticket office? Many mothers simply cannot afford to use the trains. Fancy a trip down to Brighton from London for the day with your family of 4? A mere 50 odd miles, but that'll cost you about £100.

The temporarily renationalised East coast mainline outperformed every single private line, by a long way. It returned £1bn to the Treasury over 5 years. That's a lot of hospitals, schools, firefighters, GPs, but what sort of mother needs all those...

I was surprised to read Anthony Painter's comments on the subject:

"Privatisation is about access to capital markets. Of course, Governments have access to capital markets too. But then they have to divert investment from other things such as housing and public services. There are only two groups of people who pay for rail services – taxpayers or passengers. It’s like higher education – it’s all us or those who directly use the service. If it’s all of us then we have to tax more or cut other things. There are no other available choices."

Privatisation in Britain simply isn't about access to capital markets - government owned entities have cheaper access to capital markets than any private corporation, if the government lets them. This is ignoring the salient fact that the private providers tend not to invest if they can help it anyway, just look at Water: their business is taking money out of utilities, not putting it in. They're asset strippers, and both Labour and the Tories have been completely happy with that. The second claim of Painter's suggests renationalisation would entail either cuts elsewhere or higher taxes.

Yet since privatisation, prices have risen sharply (users pay more), and subsidies have also roughly tripled (all of us also pay more) - it's lose lose for the public. The resulting choice from nationalisation is then to either tax less, or spend more.

But back to Cooper's comments. The privatisation of Royal Mail followed a now familiar route of grossly undervaluing the asset and flogging it to the City at bargain prices. One of the chief beneficiaries from the City cash-in was best man at Osborne's wedding. Opposed by 67% of the public, this stitch up cost the public perhaps £1bn, or more, due to its absurdly low price on sale. That buys an awful lot of school lunch vouchers, midwives and tax credits. But as a vote winner it clearly suffers from the same white men problem.

As for energy - Cooper's comically misjudged example - the private providers are now making £114 profit per household, per year. The savings from nationalisation would be well beyond that because of the structural inefficiencies of these cartel 'markets'. What sort of mother could do with another £114 in her pocket? Probably not those from Cooper's social set - Balliol grads and policy wonks. And there's the problem. For the wealthy, privileged New Labour Woman, being shafted on rail, mail and energy costs doesn't really matter - they're not poor, a £25 ticket for an hour's journey means nothing to them. They are comfortably 'post-material'. That private energy firms are run by Ms Kleptocrat rather than Mr really does become more important.

As for the sacred Sure Start, Durham University research suggests it was actually quite rubbish, has done little to improve literacy and numeracy, and wasn't reaching those most in need - the poorest. But it was strongly taken up by the middle class. Even if the poorest parents weren't availing themselves of its benefits for their own kids, at least they were subsidising the care of Titus and Persephone.

Look at any poll you like, the majority of the public want renationalisation of rail and utilities; they can see it's failed, and they can see its costing them a lot of money every year. Cooper doesn't see that. She sees just white men. Thankfully most women don't go in for the sort of shallow identity politics of New Labour apparatchiks. According to polls of those voting, 61% of women are voting Corbyn compared to 48% of men, while 19% of women are voting Cooper compared to 17% of men. Corbyn is far more popular with women than Cooper is. Perhaps they deem policy more important than genitalia, and Cooper doesn't really have any policy. She has a few soundbites, a few 'aspirations', there are 'challenges ahead'... we need 'new ideas'... and of course her clincher: I'm a woman.

The public don't seem to be buying it. After all, and though news of this may not have reached Cooper, there is now a broad scholarly consensus that Margaret Thatcher herself was a woman. As Lindsey German writes in Jeremy Corbyn, feminism and the Labour leadership:

"Cherie Blair was instrumental in selling the Iraq war to Labour MPs in 2003, in the name of women’s rights, as was Laura Bush. Condoleezza Rice, a black woman secretary of state under Bush, was likewise totally committed to war and militarism. Both women have justified their policies in terms of women’s rights... The misery of austerity is being forced on the Greek people by IMF head Christine Lagarde and German chancellor Angela Merkel... So being a woman guarantees nothing."

Cooper's comments on renationalisation are typical of her broader economic thinking - to the extent that she thinks about it at all. In a piece on Prime Economics the macro economic agendas of the four candidates were compared, except they had a bit of trouble with Cooper: "We have not been able to find a recent speech or article by Yvette Cooper that deals with macroeconomic policy specifically." Who cares about such trivia anyway, let's talk about Sure Start more - though after a decade of this golden panacea we apparently have some of the unhappiest children in the world, and quite dismal educational attainment:

"An international survey of adult skills published last month found that 16- to 24-year-olds in England ranked 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries. Pupils in England were ranked 27th in maths in the international assessment known as Pisa conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2009."

Cooper and New Labour in general are contented tinkerers - middle managers who think if they can just get the rebrand right, their team can land the contract when bids come up in five year's time. The nation needs only a few nudges, a few tweaks, a few more outreach programmes. I don't think most Labour voters agree, and they want someone to represent that viewpoint. Like him or loathe him, Corbyn does that.


Personally I find him far from ideal. He personifies a recurrent illness amongst the British left of assuming that whoever the Establishment or the right dislikes must logically be wonderful people, worthy of adoration, shared platforms and "friendship". It's a highly juvenile outlook and Corbyn is a repeat offender on this issue, while his evasions have not impressed. Peter Tatchell is worth reading on the subject.

On his economic plan Painter is right to question the idea that there is £120bn of unpaid tax just sitting there to be collected. Corbyn takes his cues on the subject from the excellent Richard Murphy and I don't doubt Murphy's figures or methodology for a second, but as I'm sure Murphy would agree himself a current tax gap of £120bn is not the same as a £120bn tap just waiting to be switched on. Even with the most aggressive evasion laws imaginable we would not get close to £120bn - though we could certainly pull in far more than we currently do and it is to Corbyn's credit that he wants to try.

His People's Quantitative Easing is actually quite a sensible proposal, supported by plenty of economists. Cooper attacked the plan as "PFI on steroids", a comment as insightful as saying a dog is just a baby rhino on steroids. And yes, that would be the same PFI which Cooper, Balls et al used to lumber the public with around £300bn of debt for sub-standard infrastructure.

To the Labour machine, the election of Corbyn is cataclysmic, surely the public must understand, this would be the end, the death, Labour would be no more, don't they realise what's at stake? As David Miliband said, a Corbyn win would create a one party state. Yet to those outside the Westminster bubble very little is at stake - just different shades of Blairism from a party that has nothing to say. As Frankie Boyle wrote:

"Many people thought the Labour party would struggle to top the disaster of losing the general election, but it has silenced the doubters by somehow contriving to lose its own internal leadership election."

It is the current situation that more closely resembles the one party state - that is why Corbyn has caused such blind panic among the political class. He wants to change things, not tinker with things.


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