Messiah of Islington: A flash in the pan or a long-term player?

The landslide victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election looks set to transform the political discourse in our large neighbour island. There is an otherworldly quality to the north London MP, who first served as a councillor way back in 1974, before being elected as MP for Islington North in 1982.

The Corbynites have come from nowhere, with the backing of the large trade unions, Unison and Unite, to squash the Blairite social democrats and the disciples of Gordon Brown.

For the first time since the 1930s, when George Lansbury was leader, Labour will be led by an out-and-out pacifist, but it is Corbynomics, the radical suite of economic policies which have attracted most attention from the commentariat.

The social media generation have fallen for this sandal-wearing 66-year-old, in large part because they feel shut out, excluded by a combination of sky-high property prices in Britain’s populated south-east and by college tuition fees amounting to £9,000 at a minimum.

When Corbyn was a student, people from poor backgrounds faced fewer obstacles as they set out to climb the ladder. Generous grants existed along with access to relatively plentiful social housing.

The Britain of the 1960s and 1970s also had creaking industry, rampant inflation, endless strikes, huge balance of payments deficits and marginal tax rates that stifled enterprise. The City of London was creaking.

Thatcher swept in on a tide of anger, provoked by the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’ which involved masses of rubbish strewn on streets and bodies left unburied.

Ever since, Toryism and the Tory-lite economic policy version of Blair has held centre stage.

In May, middle England and Wales once again opted for tax cuts over tax and spend, but Corbyn’s election with 250,000 votes of the members, serves as a reminder that among the young, at least, his Leftist idealism has real traction.

They are rebelling against the inherited college debt, poor housing and transient incomes that are the lot of those that must exist outside the circles of the financial, legal or tech-savvy elite.

So what is Corbynomics?

At its heart is a plan for what is termed, the “Peoples’ QE”, a form of quantitative easing or money printing by the Bank of England.

The idea is that money be printed to meet the huge gaps in public infrastructure that currently exist, soaking up much of the excess labour supply in the economy.

Critics argue that such money printing would, ultimately, spark runaway inflation, a collapse in Sterling and soaring borrowing rates.

Its supporters respond that Labour, under Gordon Brown, sparked a process leading to some €500bn being pumped in through QE to bail out the banks, helping to spark a property price bubble.

Over 50 economists have written to condemn the idea, but others back it, including Prof David Blanchflower, a former governor of the Bank of England.

Corbyn has put housebuilding near the top of his wishlist.

He aims to double existing output, with half of this in the form of public housing. His team are keen to counter suggestions that Labour will run big deficits and opt for ‘tax and spend’ approaches.

In a recent article, Corbyn’s key ally, John McDonnell, MP, insisted that “deficit denial is a non-starter to ensure economic credibility with the electorate.”

What the Corbynites call for is a “crackdown” on grants, subsidies and tax breaks, estimated at over €90bn a year.

They are also seeking tighter regulation of the City of London with the introduction of a version of the Glass Steagall Act along with a tax on financial transactions, similar to that favoured by the French and originally proposed by the Nobel prize-winning economist, James Tobin.

Corbyn is part of an international phenomenon, a rebellion against the high finance, tight control, corporatist politics epitomised by bodies like the Clinton Foundation, lobbyists, billionaires like the Koch brothers, and also by the parliamentarians bleeped into bleating conformity.

Elsewhere, the shake-out has meant that the anti-politician, Donald Trump, 69, continues to flatten all around him in the Republican presidential race while the ruling Democratic Party has witnessed a dramatic emergence of a political radical in the form of 74-year old Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, and two-term senator from Vermont.

Messiah of Islington: A flash in the pan or a long-term player?

Sanders is giving that party’s political establishment the fright of its life while playing havoc with the careful planning of the Clinton couple.

Corbyn and Sanders have a lot in common, aside from their sheer length of service.

Sanders wants to reform Wall Street, breaking up the six large dominant financial institutions that have received $600bn in bailout backing and which hold assets equal to 60% of America’s GDP.

He wants to fund tuition fees by means of a financial transactions tax and he would audit the central bank. Sanders points to figures showing that the share of wealth of the bottom 90% in America now equates with that of the top 0.1%.

Sanders and Corbyn are both getting on a bit. They are likely to be transitional figures. Sanders may, ultimately, be steamrollered by the Clinton machine, having dented its mudguard badly.

Aspirational, middle England is likely to view Corbyn as way too far out in his views, the political party he leads as far too fractured despite his recent success.

But both men have altered the terms of debate, opening up the discussion and for that, we may have reason to be grateful.

Jeremy Corbyn has the backing of the social media generation, but he may be more a transitional figure than a revolutionary one, writes Kyran Fitzgerald

Corbyn is part of the rebellion against high finance and corporatist politics


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