Irish politics could do with decent candidate like Jeremy Corbyn

He has been re-elected leader of the British Labour party, despite a coup attempt, because he wants a fair society for everyone, says Tom O’Connor

Irish politics could do with decent candidate like Jeremy Corbyn

THE re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party is profound. Corbyn has captured the public imagination. He has renewed hope among Labour voters. The desire for fairer politics underlies his success.

Corbyn increased his margin of victory to 62%, from 59% this time last year. This is despite the pro-Blairite National Executive Committee purging 200,000 voters expected to have backed Corbyn.

Corbyn has increased the membership of the Labour Party from 200,000 to 450,000 in 18 months. The party under Blair, and under his successors, had become a mirror image of the Tories and had haemorrhaged members to the lowest number ever. Corbyn reversed the trend and doubled the numbers.

Corbyn has offered an alternative to hard-pressed Britons, who traditionally depended on Labour to look after them. With the Blairite policies of private finance initiatives running down the NHS, low pay, low welfare payments, and the decline in social housing, Labour membership plummeted.

Corbyn has offered hope to Britons: hundreds of sick people hounded off benefits have died, and millions of people depend on pay-day loans. They have also suffered from welfare capping and the bedroom tax. The charity, Oxfam, has reported that 500,000 Britons depend on food parcels; two million are malnourished; three million are at risk of malnourishment; one in six parents has at some time not eaten so as to feed their families, and 36% of Britons are just one heating bill away from financial hardship.

It is obvious why thousands have queued for hours to glimpse Corbyn at rallies. He has promised hope. His policies have promised a war on poverty; one million new social-housing units in five years; a clampdown on tax-avoidance; protection of the NHS; better pay, and a ‘real’ living wage.

Corbyn’s success is a people-power movement. He is honest and sincere. He only needs to be himself to win people over. He is abstemious, cycles, and is passionate about a fair society. He is a rare phenomenon. People know it.

Corbyn is electable. Within six months of his first election, in March this year, prior to the coup of his front bench, Corbyn had put Labour ahead of the Tories, 34% to 33%. The subsequent drops in the opinion polls resulted from the crisis in Labour, due to the mass resignations from Corbyn’s front bench that were part of the ‘coup’.

Corbyn has been resurgent because of this appeal to Labour members, wining 60% of votes and 70% of registered supporters. This was despite a ‘purge’ of 100,000-200,000 of potential Corbyn voters. It was also despite the fact that, according to an-depth study by the London School of Economics, 75% of all media reports were biased against him.

His dramatic victory, under these trying circumstances, and his dramatic increase in Labour membership (thousands have flocked to see him), indicate a strong appetite for fairness and justice among the British electorate.

There is potential for a charismatic, Corbyn-style leader in Ireland, also. The same desire for fairness and change exists. This year’s election collapsed the Irish conservative two-and-a-half party system. The political economy of austerity was rejected. The drivers are the same here as in Britain: 10% in food poverty and 30% deprived of food, clothing, and heating. Hence the rejection of FG-Lab austerity.

Corbyn supporters are overwhelmingly against austerity. Here, the exit poll at Election 2016 showed that only 11% of the electorate favoured tax cuts over spending increases, with those wishing for increased taxes and spending on public services outnumbering the tax cutters by 3:1.

The public outcry against the Government’s appeal of the €17bn in taxes from Apple, amid a dramatic increase of 90% in child homelessness in Dublin, 6,000 homeless nationally, and spiralling rents, also indicates that public support is moving towards Corbyn-type social justice policies. Research by Dr Rory Hearne shows that the Right2Water Movement is as much about a rejection of austerity, a desire for decent health services, and an end to homelessness and anti-poverty solutions as it is about water.

The EU is threatening to disintegrate, due to draconian fiscal rules which curtail the welfare state. The rise of racism threatens to engulf it on one side. On the other side are millions, in Spain, Ireland, Britain, France, and across the wider EU, who reject austere budgets under the Fiscal Compact, the appeasement of markets, zero-hour contracts, and the tax-avoidance of Apple, Google, and other global giants.

Fianna Fáil’s rhetoric has shifted, mindful of these developments. At the end of 2015, it was proposing a basic income of €188 for all citizens, independent of economic status, as ‘a red-line issue’. It has now called for the abolition of the water charges. Perhaps Micheál Martin will emulate Corbyn? Yet, his decision to support the Apple appeal dents that possibility. One is left to ponder PBP’s Richard-Boyd-Barrett, SF’s Eoin Ó Broin, or AAA’s Paul Murphy? Ireland’s ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ will be the people’s champion.

Dr Tom O’Connor, lecturer in economics and public policy, Dept of Applied Social Studies, Cork Institute of Technology

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