British Labour leader’s anti-austerity policies of a living wage and high taxation of the rich would be popular here, says Tom O’Connor. Would you vote for him? Take our poll.
THE victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the race for the leadership of the British Labour Party has lessons for Ireland, as we approach the general election. The similarities between the Corbyn policy agenda and what Irish people want are striking.
The key to Mr Corbyn’s success in attracting 60% of Labour voters is that his policies are favoured by much of the British public, and are popular with a majority of Irish people too.
Corbyn wishes to introduce a higher, marginal tax rate of 50% on those who earn over £150,000. According to a recent YouGov poll in the UK, 56% support a tax of 75% on people with incomes over £1m.
In Ireland, a TASC Survey at the end of 2014 showed that 83% of respondents agreed that income in Ireland was unfairly distributed and 63% were in favour of a 60% higher marginal tax rate (income tax, USC and PRSI) for those earning over €100,000.
Corbyn’s mandatory living wage was supported in the YouGov poll by 60% of respondents. In Ireland, a Behaviour & Attitudes Poll in June this year showed that 75% of Irish people would support a ‘living wage’, which has been calculated at €11.50 per hour. Indeed, 77% wanted the living wage to be the minimum wage.
Corbyn has argued fervently for a high quality, free healthcare service for all and the integration of health and social care. The latter is the big policy objective of the HSE and Department of Health.
Irish people tolerated austerity for years, with limited protest. Attitudes take time to change. Irish people were slightly right of centre prior to austerity. This was still evident as recently as 2010, when only 35% were in favour of paying higher taxes for better public services. Austerity was only two years old then.
Fast-forward to December 2014 and a TASC survey showed that 50% of Irish people were willing to pay higher taxes, if they were guaranteed high quality or new public services. Corbyn has won on this platform, based on a promise of better public services, such as health, housing, etc.
Corbyn has strenuously argued for rent controls and 60% of the British public support this. The public outcry on homelessness and rising rents in Ireland would strongly suggest that a majority here would favour rent controls also.
The popularity of Corbyn’s policies with the public show that the UK population is also austerity-weary. British and Irish people want better pay, decent, affordable housing and for the rich to pay more tax to support better public services.
Recently, an EU Commission source was quoted as saying that Irish people were experiencing ‘austerity fatigue’ and this was the single biggest factor underlying the growth of the Right2 Water movement.
It is the same in the UK. The rejection of austerity there has led to the election of Corbyn, who is mirroring the public mood and that of 60% of Labour. In Ireland, this rejection has given birth to Right2 Water.
Right2Water is as much an anti-austerity movement as it is about water. A survey of the movement by Rory Hearne (2015) shows that austerity is the big issue, rotating around inability to pay bills, repossessions, sickness, disability, rent increases, illness, and students with loans.
Importantly, austerity is still very present in Ireland: tax increases and public spending cuts have amounted to €30bn from 2008-2014. Only €1bn was given back in 2015.
The dramatically reduced budgets across public spending are still here and people’s pockets are still lighter. The cumulative effects of these have resulted in poor public services and less disposable income.
Mr Hearne’s survey shows that 80% of water protesters will vote left, for either left independents, People Before Profit, Anti-Austerity Alliance, or Sinn Féin. Many of Corbyn’s policies, are in tune with the public and can work in attracting voters, in the Irish election, to the left parties or others which support them.
The rejection of austerity here, and the growth of the Right2 Water movement, is reflected in the extraordinary change in the Irish political landscape. The ‘independents and others groups’, in opinion polls, made up largely of left-leaning independents, are consistently either tying with, or are ahead of, the largest party (Fine Gael), at 28% of first-preferences.
Sinn Féin has also gained and is likely to at least double its seats, to 28, at the next election. Left independents look set to treble their representation to more than 30 seats. There are ebbs and flows, however, and Fine Gael support is increasingly solid, at 28% of first preferences, as is Fianna Fail, at 20%. However, with the success of Corbyn, the left parties look set to be energised and inspired by his methods.
Corbyn’s electrification of the race created 80,000 new Labour members, supporters, or affiliates. 50,000 of these came from affiliation or supporters who paid the £3 fee to vote, with unions the biggest driver of new recruits.
Significantly, a third of new members were under 30. This level of interest can be explained by the increased number of young people (and others) in precarious work, short contracts, low pay, internships, etc. These have been termed the precariat in a book by Prof Guy Standing, and are “the new dangerous class”.
Further, the biggest union in the UK and Ireland, Unite, weighed in heavily behind Corbyn. Many other big unions did likewise, such as Unison and the Communication Workers’ Union.
Unite union, in Ireland, is heavily involved in Right2Water. Other large unions are also, such as Mandate, CPSU, and the CWU. Large numbers of members are in the precariat and increasingly want action on issues such as low pay, internships, short-term contracts, high rents, rising poverty, and scrapping of water charges.
The Right2 Water movement has been a radicalising force for all of these issues, as has Corbyn. Young people in the UK have come out in droves for Corbyn.
Irish youth, and many in precarious employment, are likely to do the same here in the next election and vote for left-leaning parties, offering a similar message to Corbyn. Key unions, such as Unite, will bolster this process.
This will require an Irish Corbyn. But trying to find a charismatic expression for anti-austerity sentiments in one person, and with the magnetism of Corbyn , to persuade voters towards the alternative vision, will be the key challenge for the Irish Corbynites.
Dr Tom O’Connor is a lecturer on career grade economics and social policy/ social care at the Department of Applied Social Studies, Cork Institute of Technology
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