Thursday, 28 April 2016
On the scale of public ownership and on the extent of trade union power, Jeremy Corbyn is well to the right of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. That is not hyperbole. It is fact. As it is that Margaret Thatcher presided over publicly owned railways, and over a 60p top rate of income tax well above that proposed by Corbyn. And as it is that Tony Blair promised to renationalise the railways in several speeches leading up to the 1997 General Election.
Why would Corbyn’s position not be the centre ground? You can have all the private health insurance that you like. But if you were hit by a car, or if you collapsed in the street with a heart attack, then someone would call 999, and an NHS ambulance would take you to an NHS hospital. That that call would certainly be made, even by a perfect stranger, is testament to the definition of the United Kingdom’s culture by the social democratic legacy of previous Labour Governments, and supremely of that which was elected in 1945. Everyone benefits, of all classes and in all areas. Such was always the intention behind it.
This is the only British identity that almost anyone alive can remember, or that almost any of the rest would wish to have. Today, however, it is under threat as never before. Even in the 1980s, nothing came close to the scale of the attack, not merely since the recent General Election, but since that of 2010; under the Liberal Democrats, who never moderated a thing, as much as under the Conservatives.
Labour grew from many and various roots. Trade union and co-operative. Radical Liberal and Tory populist. Christian Socialist and Social Catholic. Fabian and even, in the space both on Labour’s fringes and on Marxism’s fringes, Marxist, subject to the balancing and moderating influences of the others. Giving the wrong answers does not preclude asking the right questions. Much of the Fabian tradition also gives the wrong answers.
Labour has always had a right wing. It always will have. It always should have. People who would prefer the purity of a Stalinist, Trotskyist or Maoist groupuscule have never been short of options. The point is to have a right wing of the Labour Party, and not merely a right wing in the Labour Party. The Leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the Deputy Leadership of Tom Watson will achieve that.
From the Trade Union Bill, to public ownership, to the proper centrality of rail and coal, to foreign policy and wars, to Trident, to civil liberties, to the case against the European Union from the very start, Corbyn’s views are the views of Peter Hitchens, who, unlike John McDonnell, still openly wishes to disband MI5. Many of them are also shared by Peter Oborne and by several other commentators who could hardly be described as “Loony Left”.
Furthermore, they are popular. For example, the renationalisation of the railways is consistently supported by between 65 and 70 per cent of the population, stable across all parts of the country and across the electoral bases of all parties. There is strong public support for rent controls, and for a mandatory Living Wage properly so called. Defending the NHS is massively popular. But even if none of those things were the case, a political party does not exist purely in order to follow public opinion. What would be the point of the Labour Party if it did not campaign for such policies as these?
Labour needs to be a broad alliance between the confidently urban and the confidently rural, between the confidently metropolitan and the confidently provincial, between the confidently secular and the confidently religious, between those confident in their liberal social values and those confident in their conservative social values. It must seek that alliance across all ethnic groups, across all social classes, and across all parts of the country: One Nation.
The basis of that alliance includes the contribution-based Welfare State, with contribution defined to include, for example, caring for children and caring for elderly relatives. It includes workers’ rights, with the trade unionism necessary in order to defend and advance them. It includes John Smith’s signature policy that employment rights must begin on the first day of employment, and apply regardless of the number of hours worked. It includes Corbyn’s recent reiteration of that policy, as well as his accompanying proposals for pay ratios and for the requirement that the Living Wage be paid if dividends were to be.
That basis includes community organising. It includes profit-sharing and similar arrangements: not “shares for rights”, but shares and rights. It includes the co-operative movement and wider mutualism, not least in the provision of financial services, especially following the loss of the Co-op Bank precisely because it was not itself a co-operative, but was merely owned by one.
That basis includes consumer protection. It includes strong communities. It includes fair taxation. It includes full employment, with low inflation. It includes pragmatic public ownership, including of the utilities, of the postal service and of the railway service, and always with strong parliamentary and municipal accountability. It includes publicly owned industries and services, national and municipal, setting the vocational training standards for the private sector to match.
That basis includes local government, itself including council housing, fiscal autonomy, the provision as well as the commissioning of services, the accountability provided by the historic committee system, and the abolition of delegated planning decisions.
That basis includes the State’s restoration of the economic foundation of the civilised and civilising worker-intellectual culture historically exemplified by the pitmen poets and the pitmen painters, by the brass and silver bands, by the male voice choirs, by the Workers’ Educational Association and the Miners’ Lodge Libraries, by the people’s papers rather than the redtop rags, and so on. In order to restore a civilisation in continuity with it, that culture must be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity”.
That basis includes the Union, the Commonwealth (unsentimentally understood), and the ties that bind these Islands, recognising that only social democracy guarantees the Union and that only the Union makes possible social democracy in these Islands, so that the erosion of social democracy is the most powerful of separatist arguments, despite the fact that the separatists could not possibly deliver social democracy, and very largely would not wish to deliver it, in the entities to which they aspire.
That basis includes economic patriotism, itself including both energy independence and balanced migration. It includes the recognition that we cannot deliver the welfare provisions and the other public services that our people have rightly come to expect unless we know how many people there are in this country, unless we control immigration properly, and unless we insist that everyone use spoken and written English to the necessary level.
That basis includes an approach to climate change which protects and extends secure employment with civilised wages and working conditions, which encourages economic development around the world, which upholds the right of the working classes and of non-white people to have children, which holds down and as far as practicable reduces the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, and which refuses to restrict either travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich.
That basis includes the full compatibility between, on the one hand, the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and, on the other hand, the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.
That basis includes the organic Constitution, with the full pageantry and ceremony of the parliamentary and municipal processes, and itself including a very British trait of inbuilt self-criticism: variously Radical and republican, populist and pacifist, Celtic and regional, proletarian and intellectual (often both at once), exemplified in the present age by the distinct role of Dennis Skinner at the State Opening of Parliament, a role as much a part of the event as that of the Queen, with each of them as the latest, but far from the last, in a long, long line.
That basis includes the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom in the face of all challenges: from the United States or from the European Union, from Israel or from the Gulf monarchies, from the Russian oligarchs or from the rising powers of Asia, from money markets or from media moguls, from separatists or from communalists, from over-mighty civil servants and diplomats (including in the intelligence services) or from over-mighty municipal officers, from the ownership of key parts of our infrastructure by other people’s states instead of our own, and from inappropriately imported features of the economic and political cultures of the Old Dominions, such as the behaviour of Lynton Crosby. This list is not exhaustive.
That basis includes the understanding that the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom is, with municipalism, the only means to social democracy in the territory that it covers, and is thus the democracy in social democracy. It includes, no less than the previous point, the understanding that only social democracy, and not least the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, is capable of safeguarding that sovereignty, national and parliamentary, and that democracy, parliamentary and municipal.
That basis includes conservation and the countryside, especially the political representation of the rural working class. It includes personal freedom through superb and inexpensive public transport, ultimately free at the point of use, with every rail franchise taken back into public ownership over the course of a Parliament, and with its fares structure thereafter determined by the House of Commons.
That basis includes academic excellence, with technical proficiency, refusing to compromise on either, and extending to apprentices and trainees all provisions enjoyed by their peers in further or higher education, as well as vice versa, with a national UCAS-style system for apprenticeships.
That basis includes civil liberties, with law and order, including visible and effective policing, and including an end to light sentences and to lax prison discipline through a return to a free country’s minimum requirements for conviction.
That basis includes fiscal responsibility, of which neoliberal capitalism is manifestly and demonstrably the opposite. It includes a strong financial services sector, with a strong food production and manufacturing base, and with the strong democratic accountability of both. It includes a total rejection of class war, insisting instead upon “a platform broad enough for all to stand upon”.
That basis includes a large and thriving private sector, a large and thriving middle class, and a large and thriving working class; all depend on central and local government action, and with public money come public responsibilities. It includes very high levels of productivity, with the robust protection of workers, consumers, communities and the environment, including powerful workers’ representation at every level of corporate governance. It includes a base of real property for every household, to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State. It includes an absolute statutory division between investment banking and retail banking.
That basis includes a realist foreign policy, itself including strong national defence, and precluding any new Cold War against Russia, China, Iran or anywhere else. It includes British military intervention only ever in order to defend British territory or British interests. It includes a leading role on the world stage, with a vital commitment to peace, supremely a complete absence of weapons of mass destruction; in place of Trident, we need flood defences, we need civil nuclear power, we need a return to the exploitation of our vast deposits of coal, and we need properly paid, properly equipped Armed Forces.
And that basis includes the subjection both of Islamism and of neoconservatism to an approach defined by our proud history of equal opposition to Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism, Nazism, Fascism, and the Far Right regimes in Southern Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.
This is the road to victory in 2020.