For a long time, I’ve felt that if someone showed up and pointed to a fair, wholesome and believable future, he or she could become leader of the world surprisingly quickly.
The sad outcomes of the promising Obama presidency seriously dented this optimism, of course, but last week there was an intriguing, even startling, cascade of headlines in the world press.
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – famously loathed by his own entrenched Parliamentary MPs and initially hardly a favourite even with the Guardian – showed up as a serious leadership contender in Prime Minister Theresa May’s snap election in Britain.
It didn’t hurt that a sitting prime minister cannot demand trust for ‘strong, stable leadership’ and then display the clear opposite.
In the face of the last fortnight’s appalling terrorism in streets we’ve all known of since childhood, nor are Britons so stupid they haven’t noticed such inconveniences as her own Cabinet roles that have led to a reduction of coppers on the streets by up to 23,000 over the last eight years.
A month ago, Corbyn promised that his Labour election manifesto would “transform the lives” of many Britons, after the radical blueprint was adopted by the party at a fractious (but only four hour) meeting that included his own shadow cabinet and the party’s governing national executive committee.
The document, widely regarded as Labour’s most left wing programme for government since the early 1980s, contains promises to abolish university tuition fees, boost infrastructure investment, renationalise the railways and increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour.
The extra spending would be financed by raising taxes on company profits and a new tax bracket for the top 5 percent of earners. Borrowing would also increase to fund investment, including in infrastructure. All of which made the manifesto likely to become “the longest suicide note” in political history.
Except, it hasn’t; it has, in fact, propelled Corbyn into serious contention for the country’s leadership.
What’s not to like, when the country’s workforce is still poorer than it was in 2008 and the conspicuous affluences, opportunities and disdain of London’s elites so obvious?
Corbyn said the manifesto was “an offer that will transform the lives of many people in our society and ensure that we have a government in Britain on 8 June that will work for the many, not the few, and give everyone in our society a decent opportunity and a decent chance, so nobody’s ignored, nobody’s forgotten and nobody’s left behind.”
His shadow chancellor, John McDonnell said that in principle, the highest earners would pay the most. Currently, those earning between £45,000 and £150,000 pay 40 percent. The biggest increases would be for the top 1 percent and only the top 5 percent would face rises, he said.
Those earning high salaries would benefit in other ways from Labour’s manifesto, he said. “I want to pay tribute to those who do pay their taxes at the high level,” he said. “They make their contribution and we thank them for that. At the same time, we want a fair taxation system. If we upgrade our economy, we will create a richer society.”
It seems like an idea whose time has come. Paul Johnson, director of the thinktank Institute for Fiscal Studies, described the agenda as the most radical in decades. “This is about the state getting deeply involved in much more of the private sector than it has been, . . . perhaps since the 1940s, with respect to, say, telling banks which branches they can’t close; setting minimum wages for a quarter of private sector workers and about 60 percent of young people, and dramatically increasing labour regulation. All of those things are utterly different from anything we’ve experienced in many, many decades.”
In the month since, Theresa May’s predicted ‘landslide’ victory has been cut wafer thin in the polls.
This week, the Guardian has put forward an editorial stance on today’s election: “Jeremy Corbyn has shown that the party might be the start of something big rather than the last gasp of something small,” it said. There is “an undoubted, if perhaps inchoate, wish for a different, fairer, better and more decent Britain – one that is less divided and more socially just; one that is more hopeful and less fearful. People are worn down by an economy that depends on stagnating pay to shore up employment and a hollowing out of civic life.”
Conservative promises did not match policies; their uncosted manifesto a diversion from “the consistently callous and negligent record in office”, it concluded.
It takes years for an ideology to die but it looks as if making a start on repairing the consequences of unbridled capitalism is no longer a witch-burning offence in politics. Liz Waters