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In the increasingly bitter Labour leadership debate, Owen Smith has been pulled out of the hat as the ‘soft left’ contender in the contest, a ‘third way’ option, offering voters a middle ground between the Tory lite Blairites, and the apparently hard left, ‘Trotsky’ Corbyn.
Great! Just what we need yes? Except to acknowledge this ‘third way’ means we have to agree that Corbyn is extreme left wing, and that Smith isn’t a Blairite, and even the most cursory examination of the current state of play doesn’t allow acceptance of either of these positions.
Corbyn is only seen as ‘extremely’ left wing, because of Labour’s monumental shift to the right since Blair came to power. Only a cynical repositioning of his political ideals – more social housing, improving equality, greater accountability from banks and businesses, a crackdown on tax avoidance etc. – could be seen as ‘extreme.’
Then we have Owen Smith, the ‘political chameleon’ who has trouble deciding if he’s pro, or anti austerity. The man who has in the past supported Blair’s political vision, and spoken out against leftist politics. The special advisor to former Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy, a man who was described by colleagues as “having been a Blairite before Blair.” The former Pfizer lobbyist, and their Head of Government Relations at a time when the company launched a legal bid to force a developing country to pay 10 times the manufacturing cost for heart medication. The man who has previously given interviews supporting PFI, and privatisation within the health service. The staunch supporter of Trident with a history of attending defense industry events as a guest of Airbus, a company who has faced accusations of insider trading and bribery, and who’s subsidiaries are involved in nuclear weapons production. The politician who has adopted the Blairite ethos of spin; publicly displaying an accessible, friendly demeanor, while behind the scenes, he and his supporters join forces with the Tories in their attempts to attack, deride, humiliate and demoralise Corbyn and those that back him.
Still think he’s not a Blairite?
If Labour feel that Owen Smith can genuinely be put forward as a ‘soft left’ option, then it shows just how far to the right the party has moved. And why would they not heed the warnings coming from Europe, that strongly suggest the winds of political change are blowing, and that people are turning their backs on mainstream parties in order to vote for progressives. Right across the continent, support for the the two main parties to have dominated the political landscape for the last 60 years – the centre-right Christian democrats and the centre-left social democrats – is in rapid decline. Next year’s elections in the Netherlands are expecting a 40% share of votes between the three main parties – a percentage that one of the parties alone would have expected in the past.
So with the number of PR gurus and marketing analysts at Labour’s disposal, why isn’t there a strong push to support a candidate that has recognised the change in the public’s political thinking? Why, when occupying the middle ground in the last election was such a failure, would the party opt for this position again? Why, in an international political climate that suggests otherwise, would the Labour party argue that Corbyn is unelectable? The constant desperate attempts to destablise his leadership suggest that Corbyn is far from unelectable. Surely, if he was no threat, they wouldn’t need to try so hard to get rid of him? And why, would the predominantly right wing media establishment limit the positive exposure of Corbyn in the press? Could it be that they’re painfully aware that many people watching would agree with him and his principles?
So why is the political and media establishment so against Jeremy Corbyn? Take a look at contrasting economic policies.The Conservative government’s policy of austerity, that has been supported by many of those in the Labour Party who oppose Corbyn’s leadership, has been a monumental failure. It has increased the national debt and enforced poverty and hunger on the most vulnerable members of society. Corbyn’s anti-austerity economic policy offers a realistic chance of repairing some of this damage, and has been supported by 40 leading economists, including a former advisor to the Bank of England, all who strongly dismiss accusations of extremism. Opposition to austerity is, they argue, mainstream economics and supports growth and prosperity.
But, this doesn’t sit well with the political and media establishment. Could it be because part of Corbyn’s economic policy involves a crackdown on corporate tax dodging, and offshore tax havens? Economist and tax expert Richard Murphy argues that the government loses £120 billion in tax revenues annually, and Corbyn wants it back. Yes, this has been promised by other party leaders, but the threat is far more credible when it comes from Corbyn.
Corbyn also plans to raise taxes for the rich, to re nationalise privatised industries, with investors recieving either no compensation, or an undervaluation. He aims to ‘spread the wealth’ more fairly, and promote the needs and rights of the many over those of the few. In short, he presents a dangerous threat to the post-Thatcher political hegemony.
But his success would also be the final nail in the coffin of Blairism. The political and media establishment would have to accept that the aim of reconciling competitive capitalism with a social equality agenda has been a failure. Not because it wasn’t a workable idea, but purely because those tasked with implementing that agenda fell into the same old trap of putting their own greed first.
As a consequence of nearly 20 years of Tory-lite and then absolute conservatism, the poverty gap has increased massively. The rich are much richer, the poor are much poorer. People are struggling. They want change, and those in power, or aiming to be in power, are so far removed from these problems that their only interest in them is to curtail legitimate protest against a system that has allowed inequality to flourish.
The political and media establishment need to belittle Corbyn and his supporters, because they want changes that may reduce their power, their influence and their income. But it’s a mistake for politicians in this country to ignore the rise of progressive left politics in Europe, and to denigrate an enthused and politically motivated populace.