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The Corbyn Effect

Anyone who believes in the possibility of a better world should support Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn, even if they’re not convinced by his traditional left-wing agenda, argues Mark Braund.

‘For those who think differently’ runs the Renegade Inc. tagline. I imagine most people who visit this site, and those who contribute to it, pride themselves on thinking differently from the politicians and pundits who inhabit the mainstream. In Britain, that mainstream has reached new levels of hysteria this week at the prospect of someone who thinks differently becoming the head of one its key institutions: Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.

If Jeremy Corbyn does succeed Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party it will represent a seismic shift in UK politics. And any challenge to the political status quo is a good thing. It’s no coincidence that Corbyn’s apparent success comes hot on the heels of the recent SNP landslide in Scotland. Both are symptoms of the acute disillusionment felt by millions of people with what’s on offer from the established parties.

Someone Who Believes In Something

I’ve always liked Jeremy Corbyn, and I’m mightily impressed by the political skills of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. Whatever else they represent, they’ve both correctly identified that there are millions of votes for anyone with the courage to present a different narrative; to say ‘there is an alternative’. Unsurprisingly, as Iain McWhirter wrote this week: ‘Labour members like Mr Corbyn because he seems to believe in something.’

But what does Corbyn believe in? If he becomes Labour leader, can those beliefs be translated into a policy platform which will propel him to power? And if he achieves power, will he be able to deliver on the promises implied in his beliefs? Will he be able to create a society ‘based on justice, freedom, solidarity and equality for all’?

The struggle between minority interests and collective betterment has, since the industrial revolution, seen the balance tip first one way and then the other. But for the last four decades the scales of social justice have been weighed down firmly on the side of minority interests by the juggernaut of neo-liberalism, an ideology apparently so persuasive that few politicians have been prepared even to acknowledge it.

A Post Capitalist Economy

Jeremy Corbyn does speak out against the consequences of neoliberalism and for the possibility of an alternative way of organising society and the economy. But as Chris Dillow points out, while his values are good, his economic programme is somewhat uninspiring. Despite his noble intentions, a future Corbyn government pursuing traditional left policies of redistribution and clamping down on tax evasion is likely to fail.

Now, it may be that after a lifetime spent opposing the policies of both Conservative and Labour governments, Corbyn has had little incentive to work out how to translate his vision into a workable programme of government should the opportunity unexpectedly arise. But, as Dillow says, ‘there’s disappointingly little about worker ownership or what to do about stagnant productivity, job polarization, the threat of robotization or the possible transition to post-capitalism.’ To this list we might add: How would he go about reversing the process of financialisation which benefits only a small minority? How would he rebalance the economy so that genuine wealth is created through the production of things that people want and need, instead of the unsustainable appreciation of non-productive assets? How would he address the market failings that leave the country woefully short of housing? And what about reforms to the monetary system, still failing fully seven years after the financial crisis, and surely a vital prerequisite for justice, freedom and equality for all?

Redistribution of wealth as a solution to unacceptable levels of inequality and social injustice is simply not ambitious enough. In any case, as the growth figures show, such a mess has been made of the UK economy in recent years that we are not creating enough real wealth to redistribute. The only way to effectively address inequality and economic exclusion is to reconfigure the economy so that everyone can fully engage in productive, value creating work.

Beyond Socialism

That will certainly require the state to legislate, but not simply to raise taxes on the incomes of the well off; instead, to reform the economy so that it provides opportunities for everyone to achieve a reasonable degree of economic security. To his credit, Ed Miliband dabbled with the idea of predistribution back in 2012, but like so many of his better ideas, it disappeared from the view long before the election.

I have no doubt Corbyn’s heart is in the right place, but to achieve his vision he has to develop a narrative around a new set of policies which are less about ‘command and control’ and more about using political power to create a just and inclusive economy of the kind that has thus far only been imagined beyond the confines of the traditional left/right divide.

Those of us committed to buidling a new social order who are not convinced by traditional socialist policies should still give Jeremy Corbyn a hearing. It’s crucial that we break down the current political consensus, and Corbyn gives us our best chance of doing so. His success also gives us the chance to influence the direction of change. It is too good an opportunity to miss.

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