How can it be that a man apparently devoid of genuine leadership aspirations, and lacking in the kind of media-friendly charisma assumed to be obligatory, can be generating such enthusiastic support?
Last Saturday in Stroud I bumped into some Labour activists. They were smiling! Something is not right.
So, what is Jeremy Corbyn offering?
First and foremost he appears genuine. He is simply re-stating opinions and positions that he has held consistently for many years. Some MPs may accuse him of disloyalty, but they could never accuse him of betraying his core values.
So, what are some of his policies, and how do they stack up against Green Party policy?
Corbyn has stated that Trident should not be renewed.
“As a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Britain should therefore give a lead in discharging its obligations by not seeking a replacement for Trident, as we are committed to accelerate concrete progress towards nuclear disarmament.”
We say: Yes!
Austerity and Economics
Corbyn has also made it clear that he does not accept the austerity agenda.
“What we’re offering in this campaign is an alternative to the austerity politics which Labour was offering both in the 2010 and 2015 elections, and all the impression I have had … is that there’s a real connection with ordinary people with the politics of opposing austerity.”
We say: Yes! It would be a welcome step if Corbyn were to lead Labour away from neo-liberal economic thinking; but that will involve a major battle with a significant section of his party, including most of the parliamentary party.
There are no signs that Corbyn fully accepts the impossibility of continual economic growth and the effects that such incessant growth will have on the environment; he is simply proposing alternative methods of achieving such growth.
We agree with the idea of “People’s QE”, but we would like to see “Green QE” spent on tackling the environmental crisis. In addition, as Molly Scott Cato points out, he does not seem to have appreciated the need for a strict separation of the power to create money from the power to decide how newly created money is spent.
Corbyn is opposed to fracking, at the Brighton hustings he stated that the risks of pollution were too high and any benefit exaggerated.
We say: yes, although he seems to have missed the main issue, which is that if we are to have any hope of mitigating climate change, then even the easy-to-reach fossil fuels need to be left in the ground so it makes no sense to be going after the hard-to-reach and extra-polluting stuff.
Energy and Environment
Again, at the Brighton hustings:
“Basically we have to use less…. with public transport, increased efficiency and more renewables. Globally we don’t allow the export of pollution by deregulation. Finally we must protect the natural habitats.”
We say: all encouraging talk, but renewables alone will do little to reduce greenhouse emissions in a market-led capitalist system. In such a system, increased energy supply through investment in renewables will bring down energy prices, encouraging those who don’t care to use fossil fuels faster than ever. Only radical green policies like carbon rationing will make a real impact on climate change.
There is a danger in thinking that Corbyn will single-handedly be able to turn the Labour party green. Many Labour MPs, activists and supporters are at best complacent about the environment and at worst, climate change deniers. Within the party at large, concern for the environment is widely seen as a threat to working people’s standard of living. Corbyn’s support for bringing back coal mining in Wales may give a flavour of his true priorities.
Corbyn wants to nationalise them.
We say: yes!
Corbyn wants to nationalise them too.
We say: we recognise the problem but our approach is different: to regulate for more localised, diverse generation. Joined up policies with Energy and the Environment.
Corbyn says: “Should we not instead be demanding a free trade agreement that narrows the gap between the rich and the poor, that protects the advance of public services such as the national health service, that fundamentally protects food production, and that ensures that the best standards become the universal standards, rather than engaging in a race to the bottom that results in the worst standards becoming the norm on both sides of the Atlantic? I hope that the House will reject TTIP.”
We say: we definitely don’t want TTIP, but we would go further and say that “free trade” deals invariably benefit corporations and shareholders at the expense of the rest of the population; we would argue that creating such a free trade area is in itself undesirable.
Corbyn has said that he supports a higher minimum wage, as do we. But the Green Party would like to go further by introducing a Citizen’s Income: this is crucially important as a way of re-prioritising the world of work away from the need to endlessly produce more “stuff” to feed economic growth; allowing people the freedom to do work which is more important to society but less economically rewarding (such as home-making, or caring for the old, the young and the sick or disabled).
Fundamentally, Corbyn and the left of the Labour party have a vision for Britain which differs both from a large section of their own party, and from that of the Green Party. As Rupert Read points out, our view is of a decentralised economy with local decision making; support for small local businesses over multi-national corporations. Not a return to the 1970s socialist dream.
What Does All This Mean for the Green Party?
It is exciting to see that there is indeed widespread support for policies similar to those that the Green Party has been proposing for a long time; and to see that, as we suspected, many Labour supporters have been “holding their noses” and voting for a party that clearly has not been representing their views since the start of the “New Labour” project. The neo-liberal wing of the Labour party is still strong and influential, however, and a Corbyn win could well split the party.
The Green Party, meanwhile, is suffering no such split; we are clear on our values and our policies (which, incidentally, are arrived at democratically rather than being dreamed up by our leader). Those policies are significantly different different from Corbyn’s in key ways, as outlined above.
However, a split Labour party would show even more clearly the extent to which the first-past-the-post voting system is not fit for purpose in a multi-party system, further increasing public pressure for voting reform. As Molly Scott Cato points out, this in turn brings the possibility of “Red-Green” alliances, and the possibility of real power for those holding a spectrum of views on the left of British politics.