When Owen Smith came out with his policy pledges, I can’t say I was blown away. Of the twenty on offer, I think four were really good, four were really terrible and the rest very mediocre. Saying that, at least there were some ideas there. What has Corbyn offered? And instead of asking that question rhetorically, I decided to answer it.
Corbyn has come out with ten “pledges”. You’ll see why I put that word in quotations in a moment:
Corbyn’s ten “pledges”
- An economy that works for all
- Secure homes for all
- A free National Education Service
- Action to secure our environment
- Security at work
- Cut income and wealth inequality
- Act to find prejudice and injustice
- Secure our NHS and social care
- Democracy in our economy
- Peace and justice abroad
None of these are really pledges in the dictionary or even the broadly accepted political definition of the term. A pledge is something that can be objectively measured to have succeeded or failed after a usually proscribed period of time. For instance, “A Labour government will build 250 million homes a year for the length of a parliament” is a pledge. The idea is that at the end of that parliament, 250 million homes per year have been built or not been built – the metric is clear and obvious. Now, a pledge can be a little vague sometimes in order to give wriggle room – but it still has to pledge something in order to qualify for the term. So “An economy that works for all” isn’t a pledge. “Democracy in our economy” could mean literally anything at all.
The strangest thing about Corbyn’s pledges is that in both tone and substance, the thing they most remind me of is Ed Miliband’s Ed Stone. I guess this is the new politics.
I could leave it there and be a dick about it all, but I’d rather handle this as objectively as is possible. There was a Telegraph article that put forward Corbyn’s actual policies (so his actual pledges then, I guess), which do have more substance to them. So with my think tanker, analytical hat on, here are Corbyn’s real policies and my take on them:
- £500 billion investment in infrastructure and industries of the future, driven by a National Investment Bank.
The Left should be championing large scale infrastructure projects and the jobs that they create, particularly with borrowing so low. But half a trillion quid? Who will be lending us this moolah? The Chinese, I guess. Thankfully, that won’t come with any strings attached, right? Weirdly, this is Corbyn’s best policy.
- Businesses with more than 21 staff will be forced to publish pay audits to crack down on discriminatory wage practices.
This is an actual, measurable pledge. However, there is a Big Brother element to this that I really don’t like. I think there are discriminatory wage practices all over the shop, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think this is the way to solve that problem and may actually be a very bad way of attempting to do so.
- Create two million new skilled manufacturing jobs.
This is where retro Jeremy lets it out of the bag and starts playing 80s tunes. He has a particular obsession with reversing the work of Thatcher, and this is possibly the surest sign of that tendency. The truth is, Britain has become a service based economy. Corbyn and his mates need to figure out a way to help people in those sectors get better pay and conditions – not tell them they should actually all be working in factories. Beyond not having the infrastructure any longer to do this terribly quickly (perhaps this gives us a clue as to what the £500 bil in the first policy is for), one has to wonder about the sense of trying to change the economy in this direction given the future of the workplace and technology. This is before I get into the massive environmental problems large scale re-industrialisation would cause (environmental issues are noticeably lacking from Corbyn’s agenda, incidentally, something that should make Greens sit up and take notice).
- A ‘full’ living wage, starting with care workers.
The problem with this one is that the Tories have just wacked up minimum wage, and very possibly put it as far as it can go in reasonable terms for the time being. For those of you thinking, “But people deserve more money” and figure I’m being a terrible neoliberal here, let me discuss some economic hard truths. If you start putting up minimum wage you also start discouraging job creation. Employers start to pay their existing staff more – so if you already have a job, you benefit – and stop thinking about getting more people to do the work. What can happen in extremis is what you see in heavily socialised countries in South America, where people in work, everyone in normal, legal work that is, does pretty okay, while there is a mass underbelly of underclass people who simply cannot get a job because there are no jobs. To be clear, putting up the minimum wage another pound wouldn’t equal favelas in Bracknell, but you have to wonder if Corbyn has taken this factor into account at all.
- Reintroduce 50p top rate of income tax for earnings over £150,000.
Tokenistic (the 50p rate never made the Treasury any money for reasons I won’t bore you with here), but tokenistic policies do have their place in politics. In order to make this work though, Corbyn would need to spell out what he intends to do with other people’s taxes, the 99% of people who make less than £150k in Britain. Because unless you do, the Tories will just launch a “Labour tax bombshell” on you at general election time, and you will have no come back (see: every general election in the history of the United Kingdom for more details on this).
- Consider ‘direct rule’ on British overseas territories and dependencies if they do not comply with UK tax law.
Yuck. I get the thrust behind the policy – we need to stamp out tax avoidance/evasion – which I have no problem with in principle. But Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Anti-Imperialism himself, wants to impose, in his own words, “direct rule” on overseas territories and dependencies? Shouldn’t these folks be “free”, Jeremy? And how are we meant to impose this “direct rule” anyhow? Should we use the British military to invade Bermuda? Or ask the Queen to dissolve their parliaments, thus getting into a constitutional pickle about the monarchy being involved in politics? Not to mention that a life long anti-monarchist using the Queen in this way would be ironic (not to mention hypocritical) in the extreme. File this under: tin foil hat time.
- Reverse government cuts to corporation tax.
The problem with this is feasibility. Cutting corporation tax always sounds blankly good to left-wing audiences – again, the problem with instituting it is that it could have a real impact on jobs. Saying Walmart should pay more in corporation tax sounds good to a lot of people, until they start closing Asdas everywhere and thousands of people are suddenly out of work. Also, cutting corporation tax is easy because it makes business happy – reversing these cuts are like cutting public spending, very, very tricky. Everyone should think they didn’t have this stuff a couple of years ago, so what’s the big deal – but human beings have a sense of entitlement, so that’s not how it works.
- Tackle societal “injustices” of inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice and discrimination.
This is just Ed Miliband-esque meaninglessness, like the first ten pledges. This isn’t a policy, thus I cannot scrutinise it as one.
The biggest thing to say overall about Corbyn’s policies is how under baked they all feel – very back of a fag packety. I know some of his policy minds have left his side, but for all his faults, surely someone like Paul Mason could have chipped in (the former Channel 4 man was actually reasonably sensible on the subject of corporation tax in the wake of Brexit, for instance). Is Jeremy writing these out himself in his allotment, Seamus rolling his eyes and asking him to at least have someone look them over before being released to the public, with Corbyn being stubborn?
He’s spent thirty years being enthusiastically cheered for saying things that are vague and/or nice-sounding but impossible in practice; that sort of positive reinforcement leaves its mark deep.
I don’t know if he even could stop now.
Edward Wynn says
I have other problems with the Pledges. As an initial aside I don’t like the word Pledge because of its vagueness. I prefer Objectives and Strategies but hey lets live with it. I have a problem with the vagueness and meaning of the words for example ‘ …end health service privatization and bring services into a secure, publicly-provided NHS.’ I got into a Twitter spat with someone when I asked what proportion of NHS should be private. When they said All of it I then responded OK so the NHS grows food on its own farms and processes it? Not sensible but there needs to be clarity. All GPs are technically privately employed. Hospital engineering services are contracted out. It is simply not possible to have an entirely an NHS which has no private industry component. The devil is really in the detail and that makes the statement very open to attack.
‘and build democratic social control over our energy’ this really sticks out for me – what does this mean – Nationalisation – probably not. Workers on Boards – May has got there already so has the rest of Europe. The energy industry is huge has many component parts in its complexity and massive foreign investment. this statement will be attacked and the responses will need to be clear.
Frankly I despair at this stuff because there is an opportunity to have crisp clear statements on a number of issues and some resonate well – Railways, rent contract control house building. But they have put themselves up to be attacked and have the MSM destroy the entire message because some of it is complete crap
BTW Nick I think your comments on this are a bit weaker than your normal very good stuff. I would have preferred a much more considered comment
Jim Stearn says
Back in the 70s my wife and I were just getting started in life with a new mortgage. We were paying over 30% income tax plus NI plus our pension contributions. Then we got a ltter from the old Inland Revenue saying that they had added our incomes together and had to pay 40% on the excess over our allowances, a bill for several hundred pounds. The Chancellor was Denis Healey in the Wilson government. We wanted to pay our share towards the nation but this was absurd. This is the legacy that lingers in older peoples’ minds and makes lower tax policies seem attractive even if public services suffer. Fair’s fair! But enough is enough.
David Allen says
You have sniped quite effectively about the practicality of many of Corbyn’s pledges. However, what comes across at the end of it all is – Corbyn really wants change, and his opponents don’t.
Take number 6 for example. You “have no problem in principle” with stamping out tax evasion. Corbyn says he would get tough with tax havens. You just ridicule his proposals, without offering alternatives. Who is likely to win the support of those who truly want tax evasion stamped out?
PS – I think Corbyn is a disaster, but I also think it is his inadequate opponents within Labour who are primarily responsible for that disaster!
Geoffrey Payne says
I agree with David Allen. Another example “discriminatory wage practices” – how would you tackle that given you don’t agree with Jeremy’s policy? You describe his policy as employing the “Big Brother state” but up until now it has only been the state that has been able to effectively tackle racial discrimination. My concern is that you would simply rule out all of the possible options on that basis and do nothing, just like the Lib Dems in Coalition with the Tories did nothing.
On what planet is big business being accountable to the public and state akin to ‘Big Brother’?
This whole article is nothing close to the objective and disinterested, witty and casually brilliant political observation that I’m sure you’d like it to be. It is biased, unfunny, and, as the other commenters have mentioned, it fails to offer a convincing rebuttal of, let alone any alternative to, Corbyn’s ‘fag packet’ pledges.
Giving businesses free reign to do almost precisely as they please (corp tax cuts????) simply because ‘jobs’ isn’t sound economic strategy. It’s not ‘playing hard ball’, it’s not ‘pragmatic’, it’s not ‘good for the country’, as conservative sloganeers like to tell us, and yup you do sound exactly like a neoliberal. Corporations are not benevolent, they are not moral; they are set up ONLY to further the economic interests of the board and upper management who created them. The service they offer to the public is a relationship of exchange, not gift — in return for us giving them our money, they give us a slight reinvestment via essential services paid for by THEIR TAXES. So regulation of business practice by the state (on behalf of the people it represents) is absolutely crucial to restoring some sense of economic parity to our societal organisation. Charging wealthy corporations for the privilege of operating in one of the world’s largest markets under challenging economic times is a MUST. It ain’t gonna send them elsewhere. Why would they turn down the £billions in the UK market just because they’re getting charged a bit extra they can well afford?
Also I think you ought to consider that the societal injustices (I noticed your inverted commas around ‘injustices’ by the way) are hardly ‘meaningless’ to the thousands/millions of people mistreated in this country simply because they are BME, poor, black, LGBT+, disabled, etc. Just because you’re a white male who writes for some big RW papers and you don’t experience the “injustices” first hand doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Be kind, think of others. Corbyn is trying.