Continuing the Corbyn momentum – relaunching the Labour Left

This was written by Rida Vaquas and me, and was originally published on Left Futures on August 24th 2015.

On 12 September we will find out whether Jeremy Corbyn is the next leader of the Labour Party. There is, of course, an increased reluctance to accept opinion polls at face value, so any optimism is still cautious. But whatever the result it is already clear that the Labour Party has changed. There has been a mass influx of 400,000 new members and supporters, of which 60% are thought to be ‘youth’. An unprecedented momentum has come behind the previously ailing Labour left, bringing with it great potential. But at the same time the situation is precarious: we urgently need to come together to ensure that these hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters do not vanish as quickly as they appeared. Continue reading

Jeremy Corbyn’s free education pledge is popular, affordable and the right thing to do

This was originally published on Left Futures

Corbyn’s first policy announcement was to scrap tuition fees and restore the maintenance grants that many students rely on for their rent and food. It was costed at £10bn and two separate strategies were put forward for how to pay for it: slowing down the deficit reduction or raising the revenue through corporation tax and through national insurance on higher earners. Supporters were even encouraged to opt for their preferred option.

The announcement was right in so many ways.

1) It’s #aspirational

The Blairites like to talk about aspiration but if “our vision as a party must start with the aspirations of voters: to get on and up in the world, to see their children and grandchildren do better than they did” then where better to start than with free education? Many will aspire for their children to have the opportunity to go to university. Few will aspire to £50,000 in debt.

2) It’s sound economics

If Labour wants to be the party of fiscal responsibility then it desperately needs to take a stand against our bizarre higher education funding system which, in addition to destabilising university revenue and plunging students into debt, costs the government more than the one it succeeded.

3) It positions him as the obvious candidate of the student movement

For most of the past two decades big chunks of the student movement, for instance both the National Union of Students and Labour Students, opposed free education. That tide is beginning to turn. Last year NUS changed its position and earlier this year grassroots Labour Party members launched a campaign on the issue. When it comes to students, Corbyn has picked a winning issue.

4) It’s popular.

Osborne’s scraping of the student maintenance grant was the least popular part of the budget according to YouGov, and taxation remains by far the most popular way to fund higher educationamongst Labour activists.

5) It’s about shaping society

Free education does not only release graduates from a lifetime of debt and ensure they have enough money to pay their bills, it shapes society for everyone: graduate or otherwise. The way that higher education is funded shapes what courses are offered and to whom, which then shapes the entire makeup of our society. The current tuition fee regime has not stopped people going to university but the debt has forced them to focus much more on future earning potential. Free education means that ordinary people can consider a degree in fine art or in drama, instead of abandoning their hopes for a safer option.

6) It’s only the first of many Corbyn policies.

Of course, faced with a popular, economically-sound policy that oozes aspiration, Corbyn’s detractors have had to come up with a rebuttal. The most common sounds something like “If I had £10bn I would spend it on…”. This entirely misses the mark. We will see other spending commitments on other issues. No one is saying that tuition is the only issue that matters.

7) He is the only candidate to make any expansionary spending commitments at all.

The debate around what we might spend £10bn on is an interesting one, but it’s entirely academic. Corbyn is the only candidate to promise spending at all. So instead of a choice between free tuition and, for instance, hospitals, the real choice we are faced with is between free education and nothing at all. Through their silence the other candidates are saying, in effect, “I would leave the £10bn where it is right now: in the bank accounts of big corporations and the richest in society”. Hardly inspiring.

Immediate post-election thoughts

Some observations on the general election results of last night:

  1. The electorate hasn’t really shifted since 2010. The share of left-centre votes vs right-centre votes is very similar. The results cannot really be understood in terms of a rightwards shift.
  2. The two big losers, Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats, share one thing in common which no other parties do: they were seen to have teamed up with the Tories (in Better Together or in Government). The Tories are the second most hated brand in the UK, beating Ryanair and Marmite and beaten only by UKIP. People’s positive feelings towards their own party are nothing to their hatred of the Tories. Sadly I think that this is more to do with brand identity than ideology.
  3. The two big winners, UKIP and the SNP, again only share one thing in common: nationalism. Clearly their policy platforms could not be more different but they share in common a belief that the problems in society come from outside the nation: the EU or Westminster. I am not saying that the two parties should be considered in the same way – the SNP is of course vastly preferable to UKIP – but the reasons behind their support are not a million miles apart. If it were true that the SNP’s rise was simply an attack on Labour from the left, we would have seen a significant difference in the results for left-wing Labour MPs like Katy Clark, or an SNP manifesto much further to to the left of Labour’s. We didn’t.
  4. Left-of-Labour parties continue to have no success under first past the post. The #Greensurge resulted in no additional seats, despite mobilising tons of activists and securing a better media presence than ever before. The Labour Party continues to be the only way that we can defeat the Tories.
  5. The fight in the Labour Party in the coming months is going to be incredibly important. The Labour Right will argue that Miliband was too left-wing, particularly on immigration, ‘the market’ and public services. The Labour Left have to make the case that politics is not won or lost on this consumerist basis. We have to argue that class politics is the only thing that can defeat nationalism and individualism, and that over-turning 35 years of neoliberal hegemony takes time.This needs socialists to fight for their ideas, and the trade unions to fight for their policies to be taken up by the party.

If you agree with this, especially points 4 and 5, then you should join the Labour Party and join the fight.

Two short lessons from Syriza’s youth movement

I’ve just come out of a meeting hosted by the leadership of Syriza’s youth movement. The Labour Party’s Greek sister party, after allying with the right to implement austerity, look set to be wiped out in tomorrow’s election and it is likely that Syriza will form the first serious left government in Europe. Syriza is not perfect but the progress is has made should give leftists everywhere pause for thought.

They made two points which struck me as relevant to Young Labour Continue reading