(This blog first appeared on the Policy Bristol blog site).
At last, the long drawn out Labour leadership election has come to its conclusion and we now know that Jeremy Corbyn has indeed been elected as leader of the Labour Party. After what has been a challenging process, involving intrigue, sub plots and horror stories, we will now see what this new kind of politics is all about. The mandate for change is clear with the scale of the victory born out of a truly democratic process embracing the notion of a real alternative to the status quo.
But what does this mean in practice when you have a leader who will undoubtedly have to fight many internal battles to gain support for his own policies?
At one level, the ideology at the heart of Corbyn’s campaign is exactly what many people believe the Labour Party has always been about and still should be: tackling poverty and inequality, working for peace and social justice, and ending austerity, these are the things Labour was built on. So it seems much of what we can expect is a return to some true socialist values, that challenge the inequalities in our society and seek to protect those that cannot protect themselves, provide hope and opportunity for all rather than the few, and that put aspiration at the heart of its policies.
At another level, the approach may be seen as a retreat to the Labour Party of the 1980s, where ideology ruled over practicality in an era when Labour was seen as too left wing and unelectable. There have been some serious questions over, as well as support for, Corbyn’s economic policy, which involves investing and building our way to prosperity, rather than sticking to the cuts and austerity agenda of the Tories. The proposed ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’ would mean printing money to invest in new large scale housing schemes, transport and energy infrastructure, whilst tax increases would be levelled at the higher earners to raise money to support other policies. This type of proposal is already, inevitably, leading once more to the popular perception that Labour cannot be trusted on the economy.
There has of course been more popular support for some of his policies, with renationalisation of the railways attracting cross party as well as popular support and the introduction of a mandatory living wage, rent controls on private landlords, higher taxes for higher earners and cutting tuition fees all popular policies that appeared during his campaign. There will no doubt continue to be doubts expressed and more challenges to his stance on the European Union, NATO and Trident. But one thing is becoming clear, there is likely to be a renewed debate about the role of the nation state in the provision and delivery of services, with health, education and welfare at the centre of that debate.
The real debate on many of these issues will carry on for some time. There are no simple, quick solutions to mainstreaming an approach that has for so long been marginal to the debate. There’s a lot of work to do in terms of bringing people into the debate, uniting the Party and agree policies. It will certainly be interesting to see just how much compromise is necessary during this process and just how flexible the new leadership is. There’s an idealism about Corbyn’s politics that is both refreshing and attractive, but when pragmatism takes over, and real hard decisions need to be taken it will be interesting to see how Corbyn and his supporters react.