Emmeline Skinner Cassidy
Two weeks ago I joined the Labour Party and signed up to support Corbyn’s campaign. To lots of people, there is only one explanation for this bizarre behaviour: I am just another hopeless idealist whose dreams have yet to come tumbling down. Yet, I will be voting for Corbyn because I believe that his vision for the UK is simultaneously more viable and more humane than that of the current government.
For the past five years the Tories have managed to write the narrative on the economy and be believed, regardless of the mountain of evidence against them. Consequently, anyone who dares to propose an alternative to austerity is branded an irresponsible radical.
Yet, Corbyn’s anti-austerity position is increasingly the consensus amongst Britain’s academic economists. Strikingly, the Centre for Macroeconomics recently reported that only 15 percent of British economists polled agreed that the coalition’s austerity policies had had a positive effect on aggregate economic activity.
This view goes beyond the British academic bubble; the governors of the central banks of the UK and the US both admit that temporary cuts in government spending have been contractionary. The IMF’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, recently stated that the IMF had hugely underestimated the negative effect of cuts on weak economies. Even Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has written that British politicians are just about the only people still convinced by the ideology of austerity.
Whether an economy is prospering or failing has no inherent value: meaning is derived from how economies affect human society. Austerity ignores human imperatives and makes cuts that dramatically reduce people’s quality of life. Between 2014-15 more than one million people in the UK relied on food banks. Since 2012, more than 300,000 children have been pushed below the poverty line. On top of all of this, a recent Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) report has revealed that 78 per cent of disabled people say that their health has deteriorated as a result of the stress of undergoing a work capability assessment.
An economic policy can’t be labelled a ‘solution’ when it creates problems that are both unacceptable from a compassionate view and financially unsustainable. Cuts that significantly reduce quality of life trap us in a cycle of decline – disadvantaged people become increasingly worse-off and are increasingly forced to turn to government support. Only 140 18 to 21-year olds need to become homeless as a result of Tory cuts to their housing benefit before the policy actually begins to start costing money.
We need an economic policy that will not lose its grip on spending, but will recognise that the protection of the vulnerable is paramount. This is what Corbyn’s policies will achieve. Corbyn understands that we can’t run an unsustainable deficit. He proposes to manage this through cracking down on tax avoidance amongst the wealthiest individuals and companies in the UK, while also stimulating the economy through controlled quantitative easing.
I am aware that Corbyn’s election could cause Labour to split, but I think that a soul-searching, identity-defining debate is exactly what Labour needs. Labour is currently unelectable because it attempts to stand for everything and thus stands for absolutely nothing. Labour can’t continue courting votes from every section of the electorate by effectively toeing the same austerity-loving, immigrant-hating, welfare-bashing line as the Tories.
Labour needs to make a decision and, realistically, this means moving left. If Labour moves to the right then the biggest choice facing the electorate in 2020 will be which colour we prefer: red or blue. Apathy was arguably Labour’s biggest enemy in 2015: of the 34.9 per cent of the population who didn’t vote, the majority were previous Labour supporters. If Labour had motivated just one in five people who didn’t vote then there could have been a Labour government in power today. Labour needs to offer something that will inspire people, and watered-down Tory policies will not do this.
There is a massive gap in British politics for a credible left-wing party. In the 2015 election left-leaning voters were stranded without a single decent option. This is the ground that Labour needs to occupy, and Corbyn is the only candidate who will take us there.
Having an ideology is not a weakness. Having ideology and conviction, unfortunately, is what made Thatcher and her legacy so potent, and Osborne and his anti-austerity politics so dominant today. In 2015 the Tories had a clear ideological message and they cruised to victory. Labour stood for nothing, confused people with their attempt to commit to absolutely everything, and crashed into spectacular failure.
Labour desperately needs a principled leadership. Under Corbyn, Labour’s principles will mean a net below which no person should ever fall – a point beyond which we recognise that no human should ever be treated like this. Corbyn is what an electable Labour Party looks like.
I like Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, his views are probably closer to my own than the rest of the candidates. The problem I have is that in the current political climate, he can’t win short of a crisis for the government, and many of his die-hard supporters don’t seem to care. The Corbyn camp seems frustratingly divided in their ambitions. Whilst some have the greatest intentions, others are playing internal party-politics. Their tactics do not add up, and will leave Labour in opposition for the sake of petty ideological rivalries.
Most supporters seem to believe that Corbyn can win thanks to an upsurge in the non-voting masses enthused by his anti-austerity platform. It’s as if the arguments of the Greens or Plaid Cymru never existed. They believe that Corbyn, with his well-attended rallies up and down the country, can bring together a coalition of non-voting students, pensioners, and the disillusioned. Such a tactic only ever results in limited returns. Corbyn will solidify the core vote, but achieve little else.
A grassroots-driven campaign like Corbyn’s echoes the American examples of Barry Goldwater and George McGovern. Like the Corbyn campaign, Goldwater’s and McGovern’s had hope on their side. Who could vote Nixon at the height of Vietnam? Turned out that 60 per cent of the electorate could. The messages given by their campaigns were simply too sectional. They appealed to ‘true believers’ on the left and right; those convinced they were on the cusp of victory, surrounded by the likeminded. Given the choice of two evils, the moderate centre opted for the one they knew, or neither.
An appeal to the ‘true believers’ will not succeed in mobilizing an army of anti-austerity voters, and the electoral system will make sure of it. The Conservatives will be doing everything to cling onto their 36 per cent of the vote and solidify their own position, with the help of the Coalition’s mothballed boundary reforms. Meanwhile, the SNP’s near total dominance over Scotland won’t suddenly collapse with a copycat Labour leader. The SNP has the upper hand; they can always put Scotland first. In turn, just as the first past the post system helps the undivided nationalist vote hold Scotland, the thinly spread nature of Corbyn’s ideal coalition of voters won’t win seats off the Tories.
Corbyn will find it very difficult to usurp the Tory vote in marginal, let alone safer, seats. While a constituency like Gower might fall easily, somewhere like Nuneaton will be a lot harder. Nuneaton had an above-average turnout of 67 per cent where the Tory vote increased while the Labour vote fell. If Corbyn were to convince the Greens and TUSC supporters to vote Labour, it would be nowhere near enough to overtake the incumbent Marcus Jones. Labour would need to entice 5,000 voters to overtake the Tories. And we cannot be certain that there aren’t non-voting Tories who can match that number. After all, many Tory safe-seats saw rising turnouts, as their constituents feared a Labour-SNP coalition.
Under Corbyn, Labour may start piling up votes in poorer safe-seats adversely affected by austerity, but this won’t help in the marginals. While Nuneaton moved further away from Labour in 2015, safe-seats like Sunderland Central moved closer. As they see their circumstances recover, marginal voters will be even harder to convince. The gamble of voting for a Corbyn-led Labour will not be worth the risk.
Labour needs to win over marginal voters to win the election and actually get into government, where it can help those affected by austerity. Many Corbyn-supporters seem bent on focusing on Labour values and ideology. They want revenge on New Labour by swinging back to the left, instead of a strategy that will win back seats in 2020. If Labour party members choose Corbyn, they will only prolong the Bedroom Tax and allow the government to continue cutting support for the poorest and most vulnerable. Corbyn should certainly be a part of the new Labour opposition, but, sadly, it’s not the right time for a man like him to lead it to victory.