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Corbyn sets out vision to transform Britain’s economy

CorbynLast week Jeremy Corbyn set out his vision for the British economy at a major speech at Bloomberg. Railing against the austerity economy that has failed so many, from workers at Sports Direct to those on zero hour contracts, the Labour leader pledged to create an economy built on investment, tax justice and harnessing the new technologies of the 21st century. They included:

  • A comprehensive industrial strategy to deliver a high-investment, high-skill, high-technology new economy.
  • £500 billion in investment
  • Retaining John McDonnell’s Fiscal Credibility Rule
  • National Investment Bank, as well as regional investment banks
  • Super fast broadband in every part of the country
  • A National Education Service, providing lifelong learning
  • Meeting the OECD target of 3% of GDP spent on scientific research
  • An Advanced Research Agency
  • 300,000 jobs in renewable energy
  • Abolish Employment Tribunal fees
  • A “Philip Green Law” that would bar asset-strippers from loading companies up with debt.
  • “Right to Own”, giving workers facing a change of ownership or closure of a firm the first refusal in putting together a worker-owned alternative.

Corbyn’s stance remains on economic questions remains largely unchanged from last year, and many of his policies such as a National Education Service and his pledges to young people featured in the leadership contest a year ago. The challenge for Corbyn, if victorious again, will be to impress the policies upon the party and PLP.  

On the Jeremy for Leader website, Corbyn sets out his Ten Pledges to “rebuild and transform Britain”, including full employment and an economy for all:

We will create a million good quality jobs across our regions and nations and guarantee a decent job for all. By investing £500 billion in infrastructure, manufacturing and new industries backed up by a publicly-owned National Investment Bank and regional banks we will build a high skilled, high tech, low carbon economy that ends austerity and leaves no one and nowhere left behind. We will invest in the high speed broadband, energy, transport and homes that our country needs and allow good businesses to thrive, and support a new generation of co-operative enterprises.

Corbyn continues to discuss economic issues in relation to public services:

We will rebuild public services and expand democratic participation, put the public back into our economy, give people a real say in their local communities, and increase local and regional democracy. We will rebuild our economy with public investment to deliver wealth for all, across our regions and nations in a genuinely mixed economy. We will act to ‘insource’ our public and local council services, increase access to leisure, arts and sports across the country and expand our publicly-controlled bus network. We will bring our railways into public ownership and build democratic social control over our energy.

The leadership election result will be announced at a Special Conference on Saturday, with the ballot closing on Wednesday at noon.

13 Comments

  1. Barry Hearth says:

    Corbyn’s stance remains on economic questions remains largely unchanged from last year, and many of his policies such as a National Education Service and his pledges to young people featured in the leadership contest a year ago. The challenge for Corbyn, if victorious again, will be to impress the policies upon the party and PLP.

    This appears to me to be the crucial paragraph of the whole piece.
    After this election result is declared we’ll know if half or more agree with his policies, in the membership that is.
    I think we all know where the majority of the PLP stand, shoulder to shoulder with Neil Kinnock.

  2. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “Look at the King! Look at the the King! Look at the
    King, the King, the King!
    The King is in the all together
    But all together the all together
    He’s all together as naked as the day that he was born.
    The King is in the all together
    But all together the all together
    It’s all together the very least the King has ever
    worn.”

  3. Bill says:

    A “Philip Green Law” that would bar asset-strippers from loading companies up with debt.

    “Right to Own”, giving workers facing a change of ownership or closure of a firm the first refusal in putting together a worker-owned alternative.

    I am very pleased with all the policies. All of them entirely MODERATE and CENTRE. What PLP members could fail to support them?

    I am particularly pleased that the two above are included. I am other members suggested these and proof that Jeremy listens to the members.

    We have had 10 months of our patience,money, time wasted. Lets get behind Jeremy Corbyn and get on with policy debates and winning for Labour.

  4. Gary Elsby says:

    …and the red lines on Brexit deals?

  5. David Pavett says:

    I think this speech is important and should be discussed. It can, however, be read in many different ways. That takes us to the first problem: reading it. The link provided here is to a hastily produced text: (1) every sentence is a separate paragraph; (2) some punctuation destroys otherwise meaningful sentences; (3) the text is full of “…” insertions which look like ellipses but are not; (4) words, sentences and even whole paragraphs are missing.

    All of this seems to point to an alarming lack of professionalism. I have checked the text against delivery and produced the following more reliable transcript.

    A second question is why is this speech not available through the Labour news feed?

    As I said, there are different viewpoints from which to consider the speech.

    If it is part of the olive branch to the PLP then I think that it is good because it is both radical and says little that most of the PLP would be able to disagree with.

    If it is intended for the general public then I can imagine it going down well with such members of the public who will be prepared to read or listen to the speech. So far there seems to have been a wall of silence from the media regarding it.

    Corbyn is also fairly clear on some of the red lines for a Brexit deal.

    All this is welcome.

    If however the speech is to be approached as a clarification of Labour policy then it leaves very much to be desired. Many of the items (e.g. the call for a National Education Service) have, to my knowledge, no flesh on the bone. Other items such as the points about immigration avoid the hard issues. Finally, some of the points such as the suggested “Philip Green Law” are not actually Party policy as yet.

    One of the strangest features of the speech for me is the fourth paragraph in my transcript (its not in the “transcript” linked by Newsdesk above). In this Jeremy Corbyn speaks about the development of policy in a way that I simply do not recognise. I have, for example, no idea what document on education he is referring to. I try to follow Labour policy developments but I do not know what he has in mind. He says that the request to comment on documents went out on social media. Should I as a Labour Party member not have received an email about this? I only know of one Labour policy document on Education circulating and that is the very poor one issued by the National Policy forum which ignores the dramatic developments in the entire school sector.

  6. David Pavett says:

    In their recent book Inventing the Future Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams argue that thinking on the left is dominated by “folk politics”. They define folk politics as an uncritical “common sense” (one which does not challenge its own assumptions) which obsesses about the immediate, the small-scale and the “authentic” at the expense of thinking about the long-term and the structural. They say “Leftist movements under the sway of folk politics are not only unlikely to be successful – they are in fact incapable of transforming capitalism”.

    Another way of saying the same thing is to say that the left elevates the personal over the political, immediate experience over theory and activism over policy development.

    I suggest that all these things are well in evidence in the Labour left in its current state. There is little appetite for policy discussion and virtually none for the theoretical developments required to understand the profound social and economic developments of the last 100 years.

    This reluctance to deal with the long-term and the structural is repeatedly demonstrated here on Left Futures. Articles about the PLP, deselection, accusations against specific individuals, electoral exclusions and the like (the importance if whuch I don’t contest) will bring a flurry of responses and even vigorous exchanges. Articles about policy or which try to examine widespread ideas produce little response (and the responses they get very often have nothing to do with the articles in question).

    The above Newsdesk item is a case in point. It draws attention to a “major speech” on the economy. Up to the time of writing this comment only five comments had been recieved and only two of them had any bearing on Corbyn’s speech.

    The speech was a significant attempt to add some substance to a left approach to the economy. Moreover, it was done in a way that could act as a basis for unity in the party, including the PLP. It was despite, or perhaps because of, that ignored by the media. That is to be expected. But the truly shocking thing is that it has been ignored by the left as well because, in my view, it rises above the immediate, the personal and the local and invites structural and theoretical debate. I agree with Srnicek and Williams that on this basis it is impossible to get beyond reactive politics to construct a plan for the future that goes beyond slogans.

  7. C MacMackin says:

    I agree with David’s comment. I’m away on a course at the moment and thus have less time to write responses, but I should have added a contribution here. Keep in mind that I have not yet had the time to read Corbyn’s full speech.

    First the good things. I am pleased to see Corbyn’s commitment to increase R&D. An Advanced Research Agency, perhaps like the Pentagon’s DARPA but with a more civilian orientation, is an excellent way to do this. I would like to see at least partial public ownership in any industries or technologies resulting from this, however. Otherwise this is a case of nationalising the risk and privatising the profit. I would also like clarification on how much of this would be spent on applied research vs. pure research–both are important. As a PhD student, I’ve noticed that there is a big push for commercialisation and entrepreneurship. I think many researchers don’t have much interest in launching a startup themselves, so it would be good if there were a nationalised industry which could take over this role for those who would prefer to stay in academia.

    Support for alternative forms of ownership is welcome, although I would prefer to see a greater emphasis on democratic nationalisation. However, giving workers the right to buy out companies which are about to close is not terribly helpful. Unless it is coupled with a broader economic plan into which the new co-operative can fit, this is just a case of handing workers a lemon of an enterprise. Furthermore, why should such rights only exist in the event of ownership changes or closure? Why not allow the national investment bank to support any worker buy-out (on the condition that the new co-op can not demutualise) whenever a simple majority vote for one? I also worry that the emphasis on co-ops could lead to workers having to self-exploit in order to compete within capitalism or, worse, different co-ops competing against each other. What about industries (such as energy or transport) which are in the broader public interest? Why should ownership be only for the workers in that sector and not all workers?

    While clearly welcome, how would a “Philip Green Law” actually be achieved? How would asset stripping be defined and detected? How would this law be enforced? What would the penalties be? This is a nice idea, but I don’t see how it could be done in practice.

    Corbyn has mentioned the National Education Service in many places. While I think this is a useful bit of marketing (drawing, as it does, on the most popular and enduring achievement of Labour), what does it actually mean? Is it just a way to collectively refer to abolishing tuition fees, more apprenticeships, free childcare, and adult education, which would continue to be handled separately, by different departments and levels of government? Or is this an attempt to create a more unified institution, like the NHS (as it used to be)? If so, this would mean taking control of education away from local authorities, which would go against the general decentralisation commitments Corbyn has made elsewhere and would potentially make the education system more remote from its users.

    Finally, a commitment to universal super-fast broadband is excellent, but the goals Corbyn laid out in his digital manifesto are rather timid. In my home-town (population 150 thousand within a small and poor part of Canada) we have Internet at least 10 times faster than his stated goal. This is not available in rural areas, admittedly, but surely in a densely populated country like England, with a radical/populist government, you can do better than an unplanned, privatised system in a small city in a poor region of Canada. I would also like to move beyond commitments for this to be “low cost” and make it free at the point of use for residential customers, paid for out of taxation. This would likely require nationalisation of the companies, but given the confusing and fragmented nature of telecom in this country I would find that very welcome.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      Oops, the Internet where I grew up is 5 times faster than Corbyn’s proposal, not 10.

  8. C MacMackin says:

    I’m concerned about the extent to which nationalisation has been rejected. I get that we are not in a position to demand a Bennite program, but surely we should still be asking for nationalisation of rail (including freight), utilities, telecom, airports, ferries, buses, the lottery (if we don’t want to just shut it down), the Royal Mail, etc. Most or all of these would be popular but, apart from passenger rail and (sort of) local buses, none of them have been mentioned. They aren’t even that radical–some or all of them can be found in public ownership in many parts of the world.

    There is also the question of whether McDonnell’s Keynesian program is actually workable. We know from experience that Keynseian compromises eventually break down. The best we could possibly hope for is 20-30 years of Keynseianism before another crisis of capitalism broke out. What would be done to better ensure that we can move beyond Keynseianism this time? I have serious doubts that this would last even that long. For all John McDonnell’s claims that his policy is good for the economy (which it is) and that therefore businesses will invest, I’m skeptical. Even if he and Corbyn do lay out a purely Keynsian program, does he seriously believe that business would trust them enough to be willing to invest? Furthermore, have they learned nothing from Tony Benn’s experience as a cabinet minister, when he discovered that business did not want to cooperate or share plans with the government? We are trapped in a difficult situation where the public can not yet be convinced of a radical program, but I doubt that a more moderate one can work. At the very least, we need to make an effort to ensure that Labour activists understand these issues.

    1. Danny Nicol says:

      I too deplore the marginalisation of nationalisation and I think this has already been discussed in this blog site. After decades of neoliberalism we have a non-socialist hard left in this country. I do not mean to be nasty: I am using “socialist” in a precise sense to refer to those who wish to discard the capitalist system in favour of one based on public ownership.

      The arguments for nationalisation are not purely economic but affect our entire society. For example the domination of private ownership, and in particular the growth since the 1960s of the transnational corporation, lie at the heart of the theory of post-democracy put forward by Colin Crouch in his book “Post-Democracy” in 2004. Crouch’s thesis is that while the forms of democracy remain fully in place – and indeed have in some respects been strengthened – politics and government are actually increasingly slipping back into the control of privileged elites in the manner characteristic of pre-democratic times. Crouch attributes this to the power of corporate elites.

      In post-democracy, the form of democracy is maintained as its substance is undermined: for example Crouch shows how global firms can point out to governments that they will not invest in a country if certain laws are retained, prompting all the parties to tell their electorates that there must be reform. Furthermore, in addition to dominating the economy, the corporate class becomes the class which dominates the running of government. Privileged access to politicians and civil servants combines with the increasing control of news and information media in the hands of a very small number of extremely wealthy individuals. As a result, he contends, we are steadily moving towards the establishment of a new dominant, combined economic and political, class.

      Post-democracy has been particularly intense in Britain, with “New Labour” becoming more or less a business party. Competition between parties became limited, with questions of managerial competence coming to the fore. This pro-business homogeneity of parties placed corporate elites in a particularly strong position to pursue their core political objective of combating egalitarianism. Crouch emphasises that it is the growing power of the firm which remains the absolutely fundamental change lying behind the advance of post-democracy.

      Despite this, the British Labour Left shows no great desire to eliminate the firm from the scheme of things. There is a myth presently circulating that the Left’s stance on public ownership was wildly different in the 1980s, but in my opinion even back then most of the Left was pretty flaky. The Alternative Economic Strategy meant all things to all people. The infamous 1983 manifesto merely contained a ragbag of projected nationalisations, no general programme. Earlier, Harold Wilson vetoed the substantial extension of public ownership in the 1974 manifestos. The public have not actually been presented with a radical programme of public ownership since 1945. It is well to grasp the political marginalisation of public ownership if we are ever to attempt to turn leftist sows’ ears into socialist silk purses.

  9. David Pavett says:

    I substantially agree with C MacMackin and Danny Nicol over the question of the private ownership of the dominant productive resources. In its present state the declarations of Corbyn and McDonnell to not get much beyond promising a kinder form of capitalism. This idea is now being heavily canvassed in academic and political circles (as in the recent publication Rethinking Capitalism editied by Michael Jacobs and Mariana Mazzucato).

    It is all to vague and allows for serious confusion. In fact much of what the left is saying has already been said by the right.

    [we need] nothing less than the full scale development of a new political economy … built around … the purpose of the Labour movement of distributing power to those who lack it.

    …the pursuit of distributing power is, crucially, and economic goal that is sufficiently pluralistic to accommodate the importance that different individuals will place upon different aspects of the good life.

    … in becoming too reliant on the state as the only means of resisting market outcomes we have forgotten ouf associationalist heritage as a movement of democratic grassroots activists: our history of cooperatives, mutual societies and trade unions. It is by turning to this heritage that we can help revive our sense of mission to distribute economic power to those who lack it and build a new political economy around this goal.

    Gordon Brown claim[ed] to have ended ‘boom and bust’, and that it was possible to eradicate the cyclical fluctuations in demand inherent in all varieties of capitalism, has been shown, with emphatic violence, to be flawed.

    One of the shortcomings of the New Labour project was our failure to regulate the banks and our reluctance to intervene in market outcomes. … what is required is a strategic, interventionist response to managing the economy. … globalisation means that governments can no longer be ambivalent about the means by which wealth is created.

    … All of which intensifies the need to develop new non-statist means of political change. Trade unions, mutuals and cooperative societies, and free voluntary associations of all different hues – all sare a common belief that through democratic association their members are protected from excessive concentrations of power, whether that be from global markets or from an intruding state. In particular, the role of cooperative and mutual models of ownership has been explored to see whether they can provide the launch pad for a new policy platform.

    One can imagine this sort of points raising gleeful responses at a Corbyn/McDonnell rally. And yet these words come from none other than Tristram Hunt writing in the Purple Book published by Progress in 2011. I think that when there are so many parallels in the rhetoric of the right and left it is because the left has given far to little attention to examining its concepts and assumptions and developing and alternative analysis of the problems of our society. Just wishing for things to be different will not produce a programme to do so. Moreover, it will not convince anyone not already convinced.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      I agree with you, of course, David, but I think we are coming up against a big problem here. As you’ve said, Corbyn can’t afford to alienate the soft left and the centre of the PLP. However, any talk of going beyond “a kinder form of capitalism” will almost certainly be more than most of them would be willing to take. For that matter, it would probably be more than the electorate would be willing to countenance at this time (or at least until we have a more effective membership which would be able to propagate these ideas). It was issues such as these which caused my earlier list of industries to nationalise not to stray beyond the post-war consensus. I don’t know how to resolve this problem. If Britain were a country with proportional representation than I’d say that we should just bring out a proper, radical program addressing questions of ownership. Labour would lose the next election, but it would give us a base to build on and educate from, without giving the Tories a majority. As it stands, I don’t know what course of action to take beyond at least trying to get party members to discuss these issues.

      1. David Pavett says:

        There can be no question at this stage of a programme of anything other than attempting to to restrain the worst aspects of capitalism + some modest measures of socialisation. The thing is though that this needs to be part of a bigger picture in three different ways.

        (1) ANALYSIS. The left should make it case of a critical analysis of the social relations of capitalism. What is capital? What is the source of profit? What is the role of the banks and how has it evolved? Is the drive for private profit the best way of satisfying needs. Dealing with these issues means more than turning to a Nobel prize winner or two. It means questing the most basic economic concepts. This is always going to be a minority affair but this work should be there in the background all the time. On the basis of such work it would be possible to understand that when economic palliatives are proposed that they are no more that rather than seeing them ascthe ‘real deal’.

        (2) IMMEDIATE POLICY. The policy for the here and cannot go beyond what people accept and agree with and will therfore must be limited by that at each stage. Even so there is much that can be built on already where the majority see as of now that non-capitalist provision is best (NHS), or is desirable (raikways, postal services). The public could be won to oppose privatising measures in our schools. Much could be done to convince the public of the need to socialise at least some if the finance sector. So, from a left perspective the proposals for a kinder form of capitalism should be presented as a massive exercise in social understanding and that should start first in the Labour Party to unite it round realistic objective the understanding of which can re-energise socialist thinking.

        (3) LONG TERM AIMS. Corbyn said in his Bloomberg speech that we should be debating tge sort of society we want to live in. Indeed we should. How would a radically reorganised society based on socialist ideas actually work. The is virtually no such discussion but without it try to reform capitalism will ultimately be no more than that and the beast will always escape from its cage at some point, as always in the past. Like (1) above this is likely to be of mainly minority interest but is nonetheless important for all that. This also is needed to gradually break down the (usually implicit) assumption that capitalism is the last word in human history.

        All I am saying is that great practicality and realism about what is immediately possible needs to be combined with great radicalism in terms of analysis and long-term perspectives.

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