Labour can win under Corbyn’s leadership

JEREMY CORBYN has only been Labour leader for just over 100 days but he has already delivered significant change in how politics is conducted and in the direction of travel of the party.

It would be easy, in the light of the froth and noise of controversies, to lose sight of just how profound the change has already been.

Let’s take for example the Tory U-turn on tax credits following their defeat in the House of Lords.

It’s important to understand that Tory chaos over tax credits did not happen by accident.

Rather it was — as was the Tory retreat on proposed cuts to policing — a vindication of the stance Corbyn has taken in standing up strongly to Tory austerity.

And specifically, the Corbyn-led Labour Party made a political choice to resist the temptation to put constitutional practice ahead of the interests of millions of working people when it came to the House of Lords vote.

This summer’s leadership debate showed people wanted a strong, principled opposition on issues like this.

Corbyn has channelled that from his leadership campaign through to Labour’s parliamentary tactics. The tactics flowed from the strategy of standing up to the government more clearly.

In the weeks running up to the U-turn, Corbyn had slowly but surely prodded away at the tax credits in PMQs week after week, gradually cornering the Prime Minister.

His use of crowd-sourced questions isolated David Cameron from mainstream opinion and could well do the same on other issues such as the growing crisis the NHS faces this winter.

To take another example, Labour’s line on rail has been overhauled since Corbyn entered the leadership race.

It would be easy to forget the significance of this. Where we previously allowed for the possibility of the public sector challenging to run lines, we now clearly stand for the public sector to take on franchises as they expire. Instead of “whether,” we are now discussing “how.”

The example of rail is illustrative of important shifts in policy taking place across the board as we collectively discuss progressive alternatives to austerity.

Corbyn’s leadership is interesting not just for how he has given expression to the need for a strong opposition in Parliament. The changes go far wider. And as the days and months have gone past, the balance sheet is growing, as both the recent by-election victory and improved polling last week from ComRes seemed to indicate, with Labour closing the gap on the Tories.

And it’s not just on these issues that Corbyn is effectively leading on. By taking up the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr who has been sentenced to crucifixion in Saudi Arabia, during Labour’s conference, Corbyn again forced Cameron to follow.

The extent of this victory is shown by the Saudi ambassador’s complaint that Labour’s leader had scuppered the squalid Saudi prison deal.

The Labour Party voted unequivocally against the Immigration Bill, refusing to be caught in a mire of triangulation. This in itself was a major and welcome shift in approach.

On Syria, Corbyn has consistently set out the case for a political solution rather than a military one.

Indeed, each day in the run-up to the vote in Parliament, the proposal for bombing was clearly becoming less and less popular.

On Scotland, Corbyn has quickly broken out of the damaging cycle of British Labour leaders treading carefully about even visiting Scotland. Instead he has made visits to Scotland a regular part of his activities. His anti-austerity position is a welcome contribution to Scottish political debate.

And outside Parliament, Labour is now unafraid to connect with the mass movements and civil society that form our country’s wider opposition to the Conservatives.

Corbyn’s first act as leader was to address a refugee rally in Parliament Square. He dispensed with convention by speaking in Manchester during the Tory conference in support of the Communication Workers Union’s case on Royal Mail. He gave a clearly pro-trade union speech to TUC Congress in his first week as leader which showed he was not going to be pushed around by the Conservatives over Labour’s relationship to the wider labour movement and followed it up with a pledge last week to the STUC to repeal the Tories’ draconian Trade Union Bill.

And the Labour Party is growing and growing, with more people joining since the general election than the Conservatives have total members.

This is the continuation of the stunning enthusiasm we witnessed for the Jeremy4Leader campaign rallies across the country in the summer and I believe it is a sign that something is happening out there which could really change the direction of British politics.

And this brings me to the vital question of why I believe — as we look forward to 2016 — Labour can win under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

In the general election many angry people said: “What did the Labour government do for me?” They then went on to vote for Ukip or the SNP.

The euphoria in 1997 when Tony Blair defeated the Tories soon evaporated as he continued Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies of prioritising the banks and ignoring our manufacturing.

Under Thatcher and Blair, the number of people working in finance went from 2 per cent to 8 per cent of the workforce but, at the same time, we lost six million jobs in manufacturing.

Those who once had secure, well-paid jobs now skimp by on zero-hours contracts and their kids have no hope of being able to buy a home because Blair also continued Thatcher’s policy of not building council homes.

But under its new leadership, Labour is starting to offer a way out of our economic stagnation — massive investment to modernise our transport, upgrade our broadband to match the speed you get in the Far East, and, most important of all, build hundreds of thousands of homes.

This will create at least a million new jobs, taking people off benefits, increasing government income and reducing our debt, not by austerity but by sound growth.

When the state invests in infrastructure, then business invests, as we have seen in London over the past 15 years.

Labour lost in May because we had no clear economic strategy, just “austerity-lite.”

Our new leadership is coming up with an alternative which can unite the Labour Party and galvanise the voters. Labour’s got to make the focus and keep the focus on the economy in the year ahead, including popular Corbyn themes such as tackling tax avoidance.

We don’t need to talk about tax increases on ordinary people, we just want to get corporations to pay.

But it is not just economics. Corbyn comes over as a regular, nice guy who says what he thinks and someone who genuinely wants to change the way we do politics in this country.

If I didn’t think Jeremy could win the general election, I wouldn’t support him, because my kids need a Labour government if they are to have the opportunities that my generation took for granted.

We owe it to our children to change the direction of Britain.

Ken Livingstone is former mayor of London.

First published in the Morning Star