Recent trends and events have displayed an alarming mistrust in our national and international institutions, so much so that something clearly needs to be done. Parliament seems so out of touch, stuck in a Westminster bubble, while the EU is even further removed from real people; big corporations are seen to be working solely for profit, and want to use our personal data for sinister ends; and in a time of ‘fake news’, traditional media is seemingly no longer the first choice for a growing number, in favour of ‘new media’, like The Canary.
Enter Jeremy Corbyn. The socialist ideals he has held close to his heart for many years, suddenly seem to have hit the spot for so many people. He was surprisingly elected as leader, and surprisingly led the Labour Party to gain 40% of the national vote. He has been running on an anti-establishment platform, full of hope, containing some rather extreme socialist policies. But is this success down to these policies? And can a government built on these statist policies continue to galvanise the support of this growing number of people who feel that so many institutions are so out of touch?
Corbyn’s Labour manifesto contained populist policies, it contained very left wing policies. Key points that brought in the swathes of support were nationalisation, support for pensioners, better funded public services, higher taxes, the government providing more personal services, and a very vague, have-your-cake-and-eat-it attitude towards Brexit.
It is obvious to see how these policies could become popular after several years of post-2008 austerity. People have got sick of cuts, and there appears to be a change of opinion on paying higher taxes for public services. Add these socialist policies to the underdog, anti-establishment figure of Jeremy Corbyn, and we have an unlikely (relative) success.
If people are not trusting of the state, you don’t give more power to the state.
However, although Jeremy Corbyn represents the nonconforming anti-elite, his policies do not adequately answer the main problems people have at the moment. If people are not trusting of the state, you don’t give more power to the state. A Labour government led by Corbyn would not meet the need, for several reasons.
- Nationalised institutions are inefficient. Those mistrusting of our institutions may well be happy to roll with this new, ‘exciting’ wave of populist statism, but that is unlikely to last. If Labour were to win an election on that platform, the complaints would undoubtedly begin, about how the government is managing our newly nationalised institutions. Historically a rail company run by the state has not been a roaring success, British Rail definitely was not the most popular service.
- They would run out of money. Soon after taking power, Labour would realise that they would run out of money to fund these newly-nationalised institutions, and the better public services. It is true that the manifesto contained some figures, and a broad outline of how they would be balanced; a lot more than the Conservative manifesto gave us. However, they missed some pretty major expenses, like the costs of nationalisation, and their way of paying for it (higher taxes for the rich) is infamously ineffective at raising funds. It is a lot easier for the rich to avoid paying tax than the poorer, and those on middle incomes.
- We would get sick of high taxes. Better funded public services seems to be a popular policy at the moment, and will most likely remain to be popular in the near future. People do seem happier to pay a little more tax in exchange for better policing, better NHS, etc. But if Labour get into government and raise taxes, the Tories will be in opposition offering tax cuts. So although people want better services, they will see others offering tax cuts and will be seriously tempted. It is true that taxes will supposedly only be raised on those earning £80,000 and more, but even if their government were to keep to that, it is a large group of people that they will want to keep onside.
For a party to have long-lasting success, and truly please the disenchanted, they need to find a way past the decades of over-reliance on the markets, seen with Thatcher, Blair and Cameron, but not resort to over-reliance on the state, as Corbyn seeks to do. Policies need to positively impact the whole country, not just London, and all types of people. For too many years, the market economy has benefited the ‘Anywheres’, but not the ‘Somewheres’ , according to David Goodhart’s definition. Somewheres don’t live in London, they don’t work in the financial sector, they voted to leave the EU, and they take up most of the country. These are the people who feel that institutions are out of touch, and certain policies are needed to address this:
- Protection of workers. Large corporations, and even smaller businesses have lost the trust of many people, valuing profit far more than the well-being of their workers. Alongside this, the ‘gig economy’ is rising in popularity with a shoddy excuse for workers’ rights. Companies like Deliveroo and Uber need to be controlled, to protect those who work for them, and the Taylor Review is a good start. Labour’s manifesto contained several important provisions on this, and the Conservative manifesto had a start at good policy, including putting workers on boards, which is a step toward the concerns of workers really being heard. When company execs are not trusted, give power to workers.
- Encouraging co-ops. An even better way to give power to workers is to have businesses that are run by the workers. There are some really competitive co-operative businesses, but government funding could really help them get started. There does not seem to have been that much support for co-ops recently in Parliament, although there are definitely members on both sides who are supportive. Thirty eight Labour politicians have been elected as ‘Labour Co-operative’, and the Labour manifesto partially reflected that with policies such as the workers’ ‘right to own’ a business that is up for sale, but more could be done. The Tory manifesto contained very little on the topic, but co-ops have some support within the party, with MP Jesse Norman setting up the (virtually unused) Conservative Co-operative Movement in 2007. Both parties should be encouraging this important way of giving people power over their lives.
- Encouraging volunteers. The most effective way of transferring power from the central government to the people is not through daily referendums, but through making it much easier to volunteer and affect your local area. It is true that a lot of people currently do not volunteer, so maybe this would not make a big difference. However, evidence suggests that if there are obvious ways to help people, and improve the community, many will get involved. This was a central, and unsuccessful, part of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ project, promising paid volunteering leave, and the hopeful ‘Your Square Mile’ project. A functioning democracy requires a way for normal people to feel they can make real, distinct changes to society. Volunteering is the best way to achieve that.
- Rethinking public services. The debates surrounding public services tend to be very polarised, ‘nationalise or privatise’ seems the be the big question, when there are more questions to be asked on topics like the NHS and railways. Because of the way our NHS is fetishised, any change to it is considered to be despicable, and the only debate is about how much money is given to it, while Tories are accused of privatising. But there is so much more nuance to be considered, of which we have been deprived, and Tory MP George Freeman shared an example of this in his article about how we can get more for less in the NHS.
Looking at the railways as another example, it is, once again, Mr Freeman who is suggesting alternatives. In an article for the Res Publica think tank, he outlines the idea for a mutual train company. This would give people much more power to control how the service is provided.
We need “an end to the monopolisation of society by the state and the market” as Phillip Blond expressed in his book, ‘Red Tory’. We take power away from the market, away from the state, and give it to families, to communities, to people.
Corbyn has seen and responded to disenchantment with our major institutions, and is seeking to replace hopelessness with hope. We really need this at the moment. But it needs to come with the appropriate policies, and a reliance on the state cannot be the way.