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Straight talking politics

This week was Labour’s turn, meeting in Brighton. Party conferences are usually predictable, but no-one could be sure how Jeremy Corbyn would come over. An MP since 1983, he has been the left-wing rebel who regularly ignored the Whips in Parliamentary votes

His election as leader led to front bench resignations and talk of a ‘resistance movement’. One senior MP said Corbyn had the support of no more than 15% of the Parliamentary party. So where would he lead Labour and what would be his message to the nation?

Corbyn was elected by 59% and he saw that as a mandate for change, including changes in how we do politics. He wants politics that are ‘kinder, more inclusive, bottom up not top down’ with real debate and straight talking. He would be a listening leader and recognised that some of his views are not shared by all of his colleagues. That soon became apparent as front bench colleagues openly disagreed with him about his commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament.

He argued that there are only five nuclear weapon states and 187 that are not. The Cold War is a thing of the past, and if he were Prime Minister, he would never use these weapons, so why have them. The Shadow Secretaries for defence and foreign affairs speedily distanced themselves from this and accused him of pre-empting a party debate. As one observed, ‘There is no point in having a deterrent if the other guys know you are never going to use it.’

He wants politics that are ‘kinder, more inclusive, bottom up not top down’ with real debate and straight talking

On policies, Corbyn identified the need for more affordable homes, a stronger commitment to the Green agenda and a more equal society, rejecting the Conservative’s austerity policies, pushing up tax rates for the rich and doing more to help the poor out of their poverty. Those are consistent Labour policies, but suggesting the use of the peoples’ quantitative easing to stimulate demand gives the Conservative’s ammunition for their claims that Labour cannot be trusted to manage the economy. The Bank of England has used quantitative easing to print money to revive the economy and lift it out of recession. Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor want to use the same means to fund infrastructure projects; creating jobs and modernising public services.

The problem with this is that quantitative easing is a short term emergency tool and leads to inflation if it is not stopped as soon as the economy revives. It is totally unsuitable for funding infrastructure projects that are typically long term and using it in this way would inevitably lead to hyper-inflation.

Opinion within his party is divided. Rank and file members were thrilled by Corbyn’s election and loved his speech but he clearly has not yet won the wholehearted support of his MPs. Some suspect there will be attempts to deselect them before the 2020 election. Even more important are the voter’s views. So far polls suggest Corbyn is honest but not a strong leader.  His challenge will be to decide whether he really is a ‘listening leader’, willing to compromise on his personal values in the causes of party unity and electoral success.

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