Why doesn’t Corbyn just go and join the Tories?

by George Kendall

Jeremy Corbyn’s astonishing victory in the Labour leadership contest of 2015 was in reaction to the then Labour leadership’s decision to abstain on some parts of the Tory welfare bill. At the time, Corbyn said: “Families are suffering enough. We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake”.

On being elected leader, Corbyn was remorseless in continuing his attacks on welfare cuts.

In autumn 2015, Corbyn’s ally, the Shadow Chancellor, committed to reversing the tax credit cuts in full. He tweeted: “We are calling on Osborne to reverse his decision to cut tax credits. If he doesn’t reverse these cuts, we’re making it clear that we will”.

Even as recently as Monday of this week, in his interview with Jeremy Paxman, Corbyn said: “I am fighting this election on something very important, that is the levels of poverty in our society, the levels of children that are not supported properly in our society. I’m fighting this election on social justice”. (7.15 mins in)

These are stirring words. But are they actually true?

Earlier in the interview, after considerable pressure from Paxman, he said that benefits wouldn’t be frozen for three years (3.33 mins in here). According to the respected independent think-tank, the IFS, this would require an additional £3.3bn per year, yet any funding to pay for this is missing from his costed manifesto.

Even more striking is that his explicit commitment in the Paxman interview, to ensure that “children are properly supported in our society” isn’t matched by his manifesto, which fails to reverse child tax credit cuts, a change that would have required £4.8bn per year. In addition, his manifesto only allocates £2 billion of the £3 billion per year that would be needed to reverse cuts to universal credit.

In combination, these cuts will take £9.1 billion per year from the lowest paid in our society.

Instead, he and his team have chosen to allocate most funds to initiatives which will be particularly attractive to middle-class voters.

Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation is scathing: “both parties are guilty of neglecting the living standards concerns of working families by allowing George Osborne’s welfare cuts to be rolled out, either in full with the Conservatives or largely intact under Labour’s plans.

Was an anti-poverty manifesto possible? The Liberal Democrats showed it was. The IFS writes, “the Liberal Democrats propose to reverse nearly all of the significant cuts to working-age benefits that are currently planned over the next few years.” As Rupert Myers, political correspondent of GQ magazine, said:

It is not just the Liberal Democrats of 2017 who have proposed policies on benefits to reduce poverty.  From 1997, the New Labour government introduced many progressive changes to tax and benefits (see graphic below). This was at a time when global trends were increasing inequality in wages, and these changes had a significant impact on improving the living standards of those on low incomes.

Where Corbyn is timid on social justice, he appears to be radical on foreign policy. Though his manifesto now says he is not proposing withdrawal from NATO, he has proposed this in the recent past. He has outraged many with his failure to condemn Russian atrocities in Syria, and his paid appearance on an Iranian state TV station that was complicit in the forced confession of a tortured journalist. Even more serious, is that most of the people he appoints to senior positions have similar histories.

Corbyn supporters may describe themselves as socialist, but there must be a question mark over how progressive they are. Many of their followers constantly accuse moderates in the Labour party of being Red Tories, or Tory-Lite.  Yet, on the key issue of how tax and welfare policy will improve or damage the lives of those in poverty, Corbyn seems to be playing political games, and he himself has chosen the Tory-Lite position.

Do I think Corbyn really believes in the manifesto his team have produced? No. I think it’s a cynical ploy, and part of a strategy to firm up hard left control of the Labour party. What will happen to Labour policy after that, and concerns over the implications for the UK are a subject for another article.

But if Corbyn were sincere, and if it weren’t for his anti-Western foreign policy, I’d be suggesting he and his friends just go and join the Tories.

George Kendall is convener of the Social Democrat Group – a Liberal Democrat organisation to build links with social democrats outside the party. He writes in a personal capacity


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8 Responses to “Why doesn’t Corbyn just go and join the Tories?”

  1. Huw Dawson says:

    It’s baffling why the Labour manifesto chooses to spend huge piles of cash on nationalisation and not on the poorest in society.

  2. The Labour commitment to abolish university tuition fees for new students is the sort of populist election bribe we expect from the Tories. If there’s money to spare for post-16 education it should be devoted to the 50% of the age cohort who do not go to university. However, if to govern is to choose, why has Labour chosen to direct its largesse to a section of the population who will in due course be among the higher earners in our society?

  3. Ian says:

    George is right that, for all the radicalism that Corbyn wishes to thrust upon the rest of the world, his economics and financial policies are extraordinarily timid. The Liberal ‘People’s Budget’ of 1906 or Labour in 1948 this ain’t.

    Fair play to the LibDems in putting together a significantly fairer approach to tax and benefits, within an economic policy that analysts suggest is likely to be the most successful of the three parties.

  4. uglyfatbloke says:

    Is that he same Lib-Dems that;s teaming up with Scottish Labour to get Tories elected in Scotland?

  5. Will says:

    Thought provoking indeed. Certainly shows that there has been a gap between the “branding” and the actual, real effects on the poorest in society, given the current manifesto.

  6. BenM says:

    Oh dear – that chart is disingenuous, isn’t it!

    You’re comparing a tax and benefit system 10 years after Labour elected to what Corbyn might propose for the next parliament? Really?

    Don’t I recall something from 1997 about sticking to Tory spending limits? What good did that do for poorer families immediately after Blair’s election?

    And also I recall Blairites traisping through the voting lobbies to cut payments to single parents just to show how “tough” and “hard” they were.

  7. @BenM
    No, I’ve not written about what Corbyn might propose for the next parliament,
    I’ve written about what Corbyn *has* proposed for the next parliament.

    Let’s put it another way. By proposing that $9 billion pounds of proposed Tory welfare cuts should stand (but which haven’t yet been implemented),
    Corbyn is proposing $9 billion pounds of welfare cuts which will severely harm the living standards of the poorest in our society.

    For a politician who claims to be fighting for social justice, it’s indefensible.

    No wonder you’re the only Corbyn supporter who’s tried to refute what I’ve said in this thread. Hopefully the others are just too ashamed.

  8. Martin says:

    Corbyn and his friend’s Labour manifesto seems to be predicated on an assumption that Corbyn will not be PM. The manifesto is part of a political game;more about posture than policy. Were Corbyn to become PM, the fallout would be quite hilarious for onlookers. On the up side I would expect Brexit to unravel sooner.

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