IN MY VIEW
There appears to be a trend among high-profile, left-wing commentators of late, specifically those who have been vocal advocates of Jeremy Corbyn in the past. A number of them are now publicly dropping support for the Labour leader by writing lengthy articles critiquing why he will fail. But all these blogs share similar problems. They leave out crucial facts and completely underestimate the importance of Corbyn staying as leader of the Labour Party.
Like a medieval plague that is sweeping the liberal media, these journalists and writers have all been attempting to purge themselves of their support for Corbyn. The metaphorical bloodletting in the form of blogs has been frequent. Dr Frances Ryan wrote in The Guardian on 25 July; Owen Jones penned one which went viral on 31 July; Alex Andreou released one on the news site Byline Media on 6 August.
Cards on the table. I’m all for as much varied opinion being out there as possible. As I wrote in an article for The Canary on 1 August, I think everyone who wants to write a blog should. And I’m not dismissing the content of these journalists’ comment pieces out of hand. They all (especially Jones’) had some valid points which should be heeded.
But it’s the points they don’t make, the obtuseness of some of the ones they do, and their assumptions which concern me the most. Because with their high profiles and (as Polly Toynbee referred to them) their “fan base” of readers, their influence is far-reaching. Yet many of their repeated criticisms are, at the same time, rather irritating.
Flies in the Corbyn ointment
Take the argument that Corbyn failed to convince people they should vote Remain in the EU referendum, for example. Andreou says in his blog that “there was a strange disconnect there; an active avoidance” from Corbyn. If you ignore the fact that Corbyn made more appearances than any other Labour figure (even though Alan Johnson was leading the Labour campaign), that the BBC basically took Labour off air, and that countless other Labour MPs’ constituencies voted Leave (including Johnson’s), then yes, Corbyn failed miserably. It’s all Corbyn’s fault. Except it’s obviously not. It’s just a convenient stick to beat him with.
Then there’s the opinion polling, a somewhat dull argument lacking any nuance. Jones says in his Medium article that:
Labour’s current polling is calamitous. No party has ever won an election with such disastrous polling, or even come close. Historically any party with such terrible polling goes on to suffer a bad defeat … So my question is: how is this polling turned around?
Yes, they’re not good, but this isn’t business as usual, politically. Left-wing journalists broadly acknowledge that the media are playing a significant role in sullying Corbyn’s image (as numerous studies have shown), but still they propagate the polls as a disaster.
Bear in mind where Corbyn is coming from. The public has had over three decades of essentially neoliberal politicians, dressed in Savile Row suits, espousing vacuous platitudes while grinning inanely – all the time with a bankers’ hand up their backsides. Extreme conditioning of the electorate has occurred, and that isn’t going to be undone overnight. Or do Jones, Andreou and their ilk actually prefer a return to stiff, manufactured politicians at the expense of meaningful change?
There’s also the argument that Corbyn has no policies. Given he’s only been leader since September – and for four of those months the focus has been on local elections, the EU referendum, the Labour coup, and the subsequent leadership battle – is it any wonder he may have been rather vague? And at this juncture, policies are not essential, although he has released a ten-point plan. Note the previous subject. Corbyn has got to start the process of breaking down the consensus that has reigned for over three decades, not run fast and loose with off-the-hoof policy ideas.
But there is one, glaring piece of Corbyn’s agenda that all these journalists fail to address – either through naivety or obtuseness. And it’s one which explains the vehement hostility towards the Labour leader from most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and is ultimately the reason Corbyn must remain in power. It is the Labour leader’s stance on multinational corporations.
The elephant in the room
Jones wrote an excellent article in The Guardian on 4 August surrounding the scandal of Byron Burgers setting up some of its workers, in cooperation with the Home Office, to be deported under immigration laws. In it, he said of Byron’s tax avoidance that:
These are companies that depend on the state – for everything from infrastructure to in-work benefits to top up their workers’ wages – but fail to contribute back…
large accountancy firms are sent to the Treasury to help draw up tax laws, and then tell clients how to avoid the laws they have helped to design. The way the law is systematically rigged in favour of tax-avoiding companies tells us much about the balance of power in modern British society.
The large accountancy firms that Jones refers to are known as ‘The Big Four‘. They are PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte, Ernst & Young (E&Y), and KPMG. They are indeed seconded to the Treasury, to advise on all areas of policy. What Jones fails to mention is that they also donate to the Labour Party in the form of advisers and consultancy services for their economic and tax policies.
One such example is the £58,530 in services that was donated by PwC between November 2011 and May 2012 to the Shadow Treasury team (via Owen Smith, oddly). But this was small change compared to the £386,605 worth of advice they gave in the last three months of 2014, and over £600,000 in total under Ed Miliband. Deloitte has gifted Labour with support in the past and KPMG has given over £250,000 of advice.
‘The Big Four’ are responsible for the auditing of nearly every major bank in the world, so to say they are highly influential would be an understatement. As the late Labour MP Michael Meacher wrote in a blog:
The evidence piles up that the private sector auditors of banks have manifestly failed in their duties. All the major banks received unqualified audit opinions from [The Big Four]. Private sector auditors have a history of silence and are immersed in too many conflicts of interest… Accounting firms have shown no concern for serving the public or the national interest.
So with evidence piling up that Labour has, in the past, been as heavily involved in the dubious affairs of ‘The Big Four’, you’d think Jones (after his Byron column) would be praising Corbyn and John McDonnell for their stance on the accountancy firms. After all, McDonnell said this in his House of Commons speech about the Panama Papers scandal:
We have to be honest about this – supposedly reputable accountancy firms here in London play their part. PwC have … aided tax avoidance “on an industrial scale”. Deloitte have advised big businesses on avoiding tax in African countries. E&Y act as tax advisors to Facebook, Apple, and Google. And just last month KPMG has had one of its tax avoidance schemes declared illegal by the High Court. All together, the Big Four accountancy firms earn at least £2bn annually from their tax operations.
Yet Jones fails to acknowledge this point. McDonnell’s stance is probably why none of ‘The Big Four’ have provided services to Labour since Corbyn came to power. Meacher also spoke of banks influencing political policy and how they’d react to legislation:
Banks will of course resist this, and have proved very adept at lobbying to resist legislation. Much of their lobbying power remains hidden from public scrutiny. All banks should be required therefore to publish the names of the lobbyists used, the public officials lobbied, the precise details of the lobbying pursued, and the amounts spent on the lobbying.
The likelihood is that these “hidden” lobbyists are ‘The Big Four’, and interestingly there is currently legislation being debated in the House of Lords, surrounding lobbying. Brought in by the Labour trade unionist peer Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, it looks to end the often shady business of corporate lobbying within parliament, where so many corporations hold power over policy making decisions.
And it’s exactly this power that Corbyn is threatening. Because not only are he and McDonnell questioning the influence of ‘The Big Four’, but they are also looking to drastically overhaul Labour’s policy making process – which may exclude large corporations from the process altogether.
The friend of the elephant in the room
In a speech last November, Corbyn said that “too often … the democratic decisions of our conference have been ignored by the party leadership”, calling for members to have “the chance to take part in indicative online ballots on policy in between annual conferences” to decide on policy. This would mean “opening up decision-making … to the hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters”.
Currently, policy (while voted on at the party’s annual conference) is mostly decided in the leader’s office or by the National Policy Forum, an elected body drawn from all wings of the party that oversees policy on a regular cycle. But the basis for policy itself invariably comes from somewhere else – consultations carried out by corporations. And invariably, these companies have been far from impartial on the topics they have advised on.
Take Labour’s fracking policy, which saw the party abstain on a full moratorium in January 2015, ignoring advice from Friends of the Earth. The party’s actual policy was devised from a joint report by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Originally commissioned for the coalition government, the report was co-authored by Dr. John Roberts, chairman of two Asset Management Companies and the Royal Bank of Canada, who all advise on investments in the US shale gas industry. Furthermore, a director and a consultant, both from “Cluff Natural Resources” (a company collaborating with Halliburton on shale gas exploration in the UK, and a Tory party donor), also worked on this report.
Then there was The Armitt Review into infrastructure policy (Lord Armitt, incidentally, sits on the management advisory board of Siemens, who are subcontractors for Trident). Consultants on this included Lord Adonis, the founder of Barclays Infrastructure Funds Management; Rachel Lomax, a non-executive Director at HSBC who provided banking services to fracking company Cuadrilla and gave a £63m banking facility to Dart Energy (the company planning to go into Coal Bed Methane (CBM) production in Scotland); and David Rowlands, Chairman of Angel Trains Group (a provider of rolling stock to private train operators) and Semperian PPP Investment Partners, owners of loans under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, among others.
As The Canary previously reported, most of Ed Balls’ economic policy came from think-tanking with the likes of former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers (a man considered to be one of the Bill Clinton-era policy architects that led to the 2008 financial crash). The ideology which dominated Miliband’s Labour was based around Balls’ and Summers’ conclusions. An overarching ideal called ‘Inclusive Prosperity’.
Simply put, it was the notion that wealth hadn’t been trickling down and that it was time to redress the balance, via various methods. It impacted nearly every other area of Labour’s manifesto. But the nuts and bolts of the mantra weren’t that at all. As I wrote in January 2015, Inclusive Prosperity actually had its roots in a joint project between the management consultants at McKinsey & Company and right-wing think-tank The Henry Jackson Society:
“Inclusive Capitalism” is described as a “long-term” way of “maximizing the extent to which capitalism can heal its own ills”, in the hope that “the capitalist system that has made our societies great will continue to do so”.
Inclusive Capitalism was, in turn, based on the findings of a group called ‘Focusing Capital on the Long-Term’, a think-tank dedicated to ‘value creation’ for investors and markets, whose members included Barclays, AXA, and Unilever. Essentially, what underscored most of Miliband’s policies were the wishes of those sat in corporate boardrooms.
Jones said in his Medium article that, fundamentally, Corbyn’s policies were no different from Miliband’s. This is demonstrably false, as Corbyn’s policies are not born out of the vested interests of multinational companies.
Furthermore, Jones professes that there are similarities between Corbyn and Miliband. For example, that the latter and Andy Burnham “regretted the extent of NHS private sector involvement”; ignoring the admission by Burnham that private companies and an internal market (under his Labour Party) would still operate in the NHS.
Corbyn’s attitudes towards the involvement of corporations and how Labour Party policy is formed are a huge departure from the previous way of doing things. And this cannot be underestimated. Almost 20 years of an extreme coziness between big business and those high-up in the party would be over. And this is something that most commentators, when assessing Corbyn, ignore. But the PLP, in its apparent disdain for the current Labour leader, are undoubtedly not ignoring this.
Slamming the revolving door shut
With Corbyn’s casting out of big corporations, business as usual in the Labour Party would come to an end. Organisations like The Fabian Society (whose donors include Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, and Cuadrilla) and Progress (whose donors include Lord Sainsbury and The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association) would find their influence, along with that of their corporate backers, diminished.
Individual corporate donors would no longer hold sway, which they probably already realise. The likes of Assem Allam (who The Canary previously reported on), Sir Victor Blank (former Chairman of Lloyds Group) and John Mills (founder of retail group JML) have stopped donating to the party’s central fund, and have instead ploughed their money into the funds of MPs like Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, and Liz Kendall.
As journalist Matthew Lynn warned in an article for MoneyWeek last year, entitled “The rise of Corbynomics is no joke – we must nip it in the bud”, the election of Corbyn:
would be a disaster – as far left governments always have been. The government, and business, must patiently take the time to explain why the ideas pushed out by the likes of Corbyn are dangerous. Otherwise they will end up part of the mainstream debate, grow more influential – and make us all poorer.
Disaster for whom? Surely not the average worker who would benefit from increased rights, £10 an hour, £500bn of investment in public services and the like? The ‘disaster’ would be for large corporations and multinational banks which have previously held a knife to the throat of the Labour Party and been able to influence policy perpetually.
As Nick Laitner of MHP Communications (a lobbying firm which acts as a go-between for big business and MPs) said in an interview surrounding the election of Corbyn as Labour leader:
Most [corporations], engaging on issues that matter to them, will clearly be treated with a greater level of hostility than they are used to…
picking off individual MPs and factions within the Party will be crucial to ensure support for an issue or policy. The realist wing of the party (led by Chuka [Umunna], Liz [Kendall] and Tristram [Hunt], among others) will become a safe space for those for whom business is not a dirty word.
But Corbyn’s severing of ties with corporations would also mean the ‘revolving door’ between being an MP and having a cosy job in the private sector when you retire would be slammed shut. The likes of Lord Darling, Lord Blunkett, Lord Mandelson et al could be unemployed now if it wasn’t for the perpetual back-scratching that has occurred for many, many years.
And it’s all this which explains why some members of the PLP are so against Corbyn. It’s not their kind, heartfelt concern for the electorate or their incessant protestations that Corbyn is unelectable and would therefore force us all to suffer another Tory government. Nor is it that his policies are unrealistic. It’s that the courting of big businesses (which has been so rampant that the party may as well employ a pimp) will end, along with their future careers.
Corbyn, therefore, has to win on this basis. Because if he doesn’t, we’ll merely end up with what was presented to us under Miliband. Essentially a Blairite ‘Third Way’ Mark II, where corporate interests are superior to yours and mine. Not only will that damn us to decades more business as usual, with the poor getting the scraps off the table of the rich, but it will cause irreparable damage to the left as a whole.
But it doesn’t explain the fact that the likes of Owen Jones, Alex Andreou and their peers fail to even acknowledge any of this. Corbyn is planning to bring about some of the biggest changes the Labour Party has seen since the 1990s. Changes which will infuriate fellow MPs, corporations and the media alike. And some commentators don’t even consider this as part of the explanation as to why the opposition to Corbyn is so ferocious.
Maybe they are naive. Or forgetful. Or intentionally blind, as they still believe that a Labour Party in the pocket of big business is the best way forward. But if years of scandals surrounding the banks, multinational corporations, and the wealthiest in society have taught us anything, it’s surely that it is time to end their domination of society. And the only feasible way to do this, at present, is through Corbyn, even if he isn’t perfect. And if Jones, Andreou, and the rest of the metropolitan chattering class don’t realise or accept this, maybe it’s time they stood aside for people who do.
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