Corbyn Advocates Throwback to 1970s Britain

From nuclear disarmament to union rights, Jeremy Corbyn champions forty-year old policies.

A demonstration against nuclear weapons in Oxford, England, 1980
A demonstration against nuclear weapons in Oxford, England, 1980 (Kim Traynor)

Despite earlier promises of “debate” and inclusion, Britain’s new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is determined to push his far-left agenda through on at least two issues dear to him: the government’s benefit cap and attempts to weaken union rights.

In his first print interview since being elected leader this month, Corbyn told the New Statesman that he expects Labour to “completely” oppose the Conservatives’ proposal to limit welfare benefits to £20,000 per year for adults and £23,000 for those living in London.

“It’s what I’ve put forward as leader and I’ve made that very clear,” he said.

Corbyn said the cap had a “devastating” impact on his own constituency of Islington North in inner London. “The benefit cap has had the effect of social cleansing,” he alleged.

The Conservatives argue that benefits shouldn’t pay more than a starting salary. The current cap, at £26,000, is almost equivalent to Britain’s median wage of £26,500 per year.

The proposed reduction to £20,000 would exempt those on disability benefits.

Previous Labour leaders supported the cap. Corbyn, who has voted against his own party hundreds of times since he was first elected to Parliament in 1983, rebelled and has always rejected the measure.

In the interview, he also reiterated his opposition to the government’s trade union bill which would require future — not existing — members to opt in rather than opt out of contributing toward political campaigns. It would also require at least 40 percent of a union’s members to support a strike before it can be called with a turnout requirement of 50 percent.

The unions are Labour’s main financial supporters. The bill threatens its ability to fund political campaigns.

But Corbyn goes further, saying he wants to repeal union laws from the 1980s as well that banned closed shops and prohibited flying picketing and solidarity action.

Labour members who took at face value his promises in recent weeks to allow debate in the party on such controversial matters shouldn’t by surprised by Corbyn’s change of heart. He told The Independent newspaper before he won the leadership election that he would expect them to respect the wishes not of those who elected them but of the party faithful.

“I will absolutely use our supporters to push our agenda up to the parliamentary party and get them to follow that,” he said at the time.

To Corbyn, who was elected with nearly 60 percent support — including 57 percent of the affiliated trade-union vote and 83 percent from newly-registered Labour supporters — this represents “a different way of doing politics,” he told the New Statesman, “which is about class politics rather than consumer politics.”

Of course, there is nothing new about class politics. In fact, The Spectator, a right-wing magazine, gets it right when it describes Corbyn’s platform as a throwback to the 1970s when the far left infiltrated the Labour Party.

For most British people, the late 1970s were dark days for Britain with union militancy regularly paralyzing the country. But the union bosses and Corbyn supporters yearn nostalgically for the return of that untrammelled power when membership stood at over 13 million, more than double the total of today.

Corbyn told the New Statesman he would defer to party members on two other old-time causes: unilateral disarmament and mandatory reselection.

The new leader’s opposition to renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent is longstanding, but he has so far shirked from imposing his view on the party.

As for mandatory reselection — where the party withdraws its support from elected officials — Corbyn has said he doesn’t want it.

But if Labour’s conference votes in favor next week, he would still pursue both policies, he said.

Centrist Labourites fear that opposing Britain’s nuclear submarine program would harm their party’s credibility on defense and they worry that reselection could be used to purge Corbyn’s opponents from Parliament.

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