British Labour Party Leader Harkens Back to 1980s

On everything from union rights to the Falklands, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be living in the past.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn appears on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show, January 17
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn appears on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, January 17 (BBC/Jeff Overs)

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn harkened back to the early 1980s on Sunday when he supported the legalization of solidarity strikes and called for unilateral nuclear disarmament as well as an “accommodation” with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

In an appearance on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, the left-wing leader also proposed legislation to stop companies paying dividends if they rely on “cheap labor.”

The issues must have sounded familiar to Corbyn, who started his parliamentary career in 1983. But they are a far cry from the concerns of most British voters today.

This website earlier argued that Corbyn seeks to reverse the Thatcherite consensus and return Labour to the 1970s when it was openly socialist and divided on foreign policy.

Polls show that such a lurch to the left would almost certainly doom Labour’s chances in the next election.

Trade unions

Halting the decline of Britain’s trade unions is a priority for the Labour Party leader who was elected in September with strong support from affiliated union members.

Labour relies disproportionately on the unions for its funding.

On Sunday, Corbyn reiterated his opposition to reforms proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron who would require future — not existing — trade union members to opt in rather than opt out of contributing toward political campaigns. Now their dues are automatically used to support only Labour.

The Conservatives also want to require unions to have the support of at least 40 percent of their members before calling a strike.

But Corbyn went further, saying he wants to repeal 1980s laws that banned flying picketing and solidarity action.

Sympathy strikes were first banned in Britain in 1927. Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government lifted the ban in 1946, but Margaret Thatcher reintroduced it in 1980.

Far-left supporters of Corbyn’s recently urged sympathizers to join a strike by junior doctors who are protesting plans to open all government-run health services on weekends.

“I think we have to look at the question not of what trade unions are forced to do ultimately, but the causes of the problems in the first place,” Corbyn suggested.

Trident

He also reiterated his opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent on Sunday, calling it a relic from a “Cold War generation”.

Most Labour lawmakers are believed to favor keeping the submarine program, which is after all the official party line.

But Corbyn wants to use a vote that is expected to be called later this year on a necessary upgrade of the deterrent to do away with nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, he replaced Labour’s pro-Trident shadow defense secretary, Maria Eagle, with the anti-Trident Emily Thornberry.

On Sunday, he suggested — to an incredulous Andrew Marr — that Britain could keep the submarines but not install nuclear weapons on them. “They don’t have to have warheads on them,” he said.

One of the four boats is always at sea, carrying up to sixteen Trident missiles. Each can be fitted with a number of warheads which can be directed at a dozen different targets.

Corbyn said last year that, if elected prime minister, he would never authorize the use of nuclear weapons. Eagle argued at the time that Corbyn’s statement “undermined to some degree” Labour’s policy.

Falklands

Asked about the Falkland Islands, Corbyn also veered to the pacifist left, saying, “It seems to me ridiculous that in the twenty-first century we’d be getting into some enormous conflict with Argentina about the islands just off it.”

Britain fought — and won — just such a war in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falklands.

Corbyn previously called that war a “plot” by the Thatcher government to distract voters from unemployment.

Argentina has reasserted its claims since oil was found in a field north of the archipelago.

Four British combat aircraft and a Royal Navy warship are deployed to the islands.

In 2013, all but three out of 1,517 voters said they wanted the Falklands to remain an overseas British territory in a referendum.

Despite prodding from the interviewer, Corbyn would only say the islanders deserve an “enormous say” in how they are governed, not a total right to self-determination.