Jon Owen Jones reflects on the Labour leadership race so far.
When Frank Field nominated Jeremy Corbyn to the Leadership of the Labour Party he made it clear that he did not support Mr Corbyn but wanted party members to “face up to the deficit”. Well it hasn’t worked out as he thought. The deficit has hardly been mentioned. Instead Jeremy and his supporters talk mainly of austerity. They are against it. They are for anti-austerity. The implication of this is that they are for more debt and for letting our children and grandchildren pay for our services. But, not to worry, no one is much bothered with implications.
The only implication that most other candidates have pointed out is that an anti-austerity platform would fail to get a Labour Government elected. I think this is certainly true but it sounds cynical if you don’t also explain that being against austerity is avoiding difficult but necessary decisions. There is a reason why people expect governments to be financially responsible.
I remember Jeremy as a colleague and particularly when I was a Labour whip. He was of course a persistent rebel and he couldn’t be bought off. He was and is sincere. In this contest this characteristic is a huge asset especially when his opponents fear to attack his ideas. They are reticent because the Labour party is a broad church and its leaders have long maintained a deliberately vague definition of its objectives. Are we a socialist party or a social democratic party? Few former party leaders would care to answer that question and would say that we are both or that there is no real distinction between the two. I can’t imagine Mr Corbyn taking that line.
Under his leadership party members will have to think what the party is for and what they really believe in. It won`t be enough to want a more equal society. My first party membership card was quite specific about how that equality would be achieved. Clause 4 promised to “secure for the workers…….the common ownership of the means of production distribution and exchange”. I believed in that when I was 20 and I think Jeremy still does. In the 98yrs since the first government put that objective into practice it has been tried in scores of countries. The results have not been encouraging. Even if we discount the lack of freedom and the slaughter and starvation of millions; socialist economies have been very poor in producing and distributing goods and managing the means of exchange. Indeed nearly every country which still calls itself socialist has now abandoned its production to crony capitalism. The notable exception being the socialist paradise that is North Korea.
The Russian revolution may have gone wrong but every subsequent socialist economy has also gone wrong. What should we learn from this? Well the Labour Party dumped its clause 4 but it replaced it with a vague piece of motherhood and apple pie. How do we make society more equal? Gender, race and sexual equality have improved but income inequality has grown with globalisation and information technology. In periods of strong growth income inequality is more tolerable but in recession and subsequent austerity Labour struggles to answer the problem and bridge the conflicting ideologies in itself. In the 80`s the Bennites and Militant very nearly destroyed Labour as a party of government. What was it that Marx said about history repeating itself as farce?