The Leadership Election

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?

Jon Owen Jones is a former Wales Office Minister and Labour Whip

12 thoughts on “The Leadership Election

  1. Jeremy Corbyn is indeed a sincere man, and – whether we are Labour supporters or not – we in Wales mostly share the underlying prinicples of his political analysis. We watch with interest as he hopes to unpeel the Labour party from its evil Conservative Party twin. Tweedledee from Tweedledum.

    It will be interesting to see what transpires if he gets chosen. Would sticking – sincerely – to past shibboleths cause the wheels to drop off his new bandwagon. If he recognises that the Imperial Westminster system is broken beyond repair, would he have the ability to do something radical about it.

    A good time, though, for Welsh Labour to go and bang the table. Rattle the cage a bit, and demand a few fundamental things.

  2. Well, he would say that…wouldn’t he. It’s a little too late for this (ballot papers have gone out) and typical of a politician to cover their arses.
    Labour are ‘unelectable’ with the current ‘leadership’ contenders so why not be unelectable with someone who appears to hold to his principles no matter how ‘old-fashioned’ they are? Most voters, even the new crop of insultingly called ‘entryists’ are old fashioned in their ways of thinking and perfectly able to judge for themselves.
    As to citing ancient history of ‘socialist’ failures in this and in countries who have societies and conditions not remotely like the UK’s, well, the world has moved on and it is high time a stick was stuck into the current world of political elitists in hock to global corporatism. If that means taking on ‘the common ownership of the means of production distribution and exchange’ then so be it. No matter how badly this is implemented (and it will be) perhaps it will be better for us hoi poloi than ‘mega rich super elite ownership of the means etc etc’.
    Interesting times.

  3. First of all I find it amazing that in Labour-controlled Wales a non-Labour supporter is the first to comment on this piece (subject to moderation). Corbyn presents an ideological challenge to the Labour hierarchy. Clause 4 was the ideological bedrock of the party but now that it’s gone nothing has taken its place. Labour supporters therefore have the choice between an unreconstructed leftie like Corbyn and…..what precisely? Burnham, Cooper and Kendal all offer variants of the recent Labour machine (Blairite) politics, and they all say “Look” (Burnham less so). Corbyn comes across as a genuine guy relaxed with who he is and what he believes in. Hard to wonder that he should appeal particularly to those who have been invited to participate in the discount election (for many their first political act).

    If he wins, which would be refreshing, things may be more interesting than Labour doomsayers fear, but that depends on what happens across the House over Europe, the Human Rights Act, by-election degradation of Cameron’s (Mr 25%) majority, and “Events,dear boy, events.”

  4. I am not taking a line in supporting or denigrating any particular Labour candidate but I think Jon Owen Jones goes wrong in saying Corbyn’s anti-austerity necessarily implies more debt. The alternative to more debt is more taxes. And Corbyn does want to end tax avoidance and to raise corporation tax and higher rates of income tax. Not necessarily shrewd but there it is. Moreover trash talk about leaving debt for our children is Osborne cant unworthy of Mr Jones. If the money is spent on infrastructure our children will have that. We are still using Victorian railways and sewers. Would we prefer not to have them and a lower public debt – which none of us even notices? Of course not. Take out a mortgage and buy a house. Your kids will be grateful for the house and not care about the mortgage, especially if you can borrow at today’s interest rates.. You can understand why Mr Corbyn is doing so well when you see sensible mainstream Labour people like Mr Jones swallowing the Tory tripe that passes for economic analysis. True the British public swallowed it too. More fool them.

  5. Tredwyn ah the foolish electorate; well that`s a problematic view for a democrat. Generally I find the common sense of the public preferable to the ideological certainty of the committed who`s beliefs blind them to the evidence around. The UK`s level of debt will never be paid by this generation even if we started now; which we are not. However you make a fair point about investments. My parents experienced grinding poverty and they feared debt throughout their lives. However they drew a distinction between borrowing to buy a house and borrowing to go on holiday.I would draw a similar distinction between investments in infrastructure and education with that of pensions and welfare. Yes those that are arguing against austerity today cite infrastructure but they do so as additions not alternatives.

  6. George Bernard Shaw it was who said the majority is always wrong. Replace always by often and you have the truth. I am a democrat not because the majority is usually right but because alternative systems are worse. Minorities end up ruling in their own interest. Being a democrat doesn’t mean you have to repeat pieties about vox populi. George Bush was elected and so was Hitler. i’d call those mistakes, one serious, one catastrophic. Electing British Conservatives is usually a mistake for most people, if less serious.
    The way out of a deficit is to restrain expenditure to slower growth than revenue. Revenue will grow if the economy does and the deficit closes gradually. Attempts to accelerate that too much can cause stagnation or recession as Osborne demonstrated 2010-2013. The public wasn’t paying attention. it is true that Corbyn cannot pay for all his promises in a single Parliament, probably not in two. I’ve no doubt the media will draw that to the public’s attention,

  7. Debt: JOJ says it won’t be paid in this generation. Of course not. There has been outstanding government debt for over a century. It is never paid off and quite right too. There is a steady demand to hold government debt, notably by pension funds and insurance companies who need default-free long dated assets. Servicing the debt means transferring money from tax-payers to bondholders. That happens in this generation and will happen in the next. The only way to make the future better off is by investing in infrastructure and know-how. Not doing so makes them poorer.

  8. @ R Tredwyn

    The point is how do you advance a political discussion by attacking the views and votes of the electorate?

  9. Who is attacking votes? And how else do you advance political discussion except by telling people they are wrong when you believe they are?

  10. Telling people they are wrong is simply arrogant, when all you are really saying is that you disagree. You win the argument by demonstrating that your interpretation of the facts or events is a better one than the others available and let others decide whether you are right or wrong by examining the strength of your case. I have strong and passionate views about a lot of things; that doesn’t mean I’m right.

  11. You implicitly tell people they are wrong by persuading them that your contrary viewpoint is right. You are talking about presentation of an argument not substance. You are charming and I am arrogant but that’s secondary. If we believe contrary things we can’t both be right.

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