Jeremy Corbyn Is the Only Labour Leader Candidate at the Centre of British Politics

He's supposed to be on the far-out fringe-left, but on key issues he's more in touch with what the public thinks than his competitors are.

by Aaron Bastani
27 July 2015, 11:40am

When Jeremy Corbyn first announced his candidacy for the Labour leadership nobody, including the man himself, thought he could win. Viewed by most as a relic of the party's radical past, his role was a simple one: appease the large but relatively powerless left-wing of its membership and, most importantly, lose.

How things have changed. Corbyn, who began the campaign as the 100-1 outsider, is now – according to a survey conducted by polling gurus YouGov – the odds-on favourite to win. Those who viewed his candidacy as no more than a sop to the party's socialist wing are rattled. The perennial rebel of the Labour benches, he has defied the wishes of his party leadership more than 500 times, is a genuine contender.

That has led to a barrage of criticism directed at Corbyn and his increasingly febrile base of support. Appearing on BBC Newsnight John McTernan, a former adviser to Tony Blair, described last week's YouGov figures as indicative of how Labour activists are "suicidally inclined". Soon enough his former boss weighed in, speaking of how the "debilitating feature" of the race was how it was being presented as a choice "between the heart and the head". Blair kindly added that those who say their heart is with team Corbyn "should just get a transplant". And yet neither critic, or indeed any of the several dozen others who spoke out against Corbyn last week, mentioned a specific policy they disagreed with him on.

That's because on a number of issues, Corbyn's thinking actually aligns with a growing, unspoken consensus among the general public. When you take a deeper look, Corbynomics appeals to both the head and the heart. You might even call it "the centre" of British politics.

Take the country's railways. Despite the fact that they are meant to be in private ownership, the public still pays multi-billion pound subsidies to the operating companies. Astonishingly, much of that money doesn't pay for cheaper tickets, new trains or better infrastructure but goes directly to shareholders in the form of profits. British rail privatisation is one of the biggest scams going and research last December revealed that taking the railways back into public ownership would save the taxpayer more than £350 million a year.

The trademark of New Labour was that it did "what works" regardless of fusty old ideology. Re-nationalising Britain's railways would appear to be precisely that. That Corbyn's rivals refuse to even consider it, despite all the evidence, shows they are more tied down to an ideology than the MP for Islington North is.

As well as making economic sense, re-nationalisation is also popular. Six in ten Brits in favour of it and even Tory voters evenly divided on the matter. Perhaps more than any other policy, train de-privatisation would represent an easy win for Labour, bringing down costs for the public and reducing the deficit in the process. It's the centre of public opinion, and yet only Corbyn is staking a claim to it.

In a similar vein, Corbyn also wants to re-nationalise Britain's energy utilities. He explicitly said as much on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning. And who could disagree with him when energy companies have overcharged consumers by billions of pounds a year while seeing a ten-fold increase in profits since 2007? Research last year demonstrated that the public would save an amazing £4.2 billion a year if the energy companies were brought into public ownership – £158 for every household in the country. It's no surprise then that 68 percent of the public already think that doing it would be a great idea.

Its the same story with the country's nuclear deterrent. One of the hallmark issues of May's general election, Ed Miliband's flip-flopping on it summed up his problem as Labour leader: in trying to please everyone he persuaded very few. In stark contrast, the Scottish National Party made a principled case against renewing Trident, in the process aligning themselves with public opinion which, for the most part, views it as a giant waste of money.

Just like renationalising the railways, not renewing Trident represents the unspoken centre-ground of British politics with poll after poll showing a clear majority against it. In a 2009 survey for the Independent 58 percent of respondents said the Government should scrap the programme and not replace it. A year later that figure stood at 63 percent in a poll for the Mail on Sunday. Importantly, that figure keeps growing with 79 percent telling a Guardian poll in April 2014 that they did not think the country needed to replace Trident with a new nuclear capability.

In fact rather than renewing Britain's nukes, most people want the government to use the country's platform on the world stage for good, with a recent ComRes poll showing that more than six in ten Brits would like to see an international deal banning nuclear weapons altogether. Most people know that spending £100 billion on genocidal lumps of metal is really stupid. The fact that scrapping it is off the table for most politicians shows that austerity is more about priorities than necessity. People can go hungry or homeless but the at least nation maintains the capability to wipe out waste swathes of humanity.

On housing Corbyn, again, is the only candidate offering bold policies which are actually popular. He believes that introducing rent control – legal caps on how much rent you have to pay – is the only means to bring down the costs of housing benefit in a fair way. Not only would such a measure actually reduce public spending and be in the interests of the less well-off but, again, it would be popular with 60 percent of the public in favour of rent controls and only 25 percent opposed to them. Presumably some of those are landlords.

Corbyn is the only candidate who understands that the housing crisis doesn't just affect those who want to be homeowners, but that private renters are more pissed off than anyone. That's important because it's the latter whose numbers are rising, with 5.4 million households now in the private rental sector – double the figure for 2001. A decade from now, that is set to rise to 7.2 million households, more than the number of households projected to have a mortgage.

With rents rising faster than wages and more people renting a home than owning one, if you haven't got a plan that will get the backing of private renters, you can wave goodbye to forming a Labour government in five or ten years time. Only Corbyn is capable of reaching out to this crucial and rapidly growing section of the electorate, most of whom did not vote last time.

The truth is that on many of his policies, while he is presented as a dinosaur stuck in the ways of the 1980s, Corbyn is less ideological than his opponents. The likes of Kendall, Cooper and Burnham aren't "pragmatists" who prefer whatever works, but pursue the policies they do out of a commitment to free-market principles even when, as with housing, energy and the railways, they obviously don't work.

There is nothing "aspirational" about spending a hundred billion on nukes or having the taxpayer subsidise private train operators, energy companies and landlords. While there are areas where much of the public disagrees with Corbyn, most notably on Britain getting rid of its monarchy and becoming a republic, more and more people are realising that this Labour-lefty is the only politician offering solutions to the biggest challenges of our time: low pay, high bills and not much of a future for young people. Corbyn might win the leadership and never become Prime Minister, but if he prevails this September it will be the beginning of a realignment in English politics. The old guard of New Labour, meanwhile, has never looked more out of touch with the public.


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