After all you hear from the camps of the other candidates for the Labour leadership and the media about his economic policies, you might believe that Corbyn was threatening to storm the Westminster Palace and the Bank of England with his Red Guards.
The proposals for renationalisation of the rail network and a gradual takeover of the private energy corporations are classified as ‘old policies’ by Corbyn’s opponents who attempt to portray them as unpopular.
But have things changed? The wasteful competition, the absence of accountability and the huge profits of the private companies that have taken over the rail, utilities and telecommunication industries are widely known. And unlike in the U.S. there is also a memory, however nostalgic, that things weren’t always like this and shouldn’t be like that now.
So the Blairites’ unexplained designation of them as ‘unpopular’ therefore makes little sense to working class people who are joining the Labour Party in their tens of thousands. And Corbyn’s policies are far more popular than the other contenders and there is little doubt that in spite of the media attacks they could win an election.
The problem I have with Jeremy’s policies is that they don’t go far enough. Why are the hugely profitable and competitively wasteful telecommunication industries also not brought back into public ownership? And why do we need to ‘buy back’ these industries that have already made excessive profits over the years at the peoples expense? Why don’t we bring ALL the banks under democratic public control?
But another problem I have with Jeremy’s policies is that it also underestimates the obstructions that might be put in the way of a government trying to reverse the Tories overwhelmingly privatised economy.
The book ‘A Very British Coup’ has been recently reversioned by former MP Chris Mullin. It is a book written at the time when the left got close to taking the leadership of the Labour Party in 1981. It is flawed in many ways but it does highlight the sabotage that the ‘establishment’ – the senior civil service, powerful well-connected capitalists and media moguls are capable of.
And that is why any programme of re-nationalisations needs to also advocate democratic workers’ control of those industries and the need to mobilise workers at every level of society.
Public ownership is not enough. Look at some of the heads of those industries in the past – Ian McGregor who first demolished the British Steel Corporation and then the National Coal Board when Thatcher was in power. But even more recently look at Bob Kiley, who was appointed by Ken Livingstone to run London Transport on a very high salary and who had a very poor relationship with tube workers under his management.
Regulation of private and profit-driven corporations would face even greater problems of being frustrated by powerful senior civil servant and capitalists with their own vested interests.
So the issue of who controls and for what purpose has to go hand-in-hand with who owns them and how they are regulated.
However the restoration of workers’ and trade union rights is a unique and positive element of Corbyn’s programme. As also is the desire of both him and John McDonnell MP, possibly the Shadow Chancellor under Corbyn, to have a thorough-going debate in the Labour Party.
The way forward is not only to end the domination of the Labour Party by pro-market politicians – we need further debate on how we ensure that workers can be involved in rebuilding an economy run for the needs of the people and not for profit.