Corbyn Danger? Danger for Whom?


Backing Corbyn

The “Corbyn Danger”: Danger for Whom?


Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail 

Hunter Thompson chose the title above for his book relating his eccentric take on the 1972 US presidential election.  In a somewhat different way, it is singularly appropriate to the current campaign for the Labour leadership.  With the outstanding exception of Ed Miliband, the notables of the Blair-Brown era can contain neither their fear nor their loathing of the front-runner, Jeremy Corbyn.  From this collection of “yesterday’s men” the attacks on the MP from North Islington come thick and fast, slings and arrow of the outrageous (á la Hamlet, Act II, scene 1).  Ex-PM Blair advises supporters of Corbyn to consider heart transplants.  Ex-cabinet member (now Lord) Mandelson quakes before the threat of a “lurch to the left” by the Labour Party.  And to these I can add former leader Neil Kinnock, ex-spinner Alastair Campbell and in veiled language ex-PM Gordon Brown.

Equally thick and fast come the attacks on Corbyn’s economic policies, notably in the Financial Times where the insurgent is described as a doing “potential harm to…British public life” for his advocacy of “radical” policies.  An inspection of his policies seems relevant with this and other allegations including from members of the Labour Party that Corbyn inhabits some extreme/hard left territory,

To do this I went to the source, the website for Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign a virtual visitor can download a statement of his economic policies, The Economy in 2020.


I begin with a Corbyn policy certain to send the neoliberals into anxiety, public ownership (aka nationalization/re-nationalization).  A pledge to take the railroad into the public sector features prominently on the campaign website.  After 35 years spent selling off public assets, this commitment to public ownership comes as a shock.

But, is it radical or hard-left?  A look to the continent suggests otherwise, where the public sector owns the railroads in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.  None of these countries have or had radical governments.  In the United States, very much neoliberal territory, the passenger rail company Amtrak is publicly owned.  Further, in 2013 the citizens of Hamburg voted to bring all public utilities into public ownership.

While public ownership is less common today that in the past, it is sufficiently frequent across the globe not to be unusual or rare.  The same point applies to the Ten Priorities listed in The Economy in 2020, which fall into three categories, opposition to fiscal austerity, taxation and re-structuring of the UK economy.

We find no ambiguity in the candidate’s position on fiscal cuts.  “Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity”, and Corbyn opposes it, promising “always to protect public services and support the most vulnerable”.  Closely related to opposition to austerity is “a publicly-led expansion and reconstruction of the economy with a big rise in investment levels”.

The commitment to “publicly-led” growth is likely to be more controversial that opposition to austerity, because anti-austerity does not necessity imply more expenditure while an increase in public investment would.  The implicit argument in defence of an increase in public investment is that it would generate faster growth and the taxation induced by the greater output would quickly eliminate the increase in the fiscal deficit required to fund the investment.

Also implicit is the “crowding in” process, that properly targeted public investment would foster private investment to restructure the economy.  Public investment priorities would be implemented through “a multibillion pound programme of infrastructure upgrades” including broadband networks.

Controversy has focused on the mechanism to fund the infrastructure update, “a National Investment Bank”, which some confuse with Corbyn’s references to a “People’s Quantitative Easing”.  The investment bank could fund its project either by sale of bonds to private buyers (“capital markets”), or by selling bonds to the Bank of England (“monetization of the deficit”).  The major difference between the two is that the former leaves the money supply unchanged, while the latter increases it by the amount of the investment.

The possibility of funding through selling bonds to the Bank of England prompted an attack on Corbyn from Labour shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, who alleged that this would be inflationary, and therefore “risks hurting some of the most poor, the most vulnerable, those on the lowest incomes”.

The “hurts those you wish to help” argument suffers from two serious problems.  First, the UK economy now suffers from pressures toward deflation not inflation, so that expansion of the monetary base is the appropriate policy.  Second, much empirical evidence indicates that contrary to Mr Leslie’s allegation very low inflation hurts the poor and benefits the rich.  One of the reasons should be obvious, inflationary pressures are associated with rising employment and wages.  In addition mild inflation devalues household debt and the poor are heavily indebted.

However, the mechanism to fund public investment and whether it would prove inflationary provides no support for the “hard left” accusation by Leslie.  We find national investment banks advocated by solidly mainstream economists (for example, Robert Skidelsky).  Funding of investment by borrowing from central banks is even more common – indeed, in the 1980s Ronald Reagan used this funding technique to cover current expenditure without generating notable inflationary pressures.


The revenue generating policies in The Economy in 2020 focus on increasing the progressivity of the overall tax structure.  This has three components: 1) a shift from indirect to direct taxes for households, 2) stronger measures to eliminate personal and corporate tax avoidance, and 3) “large reductions” in corporate tax relief and subsidies.

Economists, even if they prefer indirect taxes (taxes on expenditures) agree that these are regressive;  their share of gross income falls as income rises.  A reduction in VAT and an increase in personal income taxes that leaves total tax take unchanged would reduce income inequality.  A reform of the tax structure that would reduce inequality hardly qualifies as “hard left”.  In a recent FT article the decidedly right of centre Chris Giles cited the negative impact of inequality on economic growth (drawing on a study by the OECD, which confirmed an earlier study by the IMF).

The tax policies proposed by Jeremy Corbyn are not hard left, but they are controversial because they would reverse the inequality-enhancing trend of our public finances over the last thirty years.

The Corbyn Danger

The economic policies proposed by Jeremy Corbyn are certainly a break with the current consensus in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties (though not so different the anti-austerity Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru).  This makes them radical only if one has an extremely narrow view of the limits of legitimate debate.

The surprising aspect of Corbyn’s economic policies is not that they are radical and hard left, but that they would be perceived as such, especially by prominent people in the Labour Party which has many MPs committed to social democratic values.

Since the other three candidates for the leadership profess to different degrees concern with inequality, I would have expected criticism to focus on the inadequacy of Corbyn’s policies rather than their radical nature.  For example, his programme could place more emphasis on enforcing a “living wage”, more on legislation to strengthen collective bargaining, plus policies to limit the grotesque inflation of corporate salaries.

It appears that the source of Jeremy Corbyn’s radicalism and the outrage his candidacy provokes in the Labour elite lies not in his policies.  While leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband introduced fundamental reform in the process by which future party leaders would be chosen.  From a previous system of voting that gave the Parliamentary Party proportionally much greater election strength, the new system is one-member-one-vote, a change that two backbench MP called “disastrous” for which Miliband should apologize.

Therein, we find the profound radicalism of Jeremy Corbyn’s threat to  become Labour Party leader.  Should he win, it will be by a process that does not require the approval of the Labour Party elite.  Corbyn is not the danger that fills them with fear and loathing; it is the spectre of democracy.

Economist John Weeks is a Professor Emeritus of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Aspiration as Public Ownership – Start with the Public Railways


What more can we aspire to, but shelter, food, water and warmth for all – guaranteed?

The great Thatcher sell off of private assets, of energy, water, and transport under the guise that privatised means good, and public ownership bad may have fooled a blinkered few in the 1980s but the vast majority of the public know it has failed, and failed miserably. Important, vital utilities such as these should be under democratic control, and public ownership is a popular way of achieving this. It is scandalous that food and water can be treated as commodities to be gambled with. This was the Ultimate Theft. It has been a disaster, and there is widespread public support to bring these Utilities back into public ownership and democratic control.

Support for nationalisation

YouGov’s poll  shows wide public support for renationalisation of these utilities. Labour should not be running scared because the press says so.

Today, Jeremy Corbyn  announced his plans for a People’s Railway.

People's Railway

Jeremy plans to replace the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs) with a long-term procurement strategy based on strategic long-term investment in the railways to boost manufacturing, skills and jobs across the UK.

He will oversee a process which will ensure that all parts of the railway networks work together for the common good – with strategic management representing the industry, government (local and national), passengers and workers.

Once again Jeremy’s Vision of a new National Investment Bank is focussed as a source of public investment which will enable a co-operative model of public ownership and fund long-term infrastructure improvements and increased accessibility for disabled passengers.

By re-integrating the UK railways and running them co-operatively for the public good, we can bring social, economic and environmental gains:

  • Provide a more modern and integrated service for all passengers
  • More accessible trains and stations for disabled passengers
  • Better terms and conditions for rail workers
  • Benefit the environment by increasing rail capacity and reducing costs to encourage rail over car and air transport
  • Stimulate the economy by increasing investment in new high speed rail, creating jobs and connecting more towns and cities
  • Give passengers, rail workers and politicians more democratic say over the strategic development of UK railways.
  • Cheaper and more easily understood fare tariffs

“The privatisation of the railways fragmented our rail network meaning the most expensive and confusing ticketing structures in Europe,” said Jeremy.  More here

As Jeremy Corbyn has proved many times, he has the clear vision which  the Labour Party – and this country need to find a way forward for people, and for a caring society. Don’t be scared and timid. This beautifully written article  presents the panic of some politicians as fearful, reflex actions take precedence over considered thought. Why then, are so many in the Labour Party clutching at neoliberalism and trying to make Corbyn out to be an extremist? His policies are moderate and socially desirable.

@JuliJuxtaposed writes Aspiration as Public Ownership

Previously Published here

“The latest explosion of ridicule and indignation finds its target in Jeremy Corbyn daring to speak about ‘public ownership of some necessary things‘. Media is abuzz with ideologues, lexical hair-splitters and supercilious interpreters making great effort to draw attention away from any constructive debate. If public ownership of natural monopolies had been advocated as a vehicle of Cameron’s Big Society I wonder whether the response would be this inane.

Clause Four! Clause Four! Oh, my good gods but the hysteria and vitriol, from both political wings, is woeful and tedious in its predictability. The capacity to focus in on the least relevant aspect of a message is remarkable. Clause IV (commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production”), re-nationalisation, pre-distribution, mutualism, socialism… Really, I don’t give a rat’s arse for the semantic games and the expedient framing they afford. The concept matters more than a loaded label, right now and ‘public ownership’ is an appropriate description. I care about the intention behind socio-political ideas, the mechanisms employed in manifesting them and their socio-economic effectiveness. Personally, it’s neither here nor there, to me, whether Labour feels a need to officially re-establish the principle behind Clause IV into its ethos. That’s for the Party to wrestle with. I am just glad that Corbyn is putting the basic principle front and centre.

As I’ve written, several times, over the last couple of years, I’d like for essential utilities and services, for example: energy, water, health, education, public transport.. to be in public ownership. You know: those upon which we all depend for national prosperity and personal well-being. How such public ownership is achieved, at this late stage, is probably going to vary according to entity, current systems, rational and legality so I’m not pretending that there’s a magic, one size fits all formula. However, the debate needs to be had. Rightists may have ‘won’ the argument once, a couple of generations back but it didn’t follow that they were wholly correct, did it..?

Why would the population of a country wish to create public ownership of those utilities and services deemed so essential to a civilised and prosperous Society? Why would such a population choose to hand over such responsibility, accountability, control and profit to (often) mercenary, private corporations? Why is it named ‘aspiration’ when it comes to the traditional reasons for individuals wanting to own their houses or to be self-employed/entrepreneurial but it is called a regressive notion for a whole nation of individuals to scale this up and share the responsibilities and rewards of collective interest?

As you know, I believe that it is We, the People, who are the State and that the Government and Official Opposition are supposed to be agents through which it is represented and its affairs managed. For a long time it has been self-interest that has been represented and public expectation that has been managed. We can’t say the People are represented when even the prospect of valid and valuable arguments is suffocated by the ignorance and hubris of the TINA Brigade and when all permissible discussion has to be funnelled, first, through an Overton Window of pro-exploitative, short-sighted and incoherent modelling. Markets, competition, the private and corporate sectors have their place but it is self-evident that they do not automatically constitute some socio-economic panacea and it is insulting and patronising to keep insisting that they do. I would rather the country comes to see public ownership as a matter of civic participation in an effort to better secure the collective pride and interest and the sovereignty of its citizens. The past and the present prove that the outsourcing of the most basic needs of Society does not.’

Watered down morality – Has the penny finally dropped on water privatisation?


Thatcher’s privatisation programme of the eighties: energy, water and transport was marketed as progress – many bought into her idea that publicly funded services cannot function, and believed that privatisation meant improved services for consumers. Today, looking back it doesn’t seem that way at all. There was a naive assumption that profits would be ploughed back. It hasn’t turned out that way.  Has the penny finally dropped on privatisation?

How did we get into this desperate situation  where our essential services –  for example our basic need of water to drink are held in companies abroad? Why is the ninth richest person in the world made richer every time you turn on the tap? Every time the toilet is flushed, billionaires are benefitting – so “spending a penny” takes on a whole new meaning.


As we see our water bills rise, it is reported in the Independent that several British water companies have been taking out loans from owners’ off-shore subsidiaries. Rather than investment in infrastructure, we are seeing blatant exploitation. Furthermore,  the owners pay no tax on such profits, because of use of offshore companies in the Channel Islands or the Cayman Islands so a third of our water bills goes towards paying off such debts, while very rich people in the world pay no tax at all as they rake in huge profits like the winner of a giant game of Monopoly.

It is this corruption and greed which is without morals, potentially driving individuals to criminal activity such as reported recently as horse meat has been used fraudulently in food products labelled as containing beef. What can have happened to result in a broken society where money for individuals becomes more important than food and water for the world’s people?

Today those private water companies supply England and Wales with water. Some also supply both water and sewage services. Yet in Northern Ireland and Scotland state owned companies act as the major providers of water and sewage services. Northern Ireland Water is the sole water and sewage provider in Northern Ireland while Scottish Water carries out similar functions in Scotland. A comparison shows that the privatised companies of England and Wales charge roughly twice as much as the public sector water authorities of Scotland.

During the late 19th Century water services were taken over by local authorities in England and Wales. Individual authorities ran some of these, inter-municipal authorities ran others and a few private companies remained. A simple cap of a maximum return of 5% strictly regulated their profits.

While Labour were in power in 1974, there was a Control of Pollution Act. Water supplies were reorganised into ten unitary regional water authorities and each responsible for quality, supply and sanitation. The government appointed these.

Board meetings from these, which had previously been public, were made secret by the Thatcher government in 1983. Clearly the plan for privatisation had been hatched. During this time the number of employees was cut from 80,000 to 50,000.

Various arguments were used in favour of privatization, including claims that

1. the private sector would be more efficient;

2. private companies would be better able to finance the large investments needed; and

3. privatization would create competition.

These claims were not supported by evidence from comparative studies or international reviews of the actual performance of public and private sector water companies.

The fundamental motive for privatising water companies was Margaret Thatcher’s government’s neo-liberal economic policy. The aim of this was to reduce the size of the state and minimize public borrowing. All of this was used as a further justification for privatization. The plan was to privatize water in 1983, but so unpopular was the policy that it was shelved until after the next General Election.

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. Fran...

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1988, the Regional Water Authorities in England and Wales were ripe for privatization. The sell-off was almost unquestioned as the submission of the public was achieved as they were lured by offerings of the shares in newly privatized companies.

There was a feeling of “something for nothing”, a sign of the times you could say – with little attention given to the consequences and even less of the morality. This is nothing less than sheer greed. The privatization was a give-away. The resulting companies were protected from needing to compete for business at all – not even once – they held monopolies in their regions for 25 years.

What followed were more lies. The expected expenditure was deliberately over–estimated in order to maximize profits. OFWAT was asked to set a price formula for investments that were never made.

One example of this included Southern water submitting plans for a series of sewage treatment plants which were not installed. Another example was Yorkshire Water expecting to avoid £50m expenditure on sewage treatment because the Conservative government promised to redefine coastal waters near the city of Hull as sea – where untreated sewage could be dumped – instead of estuary – where sewage would have to have been treated.

A number of companies deliberately cut their investment programmes and used the ‘savings’ to maintain or increase their dividends. The companies, which did this, include Thames Water, North West water, and Yorkshire Water.

The capital expenditure and maintenance of sewers was been a particular cause for concern. Underinvestment led to neglect of the sewerage network, with obvious negative effects on public health. All this was to boost profits. Following privatization there was a sharp rise in disconnections.

“The water companies say that they disconnect only the “won’t payers”–those who can afford to pay, but refuse to do so. I shall bring to the attention of the House some recent examples of people I know who have been disconnected : in Southampton a lady with seven children, one aged three who suffers from a heart condition ; a family of five, in which the mother suffers from a medical condition which requires a constant supply of water and whose neighbours provided that water via a hose pipe ;and a severely disabled elderly lady, whose neighbours brought her water in a variety of containers.

In south Staffordshire, a single parent on unemployment benefit was threatened with disconnection for arrears of £60.73. When the local citizens advice bureau contacted the water company to say that there was a child in the house, the company said, “So what? –We’ll still disconnect.”

It is clear the rich have satisfied their immoral  greed by creaming off profits, and not fulfilled responsibility by investment in services. It seems obvious in retrospect that self regulation does not work where the motive is personal profit. The privatisation of our basic needs in order to provide  profits for a few was foolish, destructive and dangerous. It is time to engender mutual responsibility. We must not tolerate suffering caused by selfish profits, and it is time to bring back utilities and essential services back into democratic control, and to renationalise.

And it’s happening elsewhere Tax Research UK reports :

Cities worldwide are taking back control of their collective water systems. The outcome of two years of research, this new book by Corporate Europe Observatory, Transnational Institute and the Municipal Services Project, the first ever published on the issue, examines the new trend for water ‘remunicipalisation’, analysing the causes of this new phenomenon and assessing its outcomes from a progressive public water management perspective. Case studies analyse the transition from private to public water provision in Paris, Dar es Salaam, Buenos Aires and Hamilton, and look at a national-level experiment in Malaysia. Showing the benefits and challenges of putting these systems back into municipal ownership, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in collective water management today.

While Labour is talking of redistribution of wealth through a fairer tax system , nationalisation of utilities must also be on the agenda at the next General Election.


The Independent: Now water companies are caught avoiding Tax

Tax Research Network: Remunicipilisation  Putting Water back in public hands

The Environment Agency: Privatisation of Water Industry

Lib Com: Water Privatisation

Uk Rivers Network

Dustin van Overbeke Water conflicts

Red Pepper Blog: The Last Drop

Stockhouse: Canadian News Capstone Acquires Bristol Water 5th Oct 2011

Action for Rail – No to McNulty. Yes to Renationalisation.



The Action for Rail (3) Campaign presents the arguments on the day of Action from the TUC and union leaders of RMT, ASLEF and TSSA outside Euston Station.


The Department for Transport has launched a consultation document 1) on the proposed mega-franchise for railways in the South East


The privatisation of Railways by John Major’s government has been the most unpopular transport policy for a generation. Opinion polls point to over three quarters of the electorate supporting re-nationalisation of Railways. New Labour missed an opportunity to bring back railways and other public transport back into democratic ownership. As a consequence, users are now facing the highest fares in Europe and face further massive increases if the McNulty plans go ahead. 
As part of its plans for the future of the rail industry, the government is asking train operating companies and Network Rail to outline how they will make cost reductions in line with the recommendations of the Rail Value for Money review led by Sir Roy McNulty.

  • More than a quarter of these savings – £260m a year – will come through staffing cuts.
  • According to the McNulty Review, this could lead to around 20,800 job losses, including rail guards, staff in ticket offices and on station platforms, catering staff and workers in maintenance and signalling.
  • However, the unions say surveys consistently suggest that a lack of staffing is one of the key concerns of rail passengers, and more than 10,000 commuters and train users have so far registered their opposition to staff cuts in response to union campaigns.

  • The McNulty Review calls for the closure of 750 Category E (or small-staffed) station booking offices around the UK.
  • Leaked Department for Transport emails indicate that agreement has already been reached with one train operator, London Midland, to completely close or severely reduce opening hours at ticket offices at 86 of its 90 stations, leaving many deserted at all hours and leading to the loss of around 100 staff.

  • These cuts will go ahead in the face of opposition from 18,000 London Midland passengers who responded to a public consultation petition against the closures, as well as the West Midlands integrated transport authority, Centro. 2)

We strongly urge you to respond arguing for nationalisation not this supra-franchise. Think Left supports Action for Rail (3) and renationalisation of the railways (8) and public transport. Privatisation of rail was the last privatisation of the Thatcher/Major Conservative years, yet sadly we are now witnessing wholescale privatisation of public services including health and education – despite very clear evidence that putting profit before people by privatisation of utilities and public services costs lives, jobs, and does not provide improved services.


1. Government Consultation Document

2. Union News UK: Action for Rail -joint Campaign against McNulty Closures.

3.Action For Rail

4. ASLEF Action for Rail

5. ASLEF: Save our Railways: Briefing

6. URL for video Clip from Action for Rail:

7. Guardian: Privatisation failed our Railways

8. Think Left: Renationalisation of Railways

9. Pride’s Purge: Virgin Rail set to Improve children’s health by exorbitant prices and Overcrowding

10. Guardian: Privatisation of rail has failed and the NHS is hurtling down the same route