Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labour Party’s reelected leader, seeks to use Brexit as an opportunity to re-orient economic policy to the Left.
Jeremy Corbyn has been associated with the re-emergence of the radical left in UK. Citing the need to improve conditions for the most disadvantaged in the country, he has, in the past, proposed ideas like “people’s Quantitative Easing” to compel banks to invest in public services instead of buying bonds, renationalizing the UK railways and stripping the corporate sector of its various tax exemptions and subsidies. After the large-scale rebellion within his party post-Brexit and his subsequent reelection, he has reiterated only some of these ideas, mainly- raising council housing budgets to build over a million houses, empowering tax authorities to reduce tax evasion and avoidance, increasing taxes on the super-rich and corporations and using the money to create a National Education Service along the lines of the National Health Service. He has been a vocal critic of the Conservative government’s austerity measures and also the cut-back in public services which has disregarded the growing income inequality and economic vulnerability of the UK working classes.
While Corbyn is unafraid to use the umbrella term ‘21st century socialism’ to describe his ideas, it needs to be asked if they aren’t merely a renewal of the erstwhile social democratic policy principles. It was after the electoral victories of radical leftists like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and the Socialist Party in Argentina in the early decade of the millennium that the idea of 21st century socialism came into being. Their policies, based on exerting state control over natural resources, increased welfare spending, nationalization/ expropriation of companies, political theatre over Western economic imperialism etc. have defined socialism for this age. Corbyn’s current policy proposals are not necessarily anti-capitalistic in the Latin American style but rather a mix of proposals for state-led investment, extension of public services and progressive taxation. Many European countries and countries abroad such as Mauritius and Singapore, provide the very same services while supporting a very dynamic corporate climate. Economists like Thomas Piketty have voiced similar proposals and have been seen as social democrats.
If Corbyn begins to reiterate the need for reducing tax incentives for corporations, he will retain the ‘radical socialist’ tag but its execution will be difficult due to Brexit, as global corporations functioning out of UK will already be wary of any further impedance to their business interests. Moreover, one of the important lessons from socialism of the past century is the system’s failure to provide incentives for enterprise growth, which can be disastrous for the economy in the long run. Thus, Corbyn needs to rethink his socialism from both ends- radical and centrist.