Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister. What could go wrong?

Labour manifesto coverHow things change! Within the space of a few weeks, there is now a real possibility of a Labour government with a left wing leadership. That is the result of the snap UK General Election that resulted, not in the Tory landslide, predicted at the start of the campaign, but a hung parliament with a large swing to Labour and the reversal of approval ratings for the Labour and Tory leaders. There is plenty of coverage available so I will not repeat the details here. However, it is worth noting that

a) Labour benefited from the eclipse of UKIP – more in Remain-voting constituencies than in Leave voting ones. The votes did not all go to the Tories as many of us had feared.

b) The call for a Progressive Alliance, while not operating on a formal level, did mean that Green (and Liberal Democrat, NHS Action Party, Women’s Equality Party) voters tactically voted Labour, sacrificing the overall vote share, except in Brighton Pavilion where Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP increased her majority, despite Labour bizarrely refusing to stand down.

What I want to do here is raise some questions about the likely outcomes of a Corbyn-led Labour government.

To clarify my own position, I voted twice for Corbyn in the Labour leadership elections and helped campaign for Labour in a Tory marginal seat. But I oppose the growthist economic model that underpins the neo-Keynesian policies on the economy, despite welcoming many elements of the manifesto, including many of the economic ones. This blindness to the Limits to Growth represents everyday climate denial and invites an eventual ecological, social and economic collapse.

It seems to me that there are three possible outcomes of a Corbyn government.

1) Labour for Degrowth. They see the writing on the wall and both embrace and gain increasing support for a steady state / degrowth approach, with the kinds of innovative policies people like Tim Jackson, the Greenhouse think tank (and we in Steady State Manchester) have been advocating.  This seems highly unlikely, but maybe as the ecological and climate crisis intensifies, ecological realism will prevail.

2) Labour for Growth. More likely is a traditional Social Democratic, Keynesian, demand stimulation, growth approach, successfully implemented.  There would be some raising of ambition and action in line with the manifesto – how could there not be after the Tories’ dismal record, but ultimately the contradictions will set in and it will be like the Latin American pink tide governments, using the receipts of growth to fund some redistribution, but not actually changing the production of poverty / inequality by the capitalist system.  Most of the left will be deaf to the ecological dimension (climate and environment was almost absent from the GE campaign), so I expect little help from there.  Even our alllies in neon are largely concerned with economic and social justice – those more immediate, pressing concerns.  There are also good reasons to expect a mere Keynesian reboot, even with more redistribution, to fail, on economic terms (see this piece, the comments on Melenchon towards the end: https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/france-the-choice/

3) Labour defeated. Nearly as likely would be a Corbyn government (whether with a slender majority or not) beset by a concerted fight back from the owners of capital, most of whom would not ally with a reforming supposedly socialist government – the city, and finance capital would be a key element, either launching capital flight or subverting the government (as in Scotland, as in Lula and Dilma’s Brazil).  Stage set for the re-installation of the “rightful” stewards of capitalism – whether in Tory or Labour costume.

So it seems to me that we still have a double struggle on our hands – against all who will marginalise the environment and against those who will seek to defeat a left labour government. Or, more positively, for a Labour government that is consistently both green and left.

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