A curious notion that is seemingly gaining traction is that under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour still essentially stands for the same polices as we did under Ed Miliband. So here’s my attempt to set out some clear differences, which I believe represent substantial improvements in several key policy areas.
- Austerity: For the previous leadership, committing to an anti-austerity economic approach would jeopardise our “economic credibility”. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls announced that a Labour government would stick to Tory spending plans, which would involve making severe cuts. Labour now unambiguously rejects austerity as a means of economic recovery and new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s “fiscal rule” does not commit Labour to any cuts.
- Welfare: On numerous occasions under Miliband, Labour failed to oppose government attacks on welfare. On the Bedroom Tax, the Labour leadership prevaricated, as Shadow DWP Minister Liam Byrne refused to commit to abolishing the Bedroom Tax, and it wasn’t until September 2013 that Miliband actually pledged to scrap it. Worse was the abstention on the government’s illegal use of workfare in March 2013. A year later, Labour MPs were whipped to vote for the welfare cap. Under Corbyn’s leadership, every single attack on social security from the Welfare Bill (in October 2015), Tax Credits cuts and cuts to PIP and ESA has been opposed outright.
- Trade unions: When public sector workers took strike action in June 2011, Miliband gave an interview in which he repeatedly said “these strikes are wrong”, and later went along with the fabrications about Unite’s role in the Falkirk selection. Contrast this to Corbyn and John McDonnell, who have stood in solidarity on picket lines and rallies with the junior doctors. Furthermore, Corbyn has committed Labour to significantly strengthening trade union rights in Britain, such as a return to collective bargaining.
- Railways: Previous Labour policy was to legislate to allow a public sector operator to be able to bid for franchises alongside private operators. Corbyn by contrast has pledged to return railways back into public ownership as the franchises expire.
- Education: Miliband backed the idea of tuition fees, arguing that fees should be reduced from £9k to £6k a year. Corbyn has repeatedly argued for the total abolition of tuition fees.
- Foreign policy: To his credit, during his tenure Miliband did whip the PLP against bombing Syria and for recognising the state of Palestine. And on the Iraq war, Miliband stated that Labour was “wrong”, although Corbyn went considerably further by making a full apology. But Corbyn represents a very clear break, given that Miliband backed the bombing of Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2014 and supported Trident renewal.
- Immigration: Ahead of last year’s general election Miliband indulged in a crass attempt to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment with a ‘controls on immigration’ pledge, which was infamously carved into stone and printed on mugs. There was also a pledge to ban new EU migrants from receiving any kind of social security for at least two years. Contrast this to Corbyn, who has repeatedly praised the contribution of migrants to society and the economy; pointed out during the EU referendum campaign that Britain could not have access to the single market but reject freedom of movement and whose first act as Labour leader was to address a demonstration in solidarity with refugees.