7 Things I Learned from Chatting to Jeremy Corbyn
by Aaron Bastani
Yesterday I spoke to Jeremy Corbyn about his bid for the leadership of the Labour party for NovaraTV. The video of our interview is available on our Facebook page and on our YouTube channel. Here are seven things I learned while talking to the man who – potentially – could be Britain’s next PM.
1. He is surprised, but ready.
On meeting him I immediately congratulated Corbyn on winning the endorsement of Unison, one of Britain’s largest unions with 1.3m members. “Good isn’t it,” he responded with a calm that is, by now, defining his leadership bid. After that I informed him that the bookmaker William Hill now had him as the favourite to win at 5/4.“They don’t often get these things wrong,” he replied, a gentle smile breaking through.
One gets the sense that Corbyn is as shocked as anybody else that it has come to this, but also recognises this is the shot of a lifetime. He has waited decades for this to happen and he’s ready for it, working harder than he has ever worked before.
2. He is prepared to govern in coalition with the SNP and other parties.
In the run-up to May’s general election Ed Miliband said he would rather see a Tory majority government than a Labour-SNP coalition. I asked Corbyn whether he would say the same if he were Labour leader before the 2020 election. His answer was an emphatic no, and that falling short of a Labour majority government he would be prepared to work either in coalition or with a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with other parties, particularly the SNP.
3. He is not totally against PR (of some kind).
Corbyn has previously maintained that retaining the constituency link in any electoral system is of paramount importance to him. While he maintained that position in our interview, he also conceded that any system which gives two MPs to two parties which gained 4.5m votes (just like the Greens and Ukip did in May’s general election) is indefensible.
He touched upon the additional member system (AMS) as a good alternative (it’s currently used in Germany) but spoke of how he wanted a constitutional convention on the matter now so as to establish agreement not only on a revised electoral system, but on changes in the voting age and the composition and purpose of an elected second chamber.
4. In government he would shut down Britain’s immigration detention centres.
I asked whether a government led by him – either as a Labour majority government or a Labour-SNP coalition – would keep Harmondsworth and Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centres open. Eventually, he said they would both be closed, emphasising that Britain’s position on undocumented migrants and those fleeing persecution more generally would fundamentally change under his premiership.
5. He is surprisingly weak on stop-and-search but wants policing to be included in a constitutional convention.
Asked whether he believed the London Metropolitan Police Service to be racist – as was confirmed in the Macpherson Report published in 1999 – Corbyn gave a satisfactory answer, saying “we’ve got a very long journey to take” in overcoming such problems.
When I probed him on stop-and-search however, highlighting how campaigning against stop-and-frisk was a huge vote-winner for Bill de Blasio in winning the race to become the mayor of New York City, it was clear he didn’t have much of a policy on the issue, simply replying that officers need “more training.”
For me that wasn’t good enough. What is clear, however, is that he recognises the scale of the problem and was already familiar with statistics claiming if you are black you are 37 times more likely to be stopped and searched than if you are white (I said 38 in interview). He was also keen to highlight the islamophobic nature of stop-and-search, which is reassuring. Perhaps most interestingly he wants policing to be included in any constitutional convention; an ambitious move.
6. He isn’t opposed to a guaranteed social wage but it’s not really on the agenda.
As with stop-and-search it’s clear that Corbyn is familiar with arguments around the potential introduction of a guaranteed social wage – something I mentioned in relation to his outstandingWorking with Women document. While he admitted to being ‘interested’ in the idea, he added that it was “complicated and certainly difficult to introduce.” Would it be in his manifesto for 2020? I would say almost certainly not.
7. He hasn’t got a strategy to deal with the inevitable consequences of a social democratic government.
In 1981 Francois Mitterand won the French presidency promising better pay and pensions, shorter working hours and, generally speaking, a Keynesian strategy to expedite economic growth and job creation. By 1983, following rampant inflation, he backtracked on that platform.
Ever since then it’s been clear that in an increasingly globalised economy, social democracy – let alone socialism – in one country simply can’t work. If Corbyn was to be prime minister after the next general election in 2020 there would be significant capital flight and an attack on the pound. In response to that his answer was wilfully naive: “We’ve got to say ‘hang on, we live in a democracy’ and if the people of this country vote for an economic strategy which is about redistribution of wealth…then that’s that.”
Only it isn’t. The point is globalised capitalism means nations aren’t sovereign and the old repositories of democratic accountability are no longer, if they ever were, up to the job. Social democrats like Corbyn (still) don’t seem to have an answer to that.