The 2015 Labour Leadership, Libraries and Education
It is late summer 2015 and the UK Labour Party is currently experiencing a leadership election, the candidates include two former Labour ministerial office holders in the previous Labour administrations(s) 1997-2010: Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. Another contender, Liz Kendall is a relatively new MP, serving since 2010.
Yet another contender, Jeremy Corbyn is a backbencher and left-wing MP, a former associate of Tony Benn, a veteran Trades Unionist (including a former full time official within the National Union of Public Employees) and long time member of the Socialist Campaign Group within the Westminster Parliamentary Party.
During Labour administrations from 1997 until 2010, the two former ministerial contenders, Cooper and Burnham played key roles in the Blair and Brown administrations, and are widely seen as supporters of that era in the Labour Party known as “New Labour”, a development of the Labour Party initiated by politicians such as Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson and Anthony Crosland. The New Labour approach focused around the fusion of social justice and the capitalist economic model, iconically seeing the removal of Clause 4 from the Labour Party constitution which had previously committed the party to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” (Adams, 1998).
In the New Labour years, we had seen several major initiatives which dramatically altered the course of UK society and the traditional social democratic stance of the Labour Party. These developments included:
- The introduction of the Public Private Finance (PFI) initiative, contracting corporate organisations to run public services such as NHS services for fixed periods (Broadbent & Laughlin 2005).
- The introduction of the National Minimum Wage, at the time of writing £6.50 for over 21s and £5.15 for individuals aged 18-20.
- The introduction of workfare schemes, usually operated by commercial contractors to place job-seekers with various participating employers, essentially working in lieu of paid income for the jobseekers allowance (i.e. paid significantly less than the minimum wage), see ‘Comment on Workfare’, ISC 33 http://libr.org/isc/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Full-ISC-33.pdf
- The introduction of Higher Education tuition fees, rising to £3000 by 2010 (also see ISC 33 above, ‘The Impact of “Austerity” and Deregulation on Young People’s Services in the UK’).
- The mass closure and outsourcing of Public Libraries (McMenemy, 2009) and Post Office outlets (Langford, & Higgs, 2010).
- The transformation of the UK National Health Service under the reformed Trust system, effectively breaking the NHS into diverse competing providers with a range of local arrangements, procedures and policies (Pollock, 2004).
- The introduction of academy schools (Hatcher, 2006) operating outside Local Authority control, without normative regulation, use of the National Curriculum and other requirements seen in normal state maintained schools such as comprehensives. Also see ISC 33 above, ‘Academy Schools and the Anti-Academies Alliance’.
- The Iraq War – as a consequence of the US invasion of Iraq and support by Tony Blair’s government in 2003 and attempts by the New Labour administration to prevent an inquiry into the war (Herring & Robinson, 2014).
Of the four leadership contenders, at least three appear associated with the New Labour approach adopted by the Labour Party since the late 1990s. The New Labour era was closely aligned to the Neoliberal or “laissez faire” model of economics (Harvey, 2005) which places importance on market forces and a market-led approach to management of state infrastructure, services and regulation of industry.
To some extent, we could also suggest that New Labour also comprised a Neoconservative administration – i.e. a geo-political stance most commonly associated with alignment to international spending for militarisation and foreign/overseas interactions to expand or develop nationalist status, power or influence (Brown, 2003). This is particularly evident of New Labour due to support for the Iraq War of 2003 and the significant channelling of UK GDP into nuclear weapons research and military funding during this administration (Kettell, 2011).
Both Cooper and Burnham were ministers in the above New Labour administration(s), their voting records broadly reflect the government position under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Another leadership contender, Liz Kendall, has also frequently associated herself with the New Labour era and policies, in areas such as renewal of the Trident nuclear option, retention of Higher Education tuition fees and academisation (the conversion of state schools into for-profit, de-regulated academies), Kendall has commented:
“I’m not going to waste time obsessing about school structures. If a school is providing a great education – whether it’s a local authority, academy or free school – we will back it.”
Corbyn’s parliamentary career has conversely reflected a more traditional social democratic approach, reflecting his Trades Union and pre-1997/New Labour origins within the Parliamentary Labour Party.
This outlook is evidenced by his consistent opposition to areas such as PFI, the academies project, NHS outsourcing and privatization, the Iraq War, attempts to ensure transparency of the war via a parliamentary inquiry and opposition to Higher Education tuition fees. Corbyn was also a Stop the War organiser in 2003 and opposes renewal of the £ multi-billion Trident nuclear system.
The UK Commons voting record of the four leadership contenders are as follows:
There has also been much discussion in recent times regarding negative comments directed toward Corbyn by senior Labour parliamentary figures, including comments by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson, by the other leadership contenders and further prolific individuals from the New Labour era. These comments allude to Corbyn’s potential to split the Labour Party, to ensure a landslide defeat in the 2020 general election and his leadership resulting in decades of Tory (Conservative) government (ostensibly due to him being unelectable as a consequence of his social democratic views and policy).
Many of these comments appear to ignore the movement of constituency support across the UK away from Neoliberal parties, as represented by the current Labour hierarchy, toward non-traditional progressive options at the ballot box, as seen in the landslide victory of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland during the 2015 general election, leaving Labour with one Scottish MP.
In the weeks since the announcement of the Labour leadership election, Corbyn has outlined his vision for improved UK employment and business partnerships, the development of regional UK economic stimulus, support for small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) and investment in training and careers for young adults (JeremyforLabour.com, 2015). Conversely, it remains to be seen what the policies of his three rivals presently plan in terms of economic policy.
Some of the most striking social policy aims outlined by Corbyn include a commitment to abolish Higher Education tuition fees and restore student maintenance grants, funded by an increased tax regime on the wealthy, and to return academy schools under Local Authority (LEA) control and normative regulation (Vaughan, 2015).
On the topic of austerity, Corbyn also stands in relative contrast to the remaining candidates, suggesting he would implement aggressive inward investment to encourage building works, including much needed social housing development and other programmes for UK business stimulus, whilst in comparison, the three remaining candidates appear to cite the current and previous Coalition agenda for welfare reduction, service liberalization and support for the austerity programme.
In summation, we can see that the Labour Leadership election – ending 10 September 2015 – offers the choice (for paying members or supporters of the Party) of either a social democratic candidate – namely Corbyn, offering a blend of meritocratic educational policy and investment in UK business infrastructure, or two relatively similar neoliberal candidates (Cooper and Burnham) closely aligned to the New Labour path, and a remaining candidate (Kendall) also clearly aligned to the policies of New Labour.
Some senior New Labour politicians have accused sections of the public of “entryism”, i.e. of left wing or other activists (such as Trades Unionists) joining the Labour Party, or paying a one-off £3 fee to become associate supporters – thus allowing them to vote in the contest.
However, the massive uptake of eligible voting in the lead up to this contest surely indicates the hope of the wider progressive UK constituency for Corbyn’s values and approach to politics. Unlike the other contenders, Corbyn’s appeal is derived from direct activism within the Labour Party, from his anti-Nuclear and other participation in community movements of the Left over decades – rather than from packaged PR statesmanship as seen in Blairite politicians since the late 90s.
Corbyn’s political message – of a return to genuine social democratic values, espousing meritocratic principles and the preservation of UK infrastructure – for schools, transport and Universities, stands in contrast to the hyper-liberalization and for-profit agenda of New Labour, as evidenced in the PFI outsourcing of schools and hospitals and mass closure/give-away of public equity to multinationals and charities.
It can also be seen that Corbyn offers a robust economic policy, recalling the Regional Development Agencies, HEI networks and other innovative partnerships which benefited local economies in previous decades, Corbyn has stated that this agenda is focused around communities and smaller businesses.
Corbyn’s policies stand in contrast to the laissez faire approach of Blairite and New Labour politicians whose abdication from economic strategy and failure to implement SME lending after the recession of 2007 saw thousands of businesses made bankrupt, whilst directing billions of pounds into the stock market to protect the portfolios of the rich.
The aspirational policies of Corbyn stands in sharp contrast to the New Labour pursuit of power for its own sake, the questionable and un-democratic collusion with other reactionary parliamentary groups, and pursuit of Neoliberal technocratic solutions – shown to have dragged the UK toward greater child poverty, the proliferation of workfare and food-banks, lost opportunities for our young people, scandalous deprecation of social care and neglect of business and enterprise investment.
Corbyn offers the best hope for Labour to regain its values and re-assert its traditions of meritocracy, equality and social justice.
Adams, I. (1998). Ideology and politics in Britain today. Manchester University Press.
Broadbent, J., & Laughlin, R. (2005). The role of PFI in the UK government’s modernisation agenda. Financial Accountability & Management, 21(1), 75-97.
Brown, W. (2006). American Nightmare Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization. Political Theory, 34(6), 690-714.
Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press.
Hatcher, R. (2006). Privatization and sponsorship: the re‐agenting of the school system in England 1. Journal of Education Policy, 21(5), 599-619.
Herring, E., & Robinson, P. (2014). Deception and Britain’s road to war in Iraq. International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, 8(2-3), 213-232.
JeremyforLabour.com (2015). Jeremy Corbyn launches his ‘Better Business’ plan. Available at: http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/better_business
Kettell, S. (2011). New Labour and the new world order: Britain’s role in the war on terror. Manchester University Press.
Langford, M., & Higgs, G. (2010). Accessibility and public service provision: evaluating the impacts of the Post Office Network Change Programme in the UK. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(4), 585-601.
McMenemy, D. (2009). Public library closures in England: the need to Act? Editorial. Library Review, 58(8), 557-560.
Pollock, A. M. (2004). NHS plc: the privatisation of our health care. BMJ, 329, 862.
Sparrow, A. (2015). “Liz Kendall says Labour should champion wealth creation – Politics live”. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2015/may/21/migration-figures-out-as-cameron-announces-crackdown-on-illegal-foreign-workers-politics-live
UK Government (2015). National Minimum Wage rates. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates
Vaughan, R. (2015). What are Jeremy Corbyn’s education policies? Times Education Supplement. Available at: https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/what-are-jeremy-corbyns-education-policies