Comment: Corbyn is leading an effective opposition

Last week marked 200 days since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, and the Tories are in crisis


The Tories expected to write a script for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour as a weak, irrelevant opposition. Yet, as they review the wreckage of their budget, they must surely know this is not going to plan.

Indeed, polling suggests some of their key policy proposals are now more out of touch with the British people than ever before — from benefit cuts for disabled people, to the need for action to save our steel, to the forced academisation of schools.

In terms of disability benefits, the Labour opposition and its leadership can take a lot of credit for the Government’s u-turn.

Labour strongly opposed and exposed these proposals in Parliament, the media and beyond. In a remarkable week, these cuts were announced by George Osborne on the Wednesday, had become ‘suggestions’ by the time Nicky Morgan appeared on Question Time on the Thursday, were cited by Iain Duncan Smith when he resigned on the Friday, and were then not in the budget by the time it was voted on.

The proposed cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) would have left nearly 400,000 disabled people thousands of pounds worse off, so the importance of the defeat of these cuts cannot be overestimated.

As with the earlier Tory chaos and partial u-turn over tax credits last year, this did not happen by accident. The Corbyn-led Labour Party has continually and consistently opposed the Tories’ austerity agenda, and is starting to shift the framework of political debate in Britain.

Our leadership debate last summer showed people wanted a strong, principled opposition on issues like this. Jeremy has channelled that from his leadership campaign through to Labour’s parliamentary tactics, flowing from the strategy of standing up to the government more clearly.

Jeremy has slowly but surely prodded away on a number of key issues around austerity in PMQs week after week, gradually cornering the PM on a variety of policies, and exposing the failings behind the Tories ideologically-driven, unfair and failing austerity economics.  

Steel is one clear example of this – Labour first put the question of steel on the agenda in the autumn, and has continually defended jobs in the industry and the need for a strategy for British manufacturing.

Whilst the Tories have refused to recall Parliament, and have given contradictory messages about whether the state should intervene to help keep Port Talbot going, Labour’s clear plan to save our steel, clearly chimes with popular opinion. 62 per cent of the public — including a majority of Tories — supported re-nationalisation in a YouGov poll.

Over 149,000 have signed a Labour Party petition demanding that ‘David Cameron must take immediate action to act to protect the steel industry and the core of manufacturing in Britain.’

The consistent work John McDonnell and others have been doing exposing corporate tax avoidance after George Osborne hailed his deal with Google a success, has both popular and laid the groundwork for a further political offensive on the issue this week following the release of the ‘Panama papers.’

And whilst the u-turns on tax credits and disability benefits have been perhaps Labour’s most important and well covered victories, there are other issues on which a strong, principled stance has made a real difference. In recent months, we have seen the Tories defeated or forced into u-turns or delays on a range of other issues including:

  • A  defeat in the House of Commons for the Tories on Sunday trading hours, with Tory rebels and Labour defeating a policy that would result in the gradual erosion of Sunday’s special status.
  • A u-turn on child poverty indicators when, prior to his resignation, following sustained Labour pressure, Iain Duncan Smith was unable to remove income from the definition of child poverty, in an attempt to obscure the 1.1m rise in children living in poor households. Now the Government must monitor levels of child poverty, which will further expose the impact of their unfair, inhumane cuts.
  • A Tory delay on cuts to supported housing benefit. Three weeks after Jeremy Corbyn asked David Cameron whether he would carry out an impact assessment of his planned cuts to supported housing benefit, which thousands of elderly and vulnerable people depend on, the Government announced that they are delaying these cuts while they carry out that impact assessment.

But Jeremy’s leadership is important not just for how he has given expression to the need for a strong opposition in parliament. The changes go far wider. The balance sheet shows that Labour is becoming a more effective opposition.

Labour is now unafraid to connect with the mass movements and civil society that form our country’s wider opposition to the Conservatives.

Jeremy’s first act as leader was to address a refugee rally in Parliament Square. He dispensed with convention by speaking in Manchester during the Tory conference in support of the Communication Workers Union’s case on Royal Mail.

He gave a clearly pro-trade union speech to TUC in his first week as leader and over the recent Easter break received a standing ovation from the National Union of Teachers as he set out his opposition to the Tories’ expensive, unnecessary and unpopular policies of forced academisation of schools.

He has showed he will not be pushed around by the Conservatives over Labour’s relationship to the wider labour movement, and a bolder attitude to the labour movement can help to blunt the Tories’ attack on the trade unions. Indeed, the trade union bill continues to face defeats on key elements in the House of Lords and the campaign must continue on this issue.

Most importantly, whilst George Osborne’s budget lacked a vision for a better future (as I argued here and here), Labour and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have a credible economic platform based on putting the issue of investment in our economy centre stage.

Nearly all economists now agree that investment is not just the most important factor in economic growth, but outweighs all others put together. This is why, when Cameron and Osborne took power and slashed the last Labour government’s investment spending, it pushed our economy back into recession.

In contrast, Labour’s economic plan for a big expansion of investment in transport, housing and upgrading our broadband system is crucial in turning the British economy around.

Corbyn has been the leader of the Labour party for just over 200 days but he has already delivered significant change not only in the direction of travel of the Labour party but in how politics is conducted. Labour has forced Government u-turns which have literally benefitted hundreds of thousands of peoples’ living standards.

With such an approach — of strong opposition to Tory austerity backed up with a credible, coherent alternative that puts investment in our future at its core — victory in 2020 is possible.

Ken Livingstone is re-running for the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee as part of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance ticket. You can follow his campaign on Facebook and Twitter, and find out more information about the CLGA here

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15 Responses to “Comment: Corbyn is leading an effective opposition”

  1. Richard MacKinnon

    “Corbyn is leading an effective opposition”. Well I wouldn’t go that far. He does however, appear to be riding a wave of good fortune. I never thought he would last the month out when he was elected. But here we are six months later and he is consolidating his position. And the Tory government with an overall majority appear to be imploding in front of us. Politics is indeed a fascinating subject.

  2. Andy Ross

    The electoral landscape has been so stacked against Labour that a game-changer is needed. Jeremy has steadly positioned himself to be just that and it is begining to pay-off

  3. Richard Irons

    Excellent article from Ken, especially on how we now have a credible economic strategy – he has my vote!

  4. Angela Sullivan

    Wow. So Corbyn is just “lucky”? I guess luck matters a lot on politics. I guess the fact that Corbyn has steadfastly done his job in the the way he thought best, sticking by leftish principles that were no help to his career and spending over 30 years taking care of obscure constituency business which mattered only to unimportant people has nothing to do with the sudden burst of luck which has made him the most respected and trusted political leader this country has seen in a century. Like you say, all down to luck. Liz Kendall could have enjoyed the same purely co-incidental increase in membership and motivation within the Labour Party, or the same spontaneously generated sea-change in public opinion. You think?

  5. Tony

    And don’t forget how he has opened up debate about Trident replacement too.

  6. John Reid

    149,000 members sign a petition,must another 13 million and we’ve won a election

  7. Kev

    God save us from the London Left.

  8. HelenC

    He’s had some luck – Ed resigned just as the Tories came off the starting blocks in May 2015 full speed ahead with their devastating policies, the speed and extent of which shocked the nation and opened the door for a true left-wing candidate to win the Labour leadership election. The fact that the Tories did not seem to recognise they were co-authors in Corbyn’s surprise (and delightful) win in that Labour leadership election, and so continued with their austerity package for all but the rich, has been a stroke of further pure good fortune for Corbyn. The Tories fall out and utter disarray over the EU campaign is also fortuitous timing, as is the most recent debacle over the Panama Papers. These have all given Corbyn the best possible environment for his qualities of authenticity, patience and tenacity to shine.

  9. Mick

    Corbyn is still at war his his own party’s policies. His own election guy says Labour will lose dozens of local election seats, is own ideas are kooky (such as over pot or the Falklands) and anything that has happened in his favour has been rarely of his doing. Even the benefit u-turns were pushed by Labour and Lib Dem peers having nothing to do with him at all.

    So failing Tories dropping in the polls does not mean Corbyn has earned the poll boost for Labour. But it’s lucky for Labour-watchers that his side are so hubristic. It will mean a more galling punch at the next election.

  10. Patricia Crawshaw

    I have worked as a low grade civil servant for over 40 years. This country is a mess. Government full of public school boys lining their pockets. Tabloid press supporting them. I would not use the Sun or some of the other daily s as toilet paper. I am not a socialist, I am an old fashioned liberal who has always been a union member. The divide in this country is widening, so expect more crime. Unemployment will rise as old people hang onto jobs as can’t get state pension. What chance have the next generation? The chancellor of exchequer + his supporters should be sent to the moon on a one way ticket. Regards Pat

  11. Tom

    Sadly, I have to disagree with this. The tories imploding has little to nothing to do with Jezza – it has been almost entirely their own doing. IDS, for example, did not resign because of pressure from Corbyn. He did it because the tories have been pushing past the boundaries of public opinion with some of their recent budget ideas and he wanted to be disassociated with them (the ideas).
    My worry is that none of this will stick. The tories haven’t done anything to noticeably change anyone’s opinion of them. For those of us who don’t like them, it is simply reinforcing our beliefs. But I’m not convinced it’ll sway many people who voted Tory at the last election.
    Meanwhile, stories about Corbyn are sticking in people’s minds. And for the majority of the UK (according to polls) this isn’t positive. His stance on trident, the monarchy, and the falklands (amongst others) are damaging support. Being seen to reinforce links with the unions is not going to improve his public image amongst anyone outside the left wing either, and so will not bring back many/any voters lost during the last 2 elections.
    I am definitely not letting myself get excited about the future yet.

  12. Billy J Wells

    This is a piece of spot on journalism clearly laying out the facts and the achievements of a Corbyn lead Labour Party and still here we see comments undermining Jeremy. Let us not forget that before he became leader we still had what was left of anew Labour merrily voting with the Tories. I saw no opposition to austerity except an election promise to overturn the Spare Room Subsidy, which in principle seems like a way of making under occupied social housing available for larger families and those not needing the extra bedrooms move into smaller properties a good idea however, with a lack of smaller properties made the idea unjust, unfair and cruel. No ifs or buts it should not have been brought in and has only served to create a hike in debt and in too many cases, a rise in homelessness. Let’s not forget labour were giving nit just free reign but a seal of approval to everything that the cons and lib dems were dreaming up. I saw very little outcry from labour and for the first time since I began voting my support for ‘better’ than the Tories (just) was waning, I started to see why labour was leaking confidence and members. Jeremy Corbyn has breathed new life into labour, sure he has had to deal with the backstabbing of the Blairites (sorry if you don’t like the term but tough) the running off to the right wing media and the sulks of the ‘cut my nose off to spoil my face brigade’ who knew their gravy train career politics was slowing down, and it is slowing down, why even the running off to the press is nowhere near what it was and sure he has had to deal with the vilification of the media yapping at his heels trying to undermine his reputation with out of context diatribe but truth is labour have become an opposition and the public are getting behind him.
    I hear all the time the increase in membership being down to leftie loonies and Marxists not to mention commies but truth here is I mix with these new members and returning members in real time and on social media and very few really fit those discriptions.mwhat I find instead is educated people with sensible ideas and open minds, by educated I mean they have looked for the facts, read the rhetoric and questioned it then sought out the facts to find the truth. Yes I am an angry man but my anger is directed ar how unfair society has become, how the cons are all for making life harder for those who have the least, even for those who have enough if you ain’t rich you’re an austerity target. Thousands turn out still to hear Jeremy speak. He does the unconventional, his expenses claims are not just the lowest of any MP but virtually non existent (£12 I think his last year’s return). People are recognising this and so are his knickers in the PLP. Of course some things beyond his control have helped but then New Labours lack of opposition, it’s back turning on the working man was the luck Cameron got to win outright in 2015 on just 24%. Show me any government that didn’t have some luck along the way to power or even whilst in power.
    I detested Blaire but still got behind labour why is it the anti Corbyns cannot accept he was democratically elected by a landslide and concentrate on supporting labour to win the next election in the same way? Why can’t the knockers accept he has done well in 200 days? I’ll bet if the council elections leave the Tories lying on the canvass I’ll still hear ‘Hmmmmm yeah he has done okay but he’s unelectable’ in fact when he leads us to victory and we see him take the keys to no.10 we’ll still be hearing he isn’t leadership material!!!
    Corbyn for PM and the start of life improving for everyone! Bring it on….

  13. Ben Amponsah

    Couldn’t agree more with what Billy Wells writes especially the bit about who is fuelling the resurgence of Lab membership. We should admire how Jeremy has stuck to his guns in the face of relentless attacks from both within and without and get behind him. Lucky? Nonsense-he has made his own luck and is doing a fantastic job despite all the nay-Sayers and the media

  14. paul ewart

    Great piece Ken. Labour needed a brave leader to challenge the Tory narrative over austerity and the causes of the financial crisis. Jeremy’s strong, principled and unambiguous opposition is re-setting the narrative after 40 years of Tory ideology. I’m not sure any other leader could have so successfully pressurised the Tories, largely because the alternatives agree with so many Tory policies. It’s important that Labour keep chiselling away at the root causes of today’s crisis: the critique should connect 2008 to 1979 and Conservatism with national asset-stripping and corruption, betraying the promises made after the war and turning back a century of progress for ordinary working people.

  15. Martin Read

    It can be damned difficult to pick through all of the disinformation to work out where Corbyn is ‘winning’ the pertinent arguments, but he does seem to be inspiring many disenfranchised voters. The press and much of the wider media (including the BBC) have been quite rabid in their determination to undermine the gentleman. Maybe those who have felt lied to for so long now more easily recognise when and where the ‘propaganda machine’ cranks into life. The manner in which that dreadfully emotive and back-stabbing Hilary Benn speech was dealt with and reported perhaps best demonstrates the huge mountain that Corbyn has to climb. For several decades now I have felt that voting had become nothing more than another desperate attempt to select the ‘least worst’ from a short-list of individuals most of us would rather not have to trust. Maybe there finally is someone to question some of society’s ingrained wrongs.

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