Jeremy Corbyn has had a low profile recently but that changed today. The unkind response of some has been that his tour of the studios served as a reminder as to why he showed a reluctance to be interviewed. However, this is looking at the matter from the point of view of the next General Election – a pitch to the 45 million British electorate. But for many on the Left there should be “no compromise with the electorate”.
They are more concerned about the one per cent – the half million or so Labour Party members and affiliated or registered supporters. Last year Corbyn was re-elected Labour leader with the support of 313,209 of them – a very substantial majority. Of course they would like Corbyn’s poll ratings to improve, but not at the cost of “selling out”. It is for the electorate to buck up. Partly this is about being in it for the long haul. Tony Benn reflected cheerfully that the 1983 General Election result saw “eight million votes for Socialism.” Quite reasonably, the Corbynistas might also suspect that Labour would still lose the next General Election even if there was a change of leader – so why not go down fighting, staying true to their beliefs?
Corbyn’s speech today was briefed as being about offering some concessions to the voters over free movement. (“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle”). It was suggested that he would favour an end to unlimited free movement with the EU as part of our Brexit negotiations – even if that meant we would be denied membership of the Single Market as a result. But then in his interviews he sounded as though he was still mustard keen on free movement – certainly still wedded to it in practice. So that was all a routine shambles.
But rather more extraordinary was Corbyn declaring his support for a maximum income. He proposed there should be a legal limit to the amount that a resident of the United Kingdom can earn each year. In the 1970s the top rate of income tax reached 83 per cent. As a young Labour activist Jeremy Corbyn doubtless felt this wasn’t high enough and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, should go much further. Now Corbyn proposes a tax rate of 100 per cent above a certain level.
“If we want to live in a more egalitarian society and fund our public services we can not go on creating worse levels of inequality.”
Has it occurred to Corbyn that a 100 per cent tax rate might not result in increased revenue to “fund our public services”- but that it might be rather more likely to reduce the amount of money available? Does he not think that a policy of total confiscation of earnings above a given level might impact incentives? There can be some argument about the details of the Laffer Curve – but it is hard to dispute that a nil tax rate and a 100 per cent tax rate each result in nil revenue.
It is not an original idea, of course. In Communist Cuba there is a really keen egalitarian policy of a maximum wage of $20 a month. Corbyn hasn’t offered a figure – perhaps the Leader of the Opposition annual salary of £125,000 could be the threshold?
Furthermore a YouGov poll from 2015 found that more Labour supporters backed the idea of “a legal maximum wage of £1 million a year” than opposed it – 49 per cent to 33 per cent. Among the public as a whole the idea was rejected – but only by 44 per cent to 39 per cent – so not a huge margin.
On the other hand the experience of Ed Miliband’s performance at the 2015 General Election was that while individual socialist policies might be popular – rent controls, price controls, renationalisation, tax the rich – the instinct of the British people when offered the whole package was to step back from the brink. So that was a relief. But as memories of the 1970s fade the case for free enterprise does need to be made again.
Corbyn has strengthened his position as Labour leader – and weakened his chances of becoming Prime Minister. But Conservatives should not laugh at him too loudly. His ideas are certainly appalling – but some of them are not as unpopular as we might imagine.