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Jeremy Corbyn is doubling down on his 2017 election promises, but will the gamble pay off?

The Labour leader is probably facing a make-or-break election.

Jeremy Corbyn's 60-second manifesto.
Jeremy Corbyn's 60-second manifesto.
Image: Twitter

WHEN JEREMY CORBYN was elected as Labour leader just over four years ago, TheJournal.ie wrote that his long-term challenge would be “contending in the 2020 general election”.

That now sounds almost quaint such is the disintegration of British politics in the interim, but the challenge remains the same. 

Corbyn is now facing his second general election as leader and one which much surely be considered a make-or-break one. His supporters have already rubbished such talk but it’s fanciful that Corbyn could survive five more years in opposition.

But if he is to avoid this he must overcome some major challenges.

The first being his unpopularity among the public at a time when politicians are historically unpopular.

One poll published this week in the Financial Times put his net satisfaction rating at -60, the worst of any leader entering an election in forty years.

There are plenty of arguments to be had over why Corbyn is so unpopular, with four years of negative press and plenty of own goals among them, but he has thrown himself into the campaign ignoring any such considerations.

Corbyn is pitching himself in much the same way as in 2017, when the party almost pulled off an unlikely victory, but is doubling down in some key areas.

This is pretty much exactly a case in point when it comes to taxation.

In the party’s hugely ambitious manifesto published on Thursday Labour promised to increase tax revenue by £82.9 billion a year by 2024, nearly twice what the pledge was two years ago when it was £49 billion.

For that tax hike the party is promising huge investment in the national economy, with various economists saying it increases the size of the state’s involvement to the pre-Thatcher days of the 1970s.

Corbyn himself has denied this year’s manifesto was a “throwback” to the 1970s.

Others have pointed to the fact while the tax and spend approach would represent a historic shift for the UK, it isn’t quite out of kilter with some other economies in Europe.

Corbyn has doubled-down in other areas too.

When he was elected leader in 2015 the nationalisation of British railways was among his most talk-about pledges, representing a reversal of the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990s.

This has now been hugely expanded with Labour’s manifesto containing plans to nationalise bus, rail, water, energy, broadband and postal services.

The broadband plan released a week earlier was among the most eye-catching pledges of the campaign so far, with its promise to deliver free full-fibre internet to every UK home and business by 2030.

But the announcement of the plan also showed the scale of the challenge and how such nationalisation proposals would be opposed, with BT’s chief executive coming out to say it would cost five times the £20 billion Labour claims.

Labour’s plan came in the same week the Irish government finally signed the contract for the National Broadband Plan, a project beset by delays and huge cost overruns.

The Irish experience could serve as an example for either Corbyn’s supporters or detractors.

Critics might say it shows just how badly big plans can go astray. Others would say it precisely demonstrates why some essential services cannot be left to private companies.

After all, the National Broadband Plan only exists because some areas are not profitable enough for companies to care about. 

Brexit

Corbyn of course faces a big problem when it comes to winning support from voters who see Brexit as the most important issue.

Labour’s position on Brexit may not be as confusing its opponents would make out, in fact it’s now quite straightforward, the problem is that it evolved at such a piecemeal rate that the message has already been lost.

The party’s position is that it will seek to renegotiate a deal with the EU and then put that to the people in another referendum with Remain on the ballot paper.

For much of the past 18 months as demand for a ‘People’s Vote’ grew Corbyn resisted taking this position, instead pushing for a general election as a way to break the parliamentary impasse.

Corbyn repeatedly said he was bound by the decision of his party conference, which last year voted for a second referendum to be “an option on the table” and then this year made the holding of a referendum official party policy.

But despite that change, a controversial vote on the floor meant that Corbyn would not be forced to campaign for Remain if such a ballot was to happen.

That remains Corbyn’s position and the problem for him is that it leaves him open to attack from both sides.

In Tuesday’s debate, Boris Johnson repeatedly attacked Corbyn for not answering the “fundamental question” of whether he’s in favour of Remain or Leave.

Corbyn’s repeated defence is that this a question for the British people to answer, but at no point during the debate did it feel like he could put the question to bed.

It’s even more complicated when Labour MPs in Leave voting constituencies are openly disputing party policy, as was the case with Hartlepool MP Mike Hill who tried to convince a reporter that another public vote did not equate to a second referendum

Another headache arising from Labour’s fudge on Brexit is that it has damaged the party’s chances of entering government by way of a coalition.

While the Liberal Democrats may have their own other reasons why they would not support a Corbyn-led government, his Brexit stance has given them an easy way out.

Jo Swinson’s Remain-supporting party should be jumping at the chance of a second referendum but can point to Corbyn’s ambiguity as a reason not to countenance supporting him.

It’s meant that not only is Labour potentially alienating Brexit voters, but the party’s chance of actually leading the country after an election becomes less believable. A fact echoed in the polls.

But this will not stop Labour from insisting it can win on 12 December.

Corbyn seems to come alive when campaigning, as anyone who watched his impressive 60-second manifesto can attest, so will delight in being an underdog.

He said as much when launching his manifesto, telling the electorate:

“That’s why they throw everything they’ve got at us. Because they’re scared of real change. Because they aren’t on your side.”

“Labour is on your side,” Corbyn added, we’ll have to wait and see the public is on his. 

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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