Jeremy Corbyn. The current Leader of the Labour Party and the person who has called on us all to vote for him in the upcoming election. However, we are left to ask the question who is Jeremy Corbyn? Where does he come from? What are his opinions away from the propaganda and the spin? What does he actually believe in? What are his views on key issues?
In this series I will be analysing the three main party leaders from the three most important perspectives; what is their background and career path, what are their known personal beliefs and what is their voting record in the House of Commons. With this three pronged attack I hope to shed light on who it is we are voting for and hopefully make the choice clearer for any and all readers.
Jeremy Corbyn was born in Chippenham in 1949, the son of two peace campaigners who met in the 1930s at a committee meeting in support of the Spanish Republic. Corbyn was educated at both independent and grammar schools, it was here that he first became active in the Socialist movement. Corbyn achieved two E grades at A Level before leaving school at age 18. Soon afterwards he spent two years in voluntary service in Jamaica. Upon his return he became active in the trade union movement working as an official for the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, National Union of Public Employees and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. During this time he also began a course in Trade Union Studies at North London Polytechnic but dropped the course after a series of arguments with his tutors over the curriculum and became one of the three vice chairs of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Following a period serving as a Labour Councillor, Corbyn was elected as Member of Parliament for Islington North in 1983. During his early years he successfully petitioned the party to have dentists paid by the NHS rather than privately and joined the socialist Campaign Group eventually becoming its Secretary.
Jeremy Corbyn was immediately viewed as different by his fellow members of Parliament. Often criticised for not conforming to the established order he became known for voting entirely with his conscience rather than the party line. He is the most rebellious MP in history having defied the party whip 428 times. He also became known for wearing open necked shirts rather than the traditional suit and tie. Corbyn responded to this criticism stating that ‘It's not a fashion parade, it's not a gentleman's club, it's not a bankers' institute, it's a place where the people are represented’. His non-conformist tendencies have often been used to criticise him, however, in the current global political climate there is a chance that people will be attracted to him precisely because he is not a ‘normal politician’.
Corbyn has consistently shown that he is a man of principle, who knows his own mind and is prepared to defend his views rigorously and to stand by them in spite of any contrary opinion. In 1984, not long after being elected an MP he was arrested outside South Africa House for defying police orders concerning his protest against apartheid. He later became well known through his work defending the Guilford Four and the Birmingham Six who were all found to have been wrongly convicted of Provisional IRA bombings; given the public antipathy toward the Irish Republican cause and his well-known desire for a United Ireland this was a risk and is part of the reason why David Cameron labelled him a ‘terrorist sympathiser’. Corbyn was also almost imprisoned later in the 1980s because of his refusal to pay Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax and his participation in the Poll Tax Resistance Movement.
Recently, Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear that he does not consider himself a pacifist and has given examples of ‘just wars’ but maintains that war should always be the absolute last resort and has thus spent his life opposing violence at home and across the world. He served on the Steering Committee of the Stop the War Coalition, is a known supporter of Unite Against Fascism, voted against war in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya and has previously stated that he would like to see the end of NATO. His position on military intervention is one which is well reasoned and ultimately well intentioned; where possible there should be no military action, instead discussion, debate and free exchange of ideas must prevail to prevent unnecessary loss of life. He is also a firm opponent of nuclear weapons which from a humanist perspective is a sound moral standpoint. The issue will be whether he can convince the British public that his position is the correct one as there seems to be a stark divide between those who feel that we should not be involved in any foreign conflicts and those that see the UK, NATO and the ‘Special Relationship’ as integral in bringing peace and democracy to the world by force.
When it comes to Europe, Jeremy Corbyn had consistently voted against the European Union. In 1975 he voted against Britain’s membership of the EEC, in 1993 against the Maastricht Treaty and in 2008 against the Lisbon Treaty. This view is not uncommon amongst Labour Party members, particularly those that have genuine Socialist principles and for whom such an interdependent block filled with regulation means that the likelihood of being able to reform the Capitalist system is almost impossible. Though he eventually began campaigning on the side of ‘Remain’ in the referendum he gave his enthusiasm for the EU as ‘seven to seven and a half out of ten’. This appeared to be mainly due to the principles European Convention of Human Rights and other such social legislation not being present in British Law meaning that Brexit would have far reaching effects on workers’ rights. In this regard it would appear the Jeremy Corbyn is in essence against the European Union but recognised the need for its legal framework in the current political climate.
Jeremy Corbyn’s personal views are closely allied to his political actions, he has always been very open about his positions when questioned. He supports higher rates of income tax for the wealthiest in society and wants to reduce the amount that companies receive in tax relief. He is a firm believer in human rights being universal and has criticised British ties with Saudi Arabia and the lack of appropriate action and discussion over the Israel/Palestine conflict. He has also openly stated that he is a Republican but does not pursue this politically as he recognises that there is no public appetite for dissolving the monarchy. In line with established Socialist thought Jeremy Corbyn is also a vocal advocate for nationalisation and has stated his intent to bring utilities, transport and energy companies back under public control. This is a central pillar of his 2017 manifesto.
The only view that Jeremy Corbyn has not made publicly known are his religious beliefs. He has simply repeated that his faith, or lack thereof, is a ‘private thing’ and has said that he is ‘sceptical’ of having a god in his life. He has however stated that ‘I have huge respect for all faiths. I find faith very interesting, and the power of it’. Ultimately, this should not be an important issue in the election, it is far more desirable to have someone who maintains privacy over their faith than someone who allows it to impact negatively on their policy as the situation is with Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.
Jeremy Corbyn has shown himself throughout his career in politics to be a man of principle. Whether you are in agreement with him or you hold an opposing view, one thing that can never be criticised is his honesty and dedication to his cause. It is this integrity that has drawn praise from those who in political terms are his polar opposites. How has this translated in the House of Commons? Well for that information we need to look at his voting record.
The motions which Jeremy Corbyn has voted in favour of include gay marriage (2013), the ban on fox hunting (2004), plans to save the steel industry (2016), the principle of the government not borrowing to fund day-to-day spending (2016), a referendum on EU membership (2011), guaranteeing the right of EU nationals in the UK post-Brexit (2016), granting the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50 (2016), allowing those with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment to continue to receive contribution based Employment and Support Allowance after the usual 365 day limit (2012), an energy price freeze (2013), excluding child benefit from the benefit cap (2012), creating 100,000 more jobs and 25,000 affordable homes funded by a tax on bank bonuses (2011), the ‘Mansion Tax’ (2013), a series of proposals intended to reduce tax avoidance and evasion (2016), reducing the amount of income an NHS foundation is permitted to make from private patients (2012), lowering the voting age to 16 (2005), capping annual rail fare increases at 1% above inflation and to ban increases in excess of that limit (2012), banning letting agent fees (2014) and requiring academy schools to follow the school admissions code and requiring them to have a curriculum which includes personal, social and health education (2010).
The motions which Corbyn has voted against include repealing the Human Rights Act of 1998 (2016), war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (2003, 2010, 2011, 2015), renewing Trident (2015), the ‘Bedroom Tax’ (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), capping proposed increases in working age benefits and tax credits at 1% potentially allowing them to rise by 2.2% in line with prices (2013), allowing a terminally ill person to obtain assistance dying from a doctor (1997), reducing the household benefit cap (2015), reducing tax credits (2015), identity cards (2016), the ‘Snoopers Charter’ (2014), the Sugar Tax (2015), proposed NHS reforms including giving more power to GPs to commission services (2012), the badger cull (2012, 2013, 2014), raising tuition fees (2004, 2010), the establishment of more Academies (2011), the sale of England’s public forest estate (2011) and the privatisation of Royal Mail (2010).
Read: Who is Theresa May?
In conclusion, Jeremy Corbyn is the anti-May. He represents a school of Socialist thought which was forced out under ‘New Labour’ and for which the membership of the Labour Party membership has been clamouring since that moment, this is best illustrated in the overwhelming majority he has received in both leadership elections. His views and votes show compassion for people regardless of age, gender, race or religion and a genuine desire to see peace and equality worldwide. The biggest issue will be, can he lead? Does he possess the tools to be Prime Minister, is it possible to maintain such principles when in office? And the biggest challenge of all, is it desirable to have such firm ideals as a leader or will this leave him incapable of adapting to rapidly changing world events?
Personally, I believe that he could be a success and it would be a breath of fresh air to have someone who is not afraid to do what’s right in spite of objections, even from within his own party. I am just not sure that the British people will see it the same way.