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Monday, 25 September 2017

Managing the Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn may be the starry-eyed idealist that he often presents himself to be: in which case he is too good for practical politics, and certainly the last person to control nuclear weapons. Yet there is a good chance that the incompetence of the Tories, and the egomaniacal economic illiteracy of Boris Johnson in particular, could hand him the control of Downing Street.

It is therefore particularly important to note that he - or his manipulators - has prevented the Labour Party Conference from expressing a view [let alone, declaring a policy] on the dominant issue of the day: what does Brexit mean?

On one aspect of the matter his view is entirely sensible: this country needs a fundamental economic restructuring, with a significant implementation of mixed economy policies. This could well include the resumption of state ownership of natural monopolies - the railways, electricity, gas and water supply. It is also fundamental that a country with advanced manufacturing industries, which need to be fostered and developed into a new era of high productivity, retains the fundamental capability to produce steel. Corbyn has rightly said that the EU rules on 'state aid' to business would make it virtually impossible to take the necessary measures; but he has conceded that it is plausible to envisage a model in which the UK can be free to make industrial policy and still have a close customs agreement with the EU.

Given Corbyn's popularity with the new party faithful, and the anxiety of older loyalists to remain in favour, it is likely that he could win a vote on Brexit in the conference, and vindicate his stance: but he had declined to do that. This is pure Stalinist politics; the avoidance of any risk that he-who-must-be-obeyed is to experience challenge.

Also in the conference, John McDonnell is to make a major issue of the mass indebtedness that has beset the United Kingdom since the 2007 credit crisis compounded the economic disablement that Thatcherism brought upon the population of the ex-mining and formerly-industrial regions. His 'solution', to make it impossible for lenders to charge more than twice the amount borrowed, in fees and interest during the length of a loan, looks wonderful: but is utterly impractical. While it could apply to specific hire-purchase type agreements of individual items, most debt is not susceptible to a cap of that kind. Car loans are usually cut short when the car is changed: the debt outstanding on the loan is settled usually by manipulation of the used-car's and the new car's 'prices': it would be impossible to compute what would be twice the amount of the loan, in any simple terms. Even more complex is the question of credit cards, which are by definition a flexible rolling loan covering a complex of debts that are entered into and resolved in myriad individual agreements. It would be impossible to compute how much interest and service charge was imposed in respect of any item within the card's compass. To set a maximum APR would make the system non-viable for the banks, even though they would be constrained by circumstances to charge the set maximum all the time for everybody: and the system might still be non-viable. If the credit card system collapsed, a lot of people would be disadvantaged. But it is odds-on the McDonnell's proposal will be accepted with rapturous applause. This will demonstrate another Stalinist 'truth', that the practicality of a policy is unimportant: it is the principle and the intention that count in an authoritarian regime.

There is always somebody to blame when a policy fails; and McDonnell has spent the last quarter century blaming the bankers, for the much evil they have done and the many things they could not help. Thus the world rolls on, and the left changes as little as do the Tories. Time for the Liberals to re-invent themselves again?

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