Owen Smith takes on Jeremy Corbyn in the first Labour leadership hustings this evening. The moderates are desperately hoping that these head to heads can change enough minds among the Labour electorate to give Smith a chance of beating Corbyn, hence their eagerness to have them televised and the Corbynite desire to keep them off air.
But as I argue in the magazine this week, Labour’s problems go far beyond Jeremy Corbyn. He is a symptom of what ails the party, not the sole cause of it. Even if he announced tonight that he was off to spend more time on his allotment, Labour would still have big, existential questions to resolve.
One obvious problem Labour has to sort is, what is its economic policy? The New Labour model, let the City rip and use the tax revenues to help fund increased public spending, is no longer viable post-crash. But in this globalized age, if you raise corporate and personal taxes too much, people and businesses vote with their feet and leave. Indeed, if Smith implemented his full tax-raising, policy platform—which has been designed to appeal to soft Corbynites—I suspect tax revenues would actually fall in the medium term.
But, perhaps, the biggest danger for Labour is how globalisation divides its two main support bases—London and the working class North. Crudely speaking, London Labour is in favour of more openness and more immigration while Northern Labour is more concerned with protecting jobs and the effects of immigration on wages. Britain leaving the EU will compound this problem. It’ll bring globalisation into domestic politics far more. Parliament will be voting on trade deals and the question of how many immigrants should come to Britain each year.
This divide between the party’s two main support bases is so serious that one London Labour MP recently predicted that he thought it would lead to a split in the party in time regardless of what happened with Corbyn.
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