My last blog was on the US elections where I argued that although neither Clinton nor Trump is my hero, Trump is a better bet from an African perspective. In this piece I argue that in the political contest for state power in the United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn is definitely my favorite.
Let me state at the outset that I am not directly involved in the politics of the UK. It is none of my business (or Africa’s) to meddle in the manner the UK organises its elections. I wish to add that the British and the West should extend the same courtesy to Africa, and let Africans decide their own future. I am realistic enough to know that such courtesy will not be extended. So, in the end, we’ve to take our future in our own hands.
A brief background to British Politics
I’ll be candid, so that African readers understand why British politics are in a mess, especially after the Brexit referendum.[i] Like a cat amongst pigeons, Brexit has caused havoc and panic amongst the two major political parties – Labour and Conservative. And, strange as it may sound the challenge for both is … guess who?- Jeremy Corbyn. And why?
Here a bit of history is necessary. The year 2007 was a major turning point for Western economies. They are facing the worst depression since the Great Depression of 1929-39. Today, nearly ten years down the road, their economies have not recovered (in contrast, for example, to China). This has impacted their politics too. Europe is fragmenting. The “middle ground” has dropped – i.e. politics are polarised between the far left and the far right.
For much of this time, for nearly a decade, Prime Minister Tony Blair has been in power. He took Britain right of centre to occupy the middle ground. In effect, he was no different from Margaret Thatcher. Like her he imposed an austerity program on the people. He bailed out the banks instead of nationalising them. He became an ideologist for free trade. And above all, he became a belligerent imperialist causing havoc with his military interventions in the Middle East and Africa.
Then, suddenly almost out of the blue, springs Corbyn. For almost thirty years he was a member of the British Parliament (MP) – almost as an outcast from the Labour Party (LP). In September 2015 he shook the Labour Party: a huge number of young people, devastated by Blairite austerity, gathered around Corbyn to elect him as leader of the LP. The LP MPS were in a state of shock – most of them were Blairite. In early 2016 80% of the LPMPs voted a motion of no confidence in Corbyn. For nearly 9 months, they (and the media) have been fighting to oust Corbyn. They cancelled membership of 130,000 young Labourites who had legally become members paying £3 (the “three-pounders”) demanding they pay £25. Within weeks 183,000 members paid the £25 fee and became members. On a leadership contest on 24 September 2016, Corbyn was re-elected by a thumping majority – 60.075%.
The well-known economist, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times wrote this: “Corbyn’s rise reflects loss of confidence in political and commercial elite, and popular anger with greedy plutocrats and their lackeys in the media. But Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. If elected, capital would flee.” [ii]
This is part of the scare tactics that the British Establishment (political elite and the media) have employed since September 2015.
So to the question:
Why is Corbyn good for Africa?
I will come back to Africa, but first I would argue that Corbyn is also good, in my view, for the ordinary British people. I will simply list the main points of Corbyn’s policies.[iii]:
Do away with the “old politics” of corporate sharks operating largely outside state control.
Close current state deficits.
Issue a directive to the Bank of England to adopt Peoples’ Quantitative Easing (QE) – in lay language, use money to add value to ease peoples’ pains and not corporate gains.
Raise £93 bn. by cutting out tax reliefs and subsidies to the corporate sector.
Fund national infrastructure banks.
Bring in a strong tax anti-avoidance law.
Cut out Nuclear weapons. (The Trident nuclear project in Scotland alone is costing the British taxpayer £100billion). [iv]
Nationalise energy and rail
Regulate rents and companies paying low wages.
Local authority control over schools.
Cut university student fees
Abolish cap on welfare benefits
These, and more, are the sources of Corbyn’s popularity amongst the working classes, the young unemployed, and university students in debt bondage.
However, in order to understand the consequences of Corbyn for Africa, let us look at the wider picture.
Corbyn has challenged the neoliberal dogma that has ruled the world ever since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in America in 1981. This has been disastrous for Africa, where it has come in the form of the so-called “Economic Structural Adjustment Program” (ESAP) aimed at restructuring African economies to conform to the demands of the imperialist countries, and not the development needs of Africa.
On the political-military side Corbyn has questioned the wisdom of holding on to nuclear weapons, and of remaining within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Contrary to its claim, NATO is not a defence but an aggressive military outfit. To give just one example, in March 2011 a NATO-led coalition attacked Libya to enforce a “no-fly zone”, literally blowing up the whole country with 26,500 sorties against Libya targets. Nearly six years down the road, Libya is in a shambles, marred by an unending civil war, and now a base for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Africa (but not only Africa) will benefit from NATO’s dissolution.
As mentioned earlier, Corbyn has taken a strong position against nuclear weapons, daring to defy not only the Conservative Party but also members within his own party. “I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations.”[v] May I ask: how many states in Africa have nuclear weapons? Not a single. Apartheid South Africa did have nuclear weapons but these were destroyed by post-apartheid state. Africa has declared itself as a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. The Treaty on it prohibits the research, development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, testing, possession, control or stationing of nuclear explosive devices.[vi] In Corbyn, Africa has a strong ally on this very important issue.
Corbyn has been a relentless champion of Africa’s freedom, and its right to determine its own destiny. Hewas an active member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, one time even serving as its National Executive in the UK. Africans resident in the UK have formed the Africans For Momentum (AFM), also known as Africans For Jeremy Corbyn Values. (Momentum is a grassroots organisation founded in 2015 to support Corbyn).
Corbyn has taken a strong position against Mega Regional Trade Agreements (MRTAs), such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He has made a public commitment that a Labour government will veto the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).[vii] He argues that TTIP and other such organisations are driven by American corporations to advance their interests at the cost of workers and they undermine the sovereignty of countries in Europe and in the third world.
I have not seen any statement from him about the EU-Africa Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), but I have no doubt that he would support Africa’s attempt to resist these. Such a position would be in line with his general opposition to mega-regional-trade agreements, especially EPAs which the European Corporate Empire is forcing down the throats of African governments.
Above all, Corbyn wants to create a “new kind of politics” where you do not bully your opponent, not respond to personal attacks, and use the internet and social media to hold bottom-up policy consultations. These are good principles.
Acts of mutual solidarity between Africa and Corbyn
On September 2, 2015 I was invited by a solidarity organisation in the UK called Global Justice Network that has always supported the struggle for fair play and justice in international relations – including matters related to Africa. I was asked to talk about my book “Trade is War”, but the discussion crossed many boundaries, and drifted into a discussion on Corbyn. One person followed up the discussion and sent the group her reaction to my views: “Mr Tandon mentioned his support for Corbyn, but surely the UK Government is a well-oiled machine programmed to forge ahead with or without a leader. Conspiracies will even suggest that it doesn’t even need a prime minister. Therefore my question is why then does he think that Corbyn will be any different from Cameron or Blair? Surely faced with the same pressures the UK will fold”.
And this is what I replied: “Corbyn has introduced a new political vocabulary (actually, it is an old one, but the Blairites in the Party took it to new heights of opportunism … which the people can now – finally – see. We must all vote for Corbyn. My personal wish is that he wins the Party leadership, but does not become PM too soon. What he needs to do (in my view) is to stay in the opposition for some more years, and build cadres from below (especially in the unions and at the community level) who will help rejuvenate the party, restructure it so it is accountable to the people (and not to the City). And help develop a completely new alternative agenda. Corbyn is right in wanting to get out of NATO. I think that UK should remain with the EU, but the EU should decouple itself from the US. If things move faster than I anticipate, then, of course, Corbyn should put the revamping of the Party on a fast track. The GJN can provide ideas and grassroots support. 2020 might be the year to target”.
A year later I still hold this view.
Can Corbyn change the political-economic dynamics in the UK? I don’t know; this depends on many things. He has scored some significant victories, as discussed above. For nearly one year – from September 2015 to September 2016 – the Establishment wing of the Labour Party within the Parliament tried to dislodge him. They failed miserably. I suspect they will continue to thwart Corbyn, acting as Trojan Horses.
The good news is that there is a groundswell of support for Corbyn from the grassroots, especially from young people. Why? … Because they, like the masses in Africa, are bitter against the dominant global order, the exploitation and oppression by the Establishment war lords. Africans have been victims of the Establishment for centuries – during slave trade and later through colonisation, and now under Empire-driven austerity policies called ESAP.
We – all of us from the North as well as from the South – who fight for justice in international relations share a common platform. Some of the issues are listed above. But we need, as Corbyn has spelled out, a language of political discourse, at both national and global levels. This discourse fits well with some of the best known traditions in Africa set by leaders such as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
Oxford, 10 October, 2016
[i] See http://yashtandon.com/brexit-and-the-future-of-epa/
[ii] See: Financial Times, 27 September, 2015
[iii] This is not an official list put out by Corbyn. I have made this list from closely following the debate since Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party