Experts discuss the Labour Party position in the world today
Richard Murphy, Zoe Williams and Ann Pettifor among speakers at panel discussion
An expert panel debated the current policies of the Labour Party in the first of a new series of events organised by the Centre for International Policy studies (CIPS).
Guests including Zoe Williams, of The Guardian, and Ann Pettifor of Policy Research in Macroeconomics, discussed Labour’s approach to both economics and foreign policy.
The new CIPS event series will explore the direction of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the relevance of its policies to Britain, and the world, in 2016.
The event, called Labour and the World Today, was chaired by Professor Inderjeet Parmar, Head of the Department of International Politics, who explained the current approach of the Labour Party was “one of the most controversial topics in British politics today”.
He said: “Many people dismiss it as something from the 1970s and 1980s and should be consigned, therefore, to history. Other people argue that it is the most important thing to be going on right now.
“It is quite clear that parties and individuals who represent politics and thinking beyond the so-called mainstream in Britain, Europe and in the United States seem to be doing particularly well in elections and in other forums as well.”
He added: “There seems to be some kind of shift going on and it’s interesting to see, how valid is it?
“Does it have anything to say about the place of Britain in the world system today? Does it have anything to say about the way in which Britain ought to develop?”
Guardian columnist Zoe Williams discussed the public perception of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn and criticised negative reporting of the party’s leader.
“It’s kind of shambolic and embarrassing and I’m embarrassed of my own profession,” she said. Zoe explained that, in her opinion, Labour was failing to communicate its messages to the public effectively and was finding it difficult to manage the way its policies appeared in the media.
“There’s a lot of media distortion in this,” she said. “When you get inside where they are, they’re saying things that are not being reported and they are reaching conclusions that are not being reported and they are reaching conclusions that are actually, in a broader context, quite mainstream.”
She added: “They are at a point at which their ideas are meeting a huge number of other ideas, both on the left and in the mainstream and in academia. And that, I think, is going to be a huge strength for them.
“From my point of the view, the trick will be to find the mouth piece to say it so that it doesn’t look like they’re reacting to other people, because at the moment they can’t get on the front foot.”
Dr Ann Pettifor, Director of the organisation Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) and an Honorary Research Fellow in the City Political Economy Research Centre (CITYPERC), said various elements of the British establishment were struggling to “accept” the election of Jeremy Corbyn.
“What we are dealing with is the inability of the British establishment to understand that the political tectonic plates have shifted quite radically,” she said, “and that people are very angry and dissatisfied.”
Dr Pettifor explained the Labour Party, and other left-wing politicians had a “massive vacuum” in understanding the role the finance industry in the modern world.
“Labour has been deeply disinterested in that side, and it’s having to learn, and having to learn fast,” she said.
Dr Pettifor added she believed the UK’s political system had been “hollowed out” and “huge swathes” of the economy had been privatised and were now out of the control of the government.
The economist said an erosion of political power had taken place over the last three to four decades and the nation was now governed by “the invisible hand of the market”.
“There is a real issue about whether or not there is enough political power there to be worried about Corbyn,” she said." Is he really relevant to anything?"
I don’t believe the finance sector loses a night’s sleep on the opposition or indeed on the government, because that’s not where power lies any more.
She added: “The really big issue for this leadership is how to reassert political power and how to once again become more influential, in terms of the way in which public policy is drafted and implemented. And I think that is a really big challenge for the left as well as the right.”
Professor Richard Murphy, of the Department of International Politics, said criticisms of the Labour Party’s approach were “unfair” as he believed some of its economic ideas were appropriate in the current climate.
However, the academic said Labour and Jeremy Corbyn were not capitalising on this fact, despite policies such as “people’s quantitative easing” becoming more popular.
“There was policy there which was perfectly made for the moment that we are now in and is achieving a lot of support and yet no-one seems willing to say it,” he said.
Professor Murphy added Corbyn had the chance to put his economic ideas at the centre of the political agenda, but the party appeared hesitant to do so.
“Few politicians actually have such luck,” he said. “He’s arrived at the right place at the right time, with the right ideas to do the right things if he wants to.
But if he doesn’t jump and say they are his ideas, very soon George Osborne will claim them all as his own. And we will get Corybynomics but it will be rebranded again, and it will be Osbornomics in some other new form.
Professor Michael Ben-Gad, from the Department of Economics, offered a more critical perspective of Corbyn’s left-leaning approach, suggesting his election as Labour leader represented an “alarming” turning point in western politics.
The academic said the principles of market economics that had developed over the past century had helped to assure peace and individual prosperity, but Corbyn’s policies put them under threat.
He said: “During the twentieth century, per capita GDP in the UK grew by just over 1.5 per cent per year, against 0.8 per cent in the nineteenth century. Before that, annual growth could barely be calculated.
“It took only 80 years in the twentieth century to cover the same amount of ground it took for the economy to grow in the 1,800 years prior to the industrial revolution. And that’s even when you take into account two world wars.”
He added: “This is not to say that the post-war policies of market economics, mixed with an ever expanding welfare state, is sustainable.
“The welfare state was constructed on demographic assumptions that have largely evaporated – people are living longer, and have too few children to sustain the rising demand for medical care and pensions.”
Dr Anush Kapadia, of the Department of International Politics, offered a broader perspective of left-wing politics in 2016.
The academic said the vision of politicians such as Corbyn were not “particularly radical at all”. However, he said left-wing parties around the world had a “rhetorical problem” and found it difficult to find the right language to avoid their arguments sounding “reactionary”.
“The real problem for me, that the left suffers, is one of broken horizons, or failed utopias… And in place of those failed and broken utopias all we have left now… is basically the right’s vision of capitalism with a bit more amelioration, a thicker or thinner safety net.”
Dr Amnon Aran, of the Department of International Politics, gave his thoughts on Labour’s world view, which he concluded said “a very worrying foreign policy outlook indeed”.
In the context of recent global events, such as Russia claiming territory from Ukraine and allegations of chemical weapons being used in Syria, Dr Aran concluded that Corbyn’s suggestion of removing the UK’s nuclear weapons showed a “very benign threat perception”.
“The suggestion to relinquish nuclear weapons is heavily problematic,” he said. “At least what the Labour Party leadership should have offered is an alternative.”
The academic also suggested the Labour leadership had displayed an “underestimation” of the role of military power, pointing to the view that the UK should not engage in airstrikes in Syria.
Dr Aran explained the military could be used to avoid or mitigate human catastrophe, for example by establishing no-fly zones or creating humanitarian corridors.
A final issue was the Labour leadership had at times shown “unqualified solidarity” with problematic regimes around the world, such as Iran.
Dr Aran said associations with countries that were controversial in some way must be accompanied by public recognition of any faults.