He talked for three quarters of an hour about inequality, nationalisation, democracy, “the people” and “the rich”, yet London MP Jeremy Corbyn, who claims he wants to lead the nation, had nothing to say in his Labour conference speech yesterday about the capital city, which has the highest poverty rates in the country and on whose economy the entire United Kingdom depends.
This was no great surprise. The opposition leader has often seemed to subscribe to the Left populist view of London as a paradigm for globalist, capitalist greed and “neoliberal” exploitation that prospers at the expense of the north of England and everywhere else. He seems averse to recognising the inconvenient fact that without London’s economic muscle and resulting tax export almost every other part of the UK would be worse off.
London has become a Labour stronghold during this century, yet Corbyn’s rallying cries to adoring delegates on the south coast made pledges to every part of the UK except the city that generates almost a quarter of the UK’s wealth and about one third of the taxes the putative Labour Prime Minister is so eager to raise and spend. The budgets of Wales and Scotland would be boosted and Crossrail for the North would “link our great Northern cities, from Liverpool to Hull and up to Newcastle in the North East”, he said, but London and its nine million people got no specific reference.
Neither did devolution get a look in. For all the fine talk of taking power from “the few” and giving people a better chance to control their own lives, there was no mention of strengthening the scope and autonomy of the Greater London Authority and London Mayor, or, for that matter, of any of the English city region metro mayors. At least he stopped short of gimmicky non-solutions, like moving parliament to Manchester.
The enduring impression is that Corbyn’s approach to the desirable goal of reducing the wider UK’s economic dependence on London would be the hopelessly reductive one of penalising it for its shameful effectiveness in the fanciful belief that putting more public investment elsewhere at London’s expense would have a helpful “rebalancing” effect. This ignores the reality that London is already the wellspring of redistribution to the regions and that to hurt it could therefore do more harm than good.
Admirers of the Labour leader might object that other measures penciled in to the upcoming election manifesto would do a lot for ordinary Londoners, a great many of whom, as is too often forgotten, struggle daily with its punishing cost of living. Maybe. But how much Corbynite largesse would be bestowed on London, where services, transport infrastructure and home building all cost more than anywhere else, partly as a result of the city’s extraordinary, nation-sustaining growth? How resilient would that growth remain under a “London last” national government mentality?
Corbyn’s political career, like that of nearly all the leading members of his cabinet, is rooted in London. Yet he and his disciples are serving the capital poorly and doing their party’s prospects harm in the process.
The political character of Haringey Council was effectively altered in advance of last year’s borough elections by the successful local deselection campaign conducted by Momentum and its non-Labour allies. Result? On a night of Labour gains across the capital as a whole, the party lost more seats in Haringey than in any other borough (including Barnet, which received far more publicity). Since then, in the long, depressing Hard Left tradition, the “Corbyn Council” administration has been a tragicomic shambles of resignations, scandals and factional backbiting.
Meanwhile, Corbyn’s insular inner Leaver threatens to weaken Labour in London parliamentary seats it hopes to gain or hold with ease. The yellowing of the west side of Haringey last year and the Liberal Democrat vote share in the area at the European elections in May must surely be a worry for Hornsey & Wood Green MP Catherine West. And it has become possible to imagine that the Lib Dems, in the person of Chuka Umunna, could be the ones to relieve the Tories of Cities of London & Westminster, rather than the avidly Corbynite Steven Saxby.
It is rare that I’m aligned with an Evening Standard editorial, but one on Monday said it all. “Jeremy Corbyn is a disaster for the Left, for Labour and for the country,” it declared. He gives every sign that, as Prime Minister, he would also be of little use to London and Londoners.
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