Is Britain Also Feeling the Bern?
Then the 2017 Labour Party Manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few,” leaked to the press. A full-throated, 24,000-word populist agenda, it was mocked as a “suicide note” by The Economist.
The manifesto pledged to provide the equivalent of an economic bill of rights to guarantee basic security for workers – from education to housing to retirement security. It also outlined a plan to nationalize key utilities, thereby reversing the privatizations that have been driving up costs.
Corbyn’s plan would hike the U.K.’s minimum wage to the equivalent of $15 an hour, prohibit on-call employment contracts, ban unpaid internships, and bolster the ability of unions to organize. Labour also pledged to build public housing, make university tuition-free, provide free childcare for children over two, invest billions into improving public schools, and serve free school meals for every child in primary school. Pensions would be guaranteed, the National Health Care Service would be bolstered, and welfare cuts reversed.
These sweeping proposals would be paid for by raising taxes on corporations and the richest 5 percent of the population via a financial speculation tax and other vehicles. Corbyn’s presentation echoed Bernie Sanders’s rhetoric. Britain, he said, had been “run for the rich, the elite and the vested interests.”
They have benefited from tax cuts and bumper salaries while millions have struggled… We are asking the better-off and the big corporations to pay a little bit more, and, of course, to stop dodging their tax obligations in the first place.
The manifesto went viral. Polls revealed that each of its various reforms had broad support, even as the pundits criticized it as unrealistic. When the campaign began, Corbyn started appearing more on television and radio, where voters could see he wasn’t a wild-eyed raving radical but an old curmudgeon, clearly comfortable in his own skin, and committed to the changes he called for. He looked more, as the New Statesman put it, “like a slightly bedraggled, if much-loved, family pooch than an apex predator.”