THE BLOG
03/09/2015 10:47 BST | Updated 02/09/2016 06:59 BST

Jeremy Corbyn, Old School Socialist? Or Scandinavian Style Progressive?

Jeremy Corbyn is coming to a town near you and he's eating human babies. Once he's finished devouring the nation's infants he'll crash the entire economy, close the banks and light bonfires piled high with savers' cash, just because he can.

Jeremy Corbyn is coming to a town near you and he's eating human babies. Once he's finished devouring the nation's infants he'll crash the entire economy, close the banks and light bonfires piled high with savers' cash, just because he can.

According to much of the mainstream media, Corbyn, who was initially cheerfully pilloried for his geography teacher appearance and apparently unfashionable opinions, is now the most dangerous man in Britain. It's official. A few months ago he was the rank outsider in the Labour leadership race and unlikely to cause too much concern to anyone, least of all rich and powerful establishment figures. Packed out rallies and extraordinary opinion polls have changed all of that.

Free from a fevered establishment closing ranks to keep out the bogeyman, the questions voters would probably most like considered answers to are: If Corbyn was ever to find himself in government would Britain be heading in an old school Cuban direction? Or would the change in style and policy feel decidedly Scandinavian? And, most importantly, just how bloody dangerous is Jeremy Corbyn?

Well, the first thing to note is that ideas like Corbyn's, a whole host of which would once have been considered part of the broad mainstream, are now presented by most media outlets as radical and seriously edgy. In recent decades, neoliberalism has become the only arena in which major political parties have permitted themselves to play. This paradox has seen advancements in social liberalism but social democracy itself has ceded so much ground to Hayek, Friedman and, latterly, Thatcherite-inspired economic thinking to be almost unrecognisable.

But are some of his ideas still pretty radical?

One of his more interesting suggestions has been for 'quantitative easing for the people,' a policy that would see extra funds for infrastructure, housing and investment on green friendly projects. The aim would be to breathe life into an economy that has seen the slowest recovery since the 1920's. QE to the tune of £375bn was, of course, used by the Bank of England in the wake of the financial crisis to pump money into a struggling economy and to prop up an ailing banking system. A wide range of economists with varying political views suggest that such a policy is certainly risky, and shouldn't be dismissed entirely - but whilst conceding that it would be most effective should the UK re-enter recession. Despite the tabloid frenzy around Corbyn's QE plan, it's hardly something new and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has recently been advocating something very similar.

It will also alarm the alarmists that Corbyn, a man who has never hidden his distaste for the power of fat cats and major corporations, has been making overtures to Britain's entrepreneurs. He has promised tax cuts, a business rate freeze and rent controls as well as increased training support for small businesses. It all sounds eminently sensible so expect the reactionary tabloids to conveniently avoid any mention of this...

According to the Incomes Data Services report from 2014, directors at top 100 listed UK companies now earn an eye-watering 120 times more than the salary of the average British worker. Corbyn's stated aim of introducing limits on top company executive pay will find plenty of support among the voting public. It will also engender outright hostility from those living in gated mansions in stock broker belt Surrey.

While it's very difficult to imagine big business leaders doing cartwheels at the prospect of a Corbyn-led government, delving a little deeper into his economic policies suggests that interventionist, old-fashioned social democracy rather than doctrinaire socialism lies at the heart of the majority of his plans.

Another of the principal themes of his campaign has been the anti-austerity message. The argument against austerity has always been that government cuts are ideology driven and that ordinary people - the nurses, school teachers, librarians and dinner ladies didn't cause the financial crisis so why the hell should they have to pay for it? Particularly as those that did cause it have got away scot-free and have grown significantly wealthier. Despite such arguments being put forward, the Tory government with its state-shrinking ethos and backed, tacitly or otherwise, by the major media outlets and the electorate via a slim majority, appears to have won the debate in the short term. Obscurely, Corbyn has found an unlikely bedfellow in the shape of the fiscally conservative IMF. After advocating austerity in the early days of the financial crisis, the IMF's internal auditor recently disclosed that The International Monetary Fund ignored its own research and pushed too early for wealthy countries to trim budgets after the global financial crisis, thus stifling the pace of economic growth.

While the coalition and the current government have talked tough on tax avoidance and evasion, Corbyn is advocating a far more uncompromising attack on tax cheats. His estimate that the cost to the treasury is in excess of £100bn seems a little fanciful - most reputable sources suggest the public purse is being cheated out of a mere £30-£80bn. There will undoubtedly be support among the electorate for an end to scams that seriously harm the provision of vital public services but saying it is one thing, aggressively pursuing such a policy could prove more challenging and deeply bureaucratic.

Similarly, the reintroduction of a 50% tax rate for high earners is fine in principle but sometimes policies that are rooted in populism are difficult to deliver in practice. An awful lot of work would need to be done on tougher sanctions, closing the loopholes and on international co-operation on reporting systems. Otherwise, in many cases, the treasury could end up with 50% of nothing.

Corbyn has also been vocal about his desire to renationalise the railways and public utilities. Again, these are arguments that land well with a public sick and tired of profiteering by private companies but a serious amount of public money will be required to make such policies a reality. Successful implementation of QE and a massive overhaul of the taxation system, including higher corporation tax, would be required in advance if such bold ideas are to be economically feasible.

An area where Corbyn appears out of step with public opinion is immigration. He and many others have been absolutely right to express disgust at both the tabloid reporting and the prime ministers dehumanising language relating to the humanitarian crisis. Likewise, Corbyn's sentiments that Britain should do a lot more to help those fleeing persecution are entirely reasonable and will get a sympathetic hearing up and down the country. His apparent reluctance to fully accept the pressures on public services of excessive immigration, particularly in concentrated geographical areas, smacks of idealism, however well intentioned.

There are no such problems for Corbyn on foreign policy where, for many years, he's had an uncanny knack for calling it correctly. His passionate and courageous opposition to apartheid South Africa, the Iraq War, Libyan and Syrian airstrikes, together with long term dogged support for the Palestinian people in the face of Israeli aggression, has marked him out as a man who deserves a serious hearing. Often swimming against a tide of jingoism, his predictions of the madness that would fill the void left by western interference in the Middle East have proved unerringly accurate.

His personal view is that the UK would be better off out of NATO and as a non-nuclear state. It will certainly be a challenge to win over the British people regarding this perspective, but, putting things into context, countries such as Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland - collectively just about as extreme as the least extreme thing your mind can muster - do just fine with that international position. Maybe it really is time for Britain to shake off its imperial past and alter the global perception of the country. Such a move would also free up funds to invest in Corbyn staples like health and education.

So, based on all of that, what is the truth about Jeremy Corbyn? Is he the bogeyman depicted in the right wing media? Or are his ideas a viable alternative to a system that works very well for some but fails many others?

The striking observation when one takes the time to really dissect his policies are that they aren't anywhere near as radical as the hype would suggest. His central themes are for a mixed, interventionist economy, regulated to ensure market excesses are more evenly distributed for the benefit of all. It will probably disappoint those on the hard left and certainly a febrile, right wing media utterly immersed in neoliberalism and self interest but his ideas fit very snugly into a category that would once have been considered social democracy. His problem will be making himself heard over the background noise which is only going to grow louder.