Since 12 September 2015, and his ascension to leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn has been under intense scrutiny, and much of the resulting media-storm surrounding him has been negative. However, in the spirit of the season, it seems more appropriate to celebrate some of the positive things surrounding his recent political activity, despite Conservative Andrew Bridgen’s sensational claim that a decision not to release a statement on Christmas Eve is tantamount to the MP for Islington North ‘cancelling Christmas’.
In December 2010, the Islington Gazette reported that Corbyn was, in the midst of the expenses scandal, the lowest claimant that year (not including 78 MPs who claimed nothing) – claiming just £7.80. In the last financial year this has risen somewhat, however according to IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority), he has still claimed £279.48 less than the Prime Minister, with all claims for office supplies, while Cameron spent £740 just on travel. This is a small victory given that Cameron makes £143,659.71 per annum, and Corbyn reportedly now takes home £125,000.00 every year as Leader of the Opposition, and both men’s expenses topped £4000 respectively. So, while all of these figures are outrageous given that the average UK salary was £26,500 in 2014, any attempt to lessen expense is encouraging, even if such effort is simply declining to claim for travel expenses.
In terms of money, and in terms of ideology, one of Corbyn’s most prominent viewpoints is his rejection of austerity as an economic solution. In fact, despite derision towards such a position, a few weeks prior to his election as Labour leader, 41 economists publicly validated his economic policy as “actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF. He aims to boost growth and prosperity.” Putting such rhetoric into practise, his most publicised assault on Conservative austerity has been his attack on Tory plans to cut working tax credits – a piece of the welfare state that not only can drastically improve the situation of people who earn low incomes, but also provides incentive to work and is accountable for a drop in child poverty. In the widely circulated clip of PMQ in which Corbyn asks Cameron six times whether or not tax credit cuts would mean members of the public would be worse off – and in which the prime minister notably fails to answer – perhaps the point is not the simple fact that the government is choosing to slash support for low income people, but what their motivations might be. If Corbyn’s anti-austerity position is supported even by the IMF, then their motivations seem more sinister. One can argue endlessly about how raising tax for high-income earners might eventually cause such individuals to move away from the UK, but compared to the plight of those on low incomes, and what might happen to them if support like tax credit is gradually withdrawn, the former is very much a non-issue. In fighting the Conservative government on this issue, it seems that Corbyn is truly prioritising the people who need help most.
Of course, this is only the first three months of leadership, and in amongst the positive, there have been a number of negative allegations against Jeremy Corbyn, as well as issues like Syrian airstrikes, where Corbyn’s decision to stick to his principles divided the party. In terms of the outright negative, media outlets have relished the discovery of an IRA connection, for instance, speculating about how far this influences him to this day, including suggestion that a current Sinn Fein connection may have caused him to sack a member of the Shadow Cabinet in a fit of anti-Semitism (due to the party’s pro-Palestine connections). No real concern is shown for the alleged discrimination however: the news sources in question instead enjoying stressing Corbyn’s support for ‘IRA terrorists’. He is quoted in the same article as saying, in 1988 “…force of arms is the only method capable of bringing about a free and united Socialist Ireland” by way of demonstrating hypocrisy.
Of course, alleged anti-Semitism and past and present connections to violent groups are not things to be taken lightly, and just because one might agree with a politician’s ideology does not mean that they are a good person. However, given that the views expressed in 1988 are so drastically different to those expressed now by a man who opposes both nuclear armament and armed response to terror threats, does suggest that right-wing news sources do not want to protect the public, but wish to discredit a man who comes across as very genuine, and whose views have evolved as he has aged.
So: in practise, Corbyn has so far demonstrated whilst in the position of Labour Party leader that he is solidly on the side of the people. In ideology arguably he may be, or may have been lacking; whether pro-IRA, pro-Hamas or anti-Semitic he is yet to allow such alleged sympathies become apparent in his present-day politics (and has in fact vehemently refuted the Hamas allegations) and if he ever does, perhaps then the press will have a valid case against him. Until then, hopefully people will remember that it is his current actions, not his historical speeches, that really count.