The problem with Corbyn

Having just watched Corbyn being interviewed on the Andrew Marr show, I think I am beginning to get to the bottom of my problems with him as leader of the Labour Party.

It's not that I don't have respect for him. I have a lot of respect for the fact that he has over many years managed to remain principled and to put forward those principles. The problem, and where I lose respect for him, is that he doesn't appear to have the grit and statesmanship to progress those principles to real policies in action, against the inevitable forces that will be against them.

His answers to Andrew Marr's questions about nuclear war, NATO, Brexit, health service problems, education - in fact everything - was to state his approach in principle and to say "We need to get everyone round the table and talk about it to find a solution." Despite much pushing and prompting by Marr, he refused to say how he would react if push came to shove and agreement on new ways forward was not forthcoming. I recalled Rimmer in Red Dwarf proposing a really aggressive leaflet campaign to counter some threat that was about to destroy them all. Talk around a table may be good but it has to be focused on the critical issues.

Corbyn appears to have almost no 'red lines' and without red lines what you get is no change. In negotiations he will get pushed further and further towards the status quo, because there is nothing definite that the other parties in the negotiation will have to respond to. And as said above, people don't like change and won't change unless forced to in some way - even if rationally it can be argued that a change will be beneficial to all. About the only red-line Corbyn does seem to have, though he won't of course admit it, is that he cannot envisage any circumstances at all when he would sanction bombing or killing anyone. I am afraid that is not a red line that any leader of a nation in this world can afford to have, which is of course why he won't admit it outright.

On the Brexit issue he is in denial about the fundamental conflict between being in the single market and accepting free movement of EU citizens, and between ability to make our own trade arrangements and acceptance of the rules of the single market. He resorts to a fuzzy discussion about the desire to get tariff-free trade and a statement that his highest priority is protecting jobs, without acknowledging the huge number of jobs being taken by people from other EU countries and the impact this has on youth unemployment, increased use of zero-hours contracts, training for UK citizens and impact on communities.

Similarly in the field I know best, education, he has no red-lines about grammar schools. His response was to say that long-term be believes grammar schools should not exist but that changes to existing grammar schools would need to be decided locally.

So I guess I had better challenge myself. What would I have liked him to say on education that would have convinced me that he has the capability to be Prime Minister and an effective leader of his party? Or indeed the LibDems to say - the Tories are a lost cause on education as long as May is in charge.

- Increasing selection and the number of grammar school places is fundamentally wrong, as all the evidence is that this reduces the overall achievement of young people in an area. The slight gains for a few are far outweighed by the impact on the 75% of pupils that would end up in schools that would be effectively secondary modern schools. The current policies to allow grammar schools to grow and new ones to open would stop instantly if Labour became the next government.

- That other bastion of selection, by money and the common entrance exam of independent schools that is taken by highly tutored pupils, will immediately have their VAT exemption withdrawn. They are businesses selling privilege. However there should also be an investigation into what it is that independent schools enable their pupils to gain that appears to equip them so well to gain high-power positions in life, so that all schools can be encouraged to make this part of their broader curriculum.

- Labour will then need to show areas of the country that still cling to grammar schools why this policy needs to change and how it is possible for all comprehensive schools to provide really effective and good education, academic, vocational and for life, for all pupils. We will do this by properly investigating the approaches used by the schools that do succeed in narrowing the achievement gap between poor children and those more privileged. And promote these approaches widely to all schools. If some schools can do this there can be no reason why all cannot.

- And as to funding for education, Labour will combine ensuring that education receives its fair share of government funding, matched to pupil numbers, with a radical re-think of where that funding goes. It is clear from evidence that the early years in education are most critical in ensuring all achieve their potential, and it is wrong that a secondary or sixth form pupil is funded significantly higher than early years and primary pupils. With the Internet and technology there are many ways that secondary and college education could be done differently and at lower cost, so as to properly fund the adult to pupil ratios necessary for younger pupils. And in the context of this change we will also sort out the inequalities between schools funding in different areas of England. Sorry London, but other areas also have deprivation and being in London gives you many advantages not available to schools elsewhere.

Now that is the kind of radical Labour agenda I could support. But what radical announcement do we get from Corby today? Four new bank holidays, so that everyone can celebrate three saints days that mean nothing to them, and Spring when we already have Easter, May-Day and Whit in quick succession, will become even more full of holidays. And the idea that these might be a benefit to the economy because there would be more spending on these holiday days completely ignores the fact that most families haven't got any spare money to spend, additional to what they already spend in a year. I despair!