Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election many in Labour have been surprised by the lack of policy proposals. Having made few speeches and high-profile interventions, there has been little to distract from the party’s internecine warfare.
Corbyn’s address to today’s Fabian Society conference was designed to change that. He suggested that companies should be barred from paying dividends unless they pay all workers the living wage, a populist pledge that won him headlines this morning. But more than this, his speech contained a series of large-scale proposals: a renationalised railway, democratic control of energy, health and social care integration, a lifelong education service and universal childcare. Much of Corbyn’s analysis of the economy and inequality could have been delivered by Ed Miliband but he has drawn far more radical conclusions. The Fabians, whose membership has swelled to a record high of 7,000, loved it.
Unusually for Corbyn, his speech avoided any mention of wars and Trident, a signal that he recognises the need to shift the focus to domestic policy (where there is far greater unity). But while many Labour MPs will welcome this, their criticism will be what Corbyn didn’t say. There was no mention of immigration (other than the refugee crisis) and welfare, two issues which they warn cost the party the election, and little on fiscal responsibility (how, voters will ask, would all these ideas be paid for?) Corbyn’s opponents believe that he is still doing far too little to reach out to Conservative voters.
One of the most notable sections of speech came at the end. Emphasising that he was only making “suggestions”, he declared: “Ed Miliband expanded the vote to elect the leader – empowering members and supporters. I want to do the same with our policy-making.” Corbyn’s allies rightly believe that giving members control over policy-making would allow stances such as unilateral disarmament to be adopted. But if the rules are to be changed it will require a 60 per cent vote at Labour’s next conference. The trade unions, the largest of whom oppose Trident abolition, are likely to resist any attempt to downgrade their influence.