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2 August 2016

Nine things we learned about Jeremy Corbyn’s policy ideas from his interview with Owen Jones

The left wing commentator interviewed the Labour leader about his campaign and policy ideas.

By Will Carter

Following Angela Eagle’s refusal and/or inability to differentiate herself policy-wise from Jeremy Corbyn in an interview on Sunday Politics in July, and leadership rival Owen Smith’s recent unveiling of 20 new policies during his leadership speech last Wednesday, many will be wondering where exactly Jeremy Corbyn stands on key policy issues, and what the details are of his proposals.

A recent LSE study concluded that much mainstream print coverage of Corbyn is either uninformative or negative, so a solid clarification of his policies is essential as he moves into the election.

Many of Smith’s proposals are Corbynite in tone, such as a wealth tax for the country’s top 1 per cent, increased spending on the NHS and the abolition of zero-hours contracts. In order to stay radical and relevant, Corbyn will have to distinguish himself from Smith, clarifying his positions and proposals, while proving that he has the leadership skills to unite the party.

In an extended interview with the left wing commentator and campaigner Owen Jones, Corbyn endeavoured to do so. Here are the policy-related highlights:

Increased public spending

It’s no secret that Corbyn believes in, in his own words “public expenditure as a principle”, and many of his proposed policies can be subsumed under this umbrella. As well as the obvious in terms of health and education, ideas mentioned specifically in relation to increased public expenditure include plans to invest in “the delivery of services in the community via support for local councils, so that services such as libraries, refuse collection and recycling all improve” to reverse what he called “a cycle of decline”.

Public ownership of the railway and postal systems, and increased “community participation” in energy production

Corbyn reaffirmed his belief in a renationalised rail network, for which a detailed plan was already announced last September. He reiterated his desire to see Royal Mail returned to public control “as far as we can”, and clarified his position on energy production. He refuted the idea that his government would nationalise the Big Six energy companies, but did want to see more community involvement in energy production. For example, Corbyn praises Germany, where ideas such as help for energy start-ups and cheap access to green investment could form part of his more community-based vision for energy. He stated his interest in green gas generation from waste.

A £10 Living Wage

Corbyn confirmed his desire for “a real living wage” and that he would be “looking at the TUC (Trades Union Congress) figure of £10 per hour”. This works out as £2.70 more than George Osborne’s National Living Wage.

Repeal the Housing Act, invest in council housing, create a national system of basic housing standards

Corbyn proposes to repeal the recent Housing Act, which includes Pay to Stay, a scheme that compels local authorities in high-cost areas to sell their most valuable properties, leading to what he calls “social cleansing”. He wants to see greater regulation of the private rental sector, to combat staggering rents in the capital and vastly fluctuating property conditions in the rest of the country. Corbyn advocates “a nationally agreed and very strict system of basic standards in the private rented sector”. Concerned about the brevity of many tenancies, Corbyn argues for tenancies with greater “longevity”, again using Germany as a model, saying that longer-term investments will result in lower rents and better living conditions.

Support for first-time buyers

Corbyn wants to help people get on the property ladder by introducing “low-start mortgages” for first-time buyers. As well as easing the financial burden on individuals, he hopes that this move will ensure a “social mix of communities” and reduce the need for workers to commute increasingly long distances.

Free university, adult education and apprenticeship regulation

In the interview, Corbyn repeats his desire for free university level education, but expands upon his belief in free, high-quality adult education and training options, mainly organised through local councils. He cites the current government’s poor record on apprenticeships, claiming some of them to be “truly awful”. He calls for better regulation of apprenticeship providers.

Guaranteed linking of pensions to average earnings and NHS adult social care

He pledges to combat poverty among the elderly by promising greater income security: state pensions would be kept in line with rising earnings and to ensure basic standards of living.

Corbyn wants adult social care brought more under the control of the NHS, therefore being free and available to anyone, decrying the problem of “bed blocking” in NHS hospitals.

To alleviate social exclusion among the elderly, he advocates inviting older people into schools, to share their experience and learn more about their communities as they are now.

He claims that all policies for the elderly should be based on “respect for their participation in society” and wants to re-frame care for the elderly and vulnerable adults as “a statutory responsibility”.

In-work benefits for the self-employed

Guaranteed standard in-work benefits for the self-employed is one of Corbyn’s key proposals; he claims that the self-employed are often “grossly exploited”. More generally, Corbyn has established the Workplace 20-20 initiative, a “national conversation” on workplace rights, which will be a critical source of information for Corbyn’s developing work-related policies.

Electoral reform and a democratic House of Lords

Here, Corbyn states his belief in the importance of the MP/constituency link, the loss of which would render UK politics “remote”. He moots top-up lists, additional member systems and a democratically elected upper chamber as a way of reforming our voting system and parliament.

He promises a “constitutional conversation” on electoral reform, including debate on devolution. He did not directly respond to Jones’ question on a potential “progressive alliance” with other parties, but maintained that the MP/constituency link would remain a “caveat” for all discussion on electoral reform.

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“Fine” is how Corbyn described his feeling in the face of pressure from the media and the Parliamentary Labour Party at the start of Jones’ interview. By the end of the interview, Corbyn upgrades his outlook to “very optimistic” about his prospects and “the power of mass movements”. The Labour leadership election on Saturday 24 September will tell.