First published by The Manchester Informer, 29th April 2017
Make no mistake, the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap general election on 8th June was a wholly cynical one. With polls predicting a sweeping victory for the Conservatives, Theresa May simultaneously rubbished earlier assurances that she had no intention of calling an early election and further damaged public trust in the Tory leadership.
Actions like these make it difficult for voters to rely on Conservative promises. Not only have the Tories called an election they swore wasn’t a possibility, but they’ve refused to rule out rises in VAT and income tax or make any assurances on previous promises to keep the triple lock on pensions.
The issue of trust in Britain’s political class has long been a fraught one. From the expenses scandal of 2009, where MPs from across the political spectrum were implicated, to the damning evidence uncovered by the Chilcot enquiry, we are living in a time where those who govern our country and create laws seem to believe that different rules apply to them.
Theresa May is unelected, only assuming the role of leader because everyone else dropped out of the race, desperate to put distance between themselves and the toxic job of defining Brexit. As Prime Minister, she has been tasked with negotiating a Brexit that she never wanted in the first place, and has called this election as a Tory coup, confident that she will gain a clear mandate to pursue a Brexit plan that suits her party’s interests.
The suggestion from Nicola Sturgeon that May has also decided on an early election to evade accountability for the impending scandal of alleged Tory expenses fraud adds a further dimension of dishonesty to the proceedings. Whether or not we are on track for a Conservative victory remains to be seen, but May’s confidence in a Tory win is clear.
May’s assured attitude to the election outcome, despite misleading voters about whether a snap election would be called and dealing with the spectre of another expenses scandal, is particularly ironic due to the nature of her opposition. Whatever your personal opinions on the beleaguered Labour leader, it’s undeniable that Jeremy Corbyn is a man of conscience.
He has a clean record on expenses, and in 2010 had the lowest expenses bill of any politician, claiming just £8.50 for a printer ink cartridge. He has consistently championed peaceful negotiation as an alternative to violence to ensure that the fewest possible civilian lives are lost, campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa, and has been a vocal opponent of the Iraq war.
During the run-up to the EU referendum, Corbyn campaigned for Britain to remain part of the single market, but instead of pretending that the union is a magical utopia, he treated the electorate like adults with a more nuanced message. He stressed that Britain would be better off within the EU, but was still blasted for ‘undermining’ the Remain campaign as he criticised scaremongering and ‘myth-making’ on both sides of the argument.
Corbyn is untainted by sleaze or by the influence of corporate lobbyists, unlike many politicians who take on lucrative second jobs or receive thousands for speaking engagements. His leadership bid in the summer of 2015 and subsequent surprise win saw him singlehandedly shift the conversation around austerity. Corbyn was the only politician to reveal austerity for what it really is – an ideological position rather than an inevitable consequence of the financial crisis.
His policy positions and previous voting record are in line with his desire to end poverty and inequality in Britain, and make the country work for everyone – an important cornerstone of traditional Labour principles. He continues to draw impressive crowds to rallies up and down the country, has overseen a major influx in new Labour party members and has energised a whole cohort of previous non-voters, but is viewed by Theresa May as an easy opponent.
You’re probably not wondering why. This is because since Corbyn’s surprise leadership win, the mainstream media have fed the British public with a constant stream of negative press, dubbing him alternately useless, weak and dithering, and a terrifying socialist enemy of the people. The impact this coverage has is highly damaging and coupled with internal party tensions, could guarantee a Labour bloodbath on June 8th.
In Britain, we’re perhaps vaguely aware that our press is partisan, but without a real understanding of the scope and influence of vested interests. The majority of our major publications are owned by wealthy private individuals who have a real stake in the outcome of general elections and referendums. A leader like Corbyn, who is committed to ending tax evasion, increasing income tax for the richest members of society and binning exploitative zero hours contracts, is a liability. He cannot be bought.
Public trust in politicians has been low for many years, and with good reason. However, when a leader comes along who is decent, straight-forward and honest, we should be ready to welcome him, instead of swallowing proven, systemic bias from a largely-unaccountable media elite. Scandals like the Cash for Questions affair should have changed the face of British politics for the better, but between the influence of canny media moguls and the ‘say one thing do another’ approach of many MPs, trust and transparency are still major issues.
On 8th June, there are two choices. Theresa May, a leader who has misled the public and presides over a party that has seen a massive increase in child poverty due to policies like benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, and Jeremy Corbyn, who has put forward 10 common sense pledges to make this country one that will work for everyone, not just the wealthy few.
When Jeremy Corbyn is receiving poor approval ratings against a dishonest politician like May, leading a party that has literal blood on its hands from a failed austerity agenda, I have to conclude that there is something very rotten within the core of our democracy.