With Jeremy Corbyn ahead in the polls and expected to win the Labour Leadership contest, there is plenty of discussion about how he would behave as leader and (possibly) Prime Minister. For example, The Mail on Sunday has published a frankly hilarious piece of mock futurism by David Thomas: ‘The 1000 days that destroyed Britain‘ warns of blanket re-nationalisations, the abolition of the Bank of England, and—worst of all—a gender balanced Cabinet.
But surely the best indicator of how Corbyn would govern is to look to the record of another member of the ‘Awkward Squad’ who won power: Ken Livingstone.
From what I recall of Ken’s tenure as Mayor of London, there were radical policies on travel and the environment, such as the Congestion Charge, the Cycle Hire scheme (the mis-named Boris Bikes), and the introduction of Oyster Cards; and there were people-friendly policies like the pedestrianisation of part of Trafalgar Square. There were also some questionable associations with people like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and I recall his dealings with people like Lee Jasper were widely and negatively reported. But there were no outrageous socialist projects, and indeed some of the biggest issues facing the current Mayoral contenders, such as the London housing bubble, only grew during the Livingstone years. He didn’t even stop the privatisation of the London Underground.
Livingstone also enhanced London’s reputation as a global city. The 2012 Olynpics were secured and his response (just a few days later) to the 7/7 attacks struck the right chord. These memorable moments were emblematic of a tenure that was comfortable with the multiculturalism of our capital city.
If Corbyn in Downing Street followed a path similar to Livingstone, perhaps a similar trajectory would be the most likely outcome. I imagine that he would institute a few bold, signature policies on transport and the environment that would generally be seen as common sense, if a bit socialist: re-nationalisation of the railways, for example; and something to catalyse green energy generation and electric cars. But in other areas the left-wingery would be tempered by the complexity of the issues at hand, and, like all politicians, Jezza would disappoint his most ardent fans while failing to win any new friends with his compromises. It will be neither a socialist paradise or a socialist hell.
As an aside, we should also note that Livingstone was a hard left politician who proved to be electable. This was partly due to his personality and also due to the particular demographics of London, so such electoral success should not necessarily be extrapolated to a different politician and a national election. Having said that, what made Ken electable in London could make Jeremy electable in other big multicultural cities, including Glasgow, where Labour desperately needs to regain the seats it shed in May.