By Howard Green

On March third, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his annual budget for 2021. As you would expect from a modern Conservative government, the budget showed an unwillingness to borrow and spend more than a moderate amount, despite the continuing economic pressures posed by the pandemic, and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to benefitting their rich donors while denying the most basic of help to the victims of years of Tory austerity. Sunak is spending just enough pocket change to maintain the appearance that the government isn’t just doing the bare minimum during the pandemic, but, typically, even this amounts to high praise from the largely right-wing mainstream media.

One of the standout policies, and probably the least Tory-typical part of the budget, is the rise of corporation tax from 19% to 25%. Despite the whinging from the corporate sector, this is a sound policy – taxing those who continue to make a substantial profit amidst a pandemic is absolutely necessary, and doesn’t oppose economic growth. It’s strange enough for the Tories to take such an approach, but what makes this policy really peculiar is what the politicians on the opposite side of the bench are saying. Labour leader Keir Starmer opposed these measures, confirming the Labour party’s new alignment as ‘the party of business’. The irony of this isn’t lost on anyone.

This new rise in corporation tax is only a percent shy of what Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour campaigned for at the 2019 general election. Of course, the Corbyn campaign was pre-pandemic, but it remains astonishing that, on this issue at least, the Conservative party are more willing to flirt with the ideas of Corbyn than the current Labour party are.

With this budget, and Starmer’s pro-corporate response to it, establishment politics delivers one last kick in the teeth to the Corbyn project

During the 2019 election, I campaigned for Corbyn in my constituency of Broadland. Like much of Norfolk, it remains strongly conservative, with only the occasional village or town that is slightly warmer to Labour. One of the most frustrating days door-knocking was in a particularly wealthy area near Norwich, populated largely by middle class business owners or workers who had climbed moderately high up the corporate ladder. They were particularly riled up about Labour’s proposed corporation tax rise. Many described Corbyn’s Labour as ‘communist’, intending that term as an insult. I can’t help but wonder whether they’d speak with the same venom about Sunak and his party now they seem so interested in cherry-picking the Corbyn policies that are convenient for them, from raising corporation tax to nationalising broadband.

The pandemic has made plain the contradictions in this Conservative government’s approach to policy. But should their adoption of these ideas change the way we think about the Corbyn project? Was Corbyn always right that the British public would support socialist policies under the right circumstances? Did he not go far enough with his 2019 policy platform?

This hypocritical budget does not answer these questions. But if the Tories are prepared to adopt policies previously labelled as communist, then maybe that is a sign that the left needs to get a whole lot more explicit and revolutionary. With this budget, and Starmer’s pro-corporate response to it, establishment politics delivers one last kick in the teeth to the Corbyn project. We must kick back – harder than Corbyn ever did or Starmer ever will.

Featured image CC licensed via flickr

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