Jeremy Corbyn is a 'disaster', says Stephen Hawking

World-renowned physicist calls for Labour Leader to step down 'for the sake of the party'

Stephen Hawking died in March at the age of 76
(Image credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize Foundation)

Corbyn tells bankers: wake up to 'ludicrous' inequalities

24 August

Should the City be nervous about Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership race, the Financial Times asked the left-wing frontrunner in an interview published today.

The answer is yes if you're paid a "ludicrous" salary, if you're Robert Murdoch, or if you're in favour of a third runway for Heathrow.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Corbyn told the FT that highly paid bankers should "wake up to Britain's gross inequalities". He also wants to break up Rupert Murdoch's media empire and he's dead set against the expansion of Heathrow – which, as the FT points out, "would cause consternation among business leaders who favour the project".

A number of FT subscribers have commented positively online, one writing: "Now Corbyn should go after the tax-dodging multi-national companies, the energy and rail companies. Corbyn has my vote."

And the interview comes hot on the heels of an open letter signed by 41 leading economists dismissing claims that Corbyn's economic plans are extreme.

"His opposition to austerity is actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF," the economists write. "He aims to boost growth and prosperity."

The open letter represents a major boost to the left-winger's credibility, The Observer reports.

Main points from the FT interview:

  • Executive pay: "I do think the salary levels and the bonus levels again have got to be looked at… I am looking at the gap in every organisation between highest and lowest levels of pay."
  • Media ownership: "We need a media that is not controlled by a very small number of very big interests… [Mr Murdoch] should understand that we're very serious about diversity of media ownership."
  • Taxes: Corbyn would bring back the 50p top rate of income tax but has no plans to "hit the City with new taxes": the current bank tax introduced by George Osborne was "about right".
  • State ownership: A Corbyn-led Labour government would buy back a state shareholding in Royal Mail and seek to hold a permanent government stake in RBS.
  • City relations: Corbyn said his doors were "always open" to big business; however, "they've none of them been in touch yet".
  • Heathrow: "The third runway is a problem for noise pollution across west London… we have to use under-utilised capacity elsewhere… I'd vote against it in this parliament."
  • Nato: It was "a Cold War product," he said,and it should have "shut up shop" with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. There was a need for a "better-developed relationship with Russia". However, the FT reports that he "insisted" he was "no defender" of Vladimir Putin.

Main points from the economists' letter:

  • Mainstream economics: "The accusation is widely made that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have moved to the extreme left on economic policy," the economists write. "But this is not supported by the candidate's statements or policies." His opposition to austerity is actually mainstream thinking: despite the "barrage" of media coverage to the contrary, it is the Conservative government's policy and objectives which are extreme.
  • 'Shameful' Tory cuts: Corbyn was right to vote against the "shameful" £12bn cuts to the welfare bill presented in George Osborne's post-election budget. "The attempt to produce a balanced public sector budget primarily through cuts to spending failed in the previous parliament. Increasing child poverty and cutting support for the most vulnerable is unjustifiable."
  • Need for growth: Cutting government investment in the name of prudence, as the Tories have sought to do, is "wrong" because it prevents growth and innovation "and so over time increases the debt due to lower tax receipts". (William Keegan in The Observer makes this point: "If there is one thing that really infuriates most economists, it is the idea that austerity is required in order not to cheat future generations. The truth is that it is cutting back on public sector investment, which can be financed at negligible interest rates, that actually penalises future generations.")
  • The signatories: Forty-one economists, including David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, signed the letter. They "are not all supporters of Corbyn" but they hope to "clarify just where the 'extremism' lies in the current economic debate".

Jeremy Corbyn pledges Labour apology for Iraq war

21 August

Jeremy Corbyn will issue a public apology on behalf of the Labour party for its "deception" in taking Britain into the Iraq war if he is elected party leader, he has told The Guardian.

As pressure mounts on Sir John Chilcot to produce the findings of his inquiry into Tony Blair's decision to go to war in 2003, Corbyn said: "We don't have to wait for Chilcot to know that mistakes were made and we need to make amends."

Corbyn also made it clear that he will not support David Cameron's proposal to extend British air strikes on Islamic State – or Isil – into Syria.

As the Financial Times points out, a Corbyn victory will "scupper the chances" of Britain taking on IS in Syria because the government has said it will only bring a Commons vote on the issue if it can be guaranteed Labour support.

Corbyn's pledge to apologise for Iraq – a move Tony Blair "repeatedly resisted" – comes as the press focuses on the left-winger's foreign policies, many of which would mark a very real break from recent Labour positions and could affect Britain's relationship with the US.

The Iraq war apology

If Corbyn is elected leader, he will apologise to the British people for taking them into the Iraq war "on the basis of deception" and to the Iraqi people "for the suffering we have helped cause".

The Iraqi civilian death toll since 2003 has been put at 219,000 by the Iraq Body Count project. The number of British personnel killed in the conflict was 179 while 4,425 Americans died.

As The Guardian reports, Blair could never bring himself to apologise for Iraq, issuing only an expression of regret for the loss of life when he gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry in 2011. Ed Miliband described the war as "wrong" but also declined to apologise on behalf of his party.

Future military interventions

Corbyn made it clear in his statement to The Guardian that he would use his influence as Labour leader to ensure that British military interventions become rarer.

"Let us say we will never again unnecessarily put our troops under fire and our country's standing in the world at risk," he said. "Let us make it clear that Labour will never make the same mistake again, will never flout the United Nations and international law."

Corbyn is the only one of the four leadership candidates who as a backbencher voted against the war in Iraq. But his pledge is not just personal – it's aimed at winning back the votes of millions of Labour's "natural supporters, who marched and protested against the war. We turned our backs on them and many of them have either withheld their votes from us or felt disillusioned, unenthusiastic and unmotivated."

Relations with the US

Back in 2003, the Labour government found itself "in the regrettable position of being aligned with one of the worst right-wing governments in US history, even as liberal opinion in the US was questioning the headlong descent into war," Corbyn told The Guardian.

Britain's relationship with the US would be better in the long term if it were not regarded as likely to follow the White House without question, he said.

The Daily Telegraph is more concerned today with comments Corbyn made last year when he said there should be a "political" compromise with IS and compared the Islamic fighters' atrocities to the Americans' behaviour in retaking Fallujah a decade ago.

In an interview with Russia Today, unearthed by Channel 4 News, Corbyn said of IS: "Yes they are brutal, yes some of what they have done is quite appalling, likewise what the Americans did in Fallujah and other places is appalling."

John McTernan, a former political adviser who has consistently criticised Corbyn, told Channel 4: "Wars are horrible, wars should be avoided. But the United States and IS are not the same."

A spokesman for Corbyn said later that the candidate regarded Isis as a "vicious, repugnant force that has to be stopped".

Other foreign policy issues

  • Nato: Corbyn is "hostile" towards Nato, reports the Financial Times, saying: "I'd rather we weren't in it". He opposes the Nato target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence and he's critical of Nato's "standoff" with Russia. But any move to leave Nato would be opposed by the US. The Guardian quotes a former senior Foreign Office official saying that if Corbyn ever became prime minister, "Our relationship with the US would go into deep freeze".
  • Israel: Corbyn has proposed levying sanctions on Israel and banning arms sales to the country, the Financial Times reports. And he has always defended Mordechai Vanunu for "blowing the whistle" on the Israeli nuclear weapons programme. Criticised for sharing platforms with both Dyab Abou Jahjah, an Arab rights activist, and Paul Eisen, a self-confessed Holocaust-denier, Corbyn responded: "The idea that I'm some kind of racist or anti-semitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive."
  • Europe: While Ed Miliband made a virtue of Labour's pro-European stance, opposing the Conservatives' promised in-out referendum, Corbyn has "a more ambivalent attitude towards the institutions of the union", says the FT. He believes the European Central Bank has been "brutal" in its attitude towards Greece, and said at a hustings last month that if David Cameron "trades away" EU-guaranteed workers' rights and fails to crack down on Brussels-backed tax havens, he would be ready to join the Out campaign.

Labour leader: moderates 'fear life under Corbyn'

20 August

There is growing anxiety among moderate Labour MPs, according to latest press reports, that their influence will be reduced to zero if left-winger Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election.

Corbyn has continually presented himself as an "inclusive" and "unifying" candidate for the leadership. But it now appears he intends to handpick his top team – rather than allow fellow MPs to elect the shadow cabinet – and he wants the new army of Labour activists and supporters to have a say in formulating party policy.

There are even fears that sitting MPs could face de-selection – a return to the bad old days of the late 1970s and 80s when hard-left factions used the threat to target MPs they didn't like.

Picking the shadow cabinet

Until now, it was believed that Corbyn was in favour of his shadow cabinet being elected, which would give the moderates a voice. But in an article for the New Statesman, he writes: "I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from Day One."

Senior party figures say he's changed his mind about his front-bench being elected because he fears being "outnumbered" by his opponents, The Times reports.

Putting backbenchers in their place

Corbyn has " a huge task" in getting the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) to respect and follow him once he becomes leader, says Isabel Hardman of The Spectator, because the majority of its members do not support him.

Yet Corbyn is taking a tough approach, warning backbenchers that they are not the "entirety" of the Labour party.

"The PLP must remember two things," he said this week. "It is very important and a great privilege to be an MP but we are only MPs because people voted for us to be there and party members worked night and day to get us elected there."

Giving activists more power

If he wins, Corbyn wants the wave of new members and supporters who have signed up to vote in the leadership election to enjoy the right to vote on policies at Labour's annual party conference.

"MPs see this as a strategy to marginalise the Parliamentary party, who are overwhelmingly opposed to his plans to scrap Trident, abolish university tuition fees and print money to build homes," says the Daily Mail.

The de-selection threat

The influx of new members and supporters backing Corbyn "hasn't just changed the leadership election," a Labour frontbencher told The Times, "it has changed the nature of local parties and their relationship with the MP".

As a result, "a lot of us are starting to worry about the return of deselection votes".

It's also a worry for Labour members of local councils, reports The Times, which quotes a west London councillor saying: "I think they'll deselect me. The viciousness even of my fellow councillors who support Corbyn is surprising — they say they want Kendall and the Blairites to be 'humiliated'."

A new 'awkward squad'? Union leaders hope for Corbyn win

19 August

Hard-left trade union leaders "exiled" under New Labour could return to the fold if Jeremy Corbyn is elected party leader, the Financial Times reports.

The RMT, responsible for the recent London Tube strikes, and the FBU (the Fire Brigades Union), both of whom broke with Labour in 2004 in protest at Tony Blair's "Tory-lite" policies, have confirmed that "reaffiliation" is on the cards if Corbyn wins.

A spokesman for the RMT said the subject would be debated at the union's annual meeting next year.

"It would be entirely a matter for the democratic structures of the union," the spokesman said. "If Jeremy Corbyn wins… it may well spark renewed interest in that area."

The RMT was run until his death in 2014 by Bob Crow, perhaps the most infamous of the so-called 'awkward squad' of hard-left union leaders who fell out with New Labour. Despite its continued lack of an official link with the party, the RMT, under new leader Mick Cash, has "endorsed" Corbyn and given £25,000 to his election campaign, the FT reports.

A spokesman for the FBU said reaffiliation was possible, though was not yet on the agenda. But its general secretary, Matt Wrack, is already on record as saying it was a "no-brainer" that the trade unions would back Corbyn.

"We hope that under his leadership we would see a shift in focus away from the accumulation of wealth for the few towards policies for the majority," Wrack said.

A Corbyn victory might also see the PCS (the Public and Commercial Services Union) affiliate with Labour. Since it was founded in 1998, it has chosen not to do so because, in the Blair years, there was considered to be little between Labour and the Conservatives on economic policy.

But general secretary Mark Serwotka told the FT: "If Jeremy Corbyn wins, that would change everything… We wouldn't rush into affiliating but would want to work very closely to develop policy together – and if that goes well then let's see where we end up."

In the short term, Labour HQ is more concerned with those unions that are affiliated, like Unite and Unison.

Under changes introduced by Ed Miliband, members of affiliated unions are able to sign up and get a vote in the leadership election. Critics say that far from reducing union influence as Miliband intended, he's given a clear advantage to any candidate with strong left-wing credentials, like Corbyn.

Then there's the problem of the new "registered supporters" whose applications to vote in Labour's leadership election are having to be vetted in search of "entryists" from other parties seeking to "infiltrate" the procedure.

Labour's interim leader, Harriet Harman, has confirmed that she has consulted counsel to ensure that the contest complies with the law and that the result doesn't end up being challenged in the High Court.

But a spokeswoman for Harman denies an overnight Daily Telegraph report claiming that she recently considered attempting to halt the election because she was "so alarmed" at the "entryism" threat.

"We have taken legal advice to make sure that the rules are being complied with and that all due diligence as possible was being done," the spokeswoman told BBC News.

"But there were no plans to halt or suspend the contest. We keep a close eye on the process."

Labour leadership race turns nasty and Ed's blamed again

18 August

The Labour leadership race turned considerably nastier yesterday with Yvette Cooper telling Andy Burnham to stand aside because he is failing to provide an "effective alternative" to Jeremy Corbyn, and several MPs turning on Ed Miliband for leaving the party in this mess and now refusing to say anything. One anonymous MP told said the former leader had dumped the fallout "in our front room" and then "buggered off to Australia".

Cooper vs Burnham

Labour's Black Monday began with Burnham using a keynote speech in Manchester to praise Corbyn for bringing "energy" to the campaign, adding: "I want to capture that and would involve Jeremy in my team from the outset."

Corbyn responded within hours, welcoming "Andy's inclusive tone" and promising Burnham a key role in a Corbyn-led shadow cabinet.

This cosying-up of the two frontrunners was too much for Team Cooper: "If he isn't prepared to offer an alternative to Jeremy," said a spokesperson, "he needs to step back and leave it to Yvette.

"And he should do the right thing by the party and tell people who do still support him to put second preferences for Yvette – something he is still refusing to do."

To which Team Burnham responded: "Yvette's stunt is panicked, desperate and straight out of the Ed Balls handbook." [Balls, of course, being Cooper's husband.]

The Miliband blame game

Ed Miliband, on a family holiday in Australia, is refusing to follow the example of other former party leaders – Kinnock, Blair and Brown – in urging party members and supporters to vote for Anyone but Corbyn.

"He believes the debate must play out between the candidates," a Labour source told The Times. Ed was simply following "established precedent" in staying silent.

But this is not Miliband's first use of a holiday to escape a political row – and once again, it's brought a furious reaction from Labour loyalists.

In the immediate wake of the May 7 election shock, Miliband resigned on the spot and disappeared to Ibiza.

It was reported at the time that Ed's wife, Justine Thornton, had insisted he be allowed to resign and avoid the humiliation of facing his victor, David Cameron, at Prime Minister's Questions every week.

It was "understandable but wrong", as Don Brind wrote for Political Betting. In short, he put his personal embarrassment before his party's – and forced a leadership election when Labour clearly wasn't ready for it.

On top of that, it is now clear that the new leadership election rules Miliband oversaw – designed to reduce union influence – have backfired.

Allowing union members to sign up as "affiliates" now means that one in six votes in the leadership ballot will be cast by members of the country's biggest union, Unite, while the new "registered supporters" category – £3 for a vote – has caused the party a vetting nightmare.

In an 'exclusive' posted last night, the Daily Telegraph's chief political correspondent claimed that at a recent meeting of Labour's procedural committee Harriet Harman's request to introduce extra vetting of registered supporters was refused by the trade union representatives who support Corbyn.

Harman apparently believes that nearly one in five of those signing up as registered supporters might have voted for other parties at the last election. But her request that their applications be cross-checked against canvassing returns was "turned down flat": it looked like "an attempt to undermine" Corbyn, because so many of the new "supporters" are thought to be likely to be Corbyn fans.

Graham Stringer, a veteran Labour MP, speaking of the election procedure, told The Times: "This was Ed Miliband's worst legacy — worse even than leading us to election defeat."

Video: Financial analyst Dan Davies discusses the rise of Corbynomics


Labour leader: plots to stop Jeremy Corbyn look doomed to fail

17 August

As ballot papers start to land on 600,000-plus doorsteps, a series of desperate measures to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour party leader appear doomed.

Gordon Brown "begged" party members and supporters not to vote for Corbyn yesterday, but never said who they should pick instead and looked no more likely than Tony Blair to change the voters' minds.

Two plots to deal with Corbyn – one led by Peter Mandelson, the other by Liz Kendall – have emerged. Both appear to have failed dismally.

It all leaves Labour looking almost certain to elect a leader who few Labour MPs want.

As a consequence, there is a second level of plotting – for the future. There are said to be two plans afoot, dubbed the 'Free French' and the 'Maquis' strategies (both explained below).

And yet, and yet… Despite all this turmoil, the general public appears to like Jeremy Corbyn rather more than do the Labour party grandees. Two polls released at the weekend suggest he is not just the runaway choice of those eligible to vote in the election, but is also the people's choice. Could he prove less "unelectable" than his enemies claim?

The Gordon Brown intervention

Electing Corbyn would make it less likely a Labour government could tackle poverty and inequality in the future, said Brown in a 50-minute speech yesterday at London's Royal Festival Hall. Though he never mentioned Corbyn by name, his speech was

"heavy with thinly veiled warnings", as The Guardian reports.

Modern political leadership was all about building strong international alliances, said Brown. "If our global alliances are going to be alliances with Hezbollah and Hamas [whom Corbyn has referred to as "friends" in the past] and Hugo Chávez's Venezuela and Vladimir Putin's Russia, there is absolutely no chance of building a worldwide alliance that can deal with poverty and inequality and climate change and financial instability."

The Mandelson plot

A source close to Team Cooper has claimed that Lord [Peter] Mandelson, one of Tony Blair's closest allies, approached representatives of Cooper, Kendall and Burnham with the suggestion that they all withdraw from the race.

Mandelson believed this would invalidate the contest and force Harriet Harman, the interim party leader, to abandon the election. But party officials said Corbyn would simply be elected unopposed, reports the Daily Telegraph, and 'Mandy' had to drop the idea.

The Kendall plan

The Daily Telegraph columnist Dan Hodges claims that Liz Kendall proposed to Yvette Cooper last week that for the good of the party they should both withdraw simultaneously. Team Kendall's phone-bank data apparently showed that only Andy Burnham had any realistic chance of stopping Corbyn.

But Cooper refused. She had just made the decision to take on Corbyn in a speech in Manchester on Thursday – a move her camp now says has given her campaign a considerable boost.

Two post-election strategies

Anti-Corbyn Labour MPs are discussing two alternative strategies should he be victorious on September 12, according to Dan Hodges.

  • The Free French strategy: Labour MPs would withdraw all support, refusing to serve in his shadow cabinet and declining to observe the Labour whip. Just as Charles de Gaulle and his Free French forces retreated to exile in Britain after the Germans invaded France in WW2, returning only on D-Day to liberate their homeland, so Labour MPs would hang back until Corbyn gives up and a new election has to be called.
  • The Maquis strategy: Another direct reference to WW2, this involves "staying behind enemy lines" and fighting the enemy from within, as the French Resistance guerillas chose to do. Senior MPs would exploit Corbyn's promise to hold elections for all shadow cabinet posts, and proceed to oppose his more radical policies and "start to construct an independent base" within the Parliamentary Labour Party from which to launch a coup when the time is right.

The opinion polls

A Survation poll of 1,000 members of the general public has Corbyn beating Burnham by 28 per cent to 25 per cent on the question 'Who would make the best Labour leader?' Cooper gets 15 per cent and Kendall 12 per cent.

Corbyn was declared the most likeable and the most trustworthy candidate, and the one best placed to hold the Tory government to account as Leader of the Opposition - by a margin of 31 per cent to 27 per cent over Burnham.

As The Times reports, Team Corbyn can now argue that their man reaches beyond Labour's core vote and that he has "a strong electability factor".

A YouGov poll for the Evening Standard found Corbyn was easily the first choice of Londoners, more popular with better-off voters, the young, old, Lib Dems and Ukip voters, thus "defying claims that his appeal is limited to left-wingers and trade unionists," as The Guardian reports. He won 46 per cent of support against 21 per cent for Burnham and 20 per cent for Cooper. Kendall trailed on 12 per cent.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.