10 Jan 2017

Jeremy Corbyn: ‘capping pay’ and freedom of movement

When Jeremy Corbyn talked about “capping pay” on Radio 4, he meant to talk about capping pay ratios. His team had worked up a policy proposal to address the way public companies (with a ratio of 20 to 1 in boss to average worker pay) suddenly get astronomical increases in the ratio (up to 200 to 1) when they are privatised. He’d like to introduce a rule banning companies exceeding the pay ratio from government contracts. That is something that his team argues can only be done post-Brexit as the EU procurement rules would prevent the UK from introducing such a law while in the EU.

PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10: Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks about Labour's plan for Brexit on January 10, 2017 in Peterborough, England. The Labour Leader delivered a speech outlining his partys plan for Brexit and their vision for Britain. In earlier media interviews he said the party were considering a wage cap to reduce inequality. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)All that rather got lost for a few hours as Jeremy Corbyn, asked about capping pay on a round of interviews this morning, returned to a riff from his August 2015 (first) leadership contest and sounded like he wanted to slash Wayne Rooney’s pay packet.
It made things a bit messy but the evidence from Peterborough market was that punters liked both ideas and, interestingly, they’d heard that Mr Corbyn had raised them.

There were inevitably questions about whether the whole idea of capping “ratios” was dreamt up to bail the leader out but I understand it was in drafts of the speech that circulated before Christmas.

What did we actually learn about Labour’s policy on Europe and specifically on post-Brexit immigration policy? Mr Corbyn goes to Peterborough was a New Year trip loaded with semiotics, the Labour leader reaching out to the lost tribes alienated by Labour’s “soft on immigration” image, visiting a city a that voted 60% for Brexit.

In the embargoed briefing given to journalists yesterday, Mr Corbyn was going to say he was “not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.” He was on the point of jettisoning his long held support for immigration. Free movement was no longer a red line. In the speech as delivered he added: “… but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, not do we rule it out.”

The red line on free movement went dark pink or dotted. But not much else changed. He repeated Labour’s position from the 2015 election, he remained convinced the heavy lifting on stopping cheap exploited overseas labour would be done by better regulation of the labour market. Did he actually believe that immigration should come down? He was asked twice and his non-answer made it clear he hadn’t changed his mind. An ageing Britain needed newcomers to help us.

The fact that Theresa May hasn’t spelled out her position on immigration yet gives Mr Corbyn some cover. Some around him think when that cover shifts he may well have to engage with ideas like EU visas. In that internal Labour battle you probably find Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts closer to Diane Abbott’s (remember her attack on Labour selling a tea mug with “Controls on Immigration” written on the side). John McDonnell and some working for the leader, it’s suggested, might, like some union leaders,  be readier to talk full-scale “immigration control.”  Jeremy Corbyn in Peterborough today just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

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