When Theresa May made her pitch for why she should be prime minister in Birmingham last week, lots of people pointed out, rightly, that it sounded like the speech of a Labour leader.
She pledged to create a Britain which will “work for everyone” no matter how wealthy you are, your ethnicity, your education, or whether you suffer from any kind of disability. It was the kind of liberal battle cry which we could easily imagine being delivered by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
But we do not have to use our imagination after listening to what Corbyn said at the launch of his leadership campaign on Thursday morning.
Speaking in central London, the veteran socialist opened his pitch with “I came into politics to stand up against injustice.” He then highlighted the injustices he wants to eradicate: the gender pay gap and workplace discrimination faced by the young, disabled, and ethnic minorities.
Granted, Corbyn was talking about injustice in the workplace, but the similarities between the under-pressure Labour leader’s speech and the prime minister’s were just too massive to ignore. On first glance, this is peculiar, given that the ideological gulf between the pair is so gaping.
But this was no coincidence. Theresa May is embarking on a project to completely destroy the Labour Party and keep the Tories in government for decades. She is doing this by taking control of the “middle ground” — jargon which describes the ideological space which most British voters occupy. The place where you find the “average” voter.
Take a look at some extracts from the speeches. First, Corbyn’s (emphasis ours):
“Last year Britain was ranked 18th in the world for its gender pay gap, below Nicaragua, Namibia and New Zealand. We can and must do far better. So Labour is calling time on the waiting game and I am making the commitment today that the next Labour government will require all employers with more than 21 staff to publish equality pay audits detailing pay, grade and hours of every job alongside data on recognised equality characteristics.
“Because it is not only women who face workplace discrimination but disabled workers, the youngest and oldest workers, black and ethnic minority workers. Young workers are institutionally discriminated against, not entitled to the full minimum wage not entitled to equal rates of housing benefit and so many are now saddled with huge student debts.”
… and now, here is a bit of May’s Birmingham speech (all of it could be emphasised):
“Because right now, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else to go to university.
“If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you still earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s too often not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
You would be forgiven for thinking these two speeches were being given by the same person — or at least two politicians belonging to the same party.
This is not to say that Tories have never been interested in fighting social injustice. The point is that May and Corbyn’s visions for Britain appear to be so similar that it is difficult to pinpoint what the latter is offering which is so radically different. Stood behind Corbyn at the launch were signs reading “The Peoples’ Voice,” but, right now, May is telling the people very similar things.
Herein lies a really big problem for Labour. When Brits are faced with two leaders who are making almost identical promises on social policy — but one is a prime minister with years of governmental experience and the other is a deeply divisive opposition leader whose own MPs want to see overthrown — who are Brits more likely to trust?
As a staunch progressive, if Corbyn can’t even lead the conversation on issues like social justice then he is in even deeper trouble than recent polls have indicated. Being much more left-wing than the majority of his MPs, Corbyn was always at risk of leading the party off into the wilderness. But right now the Conservatives are feeling more comfortable than they ever could have imagined.
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