Muscat disagrees with Corbyn? Gee, what a surprise…

One is a genuine Socialist, and the other isn’t ...

Corbyn proposes
Corbyn proposes "a people's quantitative easing"

I believe it was Benjamin Disraeli who once said: “My idea of an agreeable person is someone who agrees with me.” And on the basis of that definition… well, it seems that our Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat did not find British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn very ‘agreeable’, when the two met for lunch last December. 

In an interview with a website called ‘Lovin Malta’, Muscat said that the two Labour Party leaders discovered, in the course of that lunch, that they ‘basically disagree about everything.’ 

Everything, huh? They found ‘basically nothing’ to agree on at all, in the course of a conversation that must have lasted at least an hour…? 

Hmm. Naturally, we don’t know exactly what topics cropped up over the actual lunch itself. One does assume, however, that a pair of European Socialist leaders would discuss at least a few of the issues that would normally interest Socialist leaders the world over: economic and fiscal policies, social issues, industrial relations, public health, education, war and peace… you know, that sort of thing. 

Perhaps it did not occur to the Prime Minister, then, that his statement tells us far more about himself than about Jeremy Corbyn: whose left-wing credentials are not (and never were) in doubt. But if Muscat disagrees with a hard-boiled Socialist ‘about basically everything’… it becomes inevitable that we would start questioning Muscat’s version of Socialism more than Corbyn’s.

So… let’s take a look at a few of the Socialist ideals and principles with which Malta’s Socialist Prime Minister basically disagrees. I’ve taken the liberty of plundering a Guardian article entitled ‘What does Jeremy Corbyn think?’ It’s a bit dated, I admit (September 2015). But one thing I know about Corbyn is that his views on most things have been rather consistent over the years. He opposed the Falklands War of 1981 with as much vehemence as the Iraq war of 2004, for instance… and presumably, those two issues also form part of the ‘basically everything’ Muscat disagrees with him about.

Joseph Muscat’s own views and opinions, on the other hand, are a bit like those Pokemons everyone’s trying to catch on the mobile phones. You never know where or when they’re going to suddenly materialise… or what form they are going to take.

Emergency contraception is a good example. Just three years ago, Joseph Muscat told us he was against the morning-after pill in all circumstances… because his wife had a miscarriage. No, I didn’t exactly see the logical connection between those two statements, either. It’s a bit like saying, ‘I don’t suffer from diarrhoea myself, so nobody should be allowed to take Immodium’.

But it doesn’t really matter anymore… because Muscat no longer objects to the morning-after pill at all. His own government is now debating whether or not to license it; and Muscat himself now thinks his opinion on the issue should be based on expert advice, rather than the unfortunate circumstances of his own family.

Who knows? Maybe, in another three years’ time, Joseph Muscat will be saying something completely different again. Small wonder he would find so little to agree with, when having lunch with a man whose opinions have not changed one iota since the 1970s.

But back to what Corbyn actually thinks, and why Joseph Muscat disagrees with basically all of it. What does Jeremy Corbyn think about economic policy? This is from the aforementioned article: “Corbyn is opposed to austerity and plans to bring down the deficit by growing the economy and taxing the wealthy instead…”

Strange, that Joseph Muscat would disagree with Corbyn on precisely that, of all things. In February 2015, he himself said: “The EU needs reforms and must move away from policies that do not work and are unsustainable. Austerity is one of them.” And there is almost no difference at all between Corbyn’s stated aims concerning deficit reduction, and the actual economic policies Muscat has followed in the last three years. 

Like Corbyn, Muscat argues that economic growth is the antidote to government debt... and that economic growth cannot be achieved through curbs to government spending. Paradoxical though this may sound, Muscat therefore believes (as Corbyn does) that the deficit can be reduced through higher government spending. The only difference concerns how the two Socialist leaders intend to finance this bonanza of government largesse.

Corbyn proposes “a ‘people’s quantitative easing’, which would allow the Bank of England to print money to invest in large-scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects, partly through a national investment bank.”

Much more significantly, Corbyn proposes increasing taxation on the wealthy.

Interestingly enough, Muscat has only just started a campaign to pressure ‘local banks’ (of which the largest, Bank of Valletta, just happens to belong to his own government) to finance his own deficit reduction schemes. Against a backdrop in which the National Audit Office has reported increasing loan repayment defaults in the development/construction sector alone – from 4% to 8%, no less – our prime minister’s grand scheme for ‘growing the economy’ and ‘reducing the deficit’ is to force the banks to lower their traditionally high lending standards… at a time when they are already struggling to recover loans.

Still, on this point both Socialist prime ministers seem to concur. Both believe the banking system can be exploited to meet their own government objectives… and that government itself should establish and regulate the lending policies of private financial institutions. It’s only the method that varies slightly. 

Taxation, then, must be the part where Muscat ‘basically disagrees’. It is certainly the one aspect of Corbyn’s policy that Muscat himself has NOT emulated. Quite the contrary: this government (like its predecessor) has lowered the tax brackets for the highest earners in the country, not raised them… and it has done so with the specific intention of attracting sectors such as I-gaming, which tend to shop around for the most favourable tax rates in order to maximise their own profit, while contributing as little as possible to the finances of its host country.

Very ‘Socialist’, I must say. Not only have we built our national economy on the back of a notoriously cut-throat and parasitical industry, which makes millions off the misery of the most socially deprived categories known to man… but we have also cemented the blueprint drawn up by successive Nationalist administrations, whereby the government collects less taxes from the sectors that can actually afford to pay the most… while relying on taxation revenue from a long-suffering salaried-employee class that now struggles to make ends meet.

Onto other issues now. Education: Corbyn “wants to scrap tuition fees and restore student maintenance grants. This will be funded by increasing national insurance on those earning more than £50,000 a year and increasing corporation tax by 2.5%, or by slowing the pace of deficit reduction…”

OK, here the issues are not directly comparable, in that our tuition fee structure is completely unlike the UK’s. But again, please note the fiscal implications of Corbyn’s education policy: increasing high end and corporate tax, to fund free education for everybody. 

Where does the money Malta invests in its own (equally free) national education service actually come from? Higher corporate taxes? Erm… the opposite, actually. The people paying (proportionately) more towards education, are arguably the ones who need free education for their children the most. Certainly it is not the ones who can afford to send theirs to expensive schools and universities overseas. Those benefit from tax cuts and fiscal incentives denied to lesser mortals…

But that is just a tiny detail. The real difference is that Muscat’s actual contribution to the educational sector, in physical terms, was to attract a foreign university to set up here… a private, paying institution, with the very Socialist aim of exclusively attracting the wealthiest students in the world… and as with the financial services sector, the procedure also had to involve a ‘special concession’. 

Only in this case, the concession did not take the form of lower tax rates… but of cheap virgin land outside the development zone, just a few years after Labour led a crusade against the extension of the development zones in 2005/6.

Well, all that seems a long time ago now. It seems that the island’s scarcest and most vulnerable resource – its open spaces – is now the currency with which all governments barter for foreign investment. And you have to be blind not to see that we are paying far more for the product than its actual market value. We are selling the most precious thing we have – and cheaply, too – so that a few multi-millionaire Sheikhs or celebrities can get their kids a university degree just by making a phone-call…

As for the rest of the environment: I imagine Joseph Muscat must have ‘basically disagreed’ with Jeremy Corbyn on hunting, too. Corbyn campaigned and voted against fox hunting in the UK; Muscat openly supported spring hunting, voted ‘Yes’ in the referendum, and indirectly worked to secure the pro-hunting result. 

All things considered, then: it is hardly surprising that Joseph Muscat and Jeremy Corbyn would disagree about ‘basically everything’. One is a genuine Socialist, and the other isn’t. Simple as that, really…

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