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Why Jeremy Corbyn is no laughing matter

Let’s start with an old joke: What’s black and white and red all over? Well, since no one reads newspapers anymore, the answer has got to be the Labour leadership contest

The black and white bit, according to his opponents, is that a Jeremy Corbyn government (yes, those are three words that look slightly less ridiculous said together than they did a month ago) would be a disaster for everyone.

Businesses would flee in terror as Corbyn, a direct descendant of both Chairman Mao and Leon Trotsky, went on a chai latte induced rampage of renationalisation and progressive taxation.

That certainly seems to be the view of much of the commentary from both right and (moderate) left since the candidate originally only on the ballot paper “to start a debate” suddenly emerged as the frontrunner to be Ed Miliband’s (remember him?) successor.

But if you’re in the construction industry, you might be interested to look at what the Islington North MP has actually been saying.

He has talked at length about nationalising the rail network. Now, the received wisdom is that nationalisation is bad news for the private sector. But ask contractors what they think of Network Rail’s performance in running its £38bn spending programme and the response might well be - to put it politely - mixed.

Would the state do a better job for both customers and contractors? Maybe not, but then again maybe it would. Certainly the transformation of the Highways Agency into the government-owned Highways England has been met with a positive response from the sector, at least from those firms that have won work already.

Then there’s Corbyn’s take on a quantitative easing programme: the effective printing of money to be spent on major housing, energy and transport projects to create a million skilled jobs? If this came to fruition, would anyone in construction, a sector currently mired in a skills crisis, turn their noses up?

Today, the surprise frontrunner to be the next leader of the opposition also unveiled his plans for a housebuilding revolution, giving town halls the power to build a quarter of a million homes a year.

These are big numbers and big policies, all to be delivered by a big state. And the thing about big states is that history shows they tend to get a lot of stuff built.

Ok, all of this probably won’t happen. And, ok, there are other reasons why multinational businesses might fear Labour’s potential lurch to the left.

However, our industry would be wise not to dismiss Jeremy Corbyn as a joke. After all, some of his ideas might be worth thinking about.

In other news…

There’s been a second strike among workers on the Sellafield decommissioning job, with 1,200 Unite members staging an early morning walkout.

Energy minister Amber Rudd has given the go-ahead to an £8bn windfarm in North Sea.

And the FMB is up in arms after the High Court overturned the DCLG’s affordable housing ruling.

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