Can Labour step back from the brink?
Can Labour be rescued?
Whoever is leader, the party needs to stop its infighting and start talking to the electorate.
Progress, Saving Labour, Labour List, Labour Together, Compass, The Fabians, Momentum, the PLP, the leadership should all be challenged about what policy ideas they might agree on instead of obsessing about Jeremy Corbyn. No party should be a personality cult — either pro or anti. The aim would be to see what if any kind of core statement of policy and strategy could be established, which might get support across the Party and the wider public. It might also help the factions to engage on specifics rather than emotion.
Time is short, and the signs are not good. Commentators suggest that no one is interested, in anything but control of the party, but others point out that policy differences are bridgeable — ‘most activists want nothing more radical than to spend less than 70% of their income on rent’.
Despite the gloom, this note is an attempt at a ‘coming together’ narrative that might have some appeal across the Party, and which might be put to each faction to tempt response.
Failure to get the narrative out last time, and this time.
Between 2010 and 2015 Labour did not challenge the Conservative narrative — that Labour over- spending helped to cause the financial crash of 2007–08 and the subsequent public sector deficit. This was their excuse for loading the costs of rescuing the banks onto ordinary people, and for cutting public services. This failure of leadership led directly to the election of Jeremy Corbyn.
But since his election, Labour is still not opposing — it has not produced a coherent statement of its economic strategy or how it intends to attract the support of the electorate and is way behind in the polls. The response to the EU referendum has been almost non existent. The 52/48% result following a campaign of lies and disinformation, cannot be said to represent the ‘settled will’ of the British people.
A narrative — what is Labour for?
Labour needs to state clearly what it is trying to do, for example, that it understands that capitalism isn’t going to collapse any time soon and that Labour will aim to reform the way it works to benefit ordinary people, by getting elected to government. In a globalised economy, Labour could say that it sees markets as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.
The aim would be to get the economy growing again and to reverse the trend whereby the majority of households have been getting a reducing share of national income, finding it increasingly difficult to pay their way and get onto the housing ladder. This, while an increasing share of national income has been going to wealth owners and profits — something which needs to be reversed.
Improving the conditions of the millions of workers with temporary, insecure, short term, zero hours jobs, and the 13 million people living in poverty, would be another key aim, while also supporting the aspirations of comfortably-off ‘middle Britain’, such as those in the professions, and older owner occupiers. This is a major challenge given the increasing inequality between different parts of the country.
Labour could clarify what role the Government would play — that it will take the lead, in partnership with the private sector, in making the country a high tech, high skilled, high wage, high income, low debt society. The state would be there to empower citizens and enterprises, and front line service-deliverers, and not to set up monolithic 1950’s-style bureaucracies.
Showing how policies will be delivered in practice will be crucially important in getting public support.
Suggested statement of strategy — first stab.
‘We will get the economy growing, using low interest finance to invest in housing, infrastructure — especially transport in the North, renewable energy, education and training, research and development. We will bring down the public sector deficit over a 10 year period as the economy grows and the returns come in.
The financial sector will be incentivised to support the real economy — providing finance for industry and infrastructure, rather than dealing in purely financial transactions, which will be taxed. Tax haven secrecy will be ended, and brought under the same rules as operate in the UK. If regional investment banks are needed to support long term industrial growth they will be created.
We will encourage international investment into Britain by staying in the European single market (to build businesses, not to simply takeover existing assets) and developing a business-supporting network of suppliers, services, transport, an educated work force and a research sector.
There will be an industrial strategy to ensure the sectors with growth potential are supported by medium and long term finance, and underpinned by applied research and tax incentives if necessary.
A country-wide ‘grass roots growth’ programme will support new and existing small enterprises to create jobs across the country. This will include one-person enterprises, and private, community, social and cooperative enterprises- producing goods and services such as renewable energy, social care, IT and new dwellings right across the country. Barriers to awarding public contracts will be removed
There will be fair and transparent rules for large companies — rewarding them for offering employees decent terms and conditions, paying reasonable corporation tax, without sweetheart tax deals, tax-avoidance in off shore islands, special influence over policy, and ‘revolving door’ offers for ministers.
A new companies act will encourage longer term growth of companies, as in Germany, rather than casino-style short term profit maximisation, with companies the play things of global financial institutions.
A consumers contract will give consumers their own small print conditions, limiting on-line scams, stealth price rises by utilities, cold telephone calls. It will protect children from junk food advertising.
A ‘fair deal at work’ will improve the ability of insecure and short term workers to negotiate good conditions, and to join a union. It will also encourage unions to help grow the employer’s business, profit sharing, and will help to guarantee skills and be trusted pensions advisors. There will be a living wage strategy, steadily decreasing the number of people earning less than the living wage.
A ‘Reskill Britain programme’ will replace the multitude of low quality vocational courses not leading to jobs, with high status vocational training and apprenticeship schemes, culminating in degree-equivalent qualifications, and good jobs. This will raise the national skill level and ensure young people are in the best position to compete for good jobs, with less need for immigrant labour.
The NHS internal market will be abolished, and the government’s responsibility to provide a health service for all reinstated. Social care will be integrated with the NHS within a ‘front line first’ programme to empower the people actually delivering the service. Investment in the NHS will be raised towards the European average — 20% higher than now. Independent non profit and for profit providers could still play a part — once the major conflicts of interest have been removed.
A sustainable energy programme to decarbonise energy in Britain will end subsidies for fossil fuels, boost investment in renewable energy, energy conservation and energy storage.
Electricity, gas, water and railways — historic nationalised industries, and now regulated imperfect markets will be reformed, especially as contracts come up for renewal to involve public non profit enterprise, reducing profit skimming to overseas owners, and predatory pricing for consumers.
A dialogue with other progressive parties, at constituency level will explore the scope for progressive alliances, which could help to overcome the distorting effect of the first past the post electoral system with its over-dependency on where boundaries are drawn between different communities. Reform of the electoral system to make everyones vote count and abolish safe seats.
The end result of Labours programme over 5 years could be 1m extra dwellings, housing waiting lists and health service waiting times down, 2m reduction in those below living wage, 50% renewable electricity generation, owner occupation up by 10%, high speed transport links across the North, 3 million insecure jobs replaced with more secure jobs, 3 million more working in British small and medium sized businesses.’