There is an important struggle going on around the Labour leadership between the coasters and the democrats. The coasters are those who want the party to say the minimum it can get away with before the election (which of course is what the Tories did at the last election when they had planned the privatised destruction of the NHS, but concealed all mention of it from their manifesto and from pre-election speeches/interviews). Their aim of course is to minimise exposure of flank to any Tory tabloid counter-attacks – though there will be such attacks anyway even if they’ve nothing substantive to go on. But there is a real risk in a policy of excessive caution.
It risks Labour failing to energise that large and potentially decisive segment of the electorate – namely social classes D and E, semi-skilled and unskilled workers – who could easily win the election for Labour if they could be enthused to vote. The 5 million collapse in the Labour vote in 2005 and 2010 compared to 1997 was due, more than any other single factor, to these two classes, up to a third of the electorate, being too brassed off to go to the polls because they thought Labour (and they would never vote Tory) no longer really represented them. Labour badly needs to recover those votes, especially since there is now a real contest for their allegiance. The finding that UKIP supporters are not primarily disgruntled shire Tories, but rather older working class semi-skilled and unskilled workers alienated by professional middle class Labour politicians and their absorption into Tory values and ideology, should now be a major wake-up call for the Labour Party.
So what are the Labour democrats saying? They want a more robust and inspirational statement of Labour values, and one that makes clear that Labour understands the fundamental structural failings of Britain under current Tory policies and has a plausible programme to achieve a real recovery. Such proposals might well include:
1 A reversal of Osborne’s failed austerity policies which have dragged Britain down more than anything else and turned off Labour voters more than anything else while Labour appears to echo everything Osborne does. Labour should be saying the best way to cut the deficit is by expanding the economy, not by never-ending austerity.
2 Making full employment a central objective of Labour economic policy and re-establishing the Department of Employment both to head up the restoration of decent employment rights and to restore the trade unions to their positive role in economic planning at both national and local levels.
3 Taking back control of the money supply, privatised by Thatcher in the 1980s, into the hands of publicly owned banks in order to ensure that the nation’s capital is allocated, not towards overseas speculation, tax avoidance, expensive property and derivatives, but towards manufacturing industry, services, jobs and exports.
4 Making it crystal clear that Labour will fully reverse the Lansley anti-NHS bill and steadily unwind the privatising and outsourcing that has occurred.
5 Deal with grotesque inequality not only by a Living Wage and tax on bankers’ bonuses, but by Enterprise Councils in all large companies which comprise representatives of all main employment grades from boardroom to shopfloor and discuss transparently all aspects of company policy including pay.
6 Take the railways back into public ownership (as polls show 80% of the electorate want), together with water, and empower local Councils to take the lead in a major house-building programme by giving them the right to borrow against the collateral of their housing stock, provided at least 75% of their new build is for social housing.