Sadly, but predictably, the Labour Leadership struggle has been so much mired in bluster and hysteria that its true potential significance has been largely obscured. A contest of this kind should start, not with who it is claimed has the style and presentation to be the most plausible leader, but with what it is argued is currently wrong with the country, what policies are necessary to put those things right, what mechanisms are proposed to achieve that, and how should they be funded and delivered.
Arguably the most pressing problems for Britain at the present time can be summarised as follows. What were the causes of the financial crash and the consequent prolonged downturn, and what lessons need to be learnt to prevent a recurrence? Does the manifest lack of adequate reform of the financial sector make it likely there could be another catastrophic slump again soon? Is austerity the right policy to cut the deficit? Read more “The Labour leadership contest is a classic example of how it should not be fought” »
Strike action, fox hunting, the BBC, Europe, migrant benefits – never underestimate the Tory capacity to identify things that aren’t problems and then attack them. The number of days lost to strike action is on average less than a tenth of what it was during the 1980s. It’s not even as though strikes are constant – and certainly workers themselves are reluctant to strike because they themselves suffer the most – or have an enormous impact on productivity nowadays. Of far greater impact is the UK’s under-investment in skills, which is something that unions want to work with the government to fix. But the government’s latest proposals will upset the balance between employers and workers, tilting it much too far in employers’ favour and many of the proposals will make it far harder to resolve disputes fairly. Yet good employers know that the best way to resolve problems at work is to sit down with workers and talk it through, trying to find a compromise, rather than using statutory power to ride roughshod over workers’ rights to impose authority by default.
Notoriously the bill introduces a 50% turnout ballot threshold in a strike ballot, but it also requires in the case of public services 40% support from all those eligible to vote which is a benchmark required nowhere else in any section of British society – certainly not in the election of the MPs who will be voting for it. In addition workers will have to give an employer 14 days notice of strike action, and this is more than enough for employers to legally hire another workforce to break the strike, even though these workers may be inexperienced and not properly trained, but expected to cover important roles dealing with the public at short notice. This blatant one-sided approach is guaranteed to poison the relationship between workers and their managers.
The proposal on opting into the political fund is also wholly one-sided. It is clearly designed to throttle Labour funding and to make the Labour party bankrupt by cutting off the main source of funds that they have relied on since the 1930s. It is clearly also aimed at undermining political campaigning by unions on behalf of their members and communities. It sticks out like a sore thumb however that there are no proposals to force companies to ballot shareholders or place a cap on donations from wealthy people when funding the Tory party.
The Tory proposals may also criminalise peaceful picketing such as when a seventh person joins a picket line. Is this really how we want to use police time – arresting the seventh nurse on the picket line outside the hospital where they work? If the Tories were really concerned about improving workplace democracy, they’d commit to on-line balloting, an easy and secure way of letting workers have their say. But they’re not, and it exposes what an utter sham it is for the Tories to claim to be anything remotely like a workers’ party.
It is hard to believe that Brown had the gall in his anti-Corbyn diatribe to declare that “the best way of realising our high ideals is to show that we have an alternative in government that is…neither a pale imitation of what the Tories offer nor is the route to being a party of permanent protest, rather than a party of government”. The prime reason that Labour lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 was, apart from Iraq, the fact that a very large minority of Labour voters did think precisely that – that under the regimes of Blair and Brown Labour was indeed ‘a pale imitation of what the Tories offer’. It’s also why UKIP gained 4 million votes at the election three months ago because a huge chunk of the electorate had indeed come to the conclusion that ‘they’re all the same’.
Brown was the overseer of deregulated finance, free-wheeling market finance, the introduction of privatisation and outsourcing into health and education, and keeping the unions on a short leash to encourage foreign investment into Britain. Those were all Tory policies inaugurated by Thatcher which Brown didn’t reverse in any significant way, but actually extended in various ways, particularly in offering huge concessions to the City of London when he hosed down the banks and hedge funds with laudatory hyperbole in his Mansion House speeches to the assembled potentates of finance. And to give equal encouragement to Big Business, Brown enormously extended the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which offered government-guaranteed profits to business for the next 25-40 years at taxpayers’ expense. This wasn’t a pale imitation of the Tories; it was the epitome of Tory ideology.
And as to Brown lecturing us on winning elections, he was the most unpopular prime minister since the second world war and lost the 2010 election with the lowest Labour vote since 1918. He was the architect of ‘regulation lite’ (i.e. virtually no regulation) for the banks and finance sector which undoubtedly contributed to the recklessness and arrogance of the banks in all but triggering a global recession. To that extent Brown’s support for unregulated free-market capitalism was a significant contributory factor in bringing about the biggest financial crash for nearly a century, from which the Labour party and the centre-left parties of Europe have still not recovered.
It is the arrogance of Brown and Blair in assuming that they alone, the Labour establishment, have the unique skills to win elections that actually they have proved rather adept at losing, which is so galling. Above all they, alongside the Tories, have insisted on endless austerity as the right way to achieve deficit reduction which is not only incredibly unpopular, but also patently failing to achieve its ostensible goal. Jeremy Corbyn is far more aligned with what the people of Britain clearly want, while the Blair-Brownites are in a state of denial. Brown should look to his own record: when in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones.
The arrogance and intolerance of the Blairites is breathtaking. Faced with the prospect of a runaway victory for Jeremy Corbyn who has come from repudiated outsider to front-runner in scarcely more than a month, their sole response is to prepare a coup against Corbyn if he is elected leader under the section 47 procedure of the Labour Party rules. It is hard to exaggerate the folly and selfish indulgence of such a move. For the Party to spend 3 months in continuous debate and hundreds of hustings in accordance with the legitimacy of Party democracy, and then have an insider palace coup seek to overturn it via back-rooms intrigue within the PLP would be utterly disreputable. It would split the PLP and likely also the Labour Party as a whole. Maybe that is what they want: if they cannot get their own way, they would prefer to bust the Party rather than accept democratic choice. That has always been the way: the Right has always used the Party as a base for its own domination and access to government, while the Left has always remained loyal to the Party it seeks to represent. Read more “The reason Corbyn’s winning is that he rejects the Tory austerity ideology, and so do a majority of the public” »
It is extraordinary that the Labour party could have got itself into such a muddle over welfare reform (which is Tory-speak for crippling welfare cutbacks) when Osborne’s sole motive for this bill, which had its second reading today, is to create divisions within Labour and label it as the party of shirkers. The bill is awful. Despite some useful provisions on apprenticeships, it ignores the plight of children in low income working households, removes the concept of child poverty from the statute book, increases the number of children living in poverty, worsens work incentives for people with below average incomes, and cuts the incomes of sick and disabled people. The attempt of the interim leadership to square all this with Labour’s need to get on-side with public opinion, repeatedly corrupted by Osborne and the Tory tabloids ranting against the poor and jobless, predictably got the worst of both worlds – a split party and an unconvincing compromise presented to the electorate. Read more “Tory welfare reform is pure political mischief, but at least 124 of us voted against it” »
Far too many people seem to be accepting that Cameron-Osborne, with a slim and fragile majority of 12, are ‘masters of all they survey’ and have both the opportunity and will to bring in the Tory nirvana and crush the social democratic settlement of the late 1940s for ever. Nothing could be further from the realities. Given that the German brutality towards the Greeks has left a very bad taste in the mouth about the nature of EU solidarity/partnership/co-operation, Cameron may soon find himself cornered by being unable to offer any significant EU change except as a post-dated cheque which carried no credibility and could now well lose the EU referendum in mid-2016, in which case the Tory hard-right which numbers nearly half of the Tory back-benches would bid to force him out. His most likely successor, Osborne, could by then in serious trouble as UK economic growth deflates further for lack of demand. The three last quarters have seen growth implode from 0.9% to 0.6% and then to a mere 0.3%, and all the signs are that the 2nd quarter of 2015 will show little or no sign of recovery. The picture could look very different by the middle of next year. Read more “Where does all this Tory faux-triumphalism come from? It’s as fleeting as hot spit in a spitoon” »
What is so disappointing (so far) about the Labour leadership contest is the failure to edge the party to any significant degree away from a look-alike Tory posture. Osborne launches the biggest cuts programme of the last century, and we are told that if we wish to be taken seriously we must be as fiscally conservative as the government. Osborne preens himself with running the economy on a permanent surplus, and Labour, not to be outdone, endorses the idea, absurd and unworkable as it is. The Tories taunt Labour for being on the side of shirkers against strivers – a ridiculous claim when Osborne has just impoverished millions of workers in poverty by severe cutbacks in working tax credits – but Labour, for fear of being lampooned by the Mail for being soft on ‘lifestyle’ benefit recipients, lamely echoes its support for tightening the benefit cap. When is Labour going to stand up and assert what it really believes in? Read more “Labour leadership contestants need to break out of Tory cage” »
Having at the outset of the leadership contest been contemptuously written off as ‘unelectable’, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be surprising everyone that he is now rapidly emerging as a serious contender. But they shouldn’t be surprised. He represents what the majority of the Labour Party have been crying out for for years – a leader who does not think that we should all behave like mini-Tories, who is not an insider member of the enclosed Westminster bubble, and who genuinely engages with grassroots activists campaigning across the country and indeed internationally.
The Blairites don’t get it because they believe that their ideology of light-touch financial deregulation, market fundamentalism, privatisation of public services, relaxed attitude to people becoming filthy rich, keeping the unions on a very short leash, and hob-nobbing with the corporate elite is the natural order of modern politics. But those are Tory themes and they are not shared by the vast majority of Labour members. They are in fact the reasons why throughout the noughties the leadership became so estranged from the grassroots base of the party. To return to these basically Tory themes now would risk not only alienating further a disconsolate party, but actually splitting it altogether. Read more “The Blairites are beginning to panic about Jeremy Corbyn” »
Osborne’s 8 July budget will be forced through in the teeth of all economic experience. The history of the last 70 years demonstrates one conclusion irrefutably: austerity is the wrong way to cut deficits. After the second world war had dramatically drained Britain’s wealth and left the country with colossal debts amounting to 260% of GDP, these huge deficits were easily tamed by fast economic growth in the post-war years. President Clinton achieved a similar turnaround in the US after he inherited an enormous deficit in 1992 and ended his 8-year presidency with none, largely due to rapid economic growth. Again, the Swedish high budget deficit was successfully brought down during 1994-8 by a policy of fairly fast economic growth. Even in the US in recent years, despite the political deadlock and a largely non-functional Congress, the US has achieved a far bigger and faster recovery from recession than Europe, again as a result of the priority given to growth by Obama. Read more “Memo to Osborne before budget: records show austerity is diametrically wrong way to cut deficit” »