Tuesday, 21 July 2015

We need to learn from Miliband, not derail the party

Too often in the current Labour leadership debate, people call for Labour to drop virtually all their current policies and standings - which are popular with many people who would contemplate voting Labour. Many feel very strongly that immigration has contributed a lot to our country - but, simultaneously, we have to try and take the pressure off our budget (even though migrants make a significant net contribution to the economy and tax revenue!) as many rightly feel that none should be taking anything at all - until they have contributed to the economy (a two or four-year qualifier would be a half-decent test of this, although maybe it should be based on time in work). This and the much more important reason of immigrants being employed and reducing 'natives'' employment (which can be partially fixed by stopping exploitation of migrant workers) are good reasons why immigration should be restricted.

However, Labour should comprehensively reject the xenophobic argument of restricting immigration because they may be terrorists (very few are) and the fact that people think Britain is no longer 'Britain' as a result (even though we are all immigrants somewhere down the line) because this is not inclusivist or tolerant - values Labour resolutely stands for even in its Blairite Clause IV.

This is essentially what Miliband tried to do - and did well (in theory, at least) - in his term as Leader. He balanced views with expert finesse and held the party together in its defeat. Many call for a rejection of the 'unity' approach. This is not the right way to repair the party. The reason why this approach of Miliband's failed was because the reasons for the policies weren't communicated anywhere near well enough.

Let's take the economy for example - he held that the market was fundamentally broken: the banks needed to be broken up, as did the energy companies, and rail and bus services needed greater public control. The reason was to reduce prices - ultimately - but he simply didn't get this across to the public. He said he would break up the banks - but he didn't say (or clearly) that this would increase competition and thereby force them to offer the public better deals to get service. He said he would give the public sector a greater role in rail - but he didn't say that it was because rail is a natural monopoly, people don't have any choice in company and have to accept the price they're offered, so it may as well be run by the state and have all profits reinvested. He then failed to make obvious to the public why investment needed to be upkept for economic growth and to reduce the deficit. Indeed, Evan Davis ruined him when he gave Miliband the best chance of explaining why he wanted to run a capital account deficit and balance the current account!

He also failed to point out enough that the Tories were not making these pledges and he failed to ask 'why' often enough and then counter their arguments. Miliband was an economic reformer - as even The Economist (not a leftist magazine by any regard!) recognised - and he was an excellent one at that, but he wasn't a performer and this is what ultimately lost him the election. The public didn't understand him well enough and stuck, rather reluctantly, to 'the devil they knew'.

It is very important that Labour doesn't learn the wrong lesson from this. The answer is not to ditch all of Labour's policies and go with the Tories on many key issues because they have a mandate - they have a slim, reluctant, mandate and we must fight for our own large and enthusiastic mandate in 2020. It's also important that Labour doesn't go massively the other way and draw the conclusion that Miliband didn't go far enough: this really would alienate the 'centre ground'! They must unify all the country's inclusivist, tolerant viewpoints into a coherent policy programme and communicate it far better than Miliband did.

[In practical terms, based on the argument made in this blog post alone, the preferences in the leadership election should be Burnham, Cooper, Corbyn, Kendall (Corbyn and Kendall are both off the rails but Corbyn is marginally closer to Labour's pre-election policies). It isn't voting for Continuity Miliband, it's voting for 'Learning From Miliband'

This blog may elaborate on its rejection of Kendall and Corbyn in the future.]

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Labour must genuinely connect with voters

There's been a lot of talk and a lot of jargon about where Labour should go next - be it to the left/being more bold, or carrying on with a Milibandite philosophy but making less mistakes and with a more centrist message or blatantly going after the Tories in supposed 'New Labour' fashion. None of these attempts will work if they aren't rooted in what voters truly think - however, any could potentially work if they are really based on the people.

Instead of thinking about actual policies, we are rapidly descending into a factionalist war between the left, centre and right factions of the Labour Party generally supporting Burnham, Cooper and Kendall respectively regardless of how left or right they really are. Whilst it is somewhat beneficial for there to be a debate on Labour's general direction next, we need to think about how in practical terms we can adopt policies that the electorate really wants and make it as easy as possible for the leadership to win an election off the basis of that.

To some extent, I endorse this 'war' by despising what Kendall has said so far by being too Tory (her support of free schools being a big example), but, as I said, if Labour is truly embedded in the people then what leader we select will matter less.

Labour branch and constituency parties should be talking to constituents constantly, through questionnaires and the like. They should create report and consider the opinions on their constituents and come up with practical policy suggestions, which are both popular and match the party's overall agenda and message, for the Party on a national and local level. Local Party policy can be changed directly, national Party policy should be influenced by National Policy Forum representatives.

With the people from all constituencies genuinely influencing the Labour Party at a local and national level, Labour will be able to change without compromising on its values and win in 2020 - even if Boris is the Tory leader by then!

Stella Creasy, in particular, has a penchant for rigorous campaigning and community-based activism as well as a passion for social justice and she managed to increase her vote share in the last disastrous election. If she makes it onto the Deputy Leadership ballot, and wins, she would do much to restore Labour's reputation in a grassroots fashion which would be independent of who the leader is and, ultimately, what direction they take. But she has far fewer than the 35 MP nominations she needs to get on the ballot and the candidates have only until Monday to get the needed nominations - let's hope she gets there.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Why Labour lost and how to fix it

Labour lost because of three main reasons: Leadership errors and appearance, the SNP surge and a very successful negative Tory campaign. Labour must work out which reasons where the most significant so that it doesn't end up breaking things which work.

Many people blame Labour's defeat on Miliband, primarily his appearance. While he did turn off many voters and, sadly, due to the importance of image in Western society his appearance did damage Labour's fortunes, that wasn't the only problem.

Miliband and his team failed from the get-go. They didn't shout loud enough that the recession was not caused by the deficit, which is a nonsense suggestion economically, but by financial deregulation which the Tories supported and which Labour repented of. This blog has mentioned a number of times this argument, but Labour only started to counter the argument towards the end of the campaign and by then it was too late. Even then, Ed didn't communicate the argument to the Question Time audience that asked it clearly enough and it didn't really hammer home.

Of course, Liam Byrne's 'I'm afraid there is no money' letter didn't help this at all. Although it was meant to be something of a joke in light of Labour already making savings in 2010, the damage was done and Byrne has apologised for this. However, Labour should've pointed out earlier its savings, its record and how meaningless the letter was before allowing Cameron to destroy its record.

There was a deeper problem however. In a sense, Labour couldn't defend its record because it broke away from New Labour and wanted to put some distance with its past. This turned out to be a terrible mistake. The public voted Blair's New Labour into power three times and it was only after the recession and the failure of Brown to defend his performance in saving the UK (and indeed the world) from the most of it that led to New Labour's defeat then. Cameron's centrist appearance didn't help either, of course.

All the 2010 Labour leadership candidates wanted that break with New Labour so that wasn't just Ed's fault, it was a fault in the party's thinking. We listened to the voices that said that Labour needed to appear to veer to the left to differentiate from the Tories and we took action - with disastrous results.

It's about appearance with centrism and leftism for Labour because Labour policy is developed by YourBritain, the National Policy Forum and the National Executive Committee, not really the leadership. However, the leadership sets priorities (on the whole) and presents the policy package in the way they want. They decided (as others have said elsewhere) to go on a less pro-business platform and focused on attacking vested interests which, while important, gave them a negative, anti-status quo image. They should've stressed more their policies on guaranteed jobs, apprenticeships and making work pay earlier in the campaign. However, this was undermined by their loss of the argument on New Labour's spending and their anti-New Labour stance.

Of course, the SNP and Lynton Crosby's campaign didn't help (Miliband was wrong there too, Crosby did very well), but there's obviously a lot Labour can do. A more popular leader, renewed focus on helping middle-class people and defence of New Labour would help - as would maintaining Ed's return back to fighting inequality.

Therefore, over the next five years Labour should fight on a platform of helping the middle class succeed and assisting those who suffered under Tory cuts. Twin aims, two focuses. The balance they take and their success (or lack thereof) of defending Blair's record will be the decider of the next election.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sadly, austerity-lite is completely necessary

Labour's plans of fiscal responsibility and some cuts in public services (although possibly not much, according to the IFS) are completely necessary.

People often use the example of the US to say that a massive deficit is fine. This argument isn't very helpful for the UK. Essentially, the entire world is dependent on the US (which was the main creator of both the Great Depression and the Great Recession) and vast swathes of the world use currencies pegged to the dollar. If the US goes under, then the world goes under (although the rise of China is lessening this potential impact). Hence the US budget deficit doesn't matter because the world is happy for the US to keep afloat on its back.

The same isn't true of the UK. We provide some financial services...and that's about it. The pound is nowhere near as ubiquitous as the dollar and we don't have anywhere near as many massive companies based in the UK as there are in the US. The UK is nowhere near as powerful as the US politically either.
Cancelling austerity might improve growth, tax receipts and employment, but not enough to actually offset the increase in spending (according to most). It's too much off a risk.

You can't just borrow indefinitely, once the world starts to realize that the UK has no intention to pay off its debts then its credit rating will fall. During a recession, countries won't find it attractive enough (or, maybe, they won't actually have enough money!) to lend to the UK even though we need to increase spending even further.

As 'anti-socialist' as it may seem, we have to continue with 'austerity-lite' (and, a Lab-SNP-Lib bloc might be able to stop cuts after 2016 if they go with what the IFS says) so that we aren't in a massive mess when a recession comes along.

Just borrowing more and more thinking that you never have to pay off your debts is incredibly naive.

It should be stressed that the SNP does have a somewhat valid argument that increased spending will result in increased tax revenues. However, it is highly unlikely that for every £1 spent there will be over £1 received in tax, unless if the economy does far better than predicted. Also, Labour are allowing for increased investment spending because that really does make returns. However, increased welfare payments, as harsh as it may sound, doesn't - and non-core-investment spending probably won't pay for itself very quickly.

Labour are making the hard compromise between fiscal responsibility and compassion. The SNP are inadvertently dodging it and kicking the can down the road which won't help any of us at all when the next crash comes along. Vote for the party that is compassionate and knows what they're doing. #VoteLabour

Friday, 10 April 2015

Minus Iraq, Blair did well - Labour must trumpet the progress he made

It was recently announced that Blair will be helping Labour in their 2015 election campaign. Of course, there was the usual flood of 'warmonger' in anything related to that story and many people - even I - thought it was a poor tactical decision.

However, now Labour have made the decision, we must focus on what Blair did right and what Miliband will do right (which Blair supports). Yes, Iraq was a massive mistake - but we can't forget everything else that Blair did as a result. He:
  • '[The Government] turned out to be the most redistributive in decades'
  • Increased child benefit and income support by 72% (in real terms)
  • Gave grants to improve insulation
  • Caused child poverty to halve:
  • Extended maternity pay
  • Increased child benefit //
  • Introduced the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly after referendums
  • Resolved the crisis in Northern Ireland - with a very balanced Northern Irish Assembly being created as a result
  • Made the Bank of England independant
  • Removed most hereditary peers from the Lords
  • Created the position of London Mayor and created the Greater London Authority
  • Equalised the age of consent for gay sex with heterosexual sex
  • Created civil partnerships
  • Introduced new employment rights
  • Introduced the National Minimum Wage - against Tory cries that it would increase unemployment and inflation
  • Increased spending on education and health (after increasing taxes to pay for it)
  • Won the London 2012 Olympics bid - presence of Blair at IOC session credited for the win
When Labour face criticism about Blair's record, they must demonstrate that, even though Blair is on the Labour campaign trail, Labour have changed their stance on foreign policy proved by Miliband's opposition of an invasion in Syria previously. Miliband recognized that Britain doesn't always have to agree with the US on foreign policy and should get authorization from the UN on military issues.

The Iraq War was, by far, the biggest mistake of the Blair administration. As was the relative inactivity of Blair's second and third governments in passing legislation (although it did block the Tories from getting into power and reversing the progress made). Labour have many, many policy ideas however and would make sure that the next Labour government(s) is/are active in promoting change.

On the whole, however, the Blair government did a lot for the UK and Labour must remind the public about all the amazing things he did.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Labour does represent the working class - despite appearances

The common accusation that Labour is mostly professional careerist is true, yes, we do need more 'workers' challenging for Labour Parliamentary candidate in constituencies. However, once you're in Parliament you can't really be a 'worker' any more. Also having the university education and having studied the mechanisms involved in Politics and Economics is very useful - 'workers' (commonly thought of as those which tend to be unionized and in more 'manual', low-paid, jobs - bus drivers and the remaining miners and construction workers) don't tend to have had this sort of education which limits their effectiveness in Parliament - since they're less likely to understand things like the difference between debt and deficit, the effects of increased government spending on Aggregate Demand etc...

People like Skinner haven't been very influential in Parliament and for good reason. Even Old Labour heroes like Clement Attlee were career politicians but had working interests at heart. It is possible to be a career politician and to really represent the workers - that's what Old Labour did and that's what I think today's Labour still does - just not according to disillusioned leftists from the Blair era!

Labour is capitalist yes, this is no bad thing! I'm proudly a capitalist socialist. I believe in the free market providing most goods and services with the state providing public services which would be monopolies in a free market. I also believe in the public ownership of production in the form of the state owning public products and workers having more say in businesses and a share of their profits. Capitalism and socialism are not mutually excludable and so capitalism is not necessarily a bad thing.

Those in Parliament are not just interested in business and power - those in the Socialist Campaign Group like Dennis Skinner definitely aren't and I don't think others are either. If they were just interested in business and power they would be in the Conservative Party - Labour does genuinely care about the workers and those less well off - look at their policies! More apprenticeships to help people get work, cheaper university education, lower taxes for the poor, higher taxes for the rich etc. etc...

They are interested in getting into power, and maybe personal reasons are a factor in that, but they do have to make compromises so that they are electorally viable enough to get into power. Otherwise they could never do the things that they want to do! Look at Labour from 1979 to 1995-ish - they were far too left-wing and the majority of people simply couldn't vote for them.

Scottish Labour have got to attack the SNP on their economic policies

Labour have got to attack the SNP's anti-austerity position as much as possible. While austerity-lite seems horrible Labour has got to give it their best shot for this election. The economy isn't doing great, but it's doing better than it was in 2010 and the deficit has to be cut for long-term interests. How do we cut the deficit? By reducing government spending and increasing government revenue. We probably can't just do it with high taxes since that could scare away the rich and actually reduce revenue (although this is unlikely ('The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics reports that estimates of revenue-maximizing tax rates have varied widely, with a mid-range of around 70%.'), but this is what some (especially in the UK) think).

They could probably raise the top rate of tax up to about 65% with the pretence of cutting the deficit with the additional revenue but that's just not electorally viable. How could Labour get many of England's seats if they went for such a promise? They would be instantly branded as Old Labour, old socialist and stupid. There are far more seats in England than in Scotland - no matter how important Scotland is.

The SNP have no plans on how they're going to fund their promises (stopping austerity). It's highly likely that they wouldn't bother trying to fund it and they would just increase borrowing. This CAN'T work in the long-term - they're just going for votes in the present. It is Labour that is actually thinking about the long-term future for Scotland, not the SNP, and, sadly, it involves austerity. Although Labour will put much more of it on the rich's shoulders than the Tories will and won't make silly promises like a surplus by 2018 and then more spending which will require massive cuts.

Note: This argument also applies to Plaid Cymru in Wales as well as other anti-austerity parties such as the Green Party of England and Wales, Left Unity and the Scottish Greens. Austerity-lite will help the UK in the long-term while doing minimal damage in the short-term.