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With Tories in retreat, Labour can express its core principles

The Tories are in full retreat. The Conservative put before the last election of a kinder, gentler, greener party has been eviscerated by events. The decade-long economic austerity, privatised carve-up of the NHS, the lethal benefits cutback, and the gratification of the very rich at the expense of the very poor has highlighted the Tories in their true colours.

This gives Labour the chance to be less cautious and less fearful, and more assertive and a little bit more radical about its true principles. If in doubt, look abroad. Hollande won the French presidential election convincingly by promising a 75% tax rate on the super-wealthy, a pension age brought down from 62 to 60, a financial transactions tax, a public investment bank, a big increase in social homes, and subsidised jobs for unemployed youth. So far from stymying the popular vote, it brought it out in much greater numbers. So why not in Britain?

It’s clear that with the neoliberal political project unravelling by the day, the Left has the best chance for an electoral transformation for at least half a century. A ‘property-owning democracy’ which seemed at first to succeed with home ownership rising from 55% in the early 1980s to 71% in 2003 has now gone into sharp reverse because of lower incomes, rising unemployment, and lack of mortgage availability, falling to 66% in 2010-11 and probably below 60% by 2025.

The shift from SERPS and final salary pension schemes in the early 1980s to market-based money-purchase schemes in the next 3 decades led to massive mis-selling of dud pensions, leaving millions below the poverty line on retirement. And opportunities created by de-regulation to shop around for best deals in energy supply, phones, insurance and savings rates has melted away in market complexity and the small print of unread contracts.

Voters are now turning to a radical alternative to endless austerity which actually increases indebtedness, an alternative to the banking business model which which has enriched executives and traders beyond the dreams of Croesus whilst leaving industry bereft of the funding it cries out for, and a wholesale alternative to a hollowed-out manufacturing base which is leaching jobs abroad and eroding long-term living standards.

There are lots of enticing, populist policies that Labour can advance which should resonate with an expectant public. But they will have little impact unless Labour can also show that it grasps the fundamentals underlying current failures and has practical, plausible policies to overcome them. The neoliberal collapse and the Tory obsession with extremism (like the US Republican Right) opens up space for Labour to deploy these arguments. It should seize that opportunity.

6 Comments

  1. Carl Harper says:

    An inspirational piece which appeals to those of us Labour Party Members who put left and socialist views at the very top of our principles!

  2. P Spence says:

    Much of the PLP is compromised by the collapse of neoliberalism: we need new MPs who are socialists and committed to the policies you are pointing to. I am not very optimistc at present that the PLP will support the shift of position needed now and urgently. The problem is fundamentally that too many Labour MPs are not socialists, with all that that implies.

  3. john P Reid says:

    Even If this were true there are alot of tories who at the risk of beign unhappy with their party If they see a far left Laoubr party possibly winning tehy’ll grudgingly vote for their aprty, but if tehy dont then the suggestion that labour can get in as teh tories are unpopular and swing to the left ,reminds me of the 1974 elections and what did teh public think of things introduced by the 74-79 Labour Gov’t, like flying pickets, endless benfits and teh closed shop it put us out of pwer for 18 years, recall the public not like the tories in 1992, but the alterantive was voting for a unpopular tory party

  4. David Pavett says:

    Labour, Michael Meacher says, can be “more assertive and a little bit more radical about its true principles”.

    I am unclear as to what can be meant by Labour’s “true principles”. Where are they recorded? When were they were agreed? Where is the general consesnsus of views on this that we can point to me.

    It seems to me rather that Labour is the home for a wide variety of opinions from neo-liberal defenders of capitalism without a trace of feeling for either democracy or ordinary people through to socialist fundamentalists for whom “private” and “profit” are nearly always dirty words. In between there are a lot of people who sense that society could be a whole lot fairer and a whole lot more equal but without this being based on an consensus of views about economics, politics or philosophy.

    I agree that now is a good time for Labour to formulate ideas and policies that might give it some principles on which most can agree. The problem is that Labour’s policy processes are so opaque that they do not allow for genuinely open discussion and, even less, genuinely democratic decision making. For example, the majority of people who expressed an opinion in the last round of policy discussions, leading to the National Policy Forum Annual Report to Conference, made it clear that they did not approve of either the Labour governments school Academies or the Coalition continuation of that policy. The majority wanted schools to remain under the umbrella organisation of local authorities rather than self-establishing Academy chains. I suspect that is the view of most members who have given the matter any thought. The majority almost certainly opposed Stephen Twigg’s proposal for Academies sponsored by the armed forces in areas of high unemployment.

    What any of this reflected in the policy orientation of the education section of the Annual Report? It was not.

    We have had a Policy Review running for two years now. It was launched as a “root and branch” reconsideration of Party policies. What happened. Liam Byrne sat on the process for 18 months and blocked any serious debate. John Cruddas took over three months ago so far with no public evidence of a real change. He has promised a really open debate with discussion hubs and all relevant documents being available to those taking part. That would be a first and a very welcome one but it hasn’t happened yet and I am wondering why. I am told that a lauch is immininent.

    Can the Labour Party with its present structures, and with its current layer of advisors and other political functionaries that exists between the leaders and the membership, actually organise a genuine debate. I am not at all sure that it can. If John Cruddas can prove otherwise then I would be delighted. That could lead to the National Policy Forum starting to act in a transparent way as well. And then the NEC might start to play the leading role that it should have.

    If all that were to happen, and its a very big if, then there would be some chance of establishing the principles by which the party determines its policies. I don’t think that they are waiting on a shelf to be taken off. They can only emerge through widespread, well-informed and sincere debate.

    I agree with Michael Meacher that the present situation provides Labour with a great opportunity to establish a radical identity and I would like to see it happen. I just think that doing this will be a lot harder than re-discovering some neglected “true principles”.

  5. Rob the cripple says:

    Agreed priciples would be the NHS, Education, welfare, and of course council housing. you know working class issues, where as John Reid and his ilk are still missing the messiah Blair.

  6. john P Reid says:

    I’d only miss blair if we lose the next election Rob,and i thought that we’d have done better with someone who realises how unpopular swinging to the left would be, Like Ed balls, or Yvette or Andy Burnham,

    Are you thinking of coming back to laobur, Rob?

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