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Let’s hear it from (and for) for the real Andrew Fisher


Mike Phipps has been re-reading the thoughts of Andrew Fisher

Although Labour’s NEC has not closed the case, Labour’s new leader has made it clear he is standing by his policy aide Andrew Fisher whose pre-Corbyn era tweets have attracted some attention in the media. Some of the new leader’s serial detractors have found it easier to target his staff than frontally attack Jeremy Corbyn himself, who despite the constant bombardment of criticism, remains more popular than the other party leaders.

As for Andrew Fisher, his parliamentary critics prefer to forget the tireless campaigning he put in during the last two general elections in many crucial marginal seats. Below we produce some of his more thought-provoking policy observations, which show why he is such an useful addition to Team Corbyn.

31 May 2015

In March 2007 Gordon Brown delivered his final Budget as Chancellor. By July he would be Prime Minister, and by September the collapse of Northern Rock would be the prelude to the UK’s great crash. This tumultuous period is worth revisiting because it is significantly misrepresented in the current political discourse

Responding to the Budget, then opposition leader David Cameron didn’t mention the budget deficit once. Not at all. Nada. In fact, six months later, in early September (just days before Northern Rock collapsed), George Osborne declared that the Tories would match Labour’s spending for the next three years.

This was totally understandable: the deficit was lower at this point than Labour had inherited in 1997 – and this modest deficit came shortly after four years of running a surplus that had seen the New Labour government shrink the national debt from the 42% of GDP they inherited down to little over 30%.

Fast forward eight years and every single contender for the Labour leadership (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, and Liz Kendall) all believe that the budget deficit was too high and that Labour was overspending in 2007. This puts them somewhere to the right of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and George Osborne.

23 April 2015

Nearly five years ago, George Osborne rose to his feet in the House of Commons and delivered an emergency budget. Although the phrase had not yet been coined, this was where Osborne set out the “long-term economic plan“.

So how has that Osborne plan held up?

George said: “Everyone will share in the rewards when we succeed

The reality: Sustained growth took a while to come through, but there was economic growth in every quarter of 2013 and 2014. However, while the economy grew not everyone has shared in the benefits. In 2010, 61,468 people were given 3 days’ emergency food from food banks. By 2014-15 this had risen to 1,084,604 according to the Trussell Trust. The number of people using food banks has risen every year – the rewards of growth are not being shared.

George said: “We are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this Parliament”

The reality: The OBR this year confirmed that Osborne had failed to have debt falling this year: “public sector net debt (PSND) will rise as a share of GDP this year”. Meanwhile, the structural current budget records a £56.9 billion deficit rather than balance. The OBR estimates that balance will not be reached before 2017-18.”

14 April 2015

Under Thatcher era right to buy, 1.7 million council homes were sold off (over one-third of which are now in the hands of private landlords) and most were never replaced. The proportion of people living in council housing has declined from 30% in 1979 to just 10% today.

Since Cameron’s government revived right to buy in 2012 by offering higher discounts, 17,205 more council homes have been sold off. Only 2,712 have been replaced (16%). They promised properties would be replaced and they do again in their manifesto. Fool me once, shame on you …

While David Cameron repeated Margaret Thatcher’s “property-owning democracy” schtick (as if home ownership in some never specified way enhances democracy), but the reality is that right-to-buy has helped home ownership levels fall – along with other Tory policies including the deregulation of credit, rising inequality (which Danny Dorling cites as the major factor), explicit and implicit subsidies for buy-to-let landlords, and the removal of rent control in 1989. Home ownership levels today are lower than when Margaret Thatcher was defenestrated in November 1990.

13 March 2015

What we do know is that if we spend billions on, for example, building council housing then it creates good skilled jobs – and benefits supply chains. The workers employed will pay income tax and spend their wages in the economy. The people who move into those homes will want to furnish and decorate with a knock-on boost to the economy. The rents they pay will also provide an income to the council that – history tells us – more than compensates for the cost of maintenance; and for those tenants who don’t work the housing benefit is lower because council rents are lower (and is merely being recycled within the public finances).

Of course there are even more tricky to quantify economic benefits – such as the health benefits of new higher quality housing, less overcrowding, the benefits of stability of tenure on children (compared to the disruption that housing insecurity can have on children’s education), etc.

Despite the complexity of an ecosystem approach to the economy, it has two distinct advantages. The first is the tally with reality; and the second is it then becomes easier to integrate economic costs and benefits with social and environmental benefits. We look at the big picture, think more broadly and put our economic policies in a social and environmental context.

This second advantage is a key component for governmental economic policy-making. Private businesses externalise their costs, e.g. labour costs can be driven down because employers don’t have to pay the costs of unemployment; and environmental pollution is acceptable because those costs (e.g. to air quality) are also socialised.

17 February 2015

In the past year UK house prices have risen by an average of 9.8% – at a time when wages are increasing by just 1.6%. House prices are rising six times faster than wages – so that now the average London home costs £502,000, while the UK average is £272,000. For comparison the median inner London wage is £34,500 (in outer London it’s £24,200) while the median UK wage is just £22,000. So house price to wage ratios in London are now around 14.5:1 (inner) or an eye-watering 20.5:1 (outer), and in the UK house around 12.5:1 – meaning even a couple both earning the median wage could not feasibly get a mortgage – they are priced out.

This phenomenon suggests that the historic link between average house prices and average wages has decoupled.

10 December 2014

Every year £5bn is unclaimed in tax credits – ever heard a politician mention that? Or encouraging people to get their entitlements? Ever read in the print media about the scandal of some of the poorest people missing out on billions?

Now think how often you’ve heard an MP or the read in the press about benefit fraud – which costs us less than one-third (c.£1.5 billion) of what the government saves every year by people not claiming the tax credits to which they are entitled.

14 November 2014

ONS figures out on Friday 14th showed that UK corporate profits are “at the higher end of the quarterly range experienced during the last five years”, hitting an average 11.8% return….

But bizarrely, corporation tax receipts are down 14% since the crash.

So why are corporation tax receipts not buoying up HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and helping close the deficit?

There are three obvious reasons:

George Osborne has slashed corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to just 21% today, with a further reduction to 20% to come next year – reducing tax revenues from the evidently booming corporate sector

The Tories have been lax on tax avoidance. As one Cabinet Minister said, it’s “a compliment” for the UK to be described as a tax haven, and added: “That is exactly what we are trying to do”.

HMRC has sacked tens of thousands of staff – the ones who collect several times their own salaries in taxes – in a false economy to satisfy Mr Osborne’s daft austerity job cut targets. And HMRC management seems more concerned with witch-hunting its staff members’ union than collecting tax.

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