How the The Reverse March of Labour Led to Defeat in May

The Reverse March of Labour. What went wrong in May

By Bryan Gloud and Carl Rowlands, Previously published here

With the Labour Party still reeling in the wake of May’s electoral disaster, New Left Project spoke to Gould about what went wrong. Bryan Gould answers Carl Rowlands.

Why did Labour lose in May? What aspects of the defeat were familiar from your own time in British politics?

I think Labour lost (setting aside technical issues like the restriction of the franchise) because they failed to offer an alternative view of how the economy should be run and in whose interests – which is the central question in current democratic politics. They had no chance of convincing people that they could produce different and better outcomes, if they failed to signal a departure from Tory priorities – as in the case of committing to eliminate the deficit, as though it makes sense to isolate this relatively minor aspect of the UK’s economic problems and treat it as the top priority.

Almost all candidates in the Labour leadership contest have talked of the need to appeal to ‘wealth creators’ whilst enabling ‘aspiration’. Back in 1992 you referred to those ‘involved in wealth creation’ rather than simply ‘wealth creators’ – quite an important, if subtle difference. Wouldn’t wealth creation include many who work in the public sector (for example, in universities) – in fact, anyone who creates anything? In relation to socialist objectives, how can we move on from this to define a common wealth in 2015?

The keenness to talk about ‘aspirations’ is often short-hand for, ‘we need to pay more attention to middle class interests and be more like the Tories’. I don’t say we shouldn’t try to appeal to a wider range of opinion and interests, but that should not mean abandoning others. The goal should be to show that a different approach would meet the interests of most people. The point you raise about ‘wealth creation’ illustrates this point. The current tendency is to accept that ‘wealth creators’ are the owners, employers and investors, while the contributions made by others are best regarded as production costs. I think that all those involved in the productive sector, in whatever capacity, are ‘wealth creators’ and that they should be distinguished from those in the speculative sector – the financiers and rentiers – who make their money not by creating new wealth but by gouging it out of the rest of us. The shame is that the unemployed are denied the chance to join the ranks of wealth creators.

In 1995 you described Labour’s progression as follows: ‘It’s been a painful process of withdrawal from hope and idealism…. I think we have simply given up. I think we will secure power, but I don’t think we’ll make much of it. As soon as the voters recover their confidence in the Tories we’ll be removed, in order to make room for the real thing’. Is this fairly accurate as an appraisal of the last Labour governments, and if so, what now?

I adhere to this view. If the best we can offer is that we will be ‘Tory-lite’, we can’t be surprised if the voters prefer the real thing. Even if they don’t like Tory policies much, they are attracted by those whose hearts are really in it. The left, for three or four decades, have too often believed in their heart of hearts that there is no alternative to neo-classical economics and they have therefore struggled to sound convincing when they say they can do better.

As the MP for Dagenham you were one of a handful of Labour MPs in southern seats in the 1980s. After thirty years, Labour’s situation in the south is in some respects worse, with heavy attrition of membership and the breakdown of multiple smaller branches into sparsely populated Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). What can Labour do to win support from voters in the south in the future?

Labour too readily accepts that voters in the south are different, with the result that they either accept that those voters are beyond reach or believe that they have to be addressed differently. That is not how I see it. While voters in the south (which is just another way of describing the better-off middle class) are on average better off and have better jobs, services, etc., they have just as big a stake as anyone else in a successful economy that serves everybody’s interests and in a society that is not fragmented or divided against itself.

I think it is too easy to assume that particular approaches have to be made to particular groups, such as ‘white working class voters’, when Labour’s best approach is to assert that policies that will, in fact, benefit virtually everyone are the best way of looking after particular groups, including the disadvantaged. And in any case, not every voter in the south is well off – there are many who will be sensitive to poorer public services, widening inequality and worsening job security. The task for Labour, in other words, is not to develop many sets of policies that will meet as many specific interests as possible (thereby running the risk of confusing and embarrassingly inconsistent policy stances) but to provide an overall and persuasive analysis of what a successful economy and an integrated society would look like and of how to bring them about.

It’s a further illustration of Labour’s lack of confidence. The Tories are perfectly ready to proclaim that they are the party for the ‘working man’.

On the point about activism and membership, all parties face this problem. The Tories don’t worry about it, because they can use their advantages in financial resources and media support to communicate directly with the voters. We need to be much quicker on our feet – taking up individual, local and short-lived issues that command public interest and showing how the correct responses to those issues are best arrived at by applying our overall set of values and view of how society should work. People drawn in, even if only temporarily on a particular issue, will remember that experience on polling day.

You once described New Labour as a ‘souffle of good intentions’. Do you think this incoherence remains an issue with Labour in 2015? If so, what, if anything, can be done to provide a true, values-based ethos to Labour as a prospective party of government?

Yes, I still think this is true. Labour would like to do good things but is faced with the roadblock that they have no idea how to disengage from the current orthodoxy. They are unwilling or unable to do the hard work needed to identify a better alternative and can’t conceive that there could be new thinking that is not going to be condemned as ‘left-wing extremism’.

Moving on to economics, you were very critical of the decision to make the Bank of England independent, and have consistently argued for a different approach to monetary supply. To what extent do you think it is essential that the supply of credit is diversified?

This next question takes me to the heart of the problem. Without a new approach to major issues like monetary policy and an understanding of its true purposes we can’t develop an alternative economic strategy. We need to update Keynes (if that doesn’t sound too presumptuous) so as to fill a couple of lacunae in his analysis. We need to ensure, for example, that monetary policy is not the exclusive domain of the banks and is not used solely to boost their profits rather than serve the public interest – and that’s why allowing the central bank to run it is such a bad idea. If we want government to take responsibility for full employment, which should be the primary goal of economic policy, ministers should be accountable and not permitted to sub-contract their responsibility to the bank.

There’s been a bit of debate in some circles recently regarding the validity of full employment as a goal. This is not to say that consigning people to a life on poverty-level benefits is acceptable, more that the goal of full employment is both too unspecific regarding under-employment (for example, zero-hour contracts) and also neglects the danger that the state will use coercion upon the unemployed to force them into workfare and other deflationary schemes. As the founder of the Full Employment Forum, do you think that in the world of ‘Sports Direct’-type employment, full employment remains a valid goal? Implicit within a lot of current criticism of full employment is that the state should offer Unconditional Basic Income….

I’m suspicious of the argument that full employment, however defined, is for some reason now unattainable, since it is so convenient for employers and others to retain a pool of unemployed. Keynes and others had no difficulty in defining full employment as a condition where there are as many jobs as (or perhaps a few more than) there are people looking for work. I think we should be careful about what employment means for the purposes of this and any other definition. A zero-hours contract is not in my view the equivalent of a job and nor is part-time work a job for someone wishing to work full-time. In New Zealand at present, even a one-hour working day is treated as a job and therefore as reducing the unemployment total.

As to how full employment is to be achieved, Keynes was interested in direct job creation so that the government or public sector would be the employer of last resort. He saw this as the means of avoiding variable employment levels since even a high level of aggregate demand or GDP would not necessarily mean that effective demand (i.e. predictions as to future demand) would be high enough to persuade the private sector to employ everyone available for work. I think the theoretical argument is accurate enough but the proposition is politically difficult (particularly for a public conditioned to believe that unemployment is the result of fecklessness!) and may not be practicable, in its pure form at any rate. Similar doubts of course apply to the notion of a ‘refusal of work’. I do think, however, that something that would be recognised as full employment is attainable if we were to get the economy moving again by addressing our two main problems – a loss of competitiveness in the productive sector and the absence of proper financing for industry.

As a slightly separate point, I think there is considerable merit in a Universal Basic Income, both as an anti-poverty measure and a simplification of our complex benefits system and as a recognition that, as citizens, we are all entitled to share in at least the basic benefits of living in society.

I am quite clear that the rise and rise of house prices is huge driver of widening inequality.  A good illustration of the process is the recent announcement that a generous right-wing government in New Zealand will raise benefits for the poorest families by $25 per week, at a time when the owners of houses in Auckland have seen the value of their houses rise over the past year on average by $2000 dollars per week.  That rise in dollar value is entirely the result of irresponsible bank lending, and is not matched in any way by a rise in real output – it represents a transfer of resources from those who don’t own their own homes to those who do.

One of the more controversial stances you took in the 1980s concerned employee share ownership, and encouraging this as a form of common ownership. Would you revise this stance, based upon developments since then?

If the profit motive is so vital and beneficial, why not extend it to the whole work force? Employee share ownership, or something like it, would be a practical reflection of the fact that they are all wealth creators. Anything that would make private companies more responsive to the wider interest would be helpful.

Over the space of the last five years, Labour has moved from defending investment to subscribing to a reduced version of Conservative spending cuts. What are the political implications of this? Could it eventually lead to what is sometimes called the ‘Pasokification’ of Labour – its slow disappearance and fade to obscurity? Is there a way for Labour to move beyond what could be permanent austerity, in the face of fierce media attacks?

As I indicated earlier, the commitment to cut public spending was the major mistake made by Labour over the past five years. It seemed to validate the Tory attacks on Labour’s economic record and to demonstrate that there was no alternative to further cuts. It shows a serious lack of expertise and a complete unawareness of what is happening outside Westminster in respect of moving away from current orthodoxy. When the IMF and the OECD, every major central bank and many leading economists are in various ways denying the validity of austerity as a response to recession, seeing inequality as an obstacle to economic growth rather than as a necessary price and pre-condition of it, and recognising the possibilities of monetary policy (albeit through quantitative easing to shore up the banks) as a means of getting the productive economy moving, rather than just as a counter-inflationary instrument, why does Labour remain stuck in a time warp? If we don’t escape from this intellectual straitjacket, our days are numbered – Pasokification indeed!

During the late 1980s and early 1990s you were possibly the only consistent front-bench Opposition critic of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which set the conditions for monetary and fiscal convergence, and which institutionalised harsh monetary control into the European project. Whilst the UK has been spared the worst excesses of monetary restraint, it is a less-connected part of a European Union which has increasingly acted as an enforcer for economic liberalism and privatisation, and whose institutions remain remote from popular consent.

With the In/Out referendum approaching, is there a serious prospect that the EU – and the Eurozone – can be reformed to reflect a progressive economics that places social and environmental goals at its centre? If not, then what are the likely consequences of a vote to leave the EU?

The euro was always doomed and we did well to keep out of it. A single currency was a means of enforcing a single monetary policy for a highly diverse European economy (which was always going to be disastrous), and of setting in concrete a monetary policy that would be congenial to Germany but – reinforcing as it would neo-classical precepts – would do great damage to everyone else. I fear that the supporters of the euro will press on to the bitter end, whatever the consequences. A ‘grexit’ would help but would be no more than a warning which the Germans would no doubt ignore. The only solution, which a British withdrawal from the EU might help to achieve, would be to abandon the euro and re-configure a Europe that is built on functional cooperation and growing convergence, with each step going no further than would warrant political support from the people. The question for the UK is not, in other words, either wholly in or wholly out – it is inconceivable that trade barriers would be re-erected and we would retain, even outside the EU, a huge range of common interests with it – but how best to preserve a European future that has some chance of success, further development and longevity.

Bryan Gould was a front-bench MP for Labour from 1983 to 1994, before returning to his native New Zealand. He is the author of a number of books, including The Democracy Sham: How Globalisation Devalues Your Vote and Myths, Politicians and Money. He blogs at http://bryangould.com.

Article reproduced by Creative Commons Licence

Jeremy Corbyn – Toxic Rivals and Labour’s Future

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Jeremy Corbyn, as a candidate for the Leader of the Labour Party presents a welcome change to British politics. Now we hear of an alternative to the damaging policies of cuts. In this interview, he speaks about his toxic rivals and Labour’s future. His words are clear, intelligent and speak the sense which so many Labour supporters have been waiting to hear for so long.

  • Banking Crisis – Corbyn supports Tight Regulations on Banks
  • NHS  – Opposes Private Finance Initiatives, Supports Health Service for all
  • Iraq War – Jeremy Corbyn opposed sale of arms to Iraq, and founded Stop the War movement
  • Benefits Cap – Inequality and Poverty is Appalling
  • Deficit and Austerity – Labour should be Investing in People and The Future
  • Tax – Closing Tax Loopholes and Corporation Tax Avoidance a priority
  • Europe – Labour need a Voice in Europe, opposing TTIP

Who is Charlie?  Not #Tories!  Scrapping our Human Rights? No Way!

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Who is Charlie?

Less than a year ago there was a global outcry, about awful scenes in Paris leading to murders. The victims were expressing their right to free speech through the tool of cartoons. All through history  music, poetry, and satire have been arts through which thoughts can be expressed and shared. It is all part of being human. Can you remember when people carried placards saying, “Je Suis Charlie”, and “I am Charlie?”

Demonstrators in Paris unity march

People took to the streets, and were united in horror and determination. As Suzanne Moore commented at the time in the Guardian. She observed that:

Uncertainty is indeed gut-churning, but more and more it is intrinsic to our freedom. Rigidity, finite values, texts that can never be questioned? This is what we must fear. Those drawn to terror cling to an ideology that allows not a glimmer of uncertainty. To doubt is to be weak. Ambiguity is a threat.

At that time, Mr Cameron, defended the rights to free speech, at least is recorded to have supported the cartoon. As such a defender of free speech, I imagine therefore that he will also defend the right to free speech of resident in Bristol, who has used the medium of Art to depict Mr Cameron as a danger to the future of the NHS.

PAY-Tony-DavisThe Daily Mirror reports that Tony Davis, faces prosecution if he refuses to remove it, he could eventually be fined up to £20,000 under the Town and Country Planning Act.

Tony said: “I’ve had a notice of prosecution. If you are a commercial premises you can advertise anything but if you are a private premises you are restricted to a size of 2ft by 3ft.

“But this applies to hoardings – not something that is painted on the wall like mine is.

“Also my question is, what exactly am I meant to be advertising?”

Which brings us to the question of why, when there was such an outrage about the events in Paris last summer, are we facing an onslaught of rights, removal of freedoms of which must be defended. Much of the media, newspapers, the News in BBC is controlled by those who seek to control a population which outnumbers them, and in the UK, a government which does not have the majority support of a population, has power to change laws in a parliament which is supposed to serve the people.

Very adept at distraction policies, or scare-tactics, the BBC is neither, neutral politically, or independent, even though it still is respected by the belief in neutrality by many.  We have asked the question before, Who pulls the strings at the BBC? Now the Guardian reports how Tory officals threatened the BBC during the recent election.

Baldwin writes: “BBC executives and journalists have told me that there were regular, repeated threats from senior Tories during this election campaign about ‘what would happen afterwards’ if they did not fall into line.

He says: “It is a disturbing suggestion that a democratically elected government would seek to stamp on and silence dissent from an independent broadcaster.”

But he claims there “has been a long-standing campaign by the Conservative party, fueled by the commercial interests of sections of the press, to attack the world’s most successful state-funded public service broadcaster as a giant leftwing conspiracy”.

And so they hold power, while the scales of justice are so unbalanced they appear to have have a pivotal screw loose. Power could be easily toppled by exposure of truths and myths which has led to the imbalance of truth. The Tories are terrified at the idea of a collective knowledge of truth. Divide and rule, as always, is their aim. They overcomplicate issues leading to doubt and confusion.

This is why we must defend everyone’s  rights of expression through the Arts, the Internet, Blogs. Even if sometimes we don’t agree with them.

If we have a right of freedom of expression, then we also have a right to access information which our representatives are seeking to cover-up because of their own self interest. We are not talking about securing our safety, and protecting the vulnerable. Throughout history many have founght for our rights, from the Tolpuddle martyrs, to the suffragettes, to those who fought against Nazis in the 20th century.  This is not something to be cast away because Mr Gove has the power.

We must oppose the Conservative Government in their attempt to remove human rights.  Gove plans to scrap the policy of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 

The Human Rights Act is a piece of law, introduced in 1998, that guarantees human rights in Britain. It was introduced as one of the first major reforms of the last Labour government.

In practice, the Act has two main effects. Firstly, it incorporates the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law.

What this means is that if someone has a complaint under human rights law they do not have to go to European courts but can get justice from British courts.

Secondly, it requires all public bodies – not just the central government, but institutions like the police, NHS, and local councils – to abide by these human rights.

Which rights does the Act cover?

The Act covers all the rights included in the European Convention.

These rights are: Right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education.

The Act also imposes a duty upon governments to provide free and fair elections. 

38 Degrees Campaign to Save Human Rights Act:

If you haven’t already, please sign now. Link.

Trade treaties like TTIP are arranged in secret because those who will benefit from them are a very small minority, and exposure in the public domain would ensure they would be quashed. There is no wisdom in complacency of belief that in the UK because we are some distance from the incident in Bangladesh where a life was lost just because a man had an opinion, we are therefore safe.

The struggle for free speech, for free inquiry and for the liberty of atheism need not be a fight against religion, unless religion is opposed to human dignity. It is a struggle against cowardice and conformism, and against everyone who would crush both truth and imagination into a cramped coffin of orthodoxy.

Protection of rights, freedoms, and those whistleblowers who dare to speak out is tantamount in preserving the last chance for the voices of the people to be heard and shared – if indeed it is not too late for democracy to have a voice at all.

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Stop Mourning, Organise – Owen Jones

Stop Mourning , Organise – Owen Jones. Get together – and Win

Owen Jones is speaking here following the election defeat. Yes it hurt, but it’s happened. Cynicism and bitterness are destructive, and that is exactly what the Tories want. As ever, they seek to divide and rule. Lessons learnt, pick up your spirits, and now we must all get together, organise and fight. Together, not tearing ourselves apart. Then they will have won.

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/commentisfree/video/2015/may/13/post-election-downer-time-to-organise-owen-jones-video

Does last week’s election victory by David Cameron’s Conservatives fill you with despair? Mourning will not help, says Owen Jones. And neither will blaming the voters. The battles ahead seem daunting, but losing hope means letting down millions of people who are going to suffer. We need a positive message that resonates with people, however they voted. It’s time to redouble our efforts