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

Is Time up for “The Big Lie”?

Is Time up for ‘The Big Lie’?

Jim Grundy
Big Lie
The ‘Big Lie’ theory is best summed up by the well-known phrase that if you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one, repeat it often enough and you’ll be believed. It works and, ironically, it relies upon the basic honesty of most people to make it work.
Everybody lies. Of course we do but those lies are the small things that make life easier. You do like the meal that’s been cooked for you; yes, that new shirt, suit looks great, etc., etc. Lying is normally a harmless social lubricant, with no malice involved. And so most people think others operate on basically the same level.
But they don’t.

Over the past five years the Tories and their Lib Dem supporters have lied on an epic scale. Orwellian double-think and newspeak has nothing on them. They damn Labour for borrowing, whilst borrowing more than Labour has done, not only during the previous Labour administration but in history; boast of growth whilst overseeing the slowest economic recovery since the South Sea Bubble 300 years ago; and a rate of growth that still doesn’t match the one they inherited – and let no-one mention that the national debt Labour was bequeathed in 1997 (as a % of GDP) was larger than was passed on to the Tories in 2010.

The Tories know this perfectly well. But the credit crunch was a Tory wet dream, offering undreamed-of opportunities to implement a huge shift of wealth away from the public to a tiny ruling elite. It is no coincidence that the U.K. now has the largest number of billionaires per head of population than any other country. When the Tories ask where the money has gone – referencing ‘that’ note – the answer is clear.

From the privatisation of the Royal Mail for £1bn less than its market value – at a conservative estimate – to the handing out of NHS contracts to the private sector, the evidence of how this asset-stripping is playing out is there for all to see.

But what is in plain sight is not always what is most visible.

I give you, for your distraction, the ever-changing galaxy of scapegoats presented by our friends in the media and their Tory chums: foreigners; gay men and women; black people; asylum-seekers; refugees; gypsies; benefit scroungers; and, the current favourite – Muslims. There are many, many more, of course.

The crowding around the political centre ground left many working class people feeling abandoned, disenfranchised, bemused by what has happened and angry at the impact the undermining of their lives, homes and jobs has had upon them. UKIP, the ultra-Tories, have simply taken the next step, exploiting those fears to argue, for example, that raising the Minimum Wage would attract more lazy foreigners to the country, to take our jobs whilst living on benefits – let’s not dwell on that contradiction too long. The lie remains, only it’s even larger and even more dangerous.

Yes, only an idiot would argue that strategy hasn’t worked to an extent. A bigger idiot, though, would argue that everyone attracted by UKIP’s rhetoric is, therefore, racist, a hopeless, mindless bigot to be dismissed. Of course they’re not.

In their private lives when people go through the ups and downs of life they often grasp at small, almost insignificant issues and obsess about them. An argument about a partner not remembering to do the shopping, to put the bin out, to sort the gas bill, all these become mountainous problems because they feel themselves to still have an element of control over them – the ‘small stuff’. The underlying problems are too big, too difficult to face and are put to one side but forgetting to hang out the washing, now that sums up what’s wrong with your life…..

As in private, so it follows that the big public issues of the day can seem unfathomable, so far beyond their control that they don’t bear thinking about, let alone understanding, because there is no point. An earnest discussion of globalisation, the free movement of capital but not labour or the operation of City trading houses will leave many people completely cold. So, back to the ‘small stuff’: now, that bloke at no. 26 who’s never done a day’s work in his life, who claims benefits…., he’s the one. He is what is wrong with society. And those they read about in the press, now if we sort them….

And, returning to the theme, why would anyone tell such blatant lies about Romanians, Muslims, etc.? There must be some truth in it because they wouldn’t print such stuff if it wasn’t basically true, give or take the odd exaggeration…. Surely. Surely, people don’t tell such outrageous lies….

The last General Election saw an unpopular Labour Government, dealing with the biggest financial crisis in modern times, still suffering from the hangover of ‘New Labour’ – just how toxic that had become – and it hit rock bottom. But the Tories didn’t win. Despite everything, they had to be propped up by the Lib Dems (when ‘propping up’ was fine – it’s a crime now, it seems.). Was this the first sign of the weakening of the ‘Big Lie’? People were clearly fed up with Labour but not enough bought into the Tory message.

Cameron and Osborne have perfected their straight faces whilst telling the biggest lies possible but still not enough people have fallen for them. And as the election has approached, the lies have gotten larger and, abandoning all pretence of reporting news, their allies in the traditional media have joined in making a huge noise about how a man eats a bacon sarnie. There can never have been a worse, more negative, down-right vicious campaign in modern British political history.

But the louder they shout, the clearer it is becoming that not enough people are listening to them. Today’s headlines [6th May 2015] go beyond hysterical. The plebs, it seems, aren’t paying enough attention.

Younger people have tended to vote differently to the older sections in society but is that gap widening? Some of the polls suggest there is a growing and significant difference between the levels of support for UKIP by age-group. Society has changed and UKIP focuses upon older people, relying on a twisted version of nostalgia to spread its appeal, so that’s understandable. But what else is going on? At the same time the amount of time spent by people reading print news media is seemingly in terminal decline, likewise the time spent watching network TV news is suffering too. By contrast, the numbers accessing their information from the internet, and social media, has grown and grown. And internet polls are now beginning to highlight different outcomes to those carried out by telephone. (But that’s all Russell Brand’s fault, isn’t it?)

There is always the issue of causation against correlation but is the increasing use of the internet with the access it provides to a bewildering array of information (yes, not all good), information that is not controlled by peddlers of the ‘Big Lie’ changing how people think? If the messages given to people by the Tories can’t rely upon their massive reinforcement by the Murdochs and Mails of this world, is it the beginning of the end for the very tool that has been so useful to them up to now?

Well, probably not. Not yet. But, to paraphrase Winston Churchill – a man who knew the power of words if nothing else – whilst this isn’t the end; it isn’t even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning for the growing challenge to the ‘Big Lie’.

And aren’t they terrified of that?

‘A Change gonna come’

Change Gonna Come by liam carr

Liam Carr, a regular contributor to Think Left, is one of the two Labour candidates for the Leadgate, Medomsley and Ebchester area .

One of the things I am hearing about while I am canvassing for the local elections is the bedroom tax.  Many of the houses in Leadgate, Ebchester, Hamsterley and The Dene are bungalows.  Most are like my Gran’s house at Watling, with 5 small rooms in total: Living room, kitchen, bathroom and 2 bedrooms.  There are very few 1 bedroom flats in the area because demand for this type of property has always been low.  I listened to one voter who had been recently made redundant.  She told me she was losing £16 a week due to the bedroom tax, and that this meant she was going to struggle to pay for bus fares.  Even people who are unaffected can see the gross unfairness of this tax.People who live in social housing are not scroungers or skivers, they are normal people.  The vast majority of people in receipt of benefits are in work, and even those that aren’t are not long term unemployed.  I spoke with another man who lived alone and was being hit by the bedroom tax.  He was, like many people, unemployed for short periods, signing on and off almost on a monthly basis when he could not find work or when fixed term contracts came to an end.We must not allow ourselves to be divided and categorised by this government into strivers and skivers.  Unless we are super rich, we are all just a couple of months away from not being able to afford the rent or mortgage.

It is claimed that the purpose of the bedroom tax is to save money and free up social housing but in reality people can’t downsize when there are no smaller properties.  All that will happen is that the people affected will have to move into a similar property that is owned by a private landlord.  Regardless of size these properties do not attract the bedroom tax.  The cost to the taxpayer goes up, and the shortage of housing is not addressed.

Many private landlords look after both their properties and their tenants, but walk round any former council estate and you will see that there are 3 types of houses.  Privately owned, council owned and private landlord owned.  There are some private rented properties that are badly maintained and cost a fortune to heat.  The council must use all the powers it has available to make sure that the decent homes standard is met.  When housing benefit is paid to unscrupulous landlords, both the tenant and the taxpayer are being ripped off.

We hear about ‘austerity’ on the news; there is talk of the ‘chancellor’s failed economic policy’, but these are abstract terms.  What they actually mean in real life is that people who have very little are being asked to live on even less and the disabled are being forced into poverty.  Older people are having to choose between heating and eating and relied-on services are being put at risk.  Permanent jobs are scarce.

We can expect more of the same from the Tories; they have tried to decimate Northern towns like Consett before.  They are doing it again, not by closing the pits and the steelworks but by a policy of disproportionate cuts, under-investment and wilful neglect.

Change cannot come soon enough.

 

Published on Oct 22, 2012

A Change Is Gonna Come is a 1964 single by R&B singer-songwriter Sam Cooke, written and first recorded in 1963 and released under the RCA Victor label shortly after his death in late 1964. Though only a modest hit for Cooke in comparison with his previous singles, the song came to exemplify the sixties Civil Rights Movement. The song has gained in popularity and critical acclaim in the decades since its release.

Will the ‘left’ throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Quote

By Councillor Jim Grundy

To friends and comrades: the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition is standing a candidate in Hucknall for the Nottinghamshire County Council elections on 2nd May.  I cannot tell you – do I need to? – how thoroughly depressing I find this to be.

Some people will never be content with the Labour Party as a party of the Left – and that is their prerogative.  Some within Labour can often appear to be somewhat less than ‘left-friendly’ but within Hucknall – where we have no county councillors (for the moment) but all nine district councillors – what are they opposing?

Hucknall’s Labour councillors have taken leading roles in ensuring that the District Council adopted the Living Wage.  Hucknall’s Labour councillors supported the moves to freeze, not only Council Tax but Council housing rents too.  We haven’t passed on the cuts to Council Tax Benefit and are currently developing a package to protect those affected by the Bedroom Tax.  We’ve also ensured that all low-paid council and Ashfield Homes’ employees received £250 when the Government vetoed a pay rise.  No other council can claim to have done more.  None.  I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

Services, such as the call monitoring service, one that the most vulnerable rely upon in an emergency, have been supported, filling the gap left by the Tory-run (for the moment) County Council’s cuts to the budget.  We are about to begin the construction of the first council houses in Ashfield for over 30 years, with more planned.

All of that, it seems, is not good enough.  We’ve worked – and continue to work – with local Trade Union representatives.  But we now find ourselves opposed by people we might have hoped would’ve supported the measures we’ve put in place to support those most affected by the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition.

We won’t change course.  But, it seems, some will never abandon their position of opposing Labour whatever it does, wherever they find it.  One day they might discover the Tory Party and others on the Right but it seems, they’re far happier… much more comfortable attacking the evils of Labour without ever, even for a nanosecond, thinking they would have to do anything other than utter some empty rhetoric that they will never have to back up with action in the real world.

It is referred to in political circles as sectarianism.  I am sure that those trying to come to terms with what the Tories are doing to them, have other expressions that best describe it.  But, whilst they might claim my complaint is merely seeking to shut down criticism of the Labour Party – for they can have no other critique, rarely dealing with ‘real people’ – the reality is that they are self-indulgent, self-serving individuals who positively revel in ordinary people’s misery if they believe it serves as a recruiting agent for their own purposes.  That, I think, is shameful.  But, obviously, I will be proven wrong… triumphantly so… when that mass workers’ party otherwise known as the Socialist Party takes centre stage.

I have many friends on the Left and I value their friendship more than I can tell.  A lot of them would never dream of voting for, let alone joining Labour.  Few of them, though, would spend time attacking a Labour council with our recent track record.  They’d rather back what we were doing, whilst arguing… arguing very strongly, that there was still much more to do… but they would think it much more profitable to spend their time attacking Tories and Lib Dems rather than seeking to undermine what we’re trying to do locally.  But some people are not and never will be my/our friends.  Good luck to them and when they’ve proved that their red flag is a much purer shade of red than mine, they can go home, safe in the knowledge that they never have to actually do anything beyond writing a slogan to oppose what the Tories are doing.  I don’t doubt their slogans are better than ours.  But I do wonder how much they help those about to be hit by the Bedroom Tax.  I have to try to do something in the here and now for such people and not go back to Nottingham, smug in my political theorising and safe in the knowledge that I’ll never have to do anything in the real world to alter what is taking place to real people in the here and now, rather than the glorious future that is to come.

If that sounds horribly negative and angry, well, it is.  Except I and my fellow Labour councillors in Hucknall are taking action to help those on the receiving end of what is happening, and not simply proving to a very narrow section of society just how morally superior we are to everyone else.  We’ll carry on, working hard to ensure that real people receive real help now.  There is a difference.  And ‘real’ people can spot it a million miles off.

Yes, I am pissed off at finding ourselves opposed by people who, even if they will never be our friends, should at the very least recognise who is on the same side.  We might choose a different path and others will argue about the veracity of that too but there is a bigger prize to be won than a test of political theory.  Honest.

Related posts by Jim Grundy

This Ghastly Bedroom Tax spreads Fear… #bedroomtax

The Bedroom Tax: The Unkindest Cut of All?

How can pay rise be unfair when mega-rich get tax cut?

The Unnatural Death of Affordable Housing

Planning to Blame Immigrants? Get Your Facts Straight & Get Rid of Your Prejudices, Nick Boles

Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear