Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cautious Ed, Where are your policies?

After over a year in the job, Labour leader Ed Miliband doesn't seem to
have formed any kind of coherent alternative to defunct neoliberal dogma.
It is the eve of the 2011 Labour party conference in Liverpool and I am getting heartily sick of reading columns by Labour politicians and Labour supporting columnists talking up the Labour alternative to Osborne's "self defeating austerity".

These columns feature plenty of party approved soundbytes ("Cutting too hard, too fast") conjecture ("if Britain slides into another recession, the next election ought to be Labour's to lose") and Miliband eulogies (the "breathtaking boldness" of his new strategy for the Labour party) but they are dreadfully thin on actual alternative policy.

The best Ed Balls could come up with in terms of "policy" in his piece was "I believe we can only win public trust by making the case for a credible and compelling plan that will revive growth, get unemployment falling, take the tough decisions to tackle the deficit in a balanced way, and transform our economy for the long term." Nothing but vague generalised guff masquerading as an alternative strategy, with absolutely no substantive policy ideas at all. In her piece Angela Eagle just criticised the neoliberal status quo without mentioning a single policy (radical, populist or anything at all) and the best Andrew Rawnsley could come up with in his Labour puff piece was a mention of Labour's latest pitiful attempt at populist strategy, a plan to undercut the ridiculous Tory "aspiration tax" on university education from £9,000 to £6,000, which is still double the fees Labour introduced over the course of their thirteen years in power and would do absolutely nothing to counter the grotesque commodification of higher education.

Three articles in two days and the sum total of concrete alternative policies is a single pathetically misguided and reactionary attempt at a populist appeal to students, most of whom loathe the Labour party for having introduced the "aspiration charges" in the first place. If after a whole year in the job, this cack handed attempt at populism is the best "headline policy" Ed can come up with, Labour are not an alternative, they are a sad joke.

Over the last 32 years militant neoliberal dogma has enriched the top echelons of society at the expense of millions of hard working ordinary people who have seen their discretionary income eroded away with disgraceful utilities and transportation price hikes, mass unemployment, wage deflation, are now they are suffering the brunt of Osborne's self defeating austerity programme. Not only that but neoliberal economic dogma has created biggest economic crisis in the UK since the Second World War increasing the national debt back to 164% of GDP (including bailouts & PFI economic alchemy schemes).

Ed should be pointing out that there are successfully tried and tested alternatives to the socially destructive "slash and burn" policies favoured by the Tories out of their refusal to abandon their clearly defunct neoliberal dogma. Ed can point to Roosevelt's "new deal", to the prosperous years of the Post-War Consensus & more recently the astonishing post-neoliberal Argentine Economic Recovery.

Labour need to quickly and loudly apologise for their passionate embrace with neoliberalism and the financial sector elite and begin setting out clear and distinct alternatives. This radical new approach should be structured around policies such as ensuring that any further fiscal stimuli are used to improve state infrastructure, invest in education, research, the sciences and to make low interest loans to high-tech and green industries rather than just handing the cash over to the financial sector to pour into their black holes of debt or for them to lend on to the "real economy" at a huge mark-up.

Labour need to set out clear policies on how they are going to clamp down on corporate profiteering, punish inherently risky business practices and get tough on corporate and personal tax dodging. They also need to demonstrate that there is no harm in raising taxes if they are properly targeted at unearned wealth (such as a Land Value Tax) and on profits from risky and unproductive financial sector practices.

Labour need to promote measures to increase the discretionary income of the masses in order to get people spending again and they need to explain how policies like artificially low interest rates, austerity and quantitative easing combine to create a stagflationary effect that harshly punishes careful people such as families that have tried hard to live within their means, careful savers and pensions investors, in order to protect the reckless gamblers that borrowed way beyond their means and wrecked the economy in the process. They need to demonstrate that Coalition policies punish the self disciplined in order to protect people that lied on their (ridiculous) self-assessment mortgage applications, the buy-to-let parasites that borrowed vast sums in order to hoard property and exploit ordinary working people, stoking house price inflation in the process and the banks that carelessly lent so much money to these people, as well as engaging in their own over-leveraged debt fuelled speculative activities.

Labour need to reform the property market to ensure that hard working people can once again access decent affordable housing and to prevent the inflation of another dangerously unsustainable speculative property bubble. They should remind people that the principle function of a house is as a home, not as a commodity to be traded or as part of an exploitative get rich quick scheme. Labour politicians need to remember there are many more potential voters to have experienced exploitation at the hands of unregulated buy-to-let landlords than there are venal something-for-nothing slumlords (who are more than likely to vote Tory anyway).

Labour should consider what the neoliberals consider to be "the unthinkable", the renationalisation of failing private sector industries. Everyone knows that the privatised railways are an absolute shambles. The privatised rail network soaks away far more in government subsidies than the entire system cost to operate in 1994, line operator Network Rail is a disorganised and unaccountable botch-job that has created vast debt legacies, train franchises are nothing more than anti-competitive oligopolies at best and absolute monopolies at worst, franchisees have been allowed to cost the taxpayer £hundreds of millions by walking away from contracts that they don't like (East Coast mainline) without suffering punishment and rail passangers have been hit with above inflation fare hikes year, after year, after year.

Possibly the most heart wrenching effect of rail privatisation is the catastrophic effect on the UK train building industry. In the 1970s and 1980s Britain was second only to Japan in the development of high speed trains, nowadays the last (Canadian owned) train manufacturer based in the UK is on it's last legs. Not only have thousands of jobs and valuable skills been erased, Britain has also completely lost the immense prestige of being global railway pioneers.

Miliband should openly engage with the concept of renationalising the railways, a move that would be extremely popular with the left, and if the EU try to obstruct the idea he should stand up to them and assert British sovereignty, a move that would be hugely popular across the political spectrum.

If Miliband and the Labour party don't soon come up with a coherent set of socioeconomic strategies and some actual concrete policies of their own, they must start agitating for a return to the Post-War Consensus mixed economy that created 28 consecutive years of budget surpluses and reduced the national debt from 237% in the aftermath of WWII down to 43% when the Neo-Tories tore it up in 1979. Didn't the Tories have an election campaign based on the phrase "you've never had it so good" during the Post-War Consensus years? In 1957 didn't Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan say "go round the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country"? Doesn't the mixed economy approach have a wonderful track record of reducing the national debt? Hasn't the Post-War Consensus era been repeatedly referred to as the "golden age of capitalism"?

Most importantly of all, Ed needs to make sure that the party never again forgets that the role of Labour is to represent the interests of the hard working, law abiding, tax paying, working people of this country, above all other interests.


 If you enjoyed reading this post, maybe you could buy me a beer? £1 would get me a can of cheap lager whilst £3 would get me a lovely pint of real ale.

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