Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The good, the bad and the fully-costed


The Labour Party manifesto was officially launched today. Before I start my review of it I strongly urge you to read through it for yourself.

I'm writing this review because I think it's important to raise certain issues about it in order to broaden the discussion, but please don't just rely on what I say, or what anyone else says about it. 


Make sure that you read it for yourself, and think about it for yourself.

The good


The 2017 Labour Party manifesto is absolutely full of good positive ideas for making Britain a better, fairer and more prosperous place. I'm going to briefly run through some of the aspects that I find the most impressive.

NHS - Labour founded the NHS in 1948 and they are the natural guardians of our health service. They have pledged to reverse the savage Tory funding cuts, to give our hard-working medical staff a long-overdue pay rise, to halt the secret Tory plans to close dozens more NHS facilities after the election, to ensure safe staffing levels in all hospitals, to reinstate the waiting time targets that the Tories scrapped because they were failing to meet them, and to begin reversing the ongoing Tory NHS-privatisation agenda.

Education - Labour are planning to set up a National Education Service to provide education and retraining that is free at the point of need from cradle to grave. It's a fantastic policy that would be of enormous benefit to the economy. In the modern economy jobs arise and become obsolete faster than ever, meaning that a prosperous nation needs a flexible workforce that can be quickly and efficiently retrained with new skills so people are out of work and economically inactive for as little time as possible.


Ending George Osborne's ruinous austerity agenda - George Osborne has quit parliament to spend time with his other jobs, but his socially and economically ruinous austerity agenda lives on. Theresa May and her Chancellor Philip Hammond have demonstrated their intention to continue talking in the same kind of desperately misleading pseudo-economic platitudes as Cameron and Osborne did before them. After seven punishing years of austerity the UK economy has flat-lined. The average wage is still below the 2007 level; private debt has soared back up to pre-crisis levels; the police, army, emergency services and local government have all been slashed to the bone ... And for what? The Tories promised that austerity would have eliminated the budget deficit by May 2015, yet it was still a mind-boggling £51.7 billion in 2016-2017 and they now openly admit they won't be eliminating it any time before 2021. Austerity has failed in its own terms and it's well beyond the time to bin it.

Investment - Labour plan to abandon ideological austerity and replace it with an investment led recovery. This kind of approach works by targeting spending on infrastructure and services that generate more economic returns than the investment costs. To give a simplified hypothetical example - a new rail link that costs several hundred million to build, but which knocks half an hour off the commute of some 50,000 passengers per day and attracts several big businesses to set up operations in the area. Building the rail link obviously costs more up-front than investing nothing, but over the long-term it pays back many times the original investment cost. Labour's plan to establish a National Investment Bank to manage this programme of investments is a really good idea. If diverse countries like Norway, the United States, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Russia and Qatar can all have successful sovereign wealth/investment funds, then why shouldn't the UK?

Workers' rights and wages - After seven long years of the Tories eroding workers' rights and overseeing the worst slump in the value of workers' wages in recorded history, Labour want to reverse the trend. Scrapping the £1,200 tribunal fees; introducing a £10 minimum wage by 2020; introducing fair pay scales at companies carrying out government contracts; ending the below-inflation wage cap on public sector salaries; and banning exploitative Zero Hour Contracts are all good moves that would put more power in workers' hands, and more money in workers' pockets.

Housing - The Tories have provoked a devastating housing crisis. Theresa May has admitted that the Tories oversaw the lowest levels of house building since the 1920s. They also increased demand for housing by allowing in the biggest immigration wave the UK has ever seen. As a result house prices have skyrocketed to their most unaffordable levels ever. Labour would begin reversing this trend by building 200,000 new houses a year, half of them council houses (a sound government investment that pays back more in the long-term than the initial investment cost). For those who still can't afford to buy, Labour are intent on defending private renters from exploitative buy-to-let slumlords with a new set of tenants' rights.


Repatriation of UK infrastructure - For almost four decades UK governments have adhered to fanatical hard-right economic dogma that has seen countless £billions in public assets flogged off on the cheap, and eventually ending up as the property of foreign governments. Examples include the UK's nuclear power stations (which now belong to the French government) the UK's rail services (74% of UK rail franchises are now run by foreign governments' state rail operators), the UK National Grid (now owned by China and Qatar) the UK's water supply (two of the biggest investors in Thames Water are China and the United Arab Emirates). Bizarrely the Tories believe that the only country that should be barred from owning UK infrastructure is the UK itself. Labour want to repatriate some of the UK's most strategically vital natural monopolies by renationalising them. Anyone who opposes this is clearly demonstrating that they're so politically confused that they think it's perfectly fine for communist China to own chunks of UK infrastructure, but some kind of terrible communist plot to say that the UK should actually own its own infrastructure!

Immigration - Instead of following Theresa May's immigration model of picking an arbitrary number out of the air (100,000), spectacularly failing to meet it, then recycling the exact same arbitrary number again in 2015 and failing to meet it again, and recycling it yet again in 2017 - Labour are intent on developing a rational immigration policy that allows immigration where there are skills shortages; clamps down on harmful practices like gangmastering, undercutting, and exclusive overseas recruitment; and recognises the distinctions between different types of migration (long-term labour, short-term labour, family migration, international students ...).

Localisation and democracy - In my view localisation is key to a well functioning democracy. The more say local people have over local issues, the more democratic the society. Over the last seven years the Tories have severely undermined local government with their huge funding cuts and their privatisation agenda, which has resulted in more and more power being centralised in Westminster, or being distributed to unaccountable private interests. Labour's manifesto aims to put more power into local people's hands, and to make the UK more democratic through a constitutional convention.


The bad

There are things in the 2017 Labour manifesto that I don't fully agree with, and a few that I outright disagree with.

The title

One thing I don't particularly like is the title on the cover illustration. "For the Many, not the few" is catchy enough I suppose, but it comes across as a bit divisive to me. 


It seems to suggest that Labour's policies would do nothing for the rich, when a lot of their policies actually would benefit the rich: Investment in infrastructure spending would provide opportunities to big businesses like engineering companies ... More money in people's pockets would mean more demand in the economy, which would create new opportunities for existing businesses and wealthy entrepreneurs ... Labour's house building programme would create a boom for owners of engineering firms, construction companies, manufacturers and builders merchants ... A fair tax policy would actually benefit business owners who pay their fair share of tax by stopping HMRC from doing sweetheart deals with major corporations so that they can undercut legitimate businesses ... Labour's focus on the creative industries would help create opportunities for many to become the wealthy musicians, artists, actors and directors of the future.

In my view "For the many, not just the few" would have been better, but I guess it's a fairly trivial semantic point.

Schools


Labour should have pledged to return as many privatised academy schools to public ownership as possible, and made it absolutely clear that academy chains and free schools that rely on public funds will be subject to Freedom of Information legislation and the 20:1 pay ratio, so that they can't keep topslicing huge salaries out of our children's education budgets with impunity.

if it was up to me I'd go much further. I'd give them the option of either handing the schools back to the local authorities, or reducing the executive pay to no higher than the highest paid teacher at any of their schools. The idea of academy chain bosses topslicing £400,000+ a year salaries for themselves out of our children's education budgets is absolutely sickening.


The fiasco at Perry Beeches should have been a wake up call to the nation of how bad the Tory vandalism of the education has been. The opposition under Miliband was woeful (the dreadful Tristram Hunt just sat on his hands and did nothing for years). Labour could, and should, do a lot better on opposing these parasitical and unaccountable academy chains.

Brexit


I think the Labour Brexit stance is way better than the Tories bonkers "negotiating strategy" of issuing ever escalating threats and paranoid Daily Mail style conspiracy theories, but it's basically sprinkling glitter on a turd and describing it as a birthday cake. I can't actually see any way the UK can avoid the Brexit disaster now, but at least the Labour approach would prioritise the protection of jobs and the economy, instead of playing the incredibly reckless and antagonistic game of diplomatic brinkmanship Theresa May is clearly intent on.

Trident


I think Trident is a moral abomination and massive waste of money. I agree with the military experts that the money could be way better spent on bolstering the conventional armed services that have been cut to the bone after 7 years of Tory austerity and wasting cash on botched procurement.

How a new Trident system would protect us from the threats of the 21st Century is beyond me. A tiny fraction of the Trident budget could fund the best anti-terrorism and anti-cyberwarfare task forces in the world, but no. The majority of Labour politicians (and voters for that matter) prefer genocidal dick-waving to sensible investment in things that would actually keep us safe, and Labour is a democratic party, so they've pledged to waste spectacular amounts of money on renewing Trident.

Basic Income

The Labour welfare policies are very good indeed. They've pledged to scrap the sanctions and Work Capacity regimes that cost the taxpayer far more to administer than they save in reduced benefits, and pledged to ban corporate outsourcing. The only thing I would have liked to see is a concrete proposal to begin looking into the benefits of Universal Basic Income as various other states have been doing.

Monetary reform


I would have liked to see more from Labour on monetary reform, but I guess the idea of fundamentally changing the way money is created and distributed within the economy is far too radical for most Labour MPs to support, or for most ordinary people to even properly understand. 


Only 10% of MPs actually understand how money is actually created, and public understanding of the fact that the private banks just magic up new money out of nothing at the moment they issue loans is so little understood that people often think you're talking crackpot conspiracy nonsense when you try to explain how the monetary system actually works.

Constitutional issues


I strongly disagree with the Labour stance on Scottish independence. I think it's both wrong to ignore the democratic mandate for another referendum, and strategically inept to simply parrot the Tory anti-Scottish line. If they had any sense at all Labour would be campaigning for a "moderate" middle-ground option instead of picking one side of the debate. The SNP and the Greens want full independence. The Tories' and the extreme-right want Scottish subservience to Westminster rule. There is plenty of space between the two polar extremes for a middle option of devo-max. This option would hand more powers to Scotland to control their own destiny, and it would also allow Labour to clearly differentiate themselves from the right-wingers who are trying to ignore the democratic mandate for another Scottish independence referendum and expect the Scottish to just do as they're told. Instead of further damaging their reputation in Scotland by siding with the Tories, the extreme-right and the sectarian bigots, Labour should be loudly and persistently demanding a third "moderate" option on the ballot paper.

Although Labours plans to democratise the House of Lords and empower local democracy are much better than sticking to the status quo, I would have liked to see them go further by pledging to replace the outdated and woefully unrepresentative Westminster voting system with a more modern proportional system


I would also have liked to see Labour address England's constitutional deficit. If Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London all get their own proportionally elected parliaments, why should the English regions be left unrepresented?

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Having noted these minor and major disagreements, I still think it's still by far the best Labour Manifesto I've ever seen. It's an incredible achievement that the party got over the divisions of last summer and put together a really good manifesto like this.

Of course absolutely everything in it isn't going to be to my, or to your, or to anyone's tastes, but so much of it is good and extremely popular stuff that a few blips don't really matter in the grand scheme of things.


The fully-costed


The Labour Party manifesto has been fully-costed. Every single spending commitment has an allocated funding source. They claim it's the most comprehensively costed manifesto ever, and I can't remember seeing a better one.

Right-wing political propaganda is incredibly pernicious, so even though the Labour manifesto is fully-costed and the Tories are making false and uncosted spending pledges all over the shop, we're going to hear a lot of right-wing headbangers ranting on about "magic money trees" and the like for the next three weeks.

The answers to these people are simple:

1. Ask them for details on how Philip Hammond is going to find the money to plug the £2 billion black hole in his first budget that was caused by his U-turn on the National Insurance hike for self-employed people. If they can't explain it (which they won't be able to), then ask them why they think it's appropriate for the Tories to rely on harvesting "the magic money tree".
2. Ask them whether they can show you the comprehensive and fully-costed plan for Brexit, or whether the cost of doing that is going to be funded by harvesting "the magic money tree".
3. Ask them if they know where private banks get their money from, and explain to them that the banks simply create it out of nothing and then rent it out to the rest of us in interest bearing loans. Ask them to explain how the private banks creating 97% of the money supply in this manner is less of an example of harvesting "the magic money tree" than a Labour pledge to fund free NHS hospital parking by increasing tax on private health insurance, or a Labour pledge to provide free school meals for all primary school children by ending the tax break on private school tuition fees. 
What we can do

The right-wing media have desperately tried to smear the Labour manifesto as a load of nonsense in order to discourage people from reading it and thinking about it for themselves. They know that there is a lot of common sense stuff in there to appeal to ordinary people and they really, desperately don't want people making up their own minds instead of just mindlessly doing what they're told.

Read it for yourself - As I said in the intro to this review, don't just take my word for it. Don't just take anyone else's word for it. Read through it for yourself and think about it for yourself. Don't let other people tell you what to think about it.

Share it -
Make sure other people see it. Print it off and give a copy to your grandparents, your parents, your friends, if you think it would help.

Talk about it - Don't just give people a copy or send them a link. Ask them to actually read it and then engage them in discussion about it. Ask them which policies they like and which they don't like. If you're talking to your grandparents ask them whether they like the guarantee to keep the triple lock on their pension and their pledge to properly fund social care and the NHS, and ask them which bits of the Labour manifesto they think would be beneficial to you and your generation too.

Register to vote - If you're not registered to vote you won't be able to vote in favour of (or against) the Labour Manifesto. Check that you are registered to vote here. If you're a student check where your vote would be most effectively used here.

Encourage others to register - If every Labour Party member encouraged just two people to register to vote in the next week, that would increase the number of voters by a million! 



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