In his latest piece in a series of articles that lay out the case against all the candidates for the Labour leadership, Hopi Sen, whilst setting out the case against Diane Abbot, seems to have taken on the unlikely mantle of political Guru to the Labour Left.
As he’s said at the beginning of each of these articles, he’s hoping to ruin any chance of future employment with the party. Perhaps he’s feeling a bit rebellious, I might send him a membership form for the LRC..
I don’t usually like reading anything from devout centrist types, that sets out to discuss the left of the Party, it tends to raise my blood pressure somewhat. But surprisingly Hopi has some pretty good pointers for us.
The next few years are a major opportunity for the Labour left.
Labour has just lost office thanks to a crisis in capitalism and the failure of the Labour centre-right to respond to that crisis it in an electorate pleasing way.
As a result, we have a government which will run an anti-public services, anti-social spending, anti-housing benefit and welfare agenda, while pursuing policies that will, at the very best, slow the decline in unemployment.
For the first time in a generation, the left could have a coherent intellectual and electoral argument. If the face of the left is Diane Abbott, that argument will be less likely to be taken seriously.
I find it hard to disagree with that. I think the left should be careful not to allow Diane to become our default mouthpiece once she loses the election, though Hopi go’s on to say pretty much the same thing of John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, with which I don’t agree.
John is by far a more effective communicator, in fact I think the only reason Diane is on the ballot is because David Miliband was shit scared of sharing a platform with John! And rightly so, he would have embarrassed him on any number of issues, up and down the country for weeks on end.
I’m glad Hopi points out that this is an opportunity for the left-wing, in fact its nice to hear someone say it. Too many lefties seem to have got into a perpetual state of despair about the Labour Party, to an extent that a vital opportunity may be missed.
I especialy liked this last bit;
Instead they should focus on developing a new generation of strong voices for whom the chance to stridently oppose the government, challenge their own party to be more radical and win applause from party members will be attractive. Most of these won’t be in Westminster – they could be council leaders, or trade unionists, or simply fluent, passionate activists.
The challenge for the left isn’t winning this leadership election, it’s becoming strong enough to ensure that in conference, NEC and shadow cabinet, it’s people and ideas are taken seriously.
I would say that this wouldn’t just be a good thing for the left of the party, but for the whole. Regaining a more pluralistic type of politics is essential for the Labour Party, the only other option is a slip back to the top down, control freakery of the Blair years.
So I wonder. If the time really is now, and the above were used as a loose set of aims for the left over the next couple of years, how would we best start to get things moving at a grass-roots level? This will no doubt be the subject of numerous meetings in the coming months, but hey, if we don’t put the comments section to use for things like this, then whats the point in having it!?!
Great post from Sunny here, asking whether or not it is the Centrists in the Labour Party who have become dogmatic. It’s a compelling case for those who’ve never really thought about it, now more than ever. Though it has been my opinion for quite some time. I’ve often enjoyed pointing out the hypocrisy of people, who’s greatest supposed achievement is vanquishing the dogmatic, uncompromising hard left, developing their own creed (a counter-creed if you will), to which they have clung to righteously ever since. And upon closer examination of the positions of the Labour centrists, it is clear that a dogmatic approach to politics is quite common.
I don’t like the idea of defining the center ground, and I like the definition less, especially when delivered to me by its proponents. Too many people who tell us the center ground is the only way, often forget that the development of centrist politics was born out of a recognition that the publics beliefs and expectations, are not static, but evolutionary. And instead they give us a list of things that aren’t acceptable, positions we can’t afford to abandon, policies we can’t risk to support… the counter creed.
The problem is obvious, if this creed remains dominant, then we will fail to realise what needs to be done to regain our lost support. Weather that means abandoning the center, or reinterpreting what it means in practice, under the ideological guidance of those that refuse to budge on certain issues, particular (potentially succesful) policy ideas will simply be ignored. Left out of the process of consideration altogether, based on the premise that even contemplating certain reforms will lead to defeat. This completely ignores the idea mentioned above, that what may have been considered off-limits in 1997 is not necessarily off-limits in 2010.
Since the election I’ve heard some people suggest that the results showed us the country has moved to the right, and that Labour either strayed too far from the center ground (which I think is laughable), or failed to reinterpret the center ground whilst taking into account this supposed move to the right by the electorate. These voices of pessimism warn me that any contemplation of a “move to the left” by the Labour Party (whatever that means), will leave us exiled by an electorate humming a more right-wing tune.
Frankly I think this is nonsense. For one there was only a swing of around 3.7 to the Tories, the failure of David Cameron to secure his party an all out majority. Second, the Lib Dems clearly positioned themselves as a left of center party, and together with the Labour Party took a larger share of the vote than the Conservatives did, who only managed to increase their share of the vote by just under 4% of the vote. Hardly the sign of a mass right-wing realignment.
The voters the Labour Party lost havent flooded to the Tories in search of something a little more right-wing, they just haven’t come out to vote. This isn’t a new problem, its been going on for some time. Those who claim Labour needs to stick with the “triangulation” with Tory voters, that defined New Labours political strategy, fail to acknowledge that 4 of the 5 million lost voters left whilst Blair was leader. Almost as soon as the coalition of ’97 was put together, it was beginning to fall apart again. Jon Trickett wrote a good piece on this not too long ago.
I agree with Sunny, the financial crisis had a massive impact on people’s political attitudes, especially on issues such as corporate power, and the very nature of our economic arrangement. If the next Labour leader neglects this shift, they shall do so at their own peril.
But at the same time we shouldnt ignore the fact that on certain issues, the country may feel it is to the right of us. On those issues, the Labour Party really needs to consider a strategy for selling ideas to the electorate. Winning elections alone isn’t good enough, after all, politics is more a battle of ideas than a battle of the ballots. At least it should be.
So here’s to hoping the creed fades into insignificance where it belongs, and people will ask the right questions. Has the nation turned to the right? Or has the left of center failed to properly motivate parts of its base? I would have to say it is the latter.
I’ve been infuriated in recent days by the BBC’s simplistic and utterly biased acceptance of the Coalition line that its spending cuts are necessary.
The problem is that it’s a very easy idea to sell to a public already fed a diet of economic stupidity by large sections of the media.
We’ve got a deficit of £156bn, goes the BBC’s new mantra, so if we find £156bn in spending cuts, all will be fine and dandy.
As long as no-one mentions things like loads of unemployed public sector workers claiming benefit and massively reduced demand in the economy leading to an INCREASED deficit, then the BBC journalists and editors can go home at night, safe in the self-deceit that they’re just doing a public service by bringing the scale of the deficit to attention……
……but I can whinge about this kind of thing all day. That won’t change the fact that it’s happening.
The challenge is to develop an alternative ‘story’ of the economy, which challenges the crap the BBC and their mates at the TPA come out with, in a way which is readily understandable to the public.
My litmus test on this challenge is whether I could put such a ‘story’ in one of my local newsletters, and get it read.
So here, as concise as I can make it, is my challenge to ‘the cuts are unavoidable narrative’. Clearly corners must be cut, but cutting the right ones is part of that challenge.
At 660 words it’s too long even for my 12 page newsletters, but it’s a start. Let me know what you think, and help me hone it down.
Why the cuts are senseless
A lot of residents will have read the mantra from the Tories at the council that service and job cuts are necessary because of the ‘debt crisis’.
This is wrong, and deliberately misleading, and ignores simple economic realities.
Sadly, this misleading information is also being peddled by the national press and even the BBC, and I have therefore agreed with Labour colleagues all over the country that we should set out our case against the Coalition cuts in local newsletters and leaflets.
At a local and national level, it is simply wrong to cut services and jobs in the way set out by the Coalition.
By cutting services, whatever they are, jobs are also lost, and those people often end up on benefits.
Unemployed workers are not able to buy as much as they did, and this leads to more job losses, leading to lower tax revenues and higher welfare spending.
Thus cutting spending like this is self-defeating, and ends up increasing the deficit.
This is exactly the policy which is being pursued in Ireland, with disastrous results, including the recent further downgrading of its credit rating status and the threat of increased borrowing costs.
The best way to curb the deficit is not to cut spending, but to use it to grow the economy.
Here some basic figures may be helpful to illustrate how feasible this is (for simplicity inflation is not factored in).
1) GDP (the whole value of the UK’s economic output) was £1,400 billion (£1.4 trillion) in 2009.
2) The deficit (the difference between tax revenue and government spending) will be around £1,600bn in 2010. Current interest repayments, around 60% of which are repayable to ourselves, are around £35bn per year.
3) The government thinks GDP may go up by 2.3% in 2010 to around £1, 432bn.
4) Tax revenue tends to fall more sharply than GDP when that is falling, and to rise more sharply when GDP is rising.*
So tax revenue in 2009-10 fell from £439bn to £397bn in 2008-09 (a 9.5% drop) even though GDP fell 4.9%.
5) In the mid 2000s, when annual GDP growth was between 2% and 3%, tax revenues overall grew by around 6% to 8% per year, because firms, domestic and foreign, were doing well and paying more corporation tax, and because people were doing well and paying more higher rate income tax, for example.
6) So if the UK economy did grow at 2.3% this year as planned (though the coalition’s stupid cuts make this unlikely now), and tax revenues grew by 7%, an extra £27.8bn would come into the public purse. If this was repeated over four years, then the government would be generating an extra £34bn per year to pay for its outgoings.
7) Alongside this, the growth in the economy would reduce unemployment and other welfare bills by something in the order of £10bn per year (based on how much it increased in the recession).
This means the annual deficit would come down by around £44bn overall to around £116bn.
8) Of course the outstanding overall debt would have to be serviced with interest payments, but it should be noted that around 60-70%% of all these payments are made to ourselves anyway in the form of pension funds etc. buying safe government bonds as part of their overall portfolio. A certain level of domestic debt is actually useful for pension holders, as it is a risk-free investment.
These figures are simplified for illustrative purposes, but show clearly that public spending cuts of the scale now ordered by the Coalition are not only self-defeating because they increase welfare spend and reduce tax revenue; they are also unnecessary because even mild growth of 2.3% per year would be enough to ensure the deficit is managed without any cuts.
More active government policy of the type advocated by Labour to create jobs and reduce unemployment would further increase GDP growth by up to 5% , with government revenue increased by a greater margin e.g. 10%, and lead to massive reduction in the deficit over a four year period.
Even without the benefit of post-recession Labour economic policy, though, the BBC and other media outlets are simply wrong to say that there is ‘no alternative’ to spending cuts.
(Please see the electronic version of this piece at www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk to click on links to all the sources.)
* When I passed this post via Duncan Weldon for a quick ‘howler check’, Duncan pointed out that the way tax revenue grew at a multiple of GDP in the 90’s/00’s, might well have reflected booming assets prices, which aren’t directly captured in GDP data but do add up in terms of CGT, stamp duty, higher corporation tax from the city etc..
While this is accepted, it’s probably a bit too esoteric for a local newsletter aiming to establish the ‘scale of things’ and challenge the ‘no alternative’ orthodoxy being peddled locally.
So ASBOs are on their way out after 13 years of ‘Do they work or don’t they?’ and ‘Is individual civil liberty more important than group well-being?’.
On balance, I’m glad they’re going, because although the latter question is a pertinent enough one in any city, town and village, its reduction to those dichotomous terms loses sight of the power structures that lie behind the execution of at least some ASBOs.
But it is only ‘on balance’ that I’m glad.
ASBOs can, when they become part of the ‘governance structure’ in neighbourhoods, be as much about the power to tell people how to live their lives as about stopping behaviour which really impinges upon other residents’ well-being.
After all, young people standing around in a street late at night talking to each other, using colourful language, is a lauded cultural aspect of Las Ramblas, Barcelona.
And I wonder why the picture above, copied from Alan Johnson’s Comment is Free piece this morning (Matt Cardy/Getty images), is used by the Guardian. The young people seem to be having a chat, just like I do sometimes when I meet people at the playground after school, and I never thought I deserved an ASBO.
That’s not to say that there isn’t real anti-social behaviour which does affect other people’s lives signficantly, and this needs to be dealt with appropriately through the development of generally accepted social boundaries, agreement on which should come from all ‘sides’ in neighbourhoods, such that young people do not become victims of newly legitimized police or civilian vigilante justice under the goverment’s new policing-by-community plans.
In this respect, the idea of the ‘community organiser’ whose job it is to facilitate just such agreements is an attractive one, but one which I suspect is likely to remain an aspiration as these 5,000 community organisers – if they ever do appear – are drawn straight into the existing culture of control that has developed around ASBOs. My fear is that we’ll actually end up in a worse place than before, with informal sanctions against young people backed by the policing authorities and whatever judicial rights there were in the ASBO process lost to the (mostly) young people concerned lost along the way.
Even so, I’m glad ASBOs are going from my area (West Lancashire), not just because of the neighbourhood power structure issues I’ve identified above, or because it removes the ‘badge of honour’ dilemma for young people, but because of the ‘just look how hard we are’ abuse my Tory local authority has made of a process that has legitimately been called into question, but which was not established so that rightwing men in suits could parade in public their power and disdain for those less fortunate than them.
Eighteen months ago, this issue came out at No.1 in my Top Twenty Tory Travesties of 2008 in my local blog:
And at number one, for sheer callousness, for sheer insensitivity for the lives real people have to live, things must take a darker turn, darker even than the catalogue of deliberate betrayal mixed with incompetence set out above.
I’ve not blogged about this yet, because to be honest I felt a bit sick when I first read what I read in the paper, and I’ve left it till I could try and look at it from a small remove. It still makes me feel sick, but here goes…..
I refuse on principle to link to the newspaper article itself, as that would provide personal details again, while I am arguing that they should have never have been splashed all over a paper in the first place.
However, it concerns a child, aged 16, given a long term ASBO. The actual paper carried a big picture of the girl. Some of acts of anti-social behaviour which led to the ASBO were committed in previous years, when she was less than 16. Yet the paper, basing its coverage on a Council press release, gives all her personal details, and carries gloating quotes from a Conservative councillor about how great their actions have been.
An ASBO is a civil matter, brought by the District Council. Had the girl in fact been convicted of criminal offences, my understand of English law is that her identity would have been protected until the point of conviction.
In this case she has not been convicted of any crime. Yet, because it’s an ASBO, the Council is allowed to do what it wants, and it takes great pleasure in doing just that. Now compare this Council reaction to a civil matter disposed of in court to the 100s of actual criminal acts that the Leader of the Council says has been perpetrated in the Tawd Valley (see No. 4 of this list), but over which, and over the consequences of which the Council now has apparently no control!
An ASBO is one thing, and perhaps justified in this case – I don’t know enough to comment – and I am certainly not seeking to belittle the effect her ‘anti-social’ actions may have had on neighbours. But remember again, we are not dealing with criminal act here in the legal sense – no criminal charges were brought, as far as I’m aware.
So is the Council’s reaction commensurate when compared to its shoulder shrug of indifference to 100s of ‘criminal acts’ carried out in its District? I don’ t think so.
Are we in fact dealing with absurdly ’macho’ behaviour by a vile Conservative Council unable to do its proper job properly, towards a girl who may be no angel, but whose life may be ruined by the press attention? Is that pretty sick? Yes, that’s exactly what it is.
And that, therefore, is number one travesty in my book.
Because lives count, because reality counts, because serving residents properly counts. All the rest, West Lancashire District Conservative Council, is froth, and you have much to be ashamed of about your performance in 2008.
I wonder what hypocrisies these local Tory thugs will come out with now.
So Nick Clegg has been lying about what advice he received, or didn’t, from Mervyn King about how to deal with public finances.
Back in June he defended his party’s volte-face on cuts in an interview:
“Our view has shifted,” accepts Clegg. “To be fair to us, it shifted because the world around us changed.” He claims as his alibi “the complete belly-up implosion in Greece”, which made it imperative to demonstrate to the markets that the coalition would make an early start on deficit reduction. Another influence was “a long conversation a day or two after the government was formed” with Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England. “He couldn’t have been more emphatic. He said: ‘If you don’t do this, then because of the deterioration of market conditions it will be even more painful to do it later.’?”
But it’s not just Mervyn King who, it is now revealed, wouldn’t say what Clegg was so desperate for him to say that the Coalition’s fixers begged King to call Clegg on a Saturday morning.
Those very same markets he made such great play of understanding didn’t agree with him either.
Fiscal tightening, while conservative in intent, leads to lower and lower growth in the short run. Tougher sovereign budgets produce government worker layoffs, pay cuts, reduced pension benefits and a drag on consumption and the ability of the private sector to accept an attempted hand-off from fiscal authorities. Recession becomes the fait accompli, and the deficit/GDP ratio moves ever higher because of skyrocketing risk premiums and a plunging GDP denominator. In many cases therefore, it may not be possible for a country to escape a debt crisis by reducing deficits!………For sovereigns with debt in their own fiat currency, there is not the operational constraint that you and I face. After all, they can go to the backyard and just pick some bills off their money tree – something we can’t do unless we want to go to jail.
Remember, many countries like the U.S. or the U.K. can just print money to meet creditor demands. After all, the only financial obligation of government in a fiat currency system is the payment of more fiat money. This is a confidence game then. Creditors will only accept more fiat money from the debtor if they believe that the money represents good relative future value (i.e. when debt repayment occurs and where value is relative to other currencies or real assets at that time).So while there is no operational constraint on government because of the electronic printing presses, there is an effective constraint in the form of debt and currency revulsion and price instability (large measures of deflation or inflation). On countries like Greece or Portugal in the Eurozone, the operational constraint is a lot more real than it is on the U.K. because of currency union.