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Corbyn’s Third Way

August 3, 2015 1 comment

Corbynomics has entered the political lexicon, at least for the time being.

While today the debate is about whether his people’s QE is or isn’t inherently inflationary (and by extension whether inflation is a tolerable price to pay for investment), I think the more interesting question – already addressed by Chris – is who is best at doing the investing, whether or not it’s via QE or from the the £93bn his team reckons can be made available if a Labour government were to “strip out some of the huge tax reliefs and subsidies on offer to the corporate sector” to be “better used in “direct public investment, which in turn would give a stimulus to private sector supply chains.”

As Chris notes, this may or may not cause corporate investment to plummet, and may or may not end up as “better used”.  It would, in the end, be a gamble on whether the state can appoint and/or elect investment managers so good enough at investing that they get a better deal for the country than leaving the dosh with the private sector to do as they see fit, when they see fit (and with interest rates used to incentivise them towards seeing fit when need be).

That’s actually quite a big gamble [1], so I’d like to propose a less risky Corbyn Third Way (CTW).  I call it the CTW because it might balance the Blair Third Way (BTW);  while the BTW was based on an a priori assumption that markets deliver better than the state, the CTW might understandably based on an assumption that they’re likely to let us all down, but in the end both depend on using the state if it does go wrong.

Thus, under the CTW, the private sector might get first dibs on investing a reasonable percentage of the purported £93bn back into the productive economy.   But, if it fails to do so, the state will do it instead.  This might be by means of a non-investment tax, levied on companies which have invested below a certain percentage of their profits in the productive economy (inclusive of the knd of R&D spend which already brings tax breaks), probably according to a graded scale.

Of course there are downsides to this, including complexity of tax administration and the fact that it may do little to stimulate productivity [2], but the main upside would be to allow the private sector to do what it says it’s good at, while ensuring that it signs up to a new form of social contract, not this time between the state and labour, but between the state and capital.

And that would be neatly Corbyesque.

 

[1] That said, there are areas of direct public investment with huge social and economic rates of return that the public sector will continue to be best at for some time. I’m thinking particularly of high quality children’s social work, for example, where entry into the market by private sector operators looking to prove they have exerted social control over families – at the expense and to the direct detriment of real solutions properly owned – is already proving disastrous.  More on that later this week.

[2] On the other hand, it may do more than direct public investment, which for infrastructure projects will be direct to the private sector anyway, at contract prices which may build in long-term stagnation in productivity growth.

 

Stella Creasy for deputy leader

August 2, 2015 1 comment

With this speech to confirm my position, I will – unless a significant counter-offer comes along from other candidates – be voting for Stella Creasy as deputy leader of the Labour party

This is the clincher paragraph:

[I]f you as a CLP, a labour friends team, local councillor group or affiliated organisation have a good idea that will achieve these ambitions we will match fund you with people, money or media to campaign for it. And if you are unsuccessful in getting people behind your idea to get this support, we will offer you training and skills development in how to strengthen your case as well as links with other campaigns and organisations to help too. We don’t need to wait to the election to support campaigning for change, and think how powerful and positive it could be for Labour’s policy platform at the election to come from this way of working.

This is close enough as an outline to my earlier recommendations to make her worth voting for.  Those recommendations, as set out to Labour’s two recent useless reviews were and are, are copied across from those the review submissions below, but can be summarised briefly as:

  • the need to reverse financial and decision-making flows in the party  to ensure that local parties get to ‘do stuff’ in the way Stella envisages
  • brings MPs and PCCs within the framework of a community organising party, an makes them accountable; and

Clearly, Stella’s semi-proposal doesn’t go this far, but a commitment to ‘match-funding’ makes some localisation of finance a logical necessity.  I also think her view that “we” (whoever that is, precisely) will provide training to local people on how to get stuff done is a little presumptuous – quite often it will need to be the other way round, as it’s Labour who need to catch up.

But it’s the closest I’ve seen to a a commitment to material institutional change in favour or making Labour into a doing party, so my vote is for Stella unless Tom or Angela come up with anything better (and Tom”s declining even to answer my messages to his site suggests he’s playing safe with his lead).

 

Here’s are the fuller recommendations I set out to Refounding Labour and Collins (I’ve taken the Collins one which updates the earlier one slightly).

While the recommendations we set out below are framed in terms of legislation for all parties, and should form a key plank in our next manifesto, the Labour party should start to implement the changes within its own party, providing evidence to all that they are effective as a mean to revitalize politics at local, and thereby national, level.

This will need to be done via the party rule book rather than via legislation so that (as the most obvious example) Labour MPs receiving the IPSA-recommended salary will be expected, as a condition of party membership, to lodge what they receive via this route with their local party, and then draw a salary agreed with their local party (and via collective bargaining by MPs).

The whole financial flow of state funding for all political parties that have representatives in the House of Commons (as a proxy for overall current national legitimacy, and to exclude the BNP and other extremists) should be reversed, in order to promote local political activity and devolve power within parties to the ’grassroots’.

The total amount of state funding should be equivalent ONLY to the amount of funding provided indirectly to political parties in the forms of MP allowances, ministerial allowances etc. and, for example, funds spent by the BBC on allowing free party political broadcasts. There would therefore be no overall additional cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, a saving might be made.

The overall ‘pot’ of money should then be divided up at a local level e.g. CLP level/Tory association level on a pro-rata basis according to membership at the start of the financial year. It would be up to the parties themselves to debate and decide on what amount of this locally allocated resource should be allocated to national party levels.

The important change would be that, as with the money – if formally lodged with local parties in the first instance – the power balance between centre and local is changed for the better.

All other types of donations would be permissible, but could only be made to local parties, and would not exceed a certain ratio of private donation to state funding (level to be agreed). Individual donors would only be able to donate to a limited number (let us say 3 for arguments sake) of local parties in this way, of which one would need to be the donor’s area of residence.

Unions would abide by the same rules, with each union branch counting as an individual donor. There would be an expectation that the ratio of state to donor funding permissible would fall over the first few years, as the money is replaced my membership fees in rejuvenated local parties (see below).

The reversal of financial flows, as set out briefly would do two main things.

First, and important enough in the current context of poor public opinion of both MPs and national level political parties, it would make them much more accountable to the local parties that selected them to stand for office (whether parliamentary or intra-party) in the first place (see above also on the need to change the role of the MP).

For example, the money that used to go straight to their MP expenses bank accounts to fund e.g. local offices, local staff as well as their day-to-day personal expenses will be lodged, alongside any other matching funds, with the local party. The MP will need to justify her/his claim to a section of the overall local party ‘pot’, by setting out a business plan for an appropriate period and justifying costs.

In most cases, local parties are going to want an MP who does plenty of casework and local representation, as well as ‘performing’ for them in parliament as they want them to, and will provide a reasonable budget for this, including a place to live in London during the week, for example.

If the MP can justify 1st class travel on the train, for example, because it allows them to get more work done, then that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too. If the local party thinks it might be a better idea if the MP’s office and the local party office functions should be merged to rationalise costs, then they’ll have the final say.

Equally, national level parties will have to seek money from local parties to carry out their functions (beyond a certain top-slicing which might be agreed to allow a core national function). Thus, for example, if the national party wanted to spend money on TV adverts, they would have to seek the money for it from local parties.

Cynics might argue that, while it’s all very well to devolve power to local parties, this is hardly the same as devolving to local people; the argument of those keen to retain power centrally will be something along the lines that local parties are currently very weak structures in many areas, peopled, if they are peopled at all, by self-selecting, self-referential nobodies with few brain cells to rub together. This argument will come particularly, from ‘party HQers’ themselves desperate to retain the current status quo of the power and money structure, and who are distrustful of the capacity of the ‘foot soldier’ activists.

That, after all, is what is writ large in both main parties’ ’motivational’ literature, and in the many central government documents, influenced by the policy wonks at HQ or at Downing Street – the view that local parties are a thing of the past, that local politics can safely be done away with in favour of technocratic management of CLPs/Tory associations, where the only expectations are lip service to policy reviews and, more important, to campaigning with HQ-sanctioned leaflets, HQ-sanctioned IT set-ups which alienate people ‘on the doorstep’ because they’ve been created by people who’ve never been ‘on the doorstep and don’t realise asking questions of people while ticking off their answers on a pre-arranged coded list is not the same as talking to people like they are people.

The point is that, with a reversal of the financial flow, what a local party gets financially becomes dependent on their membership, and local parties will suddenly become wholly different entities.

With money comes the capacity to ‘do stuff’, and combined with a new motivation within existing membership to draw in members, there would almost certainly be a rapid rise in membership, as people actually start to see a point – a decision making point – to being in their party of choice.

Local parties suddenly get not just the opportunity to decide, as a member, on how the MP should use their money (or, in extreme circumstances, whether to give them any at all), but also to decide, for example, on whether the party, and by newly re-established link, the area as a whole, will be best served by the state funding going into a dozen leaflets, or into services that the Council won’t pay for.

And suddenly, the way opens up for parties to become mass parties again. At local level, people will engage because engagement matters, and it will not be long before there is a much smaller distinction between ‘the party’ and the people those parties have, rhetorically, at least, been set up to serve.

As set out above, as membership increases in this way, so will the opportunity to legislate on the permitted ratio of private donations to local funding, as the membership fee total will be counted into this whole. As membership grows, so does democratic entitlement, whereby you don’t have to be called Ashcroft to have your say on what your party does with the cash.

In terms of the Labour party, the obvious additional opportunities will lie in the possibility of renewing the link with trade unions, via membership fees, and in some cases starting even to develop the local party organically as a newly rejuvenated Trades Council (see below also) in the way aspired to years ago, but in many areas never really attained because of the very constraints on power, from above, that have set out above.

As noted, in the absence of Labour-led legislative changes to make all this happen (e.g. the redirecting of parliamentary monies to local party units), Labour will need to make ‘voluntary’ arrangements to lead the way, and show what can be achieved. This will require adaptation to the rule book, such that parliamentary payments for the running of constituency offices are in fact invested in local parties in the way set out above. In reality, at least in the short term, the transfer of the monies is likely to be a notional one rather than an actual bank transfer, though the rule book should provide for such a move in the event of fundamental MP disagreement with local parties over spending usage.

While the focus here has been on MPs, we should add that we recommend similar arrangements for PPCs (clearly it will be an advantage for them to be selected early) with suitable adaptation to the rules in light of the reduced spending available. Of course it will be within the power of CLPs that do have a Labour MP to put within their agreed business plan provision for the support of an adjoining (or even partnered at the other end of the country) CLP.

Appropriate arrangements will also need to be made, following the same principles, for MEPs (and MEP candidates where these are selected early enough).

Taking Liz Kendall at her word

July 31, 2015 3 comments

As things stand, my preference votes for the Labour leadership are: 1) Corbyn 2) Kendall 3) No-one else.   This may change to 1) Kendall 2) Corbyn 3) No-one else over the coming weeks if I read or hear anything that deepens the positions of my two lead contenders in ways I like.

I suspect this 1&2 pairing may be a minority position amongst Labour members, so I’ll explain.

Let’s deal with the Burnham & Cooper first.  I can’t do better than Anthony:

Why vote for left-sounding rhetoric – with vacillations attached – when you can have the real thing [1]?

On Corbyn, I can’t currently do much better than Chris‘s half-hearted support:

Corbyn’s world seems to comprise just two actors: the state and capitalist corporations. There seems insufficient emphasis upon decentralized forms of economic control, be they Robin Hahnel’s participatory planning, Roemerian market socialism or workers’ control.

Corbynomics might be a building block towards these. But as it stands, it looks to me like replacing one set of bosses with another – which isn’t as egalitarian as it could be.

Nevertheless, Corbyn is at least asking the right question – how to stimulate investment – which is, sadly, more than his rivals are doing.

On Kendall, I’ve already noted why I don’t think she’s Tory-lite.  She is the only candidate who gets (at least publicly) the 2019 ‘it’s no longer cuts reversal, it’s a promise of brand new state spending’ bind that other leaders might find themselves in, and which her current position might just enable her to escape.

Of course, this whole point – that it’s now well outside the Overton window [1] to argue for public investment in services & infrastructure which end up creating a happier, more prosperous citizenship is, in the first place – is a product of the 20011-2012 Milibandian capitulation [2], and she was part of the parliamentary team responsible for snatching defeat from the then possible jaws of victory.  But that’s history now, and I’m interested in whether Kendall has enough about her to help take the party forward for the next three years, and whether she can, even within the Overton window of ‘fiscal responsibility’, be chief representative of a party which offers something distinctive and isn’t simply regarded by the voting public as not as good as the real Tory thing.

This, if we take her at her word is what offers me hope:

[I]n our best moments Labour has recognised that equality is about more than tax and spend alone.

It’s about how we are treated by the people around us, and the institutions and services we use. It’s about self-respect, dignity and a sense of control over our own lives. That feeling of control isn’t created by government alone. We won’t make Britain a more equal society if a small group of people in Whitehall have all the power and everyone else has none. Real control only comes when people can do things for themselves.

Unlike the Tories, Labour understands this requires support, resources, backing and opportunities – and for an active Government to work in new ways.

…….

My argument today is that we need to go back to our roots as a party and ensure people have the power to shape their lives, the services they use, and the communities in which they live. Power in people’s hands. That is what Labour is for. Yesterday, today and always.

If government, business and public services need to support people doing things for themselves, so does the Labour party. I am proud of our party and our movement and the amazing work our activists do in every corner of Britain. But too often we don’t value our members.

When someone joins the Labour party, do we ask them why they joined, or about their interests, talents and passions, and how they want to be involved? Do we explain how our party works, our structures and processes, and how they can get involved?  And do we back and encourage them to make a real difference to their community?

Too often the answer is no. Yet with the talent, experience and commitment of our members, we can achieve great things. From Robert Blatchford’s Clarion Cycling Clubs to Movement for Change, community action has always been part of Labour’s tradition. But it’s never been central to our mission. And that needs to change.

While I may disagree that Movement for Change has had much beneficial impact, this is better than anything Corbyn has had to say set on devolution of power, and their are other parts of the speech touching on worker involvement and ownership.

If implemented in localities up and down the country, it might help Labour distinguish itself from the opposition in precisely those places we need to win in order to form the next government.

That’s a big IF, of course.

What I need to see, if she is to get to be my number 1 choice on the ballot paper, is some meat on the bones. I want to know how, under her leadership, the power structures within the labour movement might be shifted so as to allow the kind of initiatives she wants to see (see no 5 on my list), and how she might help resolve the inevitable but potentially healthy tensions [4] between local creativity (and proud local ownership of that creativity) and practical support for replication of good practice into other localities.

Even then, she might not make no.1, because Corbyn may have more to say and offer on both this and on the Overton shift.  Of  course, as things stands, it looks a little unlikely that Kendall will win, but in that event she should remember that Corbyn is unlikely to want to take Labour into 2020 anyway, and she should get quickly into position with the new Deputy Leader (probably Tom Watson) to focus on the hard graft of remodelling the way the party works, so that come 2018 a renewed candidature can start afresh from a different point of contact with the membership – one which helps get over her initial, arrogance-indicative approach to the welfare bill vote, in which she alienated a lot of members from the off by appearing to suggest that their deep-held principles of fairness counted for nothing. [3]

 

[1] Back in 2012, I said:

Put simply, In the Black Labour, and the new orthodoxy of fiscal restraint it has engendered (with impressive speed, it has to be said) could be very dangerous for Labour, and the country, in the long run, however appealing it appears to the smug strategists congratulating each other in Manchester this week.

I was right, though of course the ITBL advocates will (and do) argue that the shift their way didn’t happen soon enough and wasn’t embraced by Miliband firmly enough to make a difference to public perception about the party’s economic credibility.   I accept that this ‘what if’ question will never be resolved.  It’s time to move on.

[2] In terms of the Corbyn campaign, the key question is whether with his leadership the party might be able to shift that Overton window towards something more economically logical.   The cleverer Tories fear that he might, but my own fear is that his leadership will be in such hock to those who wish to ‘reset’ to 2008 (see no.8) that he’ll be unable to do so.  I hope I’m wrong.

[3] I suspect that Kendall deeply regrets this initial mistake, as it effectively stopped any potential for cross-party support.   She’d forgotten, I think, that her first pitch had to be to members, not to the wider public.  Her recent attempts to talk about the party’s way of doing things may reflect that new understanding.

[4] I do think some of the mid/late 2000’s literature on community empowerment might help the thinking here, and her grasp of all this is why I’d quite like to see Stella Creasy as deputy leader, as I think Tom Watson, behind the rhetoric and open style, has a very traditionalist conception of party organisation

Categories: Labour Party News

10 more hard truths for Labour

In the “summer of hard truths” for Labour, I offer 10 more hard truths for Labour.

1)  People are going to go hungry and homeless because we lost

Both left and right of the party can agree, I think, that that’s the worst thing, and it’s our fault for losing.  I still feel awful.  So there is nothing more important than winning in 2020. Without power, we can’t effect positive change for the people we seek to serve.  We can only whine from the sidelines.   But – and here’s the rub – we won’t win in 2020 by constantly saying there is nothing more important than winning in 2020.  This is because voters want their cake and to eat it to.  They want parties which respond to their expressed needs and wishes, but they also want parties which display a consistent ethic, and which have red lines beyond which they will not go in their search for votes.  Of course that’s inconsistent, but they are voters.  They contain multitudes.

2) Voters are not the same as they were when we were kids

Deep and longlasting cultural change under capitalism (and not just the neoliberal phase) means that appeals to citizenship and solidarity that we could once rely on simply don’t work anymore. however loud, clever or often the messaging.   We need to appeal to deeper motivations, while retaining our overall socialist ethic.

3) The GOTV sponge is very dry

We can keep on refining our Get Out the Vote processes, but we’re not going to be able to wring out many more voters by that method alone.  Those who don’t vote, or have never voted – those who lost us the election – will need a better reason to go to the polling station than the risk of the canvasser knocking again at 9.10pm.   That reason will have to be either personal affinity/loyalty, or a desire to be part of subverting the status quo.

4) Labour is the status quo

In or out of power, Labour is currently part of the old, jaded set up.  Saying we’re not, and that we’re really about giving power back to the people – or whichever trite phrase is next off the trie phrase conveyor belt, only reinforces that message.   Andy Burnham saying he’s not part of the Westminster elite just reminds us he’s part of the of the Westminster elite, and so on.  So let’s just can the speeches about what Labour is or isn’t for a year or two, and get on with doing things (see 10).

5) Refounding Labour was an utter failure, and we’re living with the consequences

Refounding Labour (and its Falkirk-panicky successor, the Collins Review) failed miserably to open up the party.   The command & control structures which it was charged with critiquing and changing exercised such a command & control influence on the review process that it simply ended up tinkering at the edges; it is hard to see how the rebadging of the Local Government Committee as the Local Campaign Forum, for example, did anything but increase the control of the parliamentary party over local parties by ensuring that local campaigns should always play second fiddle to parliamentary campaigning.   Nothing is going to change until we get serious about reversing financial and power flows within the labour movement, in a way which makes MPs and PPCs less lords/ladies of their manor, and more Chief Executives of local non-profit bodies answering to their trustees.  Only then, when we get down to the detail of what MPs are for, will be be able to get better people to apply for the job.

6) Yes is the new no, and no is the new yes

Scotland voted no, and that turned out to be a big yes for the SNP, in large part because Labour kept saying yes to union, even if it meant joining the Tories. UKIP have won lots of votes by being against change in general.  Labour, rooted in the ‘common good’ political culture of the 20th century. still finds it difficult not to engage constructively.  But in today’s insecure world, it can be good to be bloody-minded, because often, in bloody-minded negativity, we discover solidarity for what we really care about, and agree what we don’t mind changing.  In the end, change must be on our terms, or not all, should be our message (see 7).

7) Europe counts

Labour’s been clueless on Europe.  For five years now, we’ve been missing opportunities to present a case for being bloody-minded agents for change on our terms.  Partly this is because we tend to have useless MEPs (see also 5), and partly it’s because the leadership has just not bothered to think through what strategic alliances might be possible to, let’s say, campaign hard in the European Parliament, through the co-decision-making process, for changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, to the six-pack regulations, and even for temporary adjustments to the single market which bolster convergence even within the EMU straightjacket.   There’s a referendum coming up quickly, which we can’t afford to be fought on Cameron’s terms.

8) Public services did not become terrible in 2010

Back in 2008 I wrote this essay on the disaster awaiting public services as a result of New Labour’s incessant managerialism.  At the time, it won quite a lot of acclaim.  Come 2010, all such thinking vanished without trace, as it became easy to blame the Coalition for what is a very clear decline in the quality, as experienced by service users, of a number of public services.  Unfortunately, even resetting public services to 2010 would not make them very good, and that’s not going to be an option anyway, given that by manifesto time this will be seen as a massive dose of new spending, rather than a resetting.  The only options available will be a) creative use of public and semi-public financing to keep investment in service off-balance sheet; b) investment in genuinely preventative services c) kick out managerialism in favour of professional creativity and ethics.

9) There has been a race relations disaster

John Rex warned the race relations disaster would happen because we set up segregated housing and education in the 1960s and 1970s, and then sat back and did nothing.  It happened.   This post-colonial hostility to integration has created a toxic mix with ongoing, economically necessary immigration, in which ex-migrants remain immigrants, and all so-called immigrants get the blame for the insecurities of late capitalism.  There’s no easy way out of this, and the myth of New Labour plan for enforced multiculturalism means the ‘immigration debate’ will continue to cost us.   Doorstep ‘conversations’ won’t help much because – come on, now – they’re not really conversations, are they?  In opposition, all we can do is stop the grandstanding about how we’re really, really listening, and start community organising stuff, with people from different backgrounds coming into contact as a good by-product of that, not as an objective.   Back in power, we should seriously consider a Truth and Reconciliation process, before all the people who can tell the truth about the early days of the disaster die.

10) Institutions of power won’t fall down 

I could (and will) go on for days about this, but I don’t think the institutions of capitalism are going to come tumbling down anytime soon, even with the rise of alternative forms of production.    And even if capitalism falls apart, something much nastier may emerge, with these newer forms incorporated if we don’t start to put something in place ourselves.   So I’m with Richard Sennett in his call for “parallel institutions” (p.184-185).  We should start small.  Indeed that’s the only place to start, because if we start too big, we simply end up replicating the power structures we were seeking to combat.   Think modern trades councils whose main job it is to hold public services bosses to account on behalf of users and workers.  Think community build.  Think parent-teacher challenges to Ofsted hegemony.

Think, then just do.  Because at least that gains votes in the meantime, and winning is what counts (see 1).

 

 

Cutting Labour’s Gordian knot

July 21, 2015 1 comment

Those who claim that the Labour PLP was right to abstain on the welfare bill last night do have a point.  The problem is that point is being lost in the increasingly rancorous debate.

The only person I know to have made this point explicitly is Anthony Painter, and even then only as part of the pro-Kendall, anti-any other candidate rantathon in which lots of Progress affiliates are currently indulging.  Anthony tweets of this weekend’s televised leadership debate:

Cooper, Burnham, and Corbyn have committed to spending about £10billion unfunded in 28 minutes.

Now, his fury level has made Anthony a little elliptic on this, so let me explain what I think he means, and which I happen to think makes a good deal of sense.

What he means is that:

a) The government is planning to cut £10bn per year in spending on tax credits* (around £4bn) and other things (I didn’t see the programme so I’m not sure where he gets the other £6bn, but the point is not really changed by whether it’s £4bn or £10bn).

b) Come 2019, this state spending won’t exist, so promising now to reverse the cuts is the same as promising that in 2019 they willl make, in the eyes of the electorate, a massive spending commitment.

This analysis makes sense, because it takes into account the risk/inevitability that the public won’t remember what was funded up to 2015, and will only take on board the message that this is new spending from a profligant Labour party, desperate to expand the state at the expense of hardworking families etc. etc., and will this make even more unlikely a Labour win in 2020.

This analysis is, I think, probably behind Liz Kendall’s refusal to talk of reversal of the cuts; it is much more likley an explanation than the one coming from the left, namely that she enjoys the prospect of impoverished children.  Her argument then continues that she’d much rather win in 2020 than kowtow to moral sentiment on 2015, because it’s in 2020 that she’ll actually be able to do something about impoverished children.

Kendall and her supporters could be clearer about all this; at the moment they’re treating people like me as simpletons, in the belief that people like me don’t get the concept of time, but do get simplistic stuff about realists vs fantasists.  But at least she appears clear in her own head, which is more than be said for Cooper and Burnham. Even so, the hostility towards her from the left of the party is such that, even with the clearest of explanations, she’ll still be castigated as Tory lite.

In the end, all three non-Corbyn candidates are in a no-win situation, as long as they are campaigning as ‘future prime ministers’.  They’ll struggle to get elected by Labour peopole as leader if they aren’t seen to be oppositional enough, but they know any such oppositionalism ties their hands so much that they’ll struggle to become PM when the whole country votes.

There is, though, one way to cut through this Gordian knot.  It is to declare, as Corbyn has quietly done, that they’re not seeking – at least as this stage – to be elected by Labour leader as a future PM, but are trying to be elected as leader of the Labour official opposition.

From there, they need to move quickly to define what official opposition is when there is majority government. While the constitution has it that Labour has to be called the opposition, in everyday use Labour should avoid it.  The phrase that should become the mantra is ‘holding the government to account’.   There is need hardly ever to say what Labour would have done had it been in power – the government’job is to govern, and Labour’s job is to assess the impact of that governing on citizens.   Inevitably, the impact is going to be awful.  All Labour has to do at parliamentary level is keep on asking how awful it is.**

Labour doesn’t need to come up with alternatives. Does anyone remember what the Conservatives say they’d do in government in the 2005-2009 period?  (Clue: almost nothing).

This is what many opposition leaders in local government up and down the country get used to (I know, I’ve been one), in the knowledge that they won’t be running the council  any time soon, and they serve a perfectly useful function in scrutiny of what is being delivered by those actually in power.

This then frees up the party to focus on what it should be focusing on for the next three years – building the labour movement at local levels through community organisation activity so that, come 2019, there is a more receptive audience for a new leader.  In any event, it’s hard to see any of the current four making it to 2020, and I think there’s a huge likelihood that someone else – Starmer, Jarvis, Creasy or a currently unknown – will take us into the election.   Labour as a whole needs to accept this, get on with constructive stuff at sub-national level, and just bloody relax.

As I noted at the outset, it doesn’t really matter who’s leader for now. The much more interesting question is who, as deputy leader, is tasked with helping out with the redevelopment of a politics of production within and around the labour movement.

 

* The tax credits cuts is administrative, and not part of the welfare act, but the whole issue about them being ex-public spending in 2019 is the same.

** Part of this holding to account should be continuing scrutiny not just of impact on people of government policy, but also of simple governance competence – this was a successful strategy adopted by the Miliband team early on, but was sadly dumped in favour of the ‘credibility’ strategy now being put in place to fail again, possibly simply because Miliband invested in the wrong kind of support team – people who knew little about real life but lots about political strategy.

 

 

 

 

Four ways to a living wage

Liz Kendall pledges:

As Labour’s next Prime Minister I would extend the legal remit of the Low Pay Commission to work with employers, unions and civil society to identify practical, non-statutory ways to move wages towards the living wage, sector by sector.

Some of the responses to this pledge or not favourable e.g.

“Non statutory”? Sounds a bit like… “and, as leader, I will ask you very nicely, and if you laugh at me and ignore me, I’ll ask you in another letter, in a slightly more serious tone”….

So what would Liz PM’s methods to get toward a living way without legislation, either through the Low Pay Commission or otherwise, actually be?   I think there are four broad options:

1) Increase union bargaining power by removing the restriction imposed by Tory governments (and not removed by the last Labour government)

Hardly likely as a sole act, of course, as this would be seen as unelectability material and in any event in itself would foster a further division at least in the medium term between unionised and un-unionised sectors.  But we’ll come back to unions and unionisation

2) Use public sector purchasing power to drive up wages, by ensuring (by non-statutory means) that all contracts for public money e.g. building jobs in schools, housing associations etc. stipulate that employees must be on a living wage.  Moves towards this are already taking place, though (in my area) reality has struck home about how manageable it is on all local authority contracts.

There are complexities here.  First, blunt implementation by public bodies would probably lead to sub-contracting so that the non-living wage is further down the supply chain (however artificially) and this would require either greater bureaucracies in contract management to manage, thus creating lower contract award diversity.   Second, non-statutory application of the method would probably require the incentivising of public bodies to get on board.  Third, it doesn’t cover all sectors of the economy, even if it is fed through the supply chain, and the creation of a dual economy remains a risk. Fourth, and most obviously, forcing living wages onto low wage sectors through contract conditions may push some organisations out of business (though it may create some room for social enterprise and co-operatives to fill those gaps).

Even so, as part of a larger strategic package (involving localisation of supply chains through local business development support and purchasing ledger scrutiny to encourage sustainability as well as local economic growth) it might have some legs.

3) There’s the fiscal option: simply put an employee tax cut through PAYE and make the same or similar charge on employer NI. Liz PM could/should also take the opportunity to adjust thresholds which currently create a perverse incentive for employers to keep lower paid employees on hours just below the PAYE threshold.

This has its attractions, though it will be painted simply as another way of raising tax on hard-pressed employers unless it is packaged as a fair deal for all, including part-timers currently held back from full-time work.

4) More creatively, a scheme developed during Liz PM’s life in opposition, rooted in union organising principles and ‘ready to go’ in 2020, where employers receive a PAYE rebate if they can evidence that they have voluntarily encouraged unionisation of their workforce (or perhaps co-ownership in some cases), such that unionised workplaces are in a better position to work towards living wage set-ups without recourse either to statutory means or perceived trade union ultra-militancy (see 1).  This can be sold both a tax cut to employers and a route to a wage-led economy.

Against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid

Phil says it’s “clearly …in the interests of our party and our movement” that Jeremy Corbyn gets enough nominations to enter the Labour leadership contest proper.

I’m not sure I agree.

Such doubts are, I hasten to add, not related to Jeremy’s personal qualities.  His combination of integrity and unassumingness has been widely commented on and, while I’ve never met him, I have no reason to think that he is anything other than a principled socialist.

My concern is that, by investing hope and energy in a campaign to get Jeremy into the contest, and then presumably win it, the Labour left is both fetishing leadership and getting distracted from the more important task ahead: creating the proper conditions for the re-emergence of democratic socialist government in Britain.

By the former, I mean exactly what Chris says:

a focus upon ritualistic aspects of “leadership” whilst neglecting the question of how exactly the rituals are related to outcomes.

By the latter, I mean that Labour has little chance of taking power again any time soon unless the hard spade work is done at local institutional level to show that solidaristic action creates real, local material benefit for the working and middle class, and thus get the very many marginal candidates we’ll need to win, if we are to form a government on revised boundaries, over the line [1] No leader, however principled and charismatic, can do that for us, and investing our hopes in Jeremy is just delaying getting started.

If Jeremy was looking to run for Deputy Leader, then I might argue differently; the Deputy Leader post may well offer up opportunities to influence the necessary radical restructuring of Labour party of movement resources, so that we can start a proper ‘ground game’.  It would be interesting to hear his proposals against those of the only existing candidate with potential for such creativity, Stella Creasy [2]

I know I’m swimming against the Labour left tide, here, and I won’t be too saddened if he does get to 35 nominations..  If he does, I hope he will use some of the limelight that he’ll be expected to focus the correct(ish) but largely pointless anti-austerity preaching on what actually counts – how we can rebuild the movement as a producer of politics, from bottom up, and what a PLP, humbler in his image, might do to support that.

 

[1] A more achievable goal in the medium term may be taking power at sub-national levels, and building extra-state institutions through Trade Councils and Mondragon-style innovation, in concert with local councils etc.  But that’s another post.

[2] I am yet to be convinced of Stella’s conviction or potential for the role, but her past and her understanding of proper engagement suggests she may have what it takes if she is prepared to be humble.

 

Categories: Labour Party News
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