It is quite an achievement for Labour’s rebuttal specialists to have Labour coming out on the wrong side of the argument about the Tories’ pledge to invest £8bn a year in the NHS, but they appear to be managing it.
What the “but it’s all unfunded” Labour plaints sound like from deepest Lancashire is “we’re against this £8bn annual investment, even though we’re the party of the NHS”. And if it sound like that in my Labour loyalist kitchen, expect the Tories to make a big thing of it at the launch of their manifesto.
There are two issues here.
First, how the hell did Labour’s top team not see this coming? Even I, who know sod all about election strategy (apart from the bit about winning them), said two and a half years ago the Tory game plan would go as follows if it looked like all was lost:
the importance of the national deficit [will be] set to one side in the pursuit of the wider goal of national salvation – we may even see some form of Modern Monetary Theory brought to bear, though it is unlikely to be termed such.
So it should hardly be a surprise that the Tories are throwing ‘unfunded’ commitments at the electorate. It seems to me that the fiscal conservatives who’ve had such an influence on Labour’s economic-credibility-at-all-costs strategy have become so convinced of the success of that strategy that they’ve forgotten other economic arguments – like the one being set out by the Tories now – actually exist. So, while it should have been Labour arguing the case for investment in the NHS on the basis both that short term deficit is easily dealt with in a context of wage-led economic growth and that public investment in health is itself part of that, it’s the Tories who are now able to call the shots, and attack Labour for presumed failure to promise investment.
In other words, Labour’s is being strung by its own fiscal conservative petard; it can’t now celebrate the Tories’ proposals as an admission by the Tories that their previous line was wrong, because rhetorically (though not substantively) it chose to toe that previous line.
Second, there’s the question of how Labour should deal with the Tory proposals, now that its fiscal conservatives have backed the party into the corner. Clearly, they’ve not thought that through just yet.
The solution for Labour is to argue that the Tories £8bn investment promise is a lie, and that it won’t happen.
The easiest way to evidence this is to point to the fact that, even in 2015-16 if they win, the Tories are proposing to cut £3.8bn from the NHS by quietly allocating it to local authorities, under the provisions of sections 75 and 256 of the National Health Service Act, which effectively allow ministers to ‘fund’ the NHS, but then direct any percentage of that funding its wants to be transferred elsewhere. In 2014-15, just for reference, the ‘NHS transfer funding’, as it is generally called, was around £1.1bn to local authorities.
The £3.8bn transfer is explained by government as investment in ‘integrated’ social care, but this investment is needed primarily because of the effects of austerity on local authorities. Projecting forward, it’s not hard to foresee that most or all of any supposed new investment in the NHS will actually taken straight out again to fund social care, especially as the savings which are supposed to accrue magically through integration fail to do so to any extent planned and hope for (pdf).
*The £2bn that Jeremy Hunt says has already been promised to ‘frontline services’ in Osborne’s final budget, and which he says is over and above the £8bn, may or may not be the same £2bn budget line which now appears as part of the £3.8bn transfer to local government above. Either way, it’s £2bn which was to be spent by the NHS frontline, but which now isn’t. Of course, only £.3bn of that £2bn was actually new money anyway, so it may be that this is the second bit of double counting.
Today Ed Miliband has made a key promise:
We have to end the epidemic of zero hours contracts.
So today I can announce that in our first year of government after the election, Labour will pass a law that says:
If you are working regular hours, you will get a regular contract.
A legal right that will apply to all workers after 12 weeks.
This sounds great, except that it does very little to end the exploitation of people on zero hour contracts.
You see, the people most exploited by zero hour contracting are not those on regular hours, but those on irregular hours.
Ensuring that people already working regular hours get a contract that reflects that fact may be nice enough, and clarity on contractual terms is welcome (though it may come at the cost of inflexibility which is bad for employees too). ACAS, for example, finds that most of its helpline calls related to zero hour contracting are about lack of clarity/understanding, and that many problems e.g. around holiday pay calculations are less to do with overt exploitation than poor communication.
But those most exploited under zero hour contracting are those who are called into work at short notice and must be ready to go into work, meaning that they can’t work elsewhere, and must have care arrangements in place. As it stands – and of course we haven’t seen any legislation wording – the number of people on irregular hours may actually increase, as less scrupulous employers seek loopholes around does and what doesn’t constitute regular hours. Even at best, today’s commitment from Miliband don’t seem to do anything to protect people on irregular hours.
As I’ve said previously, zero hour contracts are not of themselves exploitative, and many employers (including me) have used them for years while retaining perfectly good relations with employees; indeed, at my place I’d say they even enhance relationships, because staff can and do shift their hours by informal ‘just get on with it’ agreement. Rather, it is the way they are used by certain employers that is exploitative, and the best way to tackle that is not by legislation, but by increasing worker bargaining power through unionisation (though tackling the employer incentive to employ people part-time in order to avoid national insurance contributions would also help).
I fear that Labour, by moving down the legislation route in an understandable pre-election bid to look tough on labour market injustice, may not only be creating for a rod for its own back when it comes to implementation. It may also be doing a long-term disservice to low-paid workers by acting as what the Economist has called (in relation to minimum wage legislation) a “proxy union”.
What I mean by this is that, while the introduction of minimum wage a) did not create unemployment (as claimed by the right); b) may have pushed other non-minimum wages up (pdf), it also removed at one fell swoop a key raison d’etre of trade unions, arguably contributing to decline in membership.* In turn, this has arguably fed into less active trade union representation in the workplace, and greater worker vulnerability in the face of those employers who are deliberately exploitative around contractual terms (I’m differentiating here from exploitation as an essential feature of capitalism).
Would Sports Direct have introduced its zero hour contracting in the first place if there had been stronger workplace representation?
As we look forward to another round of legislative protection from a new Labour-led government, we should be careful what we wished for.
* Until 1985, the British trade union movement opposed (pdf, section 2.3) the introduction of a statutory minimum wage. What remains under-researched is whether they were right to do so.
Back in the early 2010s, community organisation was all the rage. Now, you have to look quite hard for the traces.
On the Conservative side, the back of a fag packet promise by Cameron, five years ago today, of 5,000 full-time, professional organizers, quickly became 500 paid organizers and 4,500 volunteers. This month, the interim evaluation by the consultancy arm of New Economics Foundation and IPSOS-Mori quietly released what is probably one of the worst pieces of evaluation work I have ever seen*, suggesting strongly that they know no-one is going to take much notice of their findings now, and that they may as well just get a junior staff member to batter out some rubbish and send the invoice. I don’t imagine the full evaluation in June will be much better, given that all the primary data collection has been done.
On the Labour side too, it’s as though we’d never had Movement for Change. Over at Labourlist, the editor Mark Ferguson’s calls for a “return to – and full embrace of – the model pioneered by Arnie Graf”. That someone at the heart of the Labour party machine should be saying we’ve left community organising behind may come as something of an embarrassment to the directors and high profile national steering committee of Movement for Change Ltd, including one David Miliband, who according to their most recent accounts (to March 2014) spent getting on for £0.5 million on trying to organize change in communities.
So what went wrong?
As far as the Tory plans are concerned, it’s fairly straightforward. The whole project became null and void the moment, in 2011, that they passed the delivery contract to Locality rather than to Citizens UK (previously London Citizens). Locality, a merger of the Development Trust Association and the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres, were seen as a safe pair of hands, who could be trusted to steer clear of anything that might vaguely resemble challenge to existing power structures.
Thus it has proved. Locality’s delivery programme has involved getting existing Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) second tier organisations (e.g. Councils for Voluntary Service) to host the appointed community organizers, and as a result organizers have tended to slip into the ‘facilitation’ model already used by these organisations, and the community organizer funding has largely simply replaced, or part replaced, streams of funding that have been cut since 2010 (notably from local authorities cutting their grant)**.
When it comes to Movement for Change, things have been better, but results are still disappointing. The model adopted eschews the formal structures of the VCS in favour of a more overt campaign & challenge focus, and there have been some isolated but very worthy successes, although the question of whether these local victories would have happened anyway in the absence of a support organisation is valid. £0.5m a year on the company infrastructure looks like a lot of deadweight, and arguably the money might have been better spent on other party activity.
For Movement for Change, the problem seems to be opposite one from the one faced by the Tories; while the Cameron model has failed because resources were simply sucked into existing, staus quo-preserving structures, Labour-style community organization is not taking off at scale because it doesn’t draw on or feed into existing structures in the Labour party, or more importantly, in the labour movement. This isn’t surprising when its key UK instigator is Arnie Graf, who promotes the power of enhanced consumerism within capitalism, rather than greater direct control over what is (co-)produced in the way of public services, and whose key role within the Labour party is to develop ‘community organisation’ as a clever marketing and voter ID add-on, rather than a good thing of itself.
As a result, there is no sense that the Movement for Change will ever punch bigger than its weight and begin to have anything other than occassional, isolated success driven by people would probably have driven it anyway.
So where from here for Labour?
For myself, I roundly reject Mark Ferguson’s call for a return top the Graf model of community organization. To do so is to ignore why its failed to date. Instead, the labour movement needs to start re-thinking what exactly its organising focus and power is – and that’s around delivery of services and products rather than their receipt – and then start to re-engage with existing party and union structures, especially Trades Councils but also through newer insitutions such as NHS Foundation Trusts, to ensure that the correct kind of change is pushed through at both local and wider level. Lots more of that coming up on this blog.
* There isn’t space here for a full review of how bad this evaluation is, but from the first wholly incorrect paragraph onwards it is almost laughably poorly written. My favourite laughable bit is the juxtaposition between page 3 and page 5. At page 3 we are told, a little surprisingly:
Community organisers have no agenda, and do not lead or do things on behalf of people.
By pages 4-5, we are told that ‘leading other people’ is a key skill of community organisation, and that evidence of the programme’s success lies in the fact that community organizers were 10% more confident of this skill after their residential course. (It is impossible to say what the “% Confident (8-10 out of 10 )” applied to the bar chart at fig 1.1 may mean).
** This is pretty well what I predicted five years ago today:
So it’s almost certain, if this programme were to ahead, that it would be calling to a great extent on funds already disbursed by central and local authorities to provide all the staff who already have a role very similar to the one now envisaged as utterly new and innovative by Cameron. Has he never heard of Councils for Voluntary Service, for example, or enquired as to what they might do?
More specifically in terms on what the community organizers will or won’t do, there is the question of just how combative and challenging to existing structures will they be permitted to be under their new contracts. The concept of hidden state power through the depoliticization of the notion of community will not, of course, be unfamiliar to most readers of this blog.
Chris Cook, one of the few centrist media people worth taking seriously – largely because he is open to new ideas and data – tweets surprise at a Neal Lawson column, in which the latter suggests that New Labour’s key failure was its success in getting votes from the rich.
I well remember crunching my way up gravel drives past BMWs in Enfield the day Stephen Twigg ousted Michael Portillo – oh, how we cheered later that morning. But in hindsight the wrong people were voting Labour. The tent was too big and you spent the next 10 years trying to keep the wrong people in it: the very rich, for example. What meaningful project includes everyone?
And I’m surprised at Chris’s surprise. Has politics really become a PR exercise to the extent that for even one of the better commentators, the idea of different material interests, served by different political parties, seems ridiculous?
This is not to say that Lawson is entirely correct in his equating Enfield gravel-pathed residence and BMW ownership with a set of interests that only the Conservative party can meet. Many of those people had very valid reason to vote Labour in 1997, given the manifesto promises made (and quite well fulfilled) around state education, just for example. For myself, I prefer the Tory/Labour constituency dividing lines drawn up 80-odd years ago by RH Tawney, who argues convincingly for the inclusion of “brain workers” in the development of socialist democracy oriented towards socially useful work, while the capitalist owner of the means of production can only ever be on the other side of the political gain line.
But Lawson is right to say that when a political tent is too big, too inclusive, then political direction can be (and was) lost, not least because it is the very visibility (and openness to metaphoric description) of opposing interests which helps maintain that direction (cf. UKIP’s progress in relation to visible immigration).
Indeed, the principle of material interests in political opposition to each other has to be accepted if the votes of, let us say, the self-employed and small business owners, are to be properly contested by one the one hand, a Tory party claiming them in the spirit of capitalism (without the capital for the greater part), and a Labour party which can and should argue that in the early 21st century self-employment is often imposed, and that many small business owners actually manage* – sometimes heroically – to operate within a cut-throat supply chain environment while still maintaining a viable moral economy in relation to their employees and clients.
Those votes are worth fighting for and actually, yes, they may be better votes than ones from the very rich.
* There’ll be more on this in coming posts, especially around how legal structure has become more important in policy than the reality of work norms, not least as I count myself as one of these small business owners, although one without too much need for heroics.
On Facebook, Dave Osler poses the question about Labour’s plummeting support in Scotland:
Generations of international relations students have studied the ‘who lost China?’ debate that took place in the US under the Truman administration. I think pol sci majors in future will equally argue about ‘who lost Scotland’ for the Labour Party. Does the blame lie with Labour’s Westminster leadership, largely oblivious to social trends beyond north London? Or is it the fault of the management team at the branch office itself?
I don’t currently (though I will presently) have much to add to conventional wisdom here, but I think HM Drucker’s warning from 1979, in his Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party may be instructive:
Since Labour’s ethos emanates from a specific past one may ask what the implications of this task are for the future…….Labour cannot be simpliciter a party of the future. Such a possibility may be available to a radical social democratic party. It is not possible for the historic Labour party. The attempt by Crosland in his The Future of Socialism (happy title) (1956) to condemn Labour’s tendency to cling to the principles of its past is futile. Any attempt to redefine goals for future action must always be seen to be strictly consonant with the past.
A second implication is that Labour’s support can be eroded by a general change of consciousness. If the ties of class-consciousness are weakened, then Labour is threatened. If Labour comes to be seen as an increasingly middle-class organisation, it could lose its support even if its supporters remained class-conscious. ….Class consciousness, as a historical fact, is obviously endangered by changes external to it. Gaitskell saw prosperity as one such threat. Nationalism is another – one whose power is more real in the 1970s than would have been foreseen in the late 1950s. As Scottish and Welsh working people have come to identify themselves as Scots or Welshmen first and workers second, Labour loses their support to nationalist parties. As this happens, one witnesses an exchange of one past for another as the new choice comes to appear more vivid. If in future elections Labour loses parliamentary seats as a result. it will be paying a high price for the loss of class-identity (p.39, my emphasis).
More to come from me on what this means for Scottish Labour’s response to this now seemingly inevitable loss.
As Labour unravels in Scotland and Glasgow slides SNPwards, a note from fairly recent history:
It seems likely that if, or when, Nationalism becomes powerful in the large cities of Scotland or Wales it will have to face problems similar to those faced by the Labour party at the moment. Thus, while Nationalist parties may bring many of the working classes back into political activity in the short-run, the long term effects may be even greater disillusion (p.135)