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Independent glee; united action.

Gordon Gibson

Nationalists in Scotland and Wales are rubbing their hands with glee thanks to the Tories’ elevation of ‘independence’ to the top of the media agenda. True to form, hundreds of column inches, tv time and internet blogs have pored over the crisis of the Union, the lack of detail on how Scotland will survive economically, on Britain’s nuclear missile bases, on the divvy up of oil, on Salmond’s political nouse – or his weaknesses.

In the week when their heinous Welfare Reform Bill progressed through parliament, Tory spin-doctors must have popped a few more bottles of Bollinger. What has the world – and Labour – come to, when we have to rely on the Lords to reveal the inhumanities? But there is no better boost to nationalism than an English public schoolboy sticking his nose into territory where, as one commentator put it this week, Tory MPs are outnumbered by pandas.

The British left, never a friend of nationalism, has rallied well. M.P. John McDonnell tweets (@johnmcdonnellmp), “Cameron raised the Scottish referendum as a spoiler for Miliband’s relaunch and as a smokescreen for the economy. So why is Labour falling for it and backing him?”

John Lansman’s Left Futures blog carried a series of articles broadly sympathetic at least to ‘devo-max’, ‘as much independence as we can get’, if not to separation.

We are all, well most of us, independents now. Devolution has fostered a recognition that democracy, closer to the people, has been of great benefit. Wales’ former First Minister Rhodri Morgan used the phrase ‘clear red water’ to distance us from his own Labour, if Blairite, government in Westminster. In Scotland, voters were happy to give the SNP a comfortable majority as the only party willing at least to voice convincing resistance to the Tory coalition. To their credit, both Welsh and Scottish governments have given some protection to social welfare, health, student fees, prescriptions, fuel allowances, child-care and lots more, from Cameron and Osborne’s ideological rampage, not to mention Blair’s before.

But devolution is not independence, as is being currently touted. And neither is independence necessarily ‘separatism’. The lesson of the past 15 years has been that a degree of independence has been an important buffer against London. Most Welsh and Scots want for more.

So, for Scotland, when Labour immediately lets former New Labour Chancellor, Alastair Darling, loose from his public exile, to call for a united Tory-LibDem-Labour opposition to ‘independence’ and in favour of the Union, more than nationalist hackles rise against a politics that the English would have for us, were we not to provide a modicum of social responsibility in our small nations. As a Guardian correspondent put it this week, Why is Miliband not arguing for ‘responsible socialism’, rather than the unlikely ‘responsible capitalism’ he espouses?

When the call goes out for independence, the current political climate demands that we support it. With conviction. There are some principles involved – about democracy and the rights of nations and nationalities – that are worthy and merit greater respect for our national cultures and histories. After even this short experience of devolution, there are very few of us now who do not seek greater and closer control, greater rights and independence to make our own decisions on matters that affect our lives. We support independence. That is step one – independence, not separatism.

Separatism, if it is ever to come, if it is desirable, if it is feasible, is years, more likely decades away and we should studiously avoid allowing it to become the key issue right now. We can talk about it as we go. It is inconceivable that it will be resolved finally, as Cameron wants, by 2013 or by the June, 2014 commemoration of Scotland’s great independence Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Salmond’s preference. The pressing issue of the moment is that we all agree to keep as much distance as possible between us and the Tory austerity plan that claims social welfare has to pay for the self-inflicted crisis of western capitalism. If independence is to prove a vehicle of resistance then so be it. With others, we should unite as a nation, as nations, and across Europe against that plan, in support of greater investment in our health service, education, transport system, public services, jobs and industries, in favour of new and greater taxes and regulation on the financial institutions and individuals that have plundered our economies, defrauded our tax coffers, and shifted all the costs and blame on to us. The EU plan to sacrifice Greek, Spanish and other peoples’ jobs and welfare, and prevent Euro-states increasing public expenditure (and the Tory posturing for even greater penalties) requires the same unified response.

The Tories, some nationalists and too many in the Labour leadership would have us focus on the proven, rotten, imperialist, monarchist, bankers’, boys’ Union, a union past its sell-by date, a ‘democracy’, like that in the U.S., not to mention the recently ‘freed’, now more corrupt soviet bloc states, or the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, ‘liberated’ by western war machines, a democracy that has long since ceased to offer political confidence, let alone policies we can believe in. Plaid’s socialists are being headed off into nationalism; Labour in Scotland, avoids Tory resistance by being anti-SNP; British Labour is anti-nationalist, pro-Union and largely anti-European.

Let’s unite around more independence and get on with the business of bringing all that lot down.

Now this may well be too much for Labour in Westminster, so too in Holyrood, despite reluctant gestures toward separate party organisation. It is probably too much also, I fear, for the increasingly male, careerist, Welsh Labour Party so, wise to have an eye on the nationalist parties, now home to many Labour-alienated socialists and campaigners in Wales and Scotland, to help provide some leadership, perhaps through the likes of Plaid’s Leanne Wood, for there is little sign of it coming from anywhere else. The nationalist parties also have their problems, still laden with many national rightists and some, more anti-Labour than anything useful, unlikely to savour unity, but we are all independents against the ConDems and the sooner we unify on that, the better.

Leanne Wood – an independent leadership

It was standing room only at the Pick and Shovel Club in Ammanford for the formal launch of Leanne Wood’s campaign for the leadership of Plaid Cymru. The former miners’ club provided a solid Welsh working class reference point for Wood’s own political background, and she recalled formative impressions, made 20 years before, in the same club, at a commemoration of  International Brigade members and the fight against Franco’s fascists.

The venue was also appropriate as Plaid Cymru has been actively rejuvenating community pubs and clubs, formerly the province of Labour and the unions, all round Wales.

So the launch message, in this first week of the year, was of education, self-advancement, community and culture – a politically literate people, building from the grassroots to reground the Welsh values of ‘collectivism’ and ‘communityism’.

That history, and these values encourage her to take on the challenges of life in Wales today – people without food and heating, more and more without safe and secure homes, while the 1% live on in luxury.

On these foundations she brought in the ‘I’ word: independence. Both she and her first sponsor, MP Jonathan Edwards of Carmarthen, leaned heavily on the SNP’s electoral successes in Scotland, where Labour has provided a much easier Blairite target for populist policies. The SNP has stood to the left of Scottish Labour on many issues and has been rewarded by the electorate.

In Wales, Plaid is self-critical for its dalliance in coalition with a Labour Party that, under Rhodri Morgan, retained a modicum of ‘clear red water’ against Westminster and just held on to Assembly power, despite the British electoral disaster. Plaid was seriously damaged, losing both seats and leading campaigners.

Wood avoided the rightist anti-Labour rhetoric that currently dominates Plaid’s media work – and also satisfies Plaid’s Labour-alienated left. In the week when Labour’s Liam Byrne launched his ‘Welfare Reform’, barely distinguishable from the Tories; when Twigg set about education in a similar vein, and when Dianne Abbott’s loose but innocuous tweet was met by Labour with cringing apologies instead of forthright anti-racist defence, Leanne could have made more of the opportunity to put Plaid firmly at the forefront of the growing numbers that want to see politicians stand up to all this Tory tosh, lead the fight for jobs and against the cuts. She has already prepared the ground with her vigorous campaigning and her ‘Greenprint for the Valleys’, a serious attempt to move towards a ‘green economy’ in Wales.

If independence is the answer, then that is how it will be built. Nationalism won’t win; policies for Wales will. That is why the Welsh powers’ referendum was such a success and why Plaid’s turn away from these co-operative successes with the better side of Labour, and towards nationalism, has reaped a poor harvest. Despite their legitimate enthusiasm for the SNP, Plaid has missed the fact that in Scotland, the SNP’s success has been built on left-populism (too frightening for Scottish Labour) and putting ‘independence’ on the back burner.

There is a great debate to have about the nature of independence, beyond devolution, but one thing is for sure. People in Scotland and Wales have made clear to their parties that last thing they want is Tories. Politicians that start to come to terms with the substance of that, will be the ones that deserve to lead our political parties, and Leanne Wood is well versed on that ground.

Gordon Gibson

Nominations for Plaid Cymru leadership are now open and voting will take place in March. There are three others standing: another woman, Elin Jones AM, (Lord) Dafydd Elis Thomas AM, and Simon Thomas AM.

Owen Jones’ Review of 2011

“We’re all in this together!”

This article first appeared in ‘Dazed and Confused

2011 was the year the phoney war ended or – as the kids say these days, so I’m told – shit got real. When queues of anxious customers demanding their money suddenly formed outside Northern Rock over four years ago, it seemed like a slightly surreal – but one-off – disruption to normality, like an eerie re-enactment of a scene from Depression-era United States. As the entire global financial system faced total meltdown a year later, a sense of normality was mostly still preserved thanks to taxpayer bailouts and multi-billion fiscal stimuli. But more than one commentator conjured up the image of the global economy as a cartoon character who runs off a cliff, legs still flapping, suspended in mid-air as the scale of the fall sinks in. This year, the tumble began.

The declared strategy of the Conservative-led Government was that, as it pushed forward with the most devastating cuts since the 1920s, there would be a private sector-led recovery. By the end of 2011, unemployment had soared towards 2.7 million, a level not seen for 17 years. And while 67,000 public sector jobs were lost in the third quarter, just 5,000 private sector jobs were created. As had been predicted by those the Conservatives and their outriders had sneered at, the cuts were sucking growth out of the economy. Four years since the crisis began, Britain once again stands on the brink of another recession. Even on the Government’s own terms, its strategy is a failure, with George Osborne forced to borrow more than was projected under Labour’s plans at the last election. No wonder Osborne stood accused by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of being “a medieval doctor bleeding his patient.”

“We’re all in this together,” or so George Osborne and the Government told us. Throughout the year, it was a sentence that veered between the ludicrous and the insulting. The average Briton is experiencing the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1920s. The majority of us will be no better off in 2016 than we were at the turn of the millennium. But there might as well be an economic boom as far as those at the top are concerned. The wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain surged by a fifth, one of the greatest leaps recorded. In the corporate boardrooms of the top 100 companies, pay went up by 49% – nearly as much as it did last year. Here was a silent class war waged from the top.

Bleak stuff, and enough to leave the Government in serious trouble, you would think. After all, the Conservatives had the last election on a plate thanks to the biggest economic crisis since the Depression and a woefully unpopular Labour Prime Minister – but they lost. Cameron is only ensconced in Number 10 because of the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats. But with a coherent alternative still lacking from the Labour leadership, David Cameron looked smugger with every passing month. Even as Job Centres became more crowded, the PM and Chancellor remained (perversely) more trusted on the economy than Labour. The genius of the Conservatives’ strategy of turning a crisis of the market into a crisis of public spending – and the failure of Labour to challenge it from the start – was paying off.

And as 2011 advanced, the Cameron regime looked a whole lot more like a hard-line Conservative government. “We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s could only have dreamt of,” boasted Tory minister Greg Barker in April. As those on benefits became more demonised than they were before mass unemployment returned to Britain, a Government report proposed forcing cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to be assessed for their fitness for work. With little co-ordinated opposition, the Government pushed through the first stage of the privatisation of the NHS, without bothering with the courtesy of putting it before the electorate first. And as Cameron flounced out of the EU Treaty negotiations – after making sure journalists were briefed he had eaten a full English breakfast – it was clear Britain had the most Eurosceptic government since World War II. But still the Liberal Democrats – a now indisputably rag-tag bunch of opportunists – kept the Government in power in cynical defiance of their (former) voters, with just the odd bit of choreographed “letting off steam” to keep up the pretence they were anything other than Tory voting fodder.

Though Cameron remained largely untouched, economic upheavals invariably cause things to “kick off”, as the BBC’s Paul Mason puts it. The students had led the charge at the end of 2010, throwing off illusions about British passivity and proving that it was possible to resist. They had put the trade unions “on the spot”, as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey put it. Many an obituary has been written for the labour movement since the hammering it suffered under Thatcher, but in 2011 it returned to the stage. Its unique potential to mobilise was showcased on March 26th, as it organised the biggest workers’ demonstration in a generation. The theme was ‘March for the Alternative’, and though that alternative remains far from properly sketched out, here was the biggest show of defiance against Tory rule yet.

But it was a Tory attempt to impose a deficit tax on public sector workers that forced the trade unions into action. Superficially, it was about pensions: they were becoming unaffordable, claimed the Government, even as a report it commissioned by ultra-Blairite New Labour ex-minister Lord Hutton revealed that pensions would shrink as a proportion of GDP in the years ahead. Indeed, the money raised from increased contributions is to flow straight into the Treasury’s coffers. On June 30th, teachers and civil servants went out on strike, and Tory minister Francis Maude had his arguments torn to shreds on national radio. Then came the biggie: on November 30th, public sector workers ranging from dinner ladies to top civil servants, lollipop ladies to nurses came out in the biggest industrial action since the 1926 General Strike.

There was a sense of exhilaration that comes from sharing a common purpose on the day. It didn’t last. In the face of media hostility, the union leaderships (with honourable exceptions) failed to present their compelling case in a way that could resonate with an increasingly union-free workplace. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, had promised “the fight of our lives”, but looks set to lead a capitulation to Government proposals. No concessions on the key issues were offered, and civil servants’ union PCS – whose leader, Mark Serwotka, had shown the most determination of the trade union leadership – was locked out of talks. And so 2011 could end with what may come to be seen as the biggest trade union defeat since Thatcher.

Resistance came in unorthodox forms, too. On 17th September, protesters set up tents in Wall Street in protest at the injustices of economic crisis; in part, they were inspired by the Spanish indignados (indignant) who occupied Madrid’s main square in protest at the political establishment in May, and they, in turn, looked to the example of the Egyptian revolutionaries who seized Tahrir Square. Occupy Wall Street was the catalyst for a global movement that finally came to the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral on 15th October. It was a drama that dragged in the usually irrelevant Church of England, forcing the resignation of three priests. But Occupy clocked up a real achievement: it reminded us all who caused the crisis, and who was being made to pay for it. Indeed, one poll revealed that 51% of Britons felt the protesters were “right to want to call time on a system that puts profit before people.”

Britain’s tearing social fabric could manifest itself in uglier ways. After 29-year-old Mark Duggan was shot dead by police, riots exploded in Tottenham on 6th August; within two days, rioting and looting were tearing through London; other English communities were next. Anger and fear provoked a ferocious backlash: mid-way through the unrest, one poll revealed one third of people wanted live ammunition used. Newspapers blamed single parents; and I was all too paralysed as I sat in a TV studio while Tudor historian David Starkey attempted to scapegoat black people by arguing that what he described as their “culture” had turned white people into rampaging thugs. As Government supported plans to evict rioters and their families if they lived in council homes and to confiscate their benefits, a precedent was set in Cameron’s Britain: if you are poor and commit a crime, you will be punished twice. With talk of “feral underclass” being bandied around, there was little sympathy for those – like myself – who argued that there were growing numbers of young people with no secure future to risk.

And so Britain leaves 2011 with an increasingly triumphant right in office; a broad opposition not lacking in passion, but scattered and lacking in coherent alternatives; a Labour leadership still failing to make the case against the Government; brutal cuts and economic crisis biting away at people’s jobs, living standards and futures; and swelling ranks of people with nothing much to lose. If it doesn’t sound pretty, it’s because it isn’t.

But it’s no time to flail around in despair. 2012 could be bleak, or it could be the year that a resurgent left gets its act together, unites around an alternative that resonates, and starts building pressure from below. Rather than assailing Ed Miliband for being hopeless, political space could be created for progressive policies, and the Labour leadership dragged to support them – willingly or not. But a note of warning. If the left doesn’t tap into the inevitable growth of anger and frustration, then somebody else will. And a cursory look back over the 20th century tells us just how disastrous that can be.

Have a look at Dazed Digital’s coverage of the Occupy movement HERE and read more of Owen Jones’ writings for Dazed Digital HERE

Owen Jones is a writer, columnist and author of the book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’. His blog can be found HERE.

Not ‘Welfare Reform’; give us political reform!

Liam Byrne has started Labour’s new year with a barely veiled attack on the welfare system.

“Beveridge wanted a responsible government taking determined action to create work, but a responsible workforce too. He would have wanted reform that was tough-minded, and asked everyone to work hard to find a job. He would have worried about the ways that his system had skewed social behaviour because he intended benefits to help people who had their earning power interrupted because of illness, industrial injury or the capriciousness of the trade cycle. He never foresaw unearned support as desirable”

“Would he” indeed?

Sue Marsh responds

“And what do you propose Liam? When you disappear off into your think tanks and focus groups?

For over a year, you have avoided meeting with me. You promised, but you haven’t discussed your plans with sick and disabled people.

You talk of “unearned support” Liam, but this is the Guardian! Here, on these comment threads, we all know the details of ESA, DLA, contributory time limiting and independent living funds very well – almost certainly much, much better than you do Liam. We know about the hundreds of thousands terrified about what happens to those who CANNOT earn support. Until recently, we believed you gave it freely.

You have the audacity to attack an erosion of ESA?(time limiting) When it was your government who introduced this terrible failure? Your government who wrote the descriptors making it simply impossible for many conditions to qualify?  “like employment and support allowance that working people have actually paid in for.”

Then, you dare to criticise the appeals system for the failure of ESA? When you have ignored me and Kaliya Franklin and all others who have been trying to warn you for years? When we warned you repeatedly? when we tried everything, some risking their lives to engage with you?   “current chaos in the assessment of those on disability benefits, with spiralling appeal times and poor back-to-work support, deeply troubling.”

You let Ed loose in the Daily Mail then think you can throw us a bone with a few tag on lines about ESA and disability? We already know this is a pattern! Give the scroungers a good kicking then say something nice and fluffy about sick and disabled people in the Guardian.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

I strongly recommend you stop dreaming up ways in which the welfare state can be auctioned off to the highest private bidder – even planning the very systems in partnership with those very same businesses and insurers.

I suggest you :

Listen to the suggestions and alternatives of disabled people.
Look at our ideas and policy suggestions
Stop designing policy based on a complete disregard for the evidence
IMMEDIATELY stop reinforcing the scrounger narrative – it makes a Labour Party look utterly ridiculous and confirms dangerous stereotypes.

We will win the public Liam. I promise you. By 2015, we will have made this the “NHS 1997″ issue.

So stop casting around for spurious, tough-talk soundbites, that conveniently stuff a few billion more in private pockets and get a real strategy on disability.

I suggest you do it very quickly indeed. Those prepared to apologise for these failures may retain some credibility.

The arrogant will simply be exposed as those who oversaw the biggest abuse of sickness and disability rights and protections since the welfare state was introduced.”

—-

This article is reproduced from Sue’s blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger

And see

Guardian front page story

An insult to the memory of Beveridge

Guardian’s panel responses

Spike! – Welsh Labour Grassroots supports Occupy Cardiff

The Occupy Cardiff campaign receives support from Welsh left socialists’ steering committee.

Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG), the network of left and centre-left activists in the Welsh Labour party, pledges our full support to ‘Occupy Cardiff’. The international ‘Occupy’ movement has been a huge inspiration to millions around the world seeking equality, social justice and democratic control over the economy. It has struck a chord with the ‘99%’ who are excluded from real power and has forced the global elite onto the defensive.

We therefore welcome the initiative to establish ‘Occupy Cardiff’ and deplore the eviction by the police, with wholly unnecessary force, of the initial encampment from the grounds of Cardiff Castle. We support your decision to reassemble at Transport House – the organisational hub of the labour movement in Wales – and we commend you for the links you have made between the occupations and industrial struggles and for your solidarity with trade unions taking strike action on 30th November.

Like you, we believe that direct action and industrial action are both important elements – alongside other campaigning methods – of the struggle for an alternative to the present unjust and irrational world order. Your efforts help to make the case for such an alternative and demonstrate that ordinary people can challenge the irresponsible and unaccountable ‘1%’.

We offer you our solidarity and pledge to raise awareness of, and support for, your actions through our activities in the Labour party, the trade unions and other areas of political activity.

A Programme for Labour

Peter Rowlands

While Ed Miliband’s Labour Party conference speech indicated that he appears to want to return to some form of social democracy, seen by some as a decisive break with the recent Blairite past, there is little criticism by him or others in the Labour leadership of the system that created the current crisis. The implication is that, with a few adjustments, things can carry on as before. Well they can’t.

What needs to be spelt out is that the notion of the permanent ascendancy of liberal democratic, free market capitalism, dubbed by Francis Fukuyama in 1992 as the ‘End of History’, is over, killed by the world economic crisis that began in 2008 and showing no signs of abating. Although the notion was powerful for most of the 90s and well into the noughties it is clear in hindsight that it lacked justification.

The adoption of monetarism and free market economics in the 1970s as an antidote to the perceived failure of mixed economy Keynesianism was never valid. The inflation of the 70s was caused primarily by the USA printing dollars to pay for the war in Vietnam and Arab oil producers punishing the West and enriching themselves by raising the price of oil. Support grew for the new doctrines, while at the same time Labour moved to the left, particularly following their defeat in 1979, promoting for the first, and last, time a semi socialist manifesto prior to the 1983 general election. That this coincided with Labour’s worst post war defeat was not a complete coincidence, as the SDP defection had created a new focus for the more right wing Labour voters, but the Falklands War and Michael Foot were equally potent factors. It was in the UK and the USA that neoliberalism was at its strongest, under the governments of Thatcher and Reagan. Elsewhere in Europe there was less enthusiasm, but all countries were affected. The collapse of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1989-91seemed to herald the final triumph of capitalism.

Yet right from that moment, not just in the last three years, there were problems for capitalism. The first was in Japan, the miracle economy of the 60s and 70s, which in 1991 suffered a banking collapse followed by a prolonged recession from which it has never recovered. There were major crises in Mexico in 1995 and most of South East Asia in 1997. Western economies slumped after the collapse of the Dotcom boom in 2001. Moreover, the results were not particularly impressive. Economic growth in the advanced countries had been more rapid in the period following the second world war than from the 1970s onwards. However, for one particular group, the very affluent, there was a huge increase in their income, reflected in growing inequality. In class terms the capitalist fightback of the 70s against what was perceived as a drift towards a Keynesian type mixed economy socialism has been very successful for its beneficiaries, the affluent minority. Most others have done less well, particularly those at the bottom, especially in the US, those in Europe being more protected by welfare systems. But inequality has grown everywhere.

Despite this, it is perhaps understandable that New Labour developed as it did in the mid 90s. The powerful legacy of Thatcherism and the apparent triumph of capitalism, combined with a desperate desire by Labour to regain office after four successive defeats, allowed those who later came to be known as the ‘Blairites’ to take control after the untimely death of John Smith in 1994. Central to their beliefs was the primacy of the free market, which was to fund better services and more for the less well off. To some extent these goals were achieved. Health and education did improve, the minimum wage, tax and pension credits did help the least well off. But inequality remained as it had been under the Conservatives, and an unsustainable housing bubble, partly reflecting growing housing shortage, including social housing, threatened the dire economic consequences that eventually came to pass.

The crisis of the last three years is the latest and most severe of the crises of the last thirty years. It signifies that capitalism, at least in the form it has taken during that time, has failed, and there needs to be a return, at the very least, to a society and economy based on much more regulation and control, as was typical from the 40s to the 70s.

Socialists will urge much more, although there is precious little agreement on what socialism means and how we might arrive there, and much more discussion is required here. However, in Europe there are a number of countries where socialist parties have a substantial vote and commensurate representation, often alongside equally substantial Green parties. The most important of these, and with the biggest vote, is Germany, where the Left and the Greens gained a combined vote of 23% in 2009, but this is also the case for the most recent major elections in Finland (15%), Portugal (13%), Greece (14%) the Netherlands (16%) and Sweden (13%). None of these parties has yet played a major role in government, but that could change if left wing coalitions come to the fore. In the UK the first-past-the-post electoral system for Westminster means that it is not possible for this to happen. Smaller parties are discriminated against and find it difficult to get elected. That is why parties to the left of Labour are tiny, lacking in influence and almost completely without representation, and why PR is essential, so that Labour can become a proper socialist party or a new party of the left can be formed that would have significant support. That is not possible pre PR and calls for such a party are impotent nonsense.

This does not mean that Labour needs to continue as a free market party. The current crisis indicates that there could well be majority support for a return to traditional social democracy, with greater subordination of the economy to state regulation, substantial state ownership and a much greater degree of equality. It lasted in the UK until 1979, before it succumbed to the ravages of Thatcherism from which it has never recovered. Moving in this direction will require a sea change in our thinking, most importantly to characterise the Conservative Party as the defender of vested interests and privilege, to ensure that big business in all its forms, but particularly finance, is subject to scrutiny, and to determine whether its operations are in accord, in the widest sense, with the public interest. We must also seek to reject and reverse the levels of inequality that are so repugnant and socially harmful, and see public provision as the key to progress.

There are a number of things that in my view need spelling out:

a)The most urgent problem is the danger of renewed world recession; to challenge this,

international agreement is necessary to stabilise the world economy and restore growth. The

emphasis here should be on measures to stimulate growth and employment and regulate banking

and capital flows.

b)There can be no future for the UK outside the EU. However, the EU should move away from the

free market model enshrined in the Lisbon treaty and towards a more regulatory framework, more

accountability and a common fiscal framework. In the long run we should look forward to a federal

EU.

c)We should adopt a form of PR for elections to Westminster, local government and a reformed

second chamber, thus completing the changeover to PR for all elected bodies.

b) and c) are immediate problems. There is majority opposition to both, including among Labour voters,

and much, if not most, of the left. In my view, however, they remain the essential prerequisites of any

move forward. Notwithstanding that, what then might a Labour programme look like?

1) To keep control of the banks that are currently majority state owned, (RBS, Lloyds, Northern Rock) with the aim of making them fully state owned. RBS to become a state investment bank, the other two to continue with their current (general retail and mortgage) functions.(This is consistent with the widely accepted ‘too big to fail’ notion. Vickers is inadequate. Banks must be broken up, which would happen to Barclays and HSBC, or be state owned.)

2) To take back into public ownership the rest of rail ( Railtrack is effectively nationalised) and, when finances permit, Water, Gas and Electricity. Oil and the defence industries to be subject to a special taxation regime, with the eventual aim of these also becoming state owned. (The regulation of these monopolies has not worked, while huge oil profits reflect OPEC policy and are unjustified.)

3) An end to the right to buy. A massive programme of housebuilding in both the public and private sectors with the aim of reducing waiting lists and lowering house prices. Possible nationalisation of one of the big building companies to facilitate this. The market has completely failed here. Large numbers of people, particularly the poorer and younger, have suffered. It was New labour’s biggest single failing and caused a massive loss of votes.

4) An end to student fees. A graduate tax, for ALL graduates, to help finance the cost of higher education.

5) Free personal care for the elderly. Free prescriptions. Free optical and dental care. Thus creating a truly free health service.

6) Ending Council Tax; create a new Land Value tax. This would tax market gain.

7) Creating new higher tax bands and a wealth tax. Raising corporation tax significantly. Ending tax haven status in all British colonies and dependencies. A drive to reduce tax evasion and avoidance. Seeking a worldwide ’Tobin’ tax. High taxes for the rich and wealthy are central to halting the growth of inequality and the rise of a new class of the super rich.

8) Extra powers for trade unions in line with norms in Europe. The encouragement of trade unionism in the private sector. This is the best way of ending poverty for the low paid and reducing the bill for child and working tax credits.

9) The promotion of a proper regional policy aimed at reducing unemployment and relieving congestion in the south-east. The creation of regional government in England.

10) The encouragement and promotion of co-operatives and ESOPs (Employee Share Ownership Plans)

11) Raising the current state pension to the current Pension Credit level but restricting age related concessions.

12) An end to Academies and ‘Free’ schools. Abolishing the remaining selective schools. Comprehensive tertiary colleges to replace sixth forms.

13) An end to market simulated provision and private practice within the NHS.

14) No new nuclear missiles, sale of the two aircraft carriers now being built, support for a European wide defence force.

15) Withdraw all British troops from Afghanistan, seek a regional settlement. Support for a viable Palestinian state, and a nuclear free Middle East. Support for a new ‘Marshall Plan’ type initiative for Africa.

16) Abolition of the House of Lords. Creation of an elected second chamber. Ending of monarch’s prerogative. A full written constitution.

17) A limit to the size of media companies. This means breaking up the Murdoch empire.

18) A reassessment of the benefit system, with better childcare provision.

This is an indication of some of the main measures that Labour should be contemplating, although it cannot really begin doing so until the centre left social democrats have asserted themselves over the Blairite wing of the party That is far from the case at the moment. The adoption of some of the measures outlined above by the TUC and some of the big unions is one of the most promising recent developments, and should be supported.

As well as moving back towards social democracy Labour’s strategy should change.There must be a much greater emphasis on the interests of the working class (defined as routine non manual as well as manual workers), rather than those of ‘Middle Britain’ as under New Labour, which in practice tended to be the more affluent middle class. Yes, many of these people did stick with New Labour, but at the expense of the huge numbers of working class voters who deserted Labour, many for the Tories, some for Lib-Dems, or even the BNP, but most to the huge group who just gave up voting.

Labour must win back these votes, even if it is at the expense of some middle class votes. The policies outlined above will help to do that and also attract public sector professionals, the large numbers of committed left wing voters who gave up on Labour after Iraq and have not returned, students, the elderly, and those seeking affordable homes to buy or rent.

Labour must also reach out to the Greens, and seek pacts with them where appropriate, and to the more progressive Lib-Dems, where increasing numbers are deeply disturbed at support for the coalition.

If Labour can make this turn there is some hope. If it continues on a Blairite course it is difficult to see how it will be able to sufficiently distinguish itself from the ConDems to have an alternative electoral appeal in 2015 or, if the coalition falls then or earlier, to have the policies to restore economic health. Either way there is a lot at stake.

Peter Rowlands is a Labour Party member in Swansea and a member of Welsh Labour Grassroots.

This article also appears in The Chartist. http://www.chartist.org.uk

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