SHAFAQNA – Wanted: a compelling vision for a left-of-centre party. Must invest in economy, modernise essential services, get the well-off to pay more tax. Free wifi on trains a bonus. Someone answered my personal ad! Labour’s manifesto – unveiled today – is a moderate, commonsense set of antidotes to the big problems holding back one of the wealthiest countries on earth. And – intriguingly – here is an attempt to confront the crisis of identity and vision afflicting social democracy not just in Britain, but across the western world.
The manifesto sketches out an answer to Britain’s broken model. The current model is bankrupt: it’s not just unjust, it’s irrational. It concentrates wealth in very few hands – the richest 1,000 British people enjoyed a 14% jump in their fortunes over the past year – while wages have suffered the longest squeeze in generations. It fails to build the housing the country needs. It robs many communities of secure, properly paid, skilled jobs. It leaves most people in poverty in work, earning their poverty. It allows multinational corporations to pay little or no tax while small businesses struggle.
It reduces the country’s national jewel – its National Health Service – to a state of “humanitarian crisis”, as the British Red Cross put it. It saddles its younger generation with debt. It transforms public utilities into cash cows for profiteers who prioritise making a short-term buck over the needs of consumers. We could go on. Again, this is one of the richest countries on earth. It’s not a lack of wealth or resources holding Britain back from curing its many ills: it’s a lack of political willpower.
There’s a commitment that 95% of Britons won’t pay any more tax: fair, after the Tories’ unprecedented squeeze on wages. Instead, the top 5% of earners will be asked to pay a bit more: also fair, given they’re doing better than ever. If companies choose to pay salaries that are 25 times higher than the living wage, they’ll be expected to pay a bit more tax; if they pay salaries 20 times higher than the average income, then a bit more than that. Corporation tax will be hiked, but it will still be lower than the United States. A Robin Hood tax on financial transactions – which, as Labour’s Rachel Reeves puts it, both raises money and curbs excessive risk-taking which imperils our economy – would raise even more money, as will an all-out war against tax avoidance.
The billions raised can be invested in education to realise the potential of the next generation – to modernise our NHS so it can meet the needs of an ageing population; to upgrade Britain’s feeble infrastructure; and to build the housing the country desperately needs. Free childcare will reduce pressure on families forced to make difficult decisions about raising families and having a career; while a triple-lock on pensions will protect poorer pensioners who built this country with their hard graft.
No, nobody can pretend Labour isn’t in a very difficult position indeed. But putting aside the debate over the party’s leadership, which can wait until after the election, it is often forgotten that almost all European social democratic parties are in crisis – and nearly none are led by the left. From Greece to France, from Spain to the Netherlands, social democratic parties – lacking as they do a clear vision in the age of globalisation and economic turmoil – have dramatically bled support, or even collapsed altogether. Some Labour rightwingers looked to Germany – one of the western countries least damaged by economic turmoil. The country’s Social Democrats enjoyed a surge in support after replacing their leader, but that has now dissipated. Now they look with beating hearts to France. Let’s park the fact its new president, Emmanuel Macron, is a liberal – not a social democrat – who has just appointed a conservative prime minister, Édouard Philippe. To emulate France, they would need to introduce a presidential system with two rounds of elections, get 24% in the first round, then go head-to-head with a fascist to win a decisive victory.
All social democracy is in crisis, but despite Labour’s multiple ailments, this manifesto represents an attempt to deal with them. Yes, despite Labour’s uptick in polling, the Tories still have a frighteningly big lead. While Labour has apparently increased support among the under-50s compared to the general election two years ago, if the Tories win their predicted landslide, it will be down to Theresa May’s overwhelming advantage among older Britons. Unless Labour both increases turnout among younger voters, and increases support among greying Britons, a big defeat beckons. But whatever happens, a clear outline for how a modern left-of-centre party confronts the challenges of a crisis-ridden wealthy nation has finally been offered. And that is long overdue.
– Owen Jones via The Guardian