Tag Archive: poverty reduction
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In 2014/15 (and, despite recent speculation, almost certainly not before) Labour are going to go to the voters of Britain with a vision for Government. This is my first in an occasional series where I give my best attempts to think about what I’d like to see articulated in that vision. These are not policy ideas, though I will offer those elsewhere, but principles that should form the basis of Labour’s policy making. Here I will be posing questions that should help Labour to establish how we move the arguments for Socialism forward and make it relevant to the 21st century and it’s new challenges. I will also start to offer my answers to those questions.
Equality is a surprisingly thorny concept. What seems like a self-evident statement – all people are born equal, should be treated equally and have an equal chance to achieve success and happiness - is so far from true in any recognisable way in the world we live in. Because we live in a world and country where people’s life chances are very much determined by their the family they are born into and by the village, town, city, region and country they are born in.
Any movement towards equalising society means that some people’s children will not have the differential advantages that they have had and have come to expect – that’s what equalising means. As a result, the less talented children of the wealthy could lose financially (though there are real and good arguments to be made that they gain societally). Allowing natural losers among small but extremely powerful and vocal groups to naturally fail is largely considered to be bad politics, even if it’s good policy. So despite the obviousness of the self-evident statement, we do nothing of the sort, nor do we have, or even talk of aspiring to, policies in place that would result in such a society.
Instead, we comfort ourselves with rising tide policies that aspire to life all the boats while sending lifeboats to those most in need. We address severe poverty by alleviating the worst symptoms and we pull people over the line from absolute poverty to relative poverty. All of which is admirable, but does nothing, not a jot, to address inequality. But here’s the thing no one ever says: addressing just one group in society, whether it be through leaving it to trickle down economics or through focusing solely on poverty reduction will not address inequality. Don’t get me wrong, poverty reduction is important. But it’s a reactive measure to the societal problem of inequality. It is not a solution to that problem.
In recent years, the definition of inequality has itself been under question. There have been political tensions both across the political spectrum and within the Party between those who believe that we should focus on equality of outcome and those who believe we should focus on equality of opportunity and those who continue to argue for an equality of outcome.
The ultimate effects of such differing policies would have extremely different effects on society. A meritocracy is a far easier sell, but practically impossible to achieve from an uneven base. While we can all agree that people should rise and fall on their merits, those with more will have far greater chances to embellish their talents than those with less. I simply don’t believe that a true meritocracy is achievable without an even base to work from, and I don’t believe an even base to work from is achievable through a focus on meritocracy. So while meritocracy must be the ultimate aim, we can actually only achieve such a system through a focus now on equality of outcomes.
It is here that the equalities argument usually runs headlong into those who promote fairness rather than equality. Fairness is a word with increasing cache in modern politics, and is at least as often employed by the right than it is by the left. It is an even trickier concept that equality, as it is even more nebulous. Fairness is often deployed as an argument against measures to promote equality (for example, many argue that a flat tax is fairer, despite the fact that it would lead to vast disparities in effect on richer and poorer households). Fairness has come to mean the support of the short term interests of those who lose out to equalities measures, and not the support of the long term interests of gain to the wider society.
Labour has a decent record when it comes to understanding the tensions between fairness and equality and bringing in gradualist measures that promote long term equality at the cost of shortsighted fairness. Internal measures such as gender quotas for the cabinet and All Women Shortlists have proved that we have done the thinking between these two issues and have picked a side that we are moving towards gradually. I am proud of these measures and will be prouder still when they are abolished as no longer necessary. Again I see them not as the ultimate goal, but as steps that must be taken before meritocracy is possible. When you look at the difference between the Labour and Government benches in the House of Commons, you can see that we are making progress. When you lo0k at the way the cuts will affect all strands of equalities, including income and gender, you realise how far we as a society have to go.
Labour are not a revolutionary party, and Britain is not a revolutionary country. We need to think about these matters not like we can wish an equal society into place tomorrow, but as we can work towards one every day. We need to focus not just on the goal but on the journey. Meritocracy is a fine ideal, but is not one that is practicable in current society. Labour must ensure that its work is in changing society in practical and real ways to achieve a place where meritocracy is possible, not trying to impose an unworkable meritocracy at the expense of those in society who would benefit least at present. Meritocracy must be the goal, and the goal must be part of our rhetoric. But there is a great deal of difference between goals and journeys and if we don’t accept that difference and write policies that are attuned to it we will achieve neither goal nor journey. We will get lost.
Let me be very clear, as I said in my post about why we should vote Labour, I don’t look forward to a stint out of office because vulnerable people are going to suffer under this Government. But we are where we are, and now we have to take this situation and run with it.
Long term, this situation has tremendous strategic advantages. We have a chance to renew the Labour Party and we can once again be the natural home of Left of Centre voters, who now know that in most places (more on the Green Vote at a later date) Labour really is the only alternative to Tory Government.
The Liberal Democrats will have a hard time for a very, very long time – possibly ever again – making the case that they are to the left of Labour. They aren’t, and never have been. Their version “fairness” was always a raising of the middle at the expense of the Top leaving the poor ever further behind. They have agreed to early, damaging cuts in areas like the Child Trust Fund and Tax Credits. There will be tax cuts for the middle, paid for at the expense of the services on which the most vulnerable in our society rely.
Another meme the Lib Dems ran with, was that they aren’t “politics as usual”. Well it’s true that this is an unusual set up, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough to detract from the fact that they are in Government – with ministers in every department – and so will be held to account for all the decisions of that Government, whether they be ones they actively vote for, or those they just facilitate by abstaining on (a very cowardly deal indeed on the insidious – and deeply illiberal Marriage Tax Allowance).
Frankly, for the next few years Labour’s campaign materials write themselves. And the Lib Dems will never again be able to use the line “only the Lib Dems can stop the Tories in XXX”. God alone knows what they’ll put on their leaflets now. Certainly the one I got through my door during this election has proved to be a laughable lie.
The Lib Dems seem to have gained so much from this coalition. As they did from the debates. As with the debates, I think these gains will be fleeting. Unlike the debates I think they will do serious long term damage to their prospects. The Lib Dems have to make this work – the Tories do not. The Tories can push their agenda far, far harder than the Lib Dems currently realise, and – particularly this side of any referendum on AV – the Lib Dems will have to go along with them. They need to prove that coalition government works, the Tories – who will campaign against voting reform – do not. Look at how close the Tories are hugging the Lib Dems – full coalition and a seat in every department. The Lib Dems underperformed in the election (as did the Tories) and weren’t in a strong enough position to earn all that, and their obvious bluff of “talks” with Labour wouldn’t have earned them alone. The Tories aren’t unastute politically, and must realise that the closer they tie the Lib Dems into this Government, the harder it will be to break that stranglehold, or that image int eh minds of the electorate.
So how do Labour respond? Well one fo the reasons I have focused more on the Lib Dems in this post than the Tories, is because I believe this election has shown Labour the way forward, and the gift of the Lib Dems going in with the Tories make this easier. Our future is not in fighting the Tories for third of the electorate who support them no matter how bad, but attracting progressive voters from all constituencies.
Labour must keep fighting for it’s poverty reduction policies. They are the best of all that we have done. We must continue to fight for union and workers rights – they are a part of what defines us . But we need to completely revisit our attitude to civil liberties. We should not oppose any attempt to remove compulsory ID cards, extended detention etc. and should attack the ConDem Government on their vicious and arbitrary immigration cap and their Marriage Tax .
We need to not just rely on those who left Labour for the Lib Dems over issues like Iraq to come back because they have no other place to go, but give them a positive reason to come back to Labour. We also need to attract Lib Dem voters who never voted Labour before, but who are dismayed at the direction their party has taken. We can do this by stopping trying to woo floating Tory voters with misguided post 9/11 security measures and playing a weak hand on regulation. We are no longer in a post 9/11 world – or a post 1992 world for that matter, but a Post Credit Crunch world where regulation is no longer seen by a majority of the public as intrusive.We have the opportunity to be “New Labour” no longer, but become the progressive liberal Labour movement some foolishly dreamed would be possible with Clegg and his Liberal Tories. If we do so, we can create the strong progressive movement the 21st Century deserves.
I haven’t posted since the election as I haven’t really known what to say. There’s so much sound and fury about all the negotiations, and frankly, no one knows a damn thing, I didn’t want to add my lack of knowledge into that swirling pot, and was waiting for cooler times to prevail to write what I thought about it all.
But now something has happened that does deserve comment.
Gordon Brown has announced that he will step down as leader of the Labour Party and make way for an orderly transition. His speech was dignified and statesmanlike and warmly received from all party members – those who supported him and those who felt it was time – or past time – for him to step down.
Gordon Brown has not bee a popular Prime Minister, at least not in the UK. He is far better liked and respected on the international stage, where the work he put in to rescuing us from the abyss of financial meltdown is often recognised. He’s a serious man, perhaps too serious for our times, and he over thought strategic decisions, which often only work when they come quickly and naturally. His instincts were so often right, but his lack of belief in them let him – and us down too often. However, I strongly believe history will be far kinder to Gordon than we are now, and while he has absolutely made the right decision today, he will in time come to be recognised as one of the great politicians of our age, both as Chancellor and as PM. I credit Labour’s focus on poverty reduction – here and abroad – to Gordon, and I believe that he will continue this work in some form or another for the rest of his life.
So for child tax credits, for debt relief, for transforming public services, for the Climate Change Act, for the Marine Act, for making Britain world leader in off-shore wind energy, for the Equalities Act, for Sure Start and the minimum wage and for countless other things that have made our nation so much better and so much fairer, I thank you Gordon from the bottom of my heart.
Every thing I ever have read before every election I can remember tells you that this is the most important election ever. So I’m not going to do that here. I do however, see that this is the most unknowable election of my voting life. There really is all to play for and with a landslide majority unlikely for anyone, what happens at this election could affect our democracy and elections for years to come.
Labour aren’t perfect. I know that. I’ve been an internal critic of some decisions for years, ranging from Iraq to ID cards. We’re tired, and we sometimes forget how to do what we are here to do. If re-electing Labour were all about the party alone, I’m sure some activists would welcome a break and a chance to regroup.
I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t because I know that that would let down the people Labour is here to serve. Individual MPs may have let them down before, but we, Labour, must not and will not let them down. If we are at our best when we are at our boldness, we are at our boldest when tilting at the windmills of poverty. Dreaming what once seemed an impossible dream of it’s eradication, now brought so much closer to reality by our actions here and abroad.
The narrative of this election has been that of mending our broken politics. I celebrate that narrative and agree that and end to the first-past-the-post system would be a laudable achievement. But I ask us not to forget that democracy is not just about how we vote, but what we vote for. At this time of economic crisis, when cuts will have to be made, I – much as I may personally benefit – don’t want to be rewarded for my middle class life, but pay fair taxes to help those who will be worst hit – first and deepest – to stop those cuts taking us backwards in poverty reduction.
I could use this post to lay out how bad I think a Tory government would be, but far better writers than me – Particularly Johann Hari - have already done so with breathtaking clarity. But I’d rather talk about why, at this time and in this election, we should vote Labour. Int he Guardian endorsement of the Lib Dems, their analysis included this line: “Labour’s record on poverty remains unmatched “. Now I understand the seduction of the “Liberal moment”, I too want a shift back on civil liberties and reform of the voting system. But not at the expense of the party “umbilically linked to the poor” at a time when both other main parties are offering deep and swingeing cuts, and routinely attacking the kind of public sector services, tax credits and benefits that the poorest in society rely on. It is too high a price for me. I hope – as I have outlined previously - that Labour take from the rise of the Lib Dems lessons on these issues and a greater understanding of their electoral significance for a core part of their electorate. I can’t however, offer up deep and devastating cuts by an unconcerned government as a price worth paying.
So I will fight for Labour to be in Government – protecting their core principles and fighting for the poor. In coalition if it comes to it – alone if we need to, we must never forget what Labour is for and why we fight. Our poverty reduction measures may be unfinished, but they remain – undiminished – a beacon of hope and a vision for a better world.
There’s quite a lot of commentary at the moment on Twitter and the blogs bout Nick Clegg’s demands for a hung parliament. While some of the critisism is apt, I tweeted some days ago, and still feel, that at the moment, any and all criticism of Clegg – especially by anyone connected with Labour or the Tories – is simply counter-productive. It feeds his message of “same old politics” too easily, and the Tory press are blurring the lines so much already that even valid criticism seems like carping.
I also think that some of the lines don’t quite make sense. True, it’s not for Clegg to choose the Labour leader, but it may be for Labour to choose between being led by Brown or governed by Cameron. I believe even Gordon knows which is the preferable choice.
So let’s assume Clegg gets to play kingmaker – or even crown himself with a Labour cabinet. What are the conditions Labour should put on such an alliance?
In the debates, both Clegg and Cable have attacked Tax Credits and their manifesto proposes getting rid completely of the Child Trust Fund. These must be a vital line in the sand. These are essential policies to continue a fair redistribution. This is a key Labour principle, and we must fight for it.
Secondly, no anti-union laws, including increasingly draconian laws to stop people working collectively and politically. Unite and Ashcroft are not the same, and union members already jump through enough hoops donating money through their union – a signal of thier political belief in collective action. A good Labour person in the DTI and protecting this area at the Treasury will be hugely important.
Finally, agreement on a referendum on voting reform must include an AV or AV+ as well as FPtP and STV options. Each party (and individuals within the parties) must be free to campaign in the referendum as they see fit.
I think these measures would be essential to assuaging Labour concerns, but shouldn’t be too bitter a pill for the Lib Dems to swallow. If Labour are seen as giving up something as substantial as their leader, the Lib Dems will also have to show willing to be coalition players. I don’t think these measures which protect the vulnerable should be too hard to take.