The Tories and the Right have no answers for today’s problems. Fact. David Cameron was like a rabbit trapped in the headlights today at Prime Ministers Questions as everything he stands for is now discredited.
The system of unregulated free market economics is unravelling before our eyes and today the British Government announced partial Nationalisation of the baking sector.
Many on the Left have argued for this for years but have been vilified as “extremists” or “idealists not living in the real world”.
The “real world” of Capitalism now comes knocking on the door, cap in hand asking for handouts from the taxpayer as, twenty years down the line the Thatcherite chickens come home to roost.
I began my political life as a Socialist, first in the Labour Party from 1984 onwards whilst being associated for six years with the Militant Tendency.
Militant made many mistakes, to many to catalogue here, mainly due to the over active egos of it’s leading activists who fell straight into the trap that Lord Acton warned of in the 19th Century about how “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
It was a narrow sect, and this is the trouble with Marxist groups. Unless you can build a mass membership and true Party democracy then such organisations become too narrow, too focused on theory, too obsessed with ideological purity and fail to take notice of why they exist at all; to build a better and fairer Society based on the needs of the many, not the few.
Socialism is about what’s achievable in a modern context, about compromise, about a move away from the “politics of denunciation” (c. A. Hodgson), about building relationships across traditional socio- economic boundaries, and about making the economy work for the benefit of the majority in this country, and across the globe.
And this is why what I propose has to be done in the context of the Labour Party. It is the only show in Town, and whilst it has many flaws, what it has achieved for the people of the UK over the last eleven years will last for generations… provided we recognise that we must look forward, renew ourselves and not be stuck in the past.
The test of Society is how it treats the Have Nots via pragmatic and fair treatment of those more fortunate.
The Labour Government, as far as it’s values go ticks these boxes through the New Deal, the creation of record employment levels (we can carp about what those jobs are, but it’s a foundation and a commitment to the goal of full employment), record spending on the NHS and education.
Then there is SureStart, which illustrates how the Government is in for the long haul rather than cheap electoral advantage, as the results won’t be seen for a generation.
And for the Middle Classes there is the millions pumped into households through Tax Credits, sustained low interest rates and real terms tax cuts. Despite what the Daily Voting Labour Gives You Cancer Mail might say Middle England has done mighty well out of this Government.
There have been mistakes a plenty along the way, such as the 10p tax fiasco and the way in which the Government seems to be inert to the needs of households under severe pressure form the rising cost of utility and basic household bills.
How come we can find £30 billion for a pointless nuclear warhead system, and bankroll the Iraq War whilst real terms poverty is on the rise for the bottom 1/3rd income households? It’s a fair question about basic priorities.
The current fiasco in the Banking System means that the Government will offer a monumental £500 billion in guarantees, which is offset by the taxpayer taking shares and having real and tangible leverage over those in charge. “Bankers getting sweaty beneath their White Collars” as The The put it on the Infected album.
"In reaching agreement on capital investment the government will need to take into account dividend policies and executive compensation practices and will require a full commitment to support lending to small businesses and homebuyers.”
This is the Government directly controlling policy and practice for High Street Banks, and is basically saying “enough is enough” to unregulated speculation, lending based on extreme risk with the hope of massive short term profit and allowing the people via the Government a direct say on what gives in the banking sector.
Wholesale Nationalisation is neither practical, nor neccesserily desirable. But the Left has an historic opportunity to make the case for greater public say in the direct day to day running of the economy.
Each financial institiution responsible for lending in this country should have a chunk of it’s shares owned by the Government on behalf of the people.
These mickey mouse, but ultimatley cruel and inhumane lenders such as Ocean Finance which leech on the false and unrealistic advert driven hopes of working people should be thoroughly investigated by the FSA and if there is the slightest sniff of sharp practice such as over lending to deliberatley trigger default and huge fees which then are turned in to “consolidation loans” by the same company under a different name, be shut down with no compensation. In fact these parasites should be prosecuted.
The Treasury Committee MUST ensure that the CEOs of each of the Banks and insurance firms should appear in front of them, complete with open and transparent accounts on a regular basis to ensure that these companies don’t take our money and then carry on regardless once the spotlight has moved on.
Now the argument appears not to be whether the Goverenment should take the Banks into Public Ownership, but how much of a stake we should take, meaning there is a basic acceptance amongst the Government, institutions and the nation as a whole that State intervention is both neccessery and desirable.
The Left should make the argument that this kind of stake should extend to the ultilities, transport and other areas where it is vital that the Public interest is represented.
This should go hand in hand with a renewal in our democracy, to show a sceptical Public that this is a fresh start, that because the Government will be representing them at the heart of the economy then they must have the opportunity to be fully involved.
Therefore where the Government becomes a sharholder these companies must have elected employees on the Board of control, and full Trade Union recognition and involvement in decision making must be implemented because in tandem with the Directors these are the people who really know what is going on.
Where it appears inevitable that a company such as Northern Rock is going to go to the wall the Government should make the former owners, not the workers bear responsibility. Therefore such companies, backed by the Government should be placed under the control of Workers Councils, fully elected who will undertake restructuring and move the firm forward. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas so the fear of some kind of wacko take over is simply a scare tactic from the media.
On a more general level the Left should argue for greater local control, both at work and in the Community by arguing for elected Heads of Council Services, especially for Policing, Refuse and Recycling and Social Services.
Part of this should see an end to the stupid, costly and anti democractic tendering of basic (and any other) Council services, from waste collection to IT provision which must be accountable, transparent and cost effective to the tax payer.
While I’m at it, here are a few more ides to throw into the pot.
Crime… (Stuff I’ve observed via Samaritans work)
- All judges and magistrates are subject to election and recall.
- Fines must be proportionate to income.
- Prisoners must be allowed the maximum opportunity to develop themselves as human beings. People should only be imprisoned within a short distance of their own locality
- Prison life must be made as near normal as possible. The aim of prison should be rehabilitation, as well as punishment. Within prisons there should be a wide range of cultural facilities. Medical treatment must be via the general health service. There must be provision for daily visiting hours where possible.
- Worthwhile prison work must be made available. It must be paid at full trade union rates and limited to seven hours a day.
- Cells must be self-contained and for one person alone.
- Prisoners must be allowed access to books, newspapers and periodicals.
- Incoming and outgoing letters can only be checked for contraband – they must not be read nor censored.
Small Businesses and Farms.
- . Secure rights of tenure for owner-occupiers, small farmers and small businesses, with low rents.
- Cancellation of debts to banks arising from disproportionately high interest rates. Provision of low interest rates for small businesses.
- Guaranteed prompt payment of bills by big business to small businesses.
Pensions and the Elderly.
- No compulsory retirement. Right to retirement from age 60 for all workers – at 55 in unpleasant and dangerous jobs.
- The stare pension should be at the level of the minimum wage, and should be paid to everyone who has retired.
- Old people should have the right to decide how they live. There should be no compulsory institutionalisation. The state must provide what is needed to allow elderly people to live independently if they so wish, for as long as they are physically or mentally capable of doing so.
- Social clubs for the elderly should be democratic and subsidised by the state, nor charities.
- The comfort and dignity of the dying must be ensured at all times. The creeping use of euthanasia must be stopped.
- The provision of housing for youth to enter of their own choice for longer or shorter periods when they lose their parents or choose to leave them.
- Compulsory education up until the age of 16 and from then on within a fully democratic system. Education should be free and of a polytechnic nature: that is, rounded to include technical skills as well as academic.
- No private schools.
- Students over the age of 16 should receive grants set at the level of the minimum wage.
- The right of every young person on leaving education to either a job, proper training or full benefits.
- Remove all obstacles to the participation of youth in social life. Votes and the right to be elected from the age of 16.
- The provision of a broad range of sports and cultural centres under the control of elected representatives of youth.
- The extensive provision of education and counselling facilities on all sexual matters.
- Turn formal equality into genuine equality. Socially, economically, politically and culturally there must be equality of opportunity. Open 24-hour crèches and kindergartens to facilitate full participation in social life outside the home: that is, trade unions, political organisations, , cultural activities, etc.
- Open high quality canteens with cheap prices. The establishment of laundry and house-cleaning services to be undertaken by the state. This to be the first step in the socialisation of housework.
- Fully paid maternity leave three months before and six months after giving birth (the partner to be provided with six months’ paternity leave).
- Free contraception on demand.
- Provision for either parent to be allowed paid leave to look after sick children.
- Maximum six-hour working day for all nursing mothers.
- Decriminalisation of prostitution. Criminalize those who attempt to purchase sex.
This is an historic opportunity for the Labour Government to realise the values and aspirations that made us join up in the first place, in a modern context.