People have been saying to me that it’s all very well to lament the disenchantment of many of the traditional working class with neoliberal globalisation but what’s the alternative? What sorts of demands would give them enough hope to vote for anything positive?
Yesterday morning I started to make a list of things I would put into a manifesto for hope. I imagined then that it might be possible for the Labour Party to seize the moment, demand a quick general election and put some such manifesto to the public, with support for at least some of its ingredients from the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Then I had to catch a train to Brussels and it got put on hold. In the meanwhile, the neoliberals in the Labour Party – who still seem to hold on to some deluded dream that there is space in the political spectrum for a ‘third way’ provided its proponents dress in smart suits and don’t upset the City of London – launched the latest stage of their vindictive and self-destructive attack on Corbyn. So this now looks even more like a pipe dream. But I am going to share it with you anyway: not as a blueprint, of course, but as a way of floating some ideas that others might share of a political approach that might obtain broad support and relaunch the UK (or some of its component parts) as a new kind of welfare state. Ideas to which others can add.
It is only a start, not very well worked out and not necessarily even in a very logical order, but, for what it’s worth, here it is, including some suggestions for how these things could be paid for.
- Proportional representation – to give everyone a sense that their voice is heard (including UKIP supporters!) and ensure that the neoliberal wing of the Labour Party can never again keep moving to the right unchecked in the belief that dissenting voices to their left have nowhere else to go.
- A raised minimum wage, including explicit formulae for converting piece-rates into hourly rates – not just to avoid organised workers being undercut by those more desperate in the labour market, but also to reduce reliance on tax credits and avoid situations where the taxpayer is subsidising employers who pay below-subsistence wages.
- Introduce a universal basic income. This report has shown that it would be affordable within current government budgetary limitations. I would personally prefer a more generous version, in which all age groups get the same level. However it would have to be linked to the raised minimum wage just mentioned to avoid the problem of subsidising employers.
- Major investment in housing, including self-build schemes, with the involvement of local communities in helping to decide where, how, and for whom this housing should be supplied.
- More spending on schools, with a special focus on building new nursery and primary schools wherever they are needed. And curriculum reform to reduce testing and return to more child-centred forms of education.
- Abolish student fees. Graduates who get good jobs as a result of their studies can pay the public back in the form of income tax. Investigate the feasibility of requiring students to put in some ‘national service’ helping on community projects as a further way of thanking the public for investing in their further education. (Students won’t need grants because they will get a universal basic income).
- More spending on the NHS and an integration of health and social services, including hospice services. This should also include investment in training of nurses and care workers, upgrading the latter and returning them to public employment. The proportion of GDP spent on health and social services should be increased in line with international good practice.
- Investment in renewable energy.
- Investment in creative industries.
- Grants to local authorities, NGOs and worker co-operatives to set up local online employment platforms providing local services to local communities in ways that ensure that workers have decent working conditions and revenues remain in the local economy.
How can these things be paid for
- Welfare reform will result in substantial savings on contracts to companies currently paid to police benefit claimants.
- Increases in minimum wages and job creation will result in higher revenues from income tax.
- Increase corporation tax for larger companies and crack down on corporate tax evasion.
- Collaborate with other governments internationally to close down tax havens.
- Carbon taxes.
- Tax on empty properties and land hoarding.