A manifesto for hope

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.

The demands

  • 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.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “A manifesto for hope

  1. Jeremy Corbin commands respect as a professional and righteous politician but to the man on the Clapham metrobus he does not manifest the depth of intellect and charisma that is needed to lead the disenfranchised citizens of Barrow, Hartlepool, Nuneaton, Truro and other poorly endowed English towns out of the wilderness.
    This is an unfair critique. We do not see him at work in parliament and cannot competently judge him. But a prime minister has to be intellectually brilliant. There is no getting around that. The previous shadow government contained some outstandingly well equipped young women such as Rachel Reeves. The party cannot afford to sideline such talent. As far as current developments go, Tom Watson shows no more charisma than his leader and we have to take his intellectual capacity on spec. We know that Angela Eagle was a national youth chess champion. That would appear ideal training for a prime minister and there is a glimmer of charisma which might shine in the limelight.
    Such personalities arrive only occasionally in generations. In our lifetimes maybe only Aneurin Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Barbara Castle and Denis Healey. The country desperately needs someone of that quality today.

  2. May I add a demand for a Maximum Wage? The near-confiscatory higher tax bands of the WWII and postwar period came close, with huge economic and social benefits, and it would have been more or less achieved in the US in 1972, had Nixon not pipped McGovern for the presidency (McGovern was proposing a 100 percent top tax rate on the highest incomes, to pay for a guaranteed minimum income. Piketty gives some details in his book.)

    It used to be argued that the incomes of the rich don’t matter because, if distributed among the great unwashed, they would only provide a mars-bar per person per week, or something like that, but nowadays we know that their distorting effect on economic life is massive.

    A maximum wage would, I think, be a hugely popular demand, and an exciting one. I’ve mentioned the idea several times in conversations with fairly hard-core anti-immigration types on the street when leafleting on various occasions, and it has always struck a sympathetic nerve, making further discussion possible.

    There will of course be those who scream blue murder, “politics of envy”, “the pitchforks are out!” etcetera but this can all be done humanely and gradually. And the case against inequality is no longer “just” a moral one, but a matter of large-scale, physical harm – as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett et al have shown.

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