Welfare through endeavour
Everybody in the party will be asking: what went wrong, where do we go from here, who should lead us? It’s time to be brutally honest. The party has suffered from “too many chiefs and lots of hard working indians”.
I don’t think the electorate rejected Jim Murphy or the sincerity of our members. They rejected years of failure and blunder bound up with an unclear message. What does Labour stand for? After one hundred years it still stands for the same basic principles – to get a fair deal for the lower quartile of our population.
How should Labour deliver on its principles? Not by strikes, other industrial action or mass protests. We should not think of ruling and upper classes. We should not brand our opponents as wicked adversaries who exploit the working class and have no sympathy for the poor. Ours is a global economy. We are an influential part of a monetary system which is controlled by no more than ten central banks. London stands only with New York as a global financial dynamo. Like it or loath it it shapes the economy on which we all rely.
One hundred years ago we were still the British Empire. Other Western nations tried to emulate us with drastic consequences for peace. The collapse of the “Empires” opened us up to competition from nations we once controlled. Their growing pains are causing a diaspora of peoples escaping from hardship and tyranny. People who are seeking both sanctuary and value opportunity in our developed societies create pressures for us we have never experienced or expected.
Twenty first century globalisation and how the UK copes with and benefits from it is something we have to take on board. It is beyond our control. Our membership of the EU has a dynamic over which we have little control. For both of these circumstances our party must be clear as to how it will deal with the various options which may fall on us. We also have to react to the new political order at home which is emerging in an ad-hoc rather than a planned way.
The Labour Party needs to be clear on what it will deliver for the lower quartile from these changes and how they will effectively oppose the governments in Westminster and Holyrood. Lack of clarity is one of the party’s fundamental failures in the General Election. In Scotland this was in part due to adopting the “Better Together” machine. It measured up badly to the way the SNP promoted their cause.
Every voter who deserted Labour for the SNP or UKIP will have taken note of the plethora of theories advanced by the media and “experts”. They will no doubt also have been influenced by the scandalously misleading opinion polls. The same pollsters also played a part in the referendum. In the run-up to both the election and the referendum a febrile media were competing for audience and readership numbers. In the guise of informing the electorate they sought to promote spectacular confrontations between opponents. They turned our democratic process into a circus rather than an in-depth considered debate.
Playing its part in this theatre and to save the day Labour brought Gordon Brown out from his self-imposed exile. There can be no doubt that the only beneficiaries of his passionate intervention in the election were the media. Frank evaluation of his part in the referendum will show he helped nearly losing the union rather than saving it.
We have to not only think about who should lead the party but also who shouldn’t be involved. Past leaders should be asked, politely, to “butt out”. They failed – we haven’t won a majority in any election since 2005. Moreover history will show that the devolution settlement they imposed upon us was as big a political blunder as the poll tax. If they wont take a vow of silence – as Thatcher and Major did – they should be expelled from the party.
Anybody who claims that the Scotland Act 1998 was anything but unfinished business is in denial. The election of 56 SNP’s makes clear just how it changed the dynamics of representation. Whilst the SNP enjoy an all powerful majority in Holyrood their 56 MP’s have little leverage in Westminster. But for the concerns that their constituents are likely to raise with them they don’t need any Westminster leverage. All of the local issues, including the NHS, are devolved matters for resolution by the Scottish Government or a public body funded by the Scottish Government. Scotland’s powers of representation are so reduced that on Thursdays it may be more appropriate for the First Minister to ask the Conservative leader, “when will you be next meeting the Prime Minister?”.
The leader of Scottish Labour needs to have the stature to represent Scotland’s interests in the further development of devolved powers which will involve amending the fiscal rules governing the way Scotland is funded, including amendments to the block grant calculated by applying the Barnett Formula. The current fiscal rules are based on conventions which pre-date devolution and cut the Scottish Parliament very little headroom.
At the same time Labour has to shine a light on the SNP’s plans for further fiscal autonomy. By continuously claiming new powers are insufficient and demanding greater, but unspecified, fiscal autonomy over an unknown time period they hide the powers they already possess. The Scotland Act 2012 gives the Scottish Parliament the powers to set a Scottish basic rate of income tax. From April 2016 they could increase the basic rate of income tax to a level which pays for their manifesto promises to combat austerity. Moreover, as Council tax is devolved, they could raise a tax on “mansions” by introducing additional bands.
The Smith Agreement extends the Scottish Parliament’s tax raising powers and could if there is a will be brought into force before April 2016. But Smith reports that the agreement is in effect an agreement to agree. To expose the SNP’s game with the Scottish electorate Labour should press for the earliest implementation of Smith’s tax raising powers – no doubt having to face destructive and partisan scrutiny from the media.
It is arguable that recently the Labour Party’s relationship with business plumbed the depths. There is a serious misconception that “business” means Conservative. Best practice in business reflects the best developments in our society over the last one hundred years. Many such developments have been promoted and instigated by the Labour Party.
That part of our society amorphously referred to as business doesn’t rejoice in inequality and high levels of poverty. But they do aim to promote welfare through endeavour. Future leaders in the Labour Party needs to work together with business to achieve common aims. They have to purge the toxicity created since Labour lost the election in 2010.
This is not a time to be lenient with the current leadership – we need the house cleansing from top-to-bottom.