A decisive break from the austerity agenda

Ed Miliband has a significant opportunity to decidedly shift the terms of the debate on the economy, but to do so he will have to turn Labour policy on its head.

The austerity agenda which has dominated the UK’s economic debate since 2010 is increasingly seen as inseparable from a stagnant economy and growing poverty and unemployment. With the case for austerity crumbling, the discussion on the alternative policy required to deliver growth and jobs is now beginning in earnest.

A number of us have consistently advocated ‘investment not cuts’. We believe Ed Miliband and Ed Balls need to break from the New Labour orthodoxy that advocates the party’s own austerity programme.

Since 2010, the party has been hamstrung by Alistair Darling’s ill-advised claim that Labour would impose ‘deeper and tougher’ cuts than Thatcher, or Liam Byrne’s infamous note left to his Tory successor saying ‘there’s no money left’.

Commenting on this, Peter Hain said, ‘some, sadly including anonymous Labour frontbenchers, suggest that the only way for Labour to win back the economic trust lost in the global banking crisis is to sign up to the Tory-Lib Dem post-2015 election spending plans due to be announced in the budget next week.’

Discredited as they are, Labour can no longer advocate spending cuts. Its election message needs to be a decisive break from Osborne’s austerity agenda.

In recent months, a number of Labour MPs have begun to consider the necessary means to deliver an investment alternative.

Peter Hain recently wrote, ‘The way to bring the budget back into balance is to ease the squeeze by boosting public sector investment.’

John Healey wrote, ‘More borrowing by government is now the right thing to do, not the wrong thing; part of the solution not the problem … for investment to improve longer-term productive capacity as well as create jobs, generate tax revenue and revive growth.’

In addition, Owen Smith has discussed the policies we need to ‘realign finance towards productive deployment in the real economy, leading to living wages, high employment and long-term investment and to supplant the culture of flexibility, corporate cronyism and short-term return that have become the norm.’

But they are not the only ones advising Ed Miliband and there are alternative messages to beware of.

The message from Progress at its recent conference was on the need to match ‘tough and unpopular decisions’ that the Tories would be prepared to take, with the reheated triangulation of ‘a compelling programme of public service reform and innovation’. Progress continue to argue the necessity of winning over voters from the Tories, when, as Andrew Harrop recently said, for every one ex-Conservative, there are roughly three former Liberal Democrats and two people who didn’t vote in 2010 now saying they will back Labour at the next election.

Similarly Labour should reject a Blue Labour alternative that can be backed by The Sun newspaper for promoting family, faith and flag’, for ‘being tougher on benefits’ and for being ‘hard on immigration’.

And equally concerning is the Compass offer, despite advocating a housing construction blitz, if funded through ‘radically pruning central government’  and ‘iron, independently enforced fiscal commitments’, even if consequences are ‘brutal’, as John Harris recently suggested.

Labour must embrace borrowing to invest, not fund it through cuts – such as to child benefit – elsewhere. This would be politically disastrous, harming Labour’s supporters.

The point of debate should be on the scale of stimulus. As Peter Hain noted, the CBI has called for an extra £10bn in infrastructure investment, the IFS for an extra £20bn of public investment, the TUC, for a £30bn programme of infrastructure investment.

We should be prepared to consider even greater borrowing as the policy must be commensurate with the scale of the crisis. We are in a historic slump, so we must prepare a radical response.

 

NGL has invited Peter Hain MP and John Healey MP to outline their views further on a panel with Catherine West (Leader of Islington Council), Heather Wakefield (Head of Local Government, UNISON) and Mick Burke of Socialist Economic Bulletin.

 

Ed, immigration and the economy

When Ed Miliband attempted to start a debate around immigration, he surely didn’t imagine the response would be this; ‘Miliband joins ranks of BNP recruiting sergeants, Legitimation of our message by Party’ tweeted Nick Griffin, Leader of the British National Party; ‘I am pleased to see that Miliband has finally agreed with UKIP’ said Nigel Farage, former United Kingdom Independence Party Leader also taking to twitter.

These tweets were, of course, gross over-exaggerations from politicians, repeatedly rejected by the public, desperately seeking media attention. Unfortunately reading Ed’s speech it was easy to see how his arguments could be exploited and manipulated by the far right. The admitting of mistakes over Polish immigration, coupled with examples of working class British workers losing out as a result of immigrant workers migrating to the UK, all bear a worrying resemblance to the narrative put forward by the BNP or EDL. These elements of the speech were the central focus of nearly all the reports by newspapers always happy to paint immigrants in a negative light.

Perhaps most worrying was suggestions in the media, although not included in the speech, that Labour would look to restrict certain benefits to some migrants. This would mean that people entering the United Kingdom would not just be facing hostility from those with prejudiced views, but actively be discriminated against by the state.

At a time of economic difficulty the danger of such an approach is clear for most to see. One only has to look to Greece to see that as the austerity has started to bite far too many have looked to make immigrants a scapegoat. This has manifested itself in an increase in the popularity of the far right Golden Dawn in the recent elections and even more worryingly with an increase in the number of violent attacks against immigrants. It is essential that such a situation is not allowed to develop in the United Kingdom and Labour should be at the forefront of challenging the tale told by the far-right and some sections of the media that immigration is responsible for the current decline in living standards faced by so many.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing was that the focus on the damaging perception of immigration actually took attention away from some sensible and encouraging policy suggestions that Ed Miliband was putting forward. The ideas around increased training for UK jobseekers in sectors where they have traditionally been under-represented and tougher sanctions for employees acting in an unscrupulous manner show that Labour can have something distinct to say when talking about problems facing working-class communities. We now need to take these ideas forward and show how Labour is on the side of working people during these difficult times. We can and must however, do this without pandering to the narrative put forward by the far right.

By Jyoti Bhojani and John Percival

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Confront not concede to the right on multiculturalism says Lucille Harvey

This summer i attended the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) festival in Austria as part of the UK Young Labour delegation. IUSY hold a festival every other year at which affiliated groups come together to discuss, debate and learn from each other. This year the festival took place in the shadow of the far right terrorist attack on young AUF activists in Utøya and we paid tribute to our fallen comrades through a reaffirmation of our enduring commitment to equality, social justice, democracy and international solidarity.

Delegations from the UK haven’t always received the warmest of welcomes by our European comrades (we’re affectionately referred to as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ after some allegedly bizarre antics of Labour Students). However, we were heartily embraced by comrades from the Netherlands. This was a welcome surprise until we discovered the reason. They had mistakenly assumed we were followers of the Maurice Glasman school of thought on immigration and that we shared their view that immigration be ‘regulated’ (ie prohibited). For them, Britain’s very own Baron Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill is a hero.

As the granddaughter of a West Indian immigrant, the daughter of a single mother and socialist of the internationalist feminist variety with a deep aversion for anything small ‘c’ conservative, I was never Blue Labour’s target audience. The initial murmurings, as much as I disagreed with them, I dismissed as a bunch of male, pale & stales dreaming about creating some sort of Darling Buds of May utopia. However, a line was crossed with Glasman’s comments on immigration over summer. He may have backtracked and Blue Labour distanced themselves from him but further investigation shows this was no one-off. Glasman earlier stated that migrants to Britain should not have equal footing. Before I’m accused of misquoting, here’s the full quote from Glasman’s interview with our comrades at Progress:
‘There have to be ways of honouring the common life of people who come [as immigrants],’ he believes, but it also not the case that ‘everyone who comes is equal and has an equal status with people who are here.’

At best, this is very Animal Farm.

When immigrants are bashed it’s not the rich who are targeted; not Brazilian footballers, Swiss bankers or American film stars. No, they are attacks on working class migrants. The same migrants who are forced into low paid, poorly regulated employment, live in squalid overcrowded accommodation; the victims of the harshest realities of global capitalism. These workers are the human cost of a market which venerates profit at the expense of people. It was this brutality of capitalism and the inevitable exploitation of workers that led to the creation of our party. Anyone from a left perspective condemning these same workers is absurd as it attacks our raison d’etre. Maybe Glasman could explain but when did solidarity start only extending as far as your nation’s borders?

The terrorist attacks in Norway showed that the far-right in Europe has not been defeated and still lingers on the fringes of our communities. Not only can the Left not be complacent about this threat but we cannot concede any ground on the immigration debate to the right whatsoever. This shows us how wrong Glasman’s comments were. Wrong and dangerous. Any talk denouncing immigration and de facto our vulnerable migrant communities justifies the far right’s bigotry and fuels their hate.

After the Utøya massacre the Norwegian PM, Jens Stoltenberg, asserted that “more democracy, more openness” was needed to tackle the far right. This is true. However, more solidarity is absolutely fundamental. Solidarity with those communities whose very right to exist within our society is under attack. Our response cannot be to pit communities against each other, worker against worker, neighbour against neighbour in a battle to win votes. Failure to act will allow fear will fester and hate to take hold. Labour should be proud to stand for an inclusive, tolerant, socially just, free society that has no place for bigotry or hate. There can be no ambivalence in Labour’s message on multiculturalism. We need to reiterate our commitment to a racially and religiously diverse multicultural Britain of equals. A society where “we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect” Sound familiar? It should. It’s on the back of the party membership cards we all signed up to.

It is for this reason, as a proud champion of multicultural Britain, that I am standing for the Block of 14 with the aim of becoming Anti-Racism Officer at London Young Labour’s AGM this Sunday.

If elected i pledge to put my words into action and London Young Labour will be at the heart of the fight against the far right in all communities across our city.