22 July 2006

Labour cowards?

I try my best to disagree with Polly Toynbee, but frankly I can't help agreeing with virtually everything she says. Her latest article is once again spot on, summing up the last days of Blair in one word - cowardice.

The failure of Blair to implement the promise on proportional representation that would have as Polly puts it "ensured the future against any unrepresentative government in a nation by nature left of centre", is a tragedy. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Then she mentions the political courage of Ken Livingstone and the congestion charge as an example of what Labour initially fought against and then embraced when they were proved wrong about public opinion. Banning public indoor smoking is another example.

Governments sometimes have to lead public opinion not just try and follow it. Blair seems proud of his 'difficult decisions' in sucking up to Bush's America but less so in combating the lies of the tabloids that have made us back away from Europe and from more progressive politics.

So although it is obvious putting even more people in prison is not the answer, Labour embraces it just to appease the right-wing press. Sentencing has risen from a 20 month average to a 27 month average since 1997 and our prison population has ballooned to it's highest ever as a result. Yet crime has been falling across the Western World since the mid 1990's and has little to do with prison sentences.

New Labour's fondness for gambling is even more disconcerting, since public opinion and even the tabloids are firmly against.

So, I agree with Polly, something is rotten in the core of the new Labour project and I am as fed up with it as anyone on the Left might be. But the answer is to bring our party back to it's principles by campaiging even harder within the party. This government (as Polly points out) has managed to do an awful lot of good and anyone on the Left who deserts Labour and ends up with a Tory led government (and that is the only alternative under this electoral system) is voting against their own interests. Let me explain.

If you are a top rate of tax earner (and only 11% of earners are) or if you have substantial wealth then you will probably be slightly better off financially under the Tories (in the short term). But in the long term, the rise in crime and other problems of rising inequality will make you much worse off both financially and in your quality of life, as the education of the workforce declines and the efficiency of the economy is affected.

However, if you are in the vast majority of people who do not pay the top rate of tax then Labour is your best bet. The problem for the Left under this system is that although it is in the majority, it is much more split between parties and it is this split that has allowed the Tories to dominate government with a right wing agenda. It has also meant that when Labour does get it's chance, it has had to water down it's radical agenda to such a point that we end up with New Labour. This will continue to get worse if we don't change this electoral system.

So it is not just New Labour that are cowards. Progressives need to find the strength and courage to push Labour in the right direction and keep out the Tories. It is the only way forward.


  1. I suspect Polly's view that the "nation by nature [is] left of centre" is wishful thinking on her part!

    That Labour has to "appease the right-wing press" should show that the nation must naturally be right of centre. How many newspaper owners sell copy that their readers disagree with!?!

    Polly could only claim that Wales and Scotland are naturally left of centre.

  2. snafu: Most people buy newspapers for stuff other than the politics.

    The owners of the press have the power to express their political views within that paper and it gives them clout with politicians to get favourable decisions for their businesses- nobble their competitors - BBC, tax cuts for the rich etc. They all live abroad so they don't have to worry about what happens to the UK society when the NHS and other public services are cut.

    The Murdoch press (up until the last few weeks before the election- remember their support for Howard's 'evict a gypsy' campaign) ran as much anti-Labour propaganda as it could, yet more of it's readers voted for Labour than any other party.

    Over 60% of the electorate votes for parties that are both perceived as tax raising, left of centre parties and have tax raising measures in their manifestos (even in England the Tories only got 35% of the vote at the last GE!). For example a recent yougov poll has the Lib Dems perceived as -23 and Labour as -22 where 0 is the perceived centre ground (the Tories were +30 or so and Blair was -4).

    This left of centre voting has been a consistent situation for many decades (over 75% want to see more redistribution of wealth), so I think this demonstrates that the UK is indeed 'left of centre by nature'. The only way we can get extreme-right Thatcherite Tory governments is under the present unfair electoral system, which is why not a single Tory MP is in favour of electoral reform.

  3. I think the country is left of centre. Your large majority of the British public want to pay higher taxes if public services will improve.

  4. I'm yet to meet anyone who says they don't pay enough tax already!

    It could well be that 75% want to see more redistribution of wealth (what's your source for this statistic?), however, they normally want people earning more than them to pay more tax!

    Adele, some people may be prepared to pay even more taxes for better public services, however, this assumption is being weakened as nine years of 'improvements' have failed to deliver significantly better public services. Many people are certainlyy not prepared to pay more tax so that welfare benefits can increase any more!

    Neil, only 60% of the electorate even voted in the last election so they can't all have voted for tax-raising parties. Some voters even voted (I'm going to swear now) Conservative...

  5. Obviously I meant to put 60% of VOTERS not electorate, which is even worse for your argument because it is the poorest who are more in favour of redistribution who fail to vote (which actually means less than 20% of the electorate vote for Tory tax cuts!).

    Look if tax cuts are so popular, why are the Tories (the tax cutting party) playing down their tax cutting ideas and talking of redistribution and reducing inequality?

    Would you deny that Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, PC etc. are perceived as tax increasing parties and that over 60% of voters still vote for them? If people want tax cuts as you suggest, what is going on?

    I can't remember where I saw the exact survey on redistribution (it was about a year ago) but I have found this MORI survey which states 75% are either in favour or do not oppose more redistribution.

    "Asked specifically about using taxes to narrow the gap between rich and poor, 59 per cent support the idea while a quarter oppose it. Perhaps surprisingly, two-thirds of those in the professional and managerial classes are willing to support wealth redistribution, the highest of all groups."

    Which sort of pisses on your idea that it is all about jealousy.

    The same survey also finds;

    "When asked to choose between tax cuts, even if it means reduction in services such as health care, and extending services even if it means increasing tax, in this poll, more than half (56 per cent) would prefer an extension of services; only 15 per cent wish to see tax cuts with a cut in services."

  6. Neil, do you pay too much tax, too little or just about the right amount!?!

    The SNP are quite happy to spend English taxes thanks to the Barnett formula so don't need to worry the Scottish electorate by raising income tax in Scotland to pay for it. The Liberal Democrats, under Sir Menzies Campbell, now seem intent on out tax-cutting the Conservative party whilst last year's Conservative manifesto promising tax cuts was pathetic. As I recall, the Conservatives offered tax cuts that would only affect people buying homes, hardly ambitious now eh!?! I'm not worried about Green Party policies...

    I assume you disagree that tax cuts can increase overall tax revenue through encouraging enterprise, rewarding work and discouraging tax evasion?

    Fair point about the survey! However, I'm struggling to find people who are grateful for paying so much tax these days!

  7. snafu: "Neil, do you pay too much tax, too little or just about the right amount!?!"

    Nobody likes to see more tax deducted from their pay but if taxation became more progressive as a result I could easily afford to pay a little more. Obviously there are limits, but Scandanavian levels of tax are not excessive.

    As for the Lib Dems, they have the most redistributive policy of all the parties - 50% top rate. Their conference will almost certainly vote to keep it.

    "I assume you disagree that tax cuts can increase overall tax revenue through encouraging enterprise, rewarding work and discouraging tax evasion?"

    Where is the evidence of that? I think it is bunkum, just like the 'trickle down' theory!

    I think tax cuts might reduce evasion a little although tax evasion seems to be higher now under 40% tax than it was under 60%.

    The sort of tax cuts the Tories would introduce - for their rich friends, would take money out of the economy. This is what happened in the 1980's.

    As for working harder, there might be an effect for those on low wages but executive pay has rocketed in companies where productivity and profitability declined. So bigger wages seem to have reduced their effort.

  8. By the way, here is the survey about over 75% of people favouring redistribution.

    "Throughout the period 1984 to 2003, more than three-quarters of adults in Great Britain considered that the gap between those with high incomes and those with low incomes was too large."

  9. Does that really mean that they favour redistribution? I think David Beckham earns far too much, but I don't support punitive taxation to bring his income down to a level that I consider reasonable.

  10. Neil, I expected you would welcome the opportunity to pay more tax so that the Government can wisely distribute it amongst the poor and needy. If you can afford to pay a little more tax, you can always stop claiming tax allowances to assuage your guilt!

    It's annoying when people claim they want to see tax rises but only for other people who, funnily enough, already earn more than they do!

    Thanks for the survey link. I fear you are leaping to conclusions by saying that because 75% of people feel that income inequality is too large, they are actually prepared to pay more tax themselves to reduce it. I don't recall Labour winning General elections since 1984 by promising to increase taxes to reduce income equality. Labour have focused on spending more money on the NHS and public services as they are percieved vote winners, increasing benefits for the workshy costs votes...

    As for the evidence that tax cuts can lead to increase in overall tax revenues, it depends on who you ask... Some economists will say "yes", others will say "no" and yet more will say "it depends"!