23 May 2008

Gordon Is A Moron, But The Blame Lies Deeper.

This is what I wrote in March 2007 about the 10p tax fiasco, and it is now beginning to look quite prophetic. The Crewe & Nantwich by-election shows natural Labour supporters not just 'sitting on their hands', but actually voting Tory. The voters now hate Labour so much under Gordon Brown's leadership they are willing to risk a Tory government no matter...

what that entails (more on this later). Gordon Brown has blown Labour's chance of re-election but he still doesn't get it.

Gordon Brown has just appeared on TV and claimed to have been 'entrusted' by the British people to lead this country. Constitutionally speaking, nobody can object to him being PM (we do not have a constitution). We have an electoral system left over from the 18th century 'rotten boroughs' era and a rag-tag of 'pseudo-constitutional' laws that can be changed by parties elected to majorities in the Commons while receiving only 35% of the vote and just 22% support within the electorate.

It was the cowardice of Labour MPs that decided Gordon Brown should be PM, and it is the cowardice of Gordon Brown that is destroying Labour's chances of re-election.

The warning signs about Brown were clear; the Dunfermline & West Fife by-election loss in his neighbouring constituency where Brown personally campaigned hard, Brown's anti-democratic refusal to trust Labour party members to elect him in a leadership election, his poor communication and media skills and his infamous 'stalinist tendencies'. These were all well known but somehow Labour MPs persuaded themselves everything would be alright. And they may have got away with it, if only Brown could have shown some courage in the Autumn last year. He predictably didn't show courage and now the chance has gone.

If this is how the electorate are reacting now - while the economy is still growing - how are they going to react if and when we actually enter a recession?

Those of us on the left of the Labour party who have somehow remained in the party, have to persuade the tribal loyalists that now dominate that playing it 'safe' has destroyed the party - both in terms of membership and our chances of re-election. The more autocratic the Labour leadership became, the more MPs and members were reduced to a few spineless 'headnodders' - blindly following any path as the price to be paid for power. This has happened right across the country hollowing out parties - leaving Labour councillors more likely to be inept, 'Tory stooges', careerists or just plainly corrupt.

Whatever happens now is unlikely to halt a Labour defeat at the next general election but we still have a chance to stop this democratic decline becoming permanent. The solutions I propose are so radical, they almost certainly won't happen - but if the left in the Labour party want to ever get power again - they must implement them.

In the 11 years Labour has had in government, they have managed to achieve some admirable things but the constraints of a right-wing press and a dysfunctional electoral system have stopped Labour from being the radical government the country so desperately wanted in 1997.

The Tories moved the tax burden onto the poorest and Labour has largely left this is place. To tackle the runaway train of growing inequality that the Tories had put in place needed more than the £100bn Labour have thrown at the poorest 20%. The increase in public service expenditure has helped - providing better and more affordable public transport, reversing terminal decline in state education and the NHS and boosting all services from social care to Surestart. And so too have tax credits helped despite the bureaucratic waste associated with them and their poor take up rate.

The 'scandal for the left' headline will always be that inequality has slightly increased under Labour (from gini-coefficient 0.33 to 0.35 - for comparison, under Thatcher it moved far more significantly from 0.25 to 0.33 (pdf)). But to criticise Labour for this slight increase under their watch is disingenuous, because; firstly, it ignores how much worse inequality would have been without tax credits, the minimum wage and increased public expenditure; secondly, that the 'wealth lag' ensured that inequality would grow for decades after the Tories left office (it is always easier to tax income than the wealth accumulated in the 1980s and 90s that might have been moved overseas); and thirdly, the gap under Labour between the poorest and all but the very very rich (top 5-10%) has closed - this last point is important because all pensioners and 600,000 children have been brought above the 'poverty line' by Labour.

So my first proposal to the change the most regressive tax - widen council tax bands to properly take account of wealth - it surely is not right that somebody living in a mansion has their council tax capped to no more than 2.8 times what somebody in a studio flat would pay?

This would immediately send a signal to those working class voters deserting Labour that Labour is on their side and crucially unlike the Tory populist and not-credible soundbites on fuel duty would be pro-environment - this principle being as important as the actual redistributive measure.

Finally and most importantly Labour need to improve democracy - we need more tax adjusting powers in local government to give it more teeth and attract higher turnout and better governance, and we need majority rule - only proportional representation will give us local and national government - where 50% of votes equals 50% of seats. Without this and with our right-wing press, democracy in Britain will not stand a chance. Whether it is the Tory bigotry against science, women and gay people demonstrated by Cameron and his party this week, or hypocrisy over the environment in their support for cheaper petrol, or their support for ITV to become Daily Mail TV, the Tories will take us in the wrong direction if elected. At least under proportional representation, the Tories would need the support of 50% and maybe we can do something about the biased media ownership in this country that is persuading people to vote for a Tory party whose policies would shock them more than the Labour party they currently despise. Under PR, voters would have a left of centre choice other than Labour without ending up with a Tory government they didn't vote for.


  1. carry bag man23/5/08 4:28 pm

    It is somewhat ironic, now that the rich donors are deserting the Labour ship, that it is the Trades Unions which will have to finance Labours election campaign.

    Care to re-assess your previous criticisms of the Trade Union movement ?

  2. Hi cbm: The biggest obstacles to progress are vested interests -whether that is unwarranted professional barriers, old school tie, or... trade unions. As much as trade unions can help some marginalised workers, they can also protect some very well paid workers as well and hinder technological and organisational progress that impacts on the wider society. We need to protect all workers, not just some (although I concede protecting some is better than none).

  3. Don't panic Neil, looks like you'll have plenty of time to ponder these things after the next election.

    Firstly the main barrier to the labour government being more radical was within the labour government, it wasn't the rightwing press who gave Blair a honeymoon for years and told us all he could walk on water, and as for the dysfunctional electoral system, labour had the power to change it - they even (in what has become something of a leitmotif) pledged a referendum to settle the matter. They didn't acknowledge that the electorate had informally agreed to vote 'not tory' in 1997, with labourites backing lib dems and vice versa. Once in power, they turned to the lib dems and said 'we don't need you now'.

    The fundamental error in your thinking, I think, is that you believe labour hasn't done enough. You still think that problems can be solved by the big government taking control of everything, when many times it is only people at the local level who can make the difference - and that means the central state must relinquish its control, and labour are too damned scared to let that happen. You need to acknowledge that real democracy will mean that sometimes the people will want things that you don't like, things that you associate with Daily Mail and Sun readers.

  4. p.s.

    your celebration of high petrol prices shows how out of touch you are with working people.

  5. TT: I mentioned the lack of democracy in the Labour party that has made it stagnate, that more power is needed for local government, and that we need fair votes so our politicians actually represent the majority. I don't just blame the media, but with four right-wing owners of the press driving the agenda it has to be a malignant force on both Labour internal democracy and our electoral process - it certainly cannot be described as free or fair. The left have to acknowledge how this handicaps us and do something about it if we want to win elections. This is set to get worse with the current legislation governing the broadcast media set to be abolished by the Tories. Commercial interests will always dominate media that is reliant on advertising - giving it a right-wing bias towards tax cuts rather than the redistributive policies and funding of public services that the majority want.

    As for petrol prices - we have to acknowledge that we cannot go on relying on the car as we do. It is choking our cities, polluting our environment and making our world an unsafe, unpleasant place to walk or cycle. I don't revel in high oil prices but I recognise we have to move towards more public forms of transport and conserve fuels and energy. The price of motoring has still dropped drastically since 1970 as a percentage of disposable income and in comparison to prices on public transport - one way or another we need to make motoring less attractive. It is the poorest people that rely on public transport and live in our polluted cities.

  6. I don't revel in high oil prices but I recognise we have to move towards more public forms of transport and conserve fuels and energy. The price of motoring has still dropped drastically since 1970 as a percentage of disposable income and in comparison to prices on public transport - one way or another we need to make motoring less attractive

    This is the stick, Neil, not the carrot. Unfortunately oil prices are likely to stay high so we should be doing something about it. Making motoring 'less attractive' will not drive people to use public transport, if it is not available or doesn't go where they want to go or is too expensive to make these copmpromises worthwhile. People will simply make sacrifices in order to continue to run their cars. This isn't opinion, this is fact. What the government should be doing is offering some incentives to reduce car usage. For example: offer business tax breaks for getting a proportion of their staff working from home for part of the time. It wouldn't work for every sort of job but it would still cut car usage and congestion considerably. Start investing in public transport. You have £20 billion sitting around waiting to be squandered on ID Cards. Invest it in public transport instead and give the people something that they actually need.

  7. Stephen: I would love it if the government suddenly announced an extra £20bn, or preferably £100bn on public transport / cycle paths. I would scrap all road building and most of the defence budget to pay for it - of course it would be deeply unpopular in the press. ID cards? The jury is still out on whether they will be beneficial - I think the savings to be made from cutting down on fraud could run into £100s of billions over a decade. It is of course impossible to quantify.

  8. What's the big deal if inequality has widened? I don't expect other people to feed, clothe, house and provide me with money for cigarettes and booze.

    Many people on low incomes must think the same thing and hate the fact that so many people can have a better standard of living by staying in their council homes breeding rather than working paid for by their taxes.

    As taxes have risen under Gordon and Labour, more and more people are feeling angrier and angrier.

  9. Funny how the enviro-mentalists and the oil companies walk hand in hand on this matter. There is no underlying supply side problem with oil, the price is being driven by speculation, and dollar-dumping. It is also very high because the government taxes petrol at a very high rate through fuel duty and VAT.

    Public transport is of course necessary, but you need to understand that it cannot take the place of private vehicles. You talk about the poorest people in the cities who rely on public transport, and seem to want to force everyone down into this category. Great.

    Also, forget ye not the monumental blunder of labour not to renationalise the railways, which would have been easy in 1997 and supported by the people. Instead the taxpayers have paid into the pockets of the corporate bosses three times as much as we did under British Rail. The Third Way in action.

    And as for the press, enough already! Labour had a huge parliamentary majority, but they still had no power to do the things that they wanted to do? If you think this, then you must conclude that there is no point ever voting labour.

    As for ID cards (pause while I spit out the bile) someone said to me only yesterday how they couldn't believe it, but he was probably going to have to vote tory, just because the tories are against this policy (so they say now - but who can believe them?). If you knew how leftwing he was, you'd dispair

  10. There is no underlying supply side problem with oil, the price is being driven by speculation, and dollar-dumping

    But oil is a non-renewable resource. It will run out eventually and the price of oil will become sky-high. The ingenuity of the oil industry may enable us to keep going for another few decades. But nothing changes the fact that we are running out of oil and the sooner we face up to that the better. I don't agree with Neil that we should control the consumption of oil primarily through price. It is an utterly regressive tax that falls disproportionately on the poorest. We could be so much more imaginative in promoting the use of public transport and reducing the private car usage. But Labour cannot see these options, as it has a fundamentally puritanical outlook on the world. It sees coercion and punishment as the most effective ways of influencing behaviour. We see this psychological dysfunction operating in so many policy areas. As a formerly staunch Labour voter, it has made me completely renounce the party. I suspect I am not the only one!

  11. Trooper Thompson, in your third paragraph you vaguely touched on something which is quite interesting. Labour are ex-socialists who've fallen in love with huge corporations. They are not, and never have been, economically liberal. Nor have they ever been socially or politically liberal.

    The Third Way is the worst of everything. The bits that lazy far-leftists lump in as "capitalism" and the worst aspects of socialism. They've got rid of things like nationalisation, but they haven't become liberal.

    So they let down people like Neil Harding and their core vote, but without pleasing economic or social liberals. Read what people like The Devil's Kitchen have got to say about PFI.

    This is not a free market in operation, it's the state creating a system in which big corporations thrive and the small businessman & entrpeneur is squeezed out, because of statism. (and you can't even call it socialism because it isn't that, as any resident of a housing estate such as mine could tell you).

    If innovative small businesses had the freedom to operate, they'd soon start thriving, because humans are as enterprising as ever. In fact, the under 40s are much more enterprising than their parents and grandparents.

    Digested read, Labour don't know what the fuck they're doing and piss EVERYONE off.

  12. I might add that I've read "The Third Way" (in my student days) and it's repulsive, dishonest, have-it-all-and-pay-never shit. And you're lucky I got all the way through such a badly written screed at all.

  13. This is not a free market in operation, it's the state creating a system in which big corporations thrive and the small businessman & entrpeneur is squeezed out, because of statism. (and you can't even call it socialism because it isn't that, as any resident of a housing estate such as mine could tell you)

    Actually, Asquith, what you are describing is capitalism in its natural, free from regulation form. You need 'statism' in the form of law and state intervention to prevent monopolistic practices from developing. I'd agree with you that Labour haven't been very good at restraining those monopolies but that's scarcely an argument against state intervention. Look at the US economy from the end of the Civil War to 1900. That was pretty much a libertarian wet dream. Businesses could do, and often did, exactly what they wanted with minimal regulation. What happened? The federal government had to introduce anti-trust laws.

    The Third Way is the worst of everything

    People should be reminded that the 'Third Way' or 'International Third Poisition' is in fact a fascist coinage. How typical for Labour to adopt it!

  14. Stephen, Asquith: Harold Macmillan wrote a book called 'the middle way' and his 'one nation conservatism' was the Tories way of accommodating Labour's 1940s NHS and welfare state and the overwhelming support for it.

    Blairism or Anthony Giddens 'Third Way' is just a slightly to the left 'one nation Toryism' - which Thatcher broke away from.

    Generally, because our electoral system only gives us two choices of government and the right-wing press drive the political agenda, this has led to Labour moving to the right to win elections - those to the left of Labour have been disenfranchised.

    To mention that fascism had a similar moniker is irrelevant - as the BNP support for Boris Johnson in London and the German Conservative party coalition that brought Hitler to power shows - fascists will always be closer to the Tories in ideology, both in theory and practice!

  15. Stephen, you misunderstand me.

    I agree that there should be a regulatory framework and standards set by the state, and the state needs to protect monopolies. But it doesn't need to create labyrinthine, near-impossible to understand tax systems and pile unhelpful regulation on top of unhelpful regulation.

    Obviously I support the principles of, for example, health and safety. But its administration is hardly a triumph, is it? In fact, as is always the case with bad laws, they are not only bad in themselves but they stop good laws being enforced properly. So our health is not actually being protected, but because a load of utter shit is being done Labour can go and wank over how many "targets" they've supposedly met.

    That is statism, the state going well beyond its due role. And it's well known that Labour supporters like Lord Sainsbury and Bernie Ecclestone can easily cope with regulations, but a self-employed joiner or IT technician finds it much harder.

    Labour have a schoolgirl crush on the super-rich, and that is NOT economic liberalism.

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  17. Obviously, in the above post, I meant to say "prevent monopolies". Not a Freudian, it's just the consequence of an afternoon visit to the pub.

    By the way, a free market doesn't necessarily mean "capitalism" as defined. There could, for example, be cooperatives competing in a market economy. Remember, distribution is different to ownership.

    And I reiterate that I'm not defending Brown's system of corporate interests, I'm doing the exact opposite. It's not my fault if "libertarian" twats are abusing language and superficially saying the same things as me, even though they're actually apologists for corporate power.

  18. Stephen, the most efficient way of rationing scarce resoiurces is through the price mechanism.

    Any other method is prone to excessive bureaucracy, is inefficient and leads to the creation of a black market.

  19. Snafu,

    that's true, but not if a cartel develops. Look at the head of Energywatch's comments vis a vis the big six power suppliers running an 'oligopoly'. A legitimate function of the state is to enable markets to be free.


    by and large I agree with your comments regarding corporatism, new labour, the third way etc, but I'd make the point that the government is not as powerful as it thinks in any relationship with global corporations, any more than Blair is in charge of JPMorgan - he's just a little monkey on their organ.


    the main enemy of the free market is monopoly capitalism. The extent to which free markets will be pulled towards monopolies and cartels if left alone is debatable, as is the means necessary to prevent this. Regulation, as Asquith has pointed out, falls far harder on the small business men, and as the big players often get to sit round the table when the regulations are written, it often becomes a means to further drive a consolidation of power in the hands of the few. The state is often under the malign influence of the rich and powerful. This is never clearer than in the matter of money. The Federal Reserve represents the seizure of true power in the USA by the oligarchic bankers and business men, which is why libertarians such as Ron Paul would close it down.

    It's worth noting that 'free trade' is used as a cloak by many who actually seek to destroy it, and I'd say that rightwing libertarians often have a blindspot towards the evil of big corporations.