29 December 2011

The Campaign For Real Democracy

At this time of year a lot of people assess where they want to be in a year's time. I think politically for those of us on the left of politics, what happens in the next year is absolutely crucial to what direction politics takes for a very long time.

The right have dominated for a very long time now, even when we had a Labour government and even though we currently have a Democratic President. This year more than ever we can see how our right wing press is run like a protection racket, blackmailing and bribing our politicians. The day the press all turned on Clegg during the election was the funniest example of Tory bias. Will the people continue to tolerate a 'free press' owned almost entirely by 4 billionaires and headlines that reflect their tax averse priorities. In fact we must remember that even that is incorrect, because these wealthy people living abroad have no problem with high taxes on the lowest earners, as long as they at the top are left alone. So we head inexorably towards a US style tax system where the US median earner pays more than the average Brit yet gets no decent health service or state education system, let alone welfare. Rich people like money spent on defence and law and order, but hate pretty much everything else. They figure they are paying for other people's services - 60% of people get more back than they pay in. But what price a decent safety net even for those doing well?

So, the questions seem to be; how do we get the rich to pay their taxes and how do we reduce inequality? I think the answer for the left, is not just to represent the 99%, but to persuade the 1% that paying taxes is also in their interests. Even if the Occupy movement achieve nothing else, at least they have put inequality back on the agenda.

The big problems as I see it are; an overcomplicated tax and benefit system that annoys all and fails to achieve even the most basic aims of society. There is also talk of 'a culture of greed' both at the top and bottom of society, a media that feeds this selfish attitude and is corrupting and corrupted by the powerful elites in our political and judicial system. Inequality seems only to perpetuate itself unless something dramatic alters course.

So to the Labour party and Ed Miliband. First of all, Ed has to learn some hard lessons from the failure of new Labour to control the media and tame the very rich. Ed has to be prepared to go against what his focus groups tell him. He has to start taking real risks, he has to lead public opinion not just follow it. Because one thing is sure, opinions do change and you need to anticipate this before the media do. Yes, all Labour leaders have a lot harder job than any Tory, because the media will never be their friends and the concentration of media ownership especially with so much local media now in fewer Tory supporting hands is something that Labour have to tackle. That will not win them any friends and somehow it has to be done without Labour facing accusations of censorship or political interference. Here are my suggestions for what it is worth.

1. Vocally support the coalition where their policies lean to the left; so support Ken Clarke in reducing prison numbers, lowering sentencing and even fewer police numbers. Support the abolition of legal aid. Anything that is truly liberal. Not only will this guarantee attention from the media (obviously negative, but you never get positive attention anyway in the long run), it will strengthen the leftist rebels in the government and help schism. It will also show the public in no uncertain means that you will go against public opinion and demonstrate you as a strong liberal. Obviously this is a risk.

2. Defend Gordon Brown where you need to. Explain constantly that you reject in strong terms any indication that the deficit is "labour's fault". State that before the crisis hit Brown borrowed less every year than John Major did and also the obvious fact that the banking crisis has led every country to take on bankers debts and that that is the real reason for the crisis and not spending on essential public services. We still spend less than most of Europe on health and education etc.

3. Back the strikes and back the occupy movement and do it with real conviction. Explain however that you are for the 100% not the 99%. Even the wealthy 1% can benefit from the social cohesion and economic efficiency that reducing inequality will bring. Explain in detail how you are going to radically alter the tax system, how you will tax the 'bad' and exempt the 'good'. So expect tax cuts for R&D, wealth creating income and profit. Taxes that the big guys/companies no longer seem to have to pay anyway. Taxes will focus on 'unearned' speculative income and land values and taxes that cannot be avoided. Also tax will have to become more redistributive, so regressive taxes like VAT and council tax will have to be reduced if not abolished. A 2% land value tax and 0.05% financial transaction tax will raise enough revenue to fund a small citizen's income for all equivalent to dole. This would remove one benefit trap as dole is paid regardless of unemployment. Miliband should also reinforce the view that ALL means testing is bad, much cheaper to have universal benefits that avoid the stigma of testing all. The Tories and Lib Dems will come for bus passes and winter payments first but then what next; the NHS? If they want to make the rich pay more then up their taxes - much easier and more efficient and without putting any stigma or hassle on the poorest.

Anyway, happy xmas and new year to you all. Here's hoping some of this becomes true in 2012, but I'm not holding my breath.

PS. Also just to mention once again that the all 17 countries will remain in the Euro. Reading the media you would think the Euro breaking up is a certainty, but as I have explained before, devaluation is only a short term help and setting interest rates is over-rated as you still have to follow the big countries rates anyway.

PPS. What this government is doing to our electoral system is disgraceful. Not only did we reformers lose the referendum on AV, but the Tories are making the present system more undemocratic by removing 10 million from the registered rolls by making it harder for them to register and removing the legal requirement. So the 2015 boundaries will be bigger, more remote from voters and ignore 3.5m unregistered adults of voting age. In 2020 this will rise to 10m unregistered voters rights removed by enlarging their constituency. The job of MPs in poorer areas with these massive number of adults without a say will be even harder. Won't affect any Tory MPs though as the poor never vote for them anyway.

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