John Harris is right to say the Left are stuck in the past. They rarely set the agenda. In particular he refers to a Labour party, which feels compelled to dance to the right wing corporate media. I have sympathy with the overwhelming challenge Labour face from a distorting 24 hour media, but continually conceding ground will get the left nowhere. Rightwingers control the media and so control the future. The Right popularise policies from delinking pensions from annuities to a punitive welfare "cap", that look fair but push an individualist agenda favouring the well off. The Left need to find popular collectivist policies to reset the balance. Here's how.
1. Corporations and rich individuals donate over £30m every year to political parties. Obviously, they do this to influence policy (mainly towards a rightwing agenda). This distortion has to be addressed if we care about democracy. In future all political donations (including trade union donations) will need to go into a general political fund. This will be allocated to political parties in proportion to their percentages of the vote. In addition, a political levy will apply each year equivalent to the yearly average of the previous 5 years of political donations from each company or individual. No longer should wealth determine political influence.
2. Corporations spend hundreds of millions on political PR. This must be balanced with an equivalent political levy that is distributed to parties according to votes. The more a corporation or wealthy individual seeks to influence policy, the more they have to donate into the general fund to allow others a response.
3. Just as broadcastors provide free space for party broadcasts. So too must newspapers, websites and magazines that carry political content. A few pages would suffice to allow some redress to newspapers's slavish following of the agenda of the big corporate advertisers that fund them.
4. The rightwing are using local government to circumvent democracy. Devolving the most difficult cuts down to councils controlled by opposition parties is a disgraceful way of avoiding blame. Local councils are now little more than central government lackeys dictated to from above on everything from their spending priorities to how they raise their revenue . This has to change. Councils need the power to decide how they raise their revenue and by how much. As a first step give them complete control over council tax, to revalue, reband or even replace with a land value tax.
5. Our constitution should not be easily changed by parties with only a temporary mandate. Most governments are now elected with less than 40% of the vote, let alone 50%. Yet they have the power to completely rewrite everyone's basic rights. This has to stop. We need to construct a proper written constitution decided by a two thirds majority that protects not just local democracy but also basic democratic ideals on the media, elections and other rights. For instance, it is a disgrace our second chamber is chosen by PMs and the landed gentry.
6. Link MPs pay (and expenses) to median earnings. Populist, but also a leftist point. There should be no need to pay MPs more than twice average earnings. Public sector pay generally should be limited to a 4:1 ratio from top to bottom (with a generous floor above the living wage) to set a good example for the private sector.
7. Link tax to inequality. There is growing evidence that inequality damages the economy as well as society. Ever greater rewards for those at the top has not increased the economic pie. Indeed the debt crisis can be linked to "fast buck" economics that is now an entrenched vested interest defending the unproductive financial industry & "rip off" economy. Corporation tax should be proportional to a company's pay inequality. Of course the global movement of capital to avoid tax will be a problem but can we afford to keep giving in to this threat? We could even link the welfare budget to the level of inequality.
8. We cannot continue to ignore environmental and social damage just to get short term economic gain. We need to build support for policies to address pollution and obesity. We need to control vehicle use. We need to build housing for good health and efficiency. Only when there is wide public support can we implement "sin taxes" on sugar or plastic packaging etc. As a first step, we could follow Finland's example of a 70's style deposit on packaging and bottles to encourage their return to the shop. Only by putting the environmental costs on retailers/producers will we discourage over use of packaging (and reduce costs of litter, recycling and refuse collection). A tax on land would discourage free carparks. We could give companies significant tax breaks for the number of their employees who travel to work by means other than the car. Households that go car free could get council tax rebates or even free bus passes.
9. We need to build some more homes. But there is no point building surburban sprawl or building for property "investors" or worse, yet more second (or even third or more) homes. We need to address housing inequality. Real garden cities would be high speed rail connected, compact and car free with comprehensive metro systems and high density quality housing, yet with walkable large green spaces. A land tax would cap housing costs and speculative profiteering.
10. Finally we need competition between political ideas. A stale party system where constituency boundaries and voter registration rules are fought over for party advantage is no good. A bias towards the bigger two parties perpetuates the status quo and stifles competition of political ideas. Labour needs to embrace more proportional elections, but also more radical ideas on direct democracy. Each street could have an elected rep, with a small budget they could pool with other streets if they desired. Some councillors could be randomly selected in the same way as juries, to widen representation. Elections could be held yearly. Above all, the Left should not fear more democracy. The masses are their biggest ally.