07 June 2015

Labour Need Clever Populist Policies That Deliver A Left Philosophy

Labour are almost certainly going to lose the 2020 general election. The electoral geography and political realities are the worst they have been for Labour since their foundation.

The offer to the public in 2020 needs to be so huge and widely supported that tweaking policies here and there is just not going to cut the mustard.

Labour need a 1997 level of win in votes just to achieve a small majority.

These are facts, not pessimism. And if Labour do not face up to them, 2020 is already lost.

Of course, a lot could happen in 5 years to change this. The Tories although in a strong position, face some tough hurdles - the EU referendum, Scottish cessation, continued brutal public spending cuts, their promises on the NHS and the deficit, their muddle on human rights and housing.

All of this could trip them up. The economic credit bubble could once again burst. But Labour can't count on voters turning to them. Voters are turning to more radical options - SNP, Greens and even UKIP.

Labour need to think big to address their big problems.

Labour have completely lost Scotland and Southern England. If they're not careful, the rest could follow.

The two biggest problems - Labour are not trusted with public spending/ taxation AND thanks to a hopeless situation in Scotland, Labour have to win most votes in England. Something they haven't done since 2001.

The constitution is a complete mess. The Tory solutions are weak - English only committees and devolving services locally but without control of funding. This beats Labour, who are scared of saying anything much, but there is a big opportunity here for Labour.

English voters think they are getting a raw funding deal compared to Scotland. While Scots feel too much fiscal power lies in England. A big offer here could please both.

The over centralised UK has been obvious for decades, ever since Thatcher abolished a lot of local government in the 80s, the power has moved one way. Local government is capped and restricted in almost everything it does. The Tories have found local government a great way to hide central government cuts. By devolving services without the funding to pay for them. The Tories are being clever.

Labour could trump the Tories offer. I've thought long and hard about the UK's devolution problem. I used to think regional devolution was the answer. This was started in London with the GLA. The English regions would be similar in population size to Scotland. But the new Scottish tax powers has now made that problematic. You can't really have different income tax rates between Newcastle and Manchester. The Tories greater City Mayors is another fudge.

The only solution I can see satisfying the English public is an English parliament, with the same powers as the Scottish parliament.

This has huge advantages for Labour.

It would win them votes in England. And if all fiscal powers were devolved, would win them support in Scotland too, who resent Westminster deciding tax rates and spending for the whole UK.

But also the new English parliament could replace the House of Lords and use it's chamber and would have to be elected in the same way as the Scottish parliament, by PR.

PR would stop the fragmentation of England between North and South by stopping one party dominating with a minority of the vote. The UK parliament would control security and foreign affairs, with taxes and spending devolved to each country. Further devolution to councils would be decided at country level.

The other solution for Labour is to grasp the nettle of tax and spending. Offer the British people a referendum on tax and spending levels, arguing 37% support in a general election is not enough of a mandate to decide the direction of the country on this issue.

Do we want Scandanavian services and welfare or US levels of social problems. Labour should trust the people. An offer of a referendum would kill this as a negative issue for Labour, because whatever the people decide they would abide by. It would free Labour up to campaign for fairer and higher levels of tax and spend. But people would know the final decision would be theirs.

This would win support across the political spectrum and be difficult for Tories and their right wing press to campaign against. Also it would satisfy both left and right within the Labour party itself.

So, a parliament for the English and a clear referendum to decide taxation levels and the consequent public spending. This could put the Tories on the back foot and be a bold enough vision to show Labour was ready for power once again. The fairness of a PR elected English parliament would appeal to Green supporters, while the concept of an English parliament would apeal to Ukippers and Tories.

Without powerful promises such as this, the left could continue to fragment. Certainly lots of left voters will not want to support a Labour party chasing Tory and Ukip support by being mean to immigrants and the vulnerable. Without a centre-left Labour party, I see little future for Labour.

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