Ordinary people need to create a climate of opinion against austerity that allows risk-averse Labour to be brave and radical
In a poll just released by Class, the new trade union thinktank, over two-thirds of people are unaware that 90% of the government's spending cuts have yet to take effect. With only 10% of the cuts in place, the poll confirms that people are already calling for alternatives to austerity.
When offered a menu of ideas associated with François Hollande as alternatives to austerity, the response is overwhelming. Ninety-five per cent supported a growth strategy to create jobs and reduce unemployment; 70% agreed with redistributing wealth from the richest; 74% supported the creation of a national investment bank to lend to businesses for growth; and 73% backed support for young people to go to college or university.
This is resulting in calls for Ed Miliband to be braver in advocating an alternative to austerity. This misunderstands the current Labour leadership and more importantly misjudges how it can be shifted.
Labour's leaders undertook their political apprenticeships at the heart of New Labour. The electorate's rejection of New Labour has enabled them to jettison some of the worst excesses of the Blair/Brown era but beyond the last trace elements of neoliberalism, they are dominated by electoral politics. No action is taken or policy advocated that may risk losing a vote.
The Labour leadership will only move and take a stand on an issue if it is risk free and perfectly safe to do so. We saw this over the issues of bankers' bonuses, corporate ethics and Murdoch.
So the strategy for those that want Miliband to be bolder in seizing the moment against austerity is for us to make the issue safe. Our aim must be to create a climate of opinion that enables Labour to shift to the higher ground just as Jean-Luc Mélanchon helped create the demand for radical change that secured Hollande the presidency.
The polls are showing that this potential exists as other evidence emerges showing that people are looking for an alternative that goes beyond current Labour rhetoric of just cutting less deep and less fast.
Recently I blogged a statement called A Radical Alternative to Austerity. It went viral on blogs and Twitter, securing large numbers of supporters. It was not meant as a definitive statement but a broad depiction of a radical alternative.
Like many others I share the view that there is no lack of wealth and resources in our country that we can draw upon to tackle this recession. The problem is that this wealth and these resources are held in the hands of too few people and are not being used productively to create the growth and jobs we need.
The introduction of a limited range of redistributive measures would release the funds we need from those most able to pay and who have profited most out of the boom years. This includes a wealth tax on the richest 10%, a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions, a land value tax, the restoration of progressive income tax and a clampdown on tax evasion and avoidance.
We can get people back to work and earning a decent living by investing the resources released in modernising our economy, its infrastructure and our public services. Instead of cutting and privatising our public services, we could invest in house building, in universal childcare, in the NHS, in creating a national caring service, in our schools and colleges, in our transport infrastructure, in alternative energy and in the extension of broadband. We could establish a national investment bank with the resources levied from the banks so that there is no shortage of funds to lend for manufacturing growth and research and development.
We can address the inequalities disfiguring our society. For those at the top this means limiting the high salaries to no more than 20 times the lowest paid in any company. It means replacing the minimum wage with a living wage and a living pension and living welfare benefits, reducing the working week to 35 hours, closing the gender pay gap, controlling rents and energy prices and restoring rights at work. For young people it means a guaranteed job, apprenticeship, training or college place for every young person with the burden of fees abolished.
By demonstrably signing up for the radical alternative, we can all make it safe for Miliband to seize the moment.
- This article first appeared on Guardian Comment is Free