I attended the Left Platform meeting in London yesterday that was co-ordinated by John McDonnell MP and attended by 200 or so activists on the Labour left - including several MPs, PPCs, and trade union leaders - to discuss the sort of policies we need from a Labour government. I was asked to open the session on the 'Alternative to Austerity'. Below is roughly what I said:
Balls to austerity!
There is no austerity in corporate Britain. Last month, official figures showed that UK company profits are at a record high.
I'm sure I don't have to convince anyone here of the nonsense of trickle-down economics - the idea that if you put all the money in the wrong hands it will somehow end up in the right ones - because what we have in this country is not a trickle down effect but a vacuum effect sucking money to the top.
That doesn't happen by accident. Our economy is built to enable it, to generate inequality [I explained how based on this blogpost: 'The economic architecture of inequality']
Where Labour is ... and what we can build on?
I think we have to acknowledge that Labour has moved leftwards in opposition, there is still some way to go, but we have some policy positions that we can build on:
- Build 200,000 homes a year - this policy is important, we know if we invest (and Ed Balls has dropped his silly announcement at Labour Party conference that there would be no extra capital spending) that we can create jobs, real apprenticeships and create decent skilled jobs. It needs just a single word amendment: let's insert 'council' between '200,000' and 'homes'. Our housing policy means we pay enrich landlords with housing benefit. Let's have that money enriching councils.
- Raise the minimum wage to at least £8 a year by 2020 - the minimum wage has lost value in real terms in recent years due to successive below inflation rises, so increasing the minimum wage is not good enough, so let's have the minimum wage increased to the level of the living wage, or why not £10 an hour like the Fast Food Rights campaign is demanding, and with no exceptions - no youth rates, no £2.73 apprenticeship rate.
- Restore the 50% tax rate at £150,000 - good, we should, but why not at £100,000 and let's have a 60% rate at £150,000
- Mansion Tax - we have to welcome this as it's a form of wealth tax. But let's also look at a Land Value Tax too
- Freeze energy prices / allow a public sector bid for rail franchises - this is a departure from New Labour, intervening in the oligopolistic markets. Privatisation is a licence to shovel money upwards, and it has to end: two-thirds to three-quarter majorities in opinion polls want energy, water, rail and the Royal Mail back in public ownership - even a narrow majority of Tory voters want this. This isn't left-wing extremism, this is the centre ground.
- Sanction the tax havens that are UK overseas territories like Bermuda - the last Labour government came into office and maintained sanctions in Iraq that killed half a million children. Ed Miliband is now talking about sanctioning tax havens, that's progress.
- Co-operativise private businesses - I nearly fell off my chair last night when I heard this: in the conclusion of my book I talk about giving workers the right to buy-out and the right to co-operativise their workplaces, now it's Labour Party policy!
My point is that there are things that are good and we can build on them, but we also have to be making demands that go beyond this, so here's a couple of ideas:
- We use the slogan 'cap rents, not benefits'. That's right because the morality of capping benefits and not rents says that landlords can charge what they want and make as much as they want, but we have to cap poor people in need. But let's go beyond that. There's a housing crisis, so let's have ownerships caps: a limit on the number of homes that anyone can own - say two, maybe start it higher and bring that figure down, so that landlords with property portfolios are forced to sell up and bring house prices down.
- We have to change company law. Companies cannot just be a means of sucking money from consumers and workers to people at the top through high salaries, big bonuses and ever larger dividends. We have to put a duty on companies to provide employment: so, as Jean-Luc Melenchon advocated in the 2012 presidential election in France (yes, I'm nicking his idea, but we're socialists so we share ideas), let's say that profitable companies are not allowed to made workers redundant: they can retrain and redeploy but not sack.
[It was also great to hear from Richard Murphy, Prem Sikka and Michael Roberts too at Left Platform - hopefully video should be available soon]