The current Labour leadership election has seen a wide debate as to whether the dominant ideology of the party should shift to the left to become more socialistic, stay as a largely social-democratic, or to shift to the right under Tony Blair. The Labour Party faithful are crucial as the foundation of a left-wing movement across Britain as it is through an energised party base of informed activists and voters that the 2020 General Election shall be won
I put it to you that a shift to the left is not as politically dangerous as portrayed by the right-wing media, and that by applying socialist economics with effective campaign messaging a Labour Leader on the left of the party such as Jeremy Corbyn would be able to both unite the party and the country as a whole.
Part 1: Appealing to the Base
By locking up the social-democratic core of the Labour Party a new Labour Leader would have to appeal to the most fundamental concerns of party activists, particularly the economy, the welfare state and the NHS. The approach taken on these three issues is the bread and butter that galvanise the rosette-wearing foot-soldiers to knock on doors come rain or shine; all three of these issues speak to a wider over-arching narrative of social-justice in a modern society with all policies having to link back to this fundamental concept.
On the economy Labour would have to be able to put forward a coherent plan that would increase the living standards of ordinary people.
The first practical measure to implement would be to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and subsequently pegging that to inflation, with an additional top-up for workers in London; this would increase the disposable income of low-paid workers which would in turn boost consumer spending and job creation in the retail and service sectors. In addition to this wage increase, a Labour government should reintroduce the 50p income tax rate; the reduction of the top rate in income tax in 2013 resulted in people earning £1 million per year saving £42,295 annually, which a Labour government could easily justify to the electorate as making the wealthiest in society bearing the brunt of the tax rises.
Reform to National Insurance along similar lines to income tax would also shift the taxation burden upon those who are most able to pay; increasing the upper rate for higher earners would provide increased funding for the welfare state or offset any exemptions for lower-paid workers.
The rate of VAT is often controversial due to the fact that it is regressive and impacts upon the poorest in society the most and reform of VAT is essential in linking a practical Labour Budget to the more abstract concept of social-justice. By instituting a secondary band of VAT on luxury items such as cars over a certain price, yachts, planes etc., Treasury revenues would be increased with tax avoidance or evasion impossible due to the fact that these assets would be tangible, physical objects. It would also be essential to establish a VAT reduction mechanism in order to boost demand in the event of the economy going into recession such as an immediate reduction in VAT to stimulate consumer spending. Finally exempting contraceptives and tampons would also play too much wider narrative of Labour being the party of ordinary people whilst also tackling systemic inequality, in this case sexism.
The welfare state is vehemently defended by Labour activists and politicians as it was one of the most transformative government policies in British political history, and the historical context in which it was established adds to the romanticism that surrounds it.
Although it is right that Labour defends one the greatest achievements of the Attlee Government, the party has allowed the Conservatives to co-opt the phrase ‘welfare reform’ as if it is only the Tories who can do it, with the phrase also having been redefined as removing the social safety for as many people as is politically acceptable.
The thrust of left-wing programme of Labour welfare reform has to be focussed on removing the conditions in society that create the need for welfare payments, rather than removing the existence of such payments. The Housing Benefit budget would be reduced through the introduction of rent controls, Universal Credit payments would decrease due to an increase in the minimum wage, and increased employment would reduce Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Labour must also challenge the Conservative narrative that welfare reform is measured on the success of spending reductions, reversing cuts to Legal Aid and the Bedroom Tax must also reinforce the overarching theme of reducing social inequality and bringing about a fairer society.
At any party conference praise for the NHS is a guaranteed applause winner, and polls have repeatedly shown that Labour is more trusted than the Tories in regards to the running of the NHS and resisting moves to the privatisation of services.
Creating an NHS that focusses on preventative measures rather than treatment should be essential to a Labour programme of government, an example of which comes from the healthcare system of Cuba where there is a commitment to triple diagnosis looking at physical and psychological ailments whilst also reviewing the social circumstances that that person lives in to best tailor a treatment regime.
The integration of social and medical care should be of paramount importance as well as a Labour government establishing community projects to help prevent hospital care such as subsidies for dance classes or local organic farming; an example of social care integration would be the establishment of care homes for elderly and vulnerable people run by the NHS. At the moment private companies run care homes with some regulation by the State but repeated nursing home scandals involving abuse by staff illustrate how unaccountable private companies operating nursing homes can have horrible consequences.
A 2010 report by the Centre for Mental Health estimated that mental health cost the NHS £21 billion annually with the cost to the wider economy amounting to £105.2 billion. Additional investment into psychological therapy, reforms to labour laws to allow for more generous holiday leave as well as reforms to the criminal justice system to treat people with mental health problems rather than incarcerate them would reduce the financial burden on the NHS in addition to destigmatizing mental health in wider society. This shift towards preventative medicine and mental health adds to this narrative of Labour being able to manage the NHS whilst reinforcing the idea of transforming society for everybody in the country.
The reorganisation of the NHS initiated by Andrew Lansley in 2012 made the governance of the NHS more complicated, it enabled more private sector involvement in the NHS and also gave GPs more responsibility over NHS budgets. The 2015 Labour Manifesto was correct to promise the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act, and maintaining this stance is crucial in energizing party activists, with the explanation of the Act’s impact on the NHS a way of increase support among the electorate.
The final NHS-oriented policy to fully galvanise the support of grassroots Labour activists and restore their confidence in the party of Hardie, Bevan and Attlee is to use increasing in National Insurance to pay off the debt accumulated by NHS Trusts, in part caused by the implementation of PFI contracts during the Blair years. By using this opportunity to ensure the long-term financial viability of the NHS, Labour’s credentials of NHS management would be further enhanced; public admission of the issue of debt in the NHS as particularly ‘non-sexy’ can easily be pitched to the electorate as Labour taking the necessary steps to stave of privatisation and any potential reduction of expenditure on treatment.
By focussing on these three key issues, a left-wing Labour leader would be easily unify support from the centre-left foundations of the modern Labour Party whilst giving the majority of Labour voters a clear vision for what society under a Labour government would look like. Managing the base of a political party is essential to winning elections as without activists willing to bang the drum for your policies the partisan newspaper media will destroy any hopes of a Labour government; the party faithful are the foundations in which to build a successful campaign and a widely supported post-election programme for government.