As a consequence of the 1997 General Election it has become conventional wisdom in the Labour Party that the only way to win elections is to lurch toward the Tories, thus capturing the support of floating voters that would have voted Conservative if the Labour Party hadn’t shifted to the Right. Although the logic sounds reasonable a key reason that there is such disillusionment with the political system is due to the accurate perception that Labour and the Tories are too ideologically similar.
Part 3: Appealing to Blairites, floating voters and potential Tories
In order to combat this resentment Labour should adopt a more left-wing outlook, however there are a significant number of MPs and members of the electorate who agree that Labour must also adopt centrist policies. Building a big-tent party of the Left is the route back into Downing Street so attracting enough floating voters in enough marginal seats throughout the country is a necessity. The aim of a confidently left-wing Labour Party is to illustrate how more orthodox socialist policies can also benefit people who may flirt with voting for the Tories.
A reason that people have voted Conservative in the past is that Labour under Tony Blair wanted to create a more presidential system of government such as that of the United States of America.
In conjunction with Blair’s efforts the right-wing media is often filled with stories of the ‘nanny-state’ and ‘health and safety gone mad’, enabling the Conservatives to position themselves as a party of ‘localism’, an abstract euphemism for decentralisation. Labour must shake off this view of the party as seeking the centralisation of power in London for two reasons: firstly because it is impossible to run a country as ethnically diverse, highly-populated and geographically varied from the carpeted corridors of Westminster, and secondly because it would make more electoral sense as it would enable Labour to challenge the nationalist narratives in Scotland and Wales because Westminster would no longer rule like an imperial power over a client state.
If I were to put my own support for the dissolution of the UK aside, if Labour wants to falsely claim to be a unionist party on the grounds of solidarity it is also strategically intelligent to provide the highest levels of devolution to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in equal measure. Giving full fiscal autonomy to Scotland without a promise of significant devolution of powers to Wales and Northern Ireland risks Labour stoking left-wing nationalism in the next few decades.
As well as a more federalised state, Labour must also challenge the Tories on their cuts to local government which has decimated staffing levels and reduced the quality of services; by decreasing peoples’ trust in local government the electorate will be less inclined to vote in council elections thus exacerbating the existing democratic decay. After reversing these cuts Labour must suggest significant reforms to local government such as full transparency of council activities and restoring local authority control over schools; bringing accountability, competence and greater responsibility to local authorities will establish Labour as a party favouring the weakening of Westminster, and in turn dulling Tory ministers’ authoritarian tendencies.
One of the most popular voting blocs that Conservatives rely upon is what is candidly called ‘the grey vote’ because pensioners are more likely to vote.
The Conservatives often tout their commitment to ‘the greatest generation’ by protecting and increasing the state pension because these people have paid into the system and they’ve ‘helped make the country what it is today’ or some equally predictable phrase.
My point is not challenging the reasoning they put forward, because it would be a commendable line of argument if it wasn’t also a huge political calculation. My point is that their commitment is not good enough; the living wage, which was designed to provide a wage that sustain decent standard of living, as calculated by Living Wage Foundation is £7.85 an hour outside London, and £9.15 an hour in London.
Even though most people work many more than 30 hours per week, this would mean that someone working on a living wage would be make £235.50 per week outside London, and £274.50 per week inside the capital. The current basic state pension for ‘the greatest generation’ that ‘made this country what it is today’ is £115.95 per week, less than half of an income regarded as providing a decent standard of living.
Labour has to be bold in this area. Pensioners are not stupid, they will vote for their best interests, and if their best interests are a Labour government proposing to raise the basic state pension to the income received by someone working a 30-hour work week earning the living wage, this usually reliable swathe of Tory voters may decide, on this particular occasion to lend their votes to Labour candidates.
Obviously many elderly people may still decide to vote for the Conservatives anyway, but Labour cannot just ignore the elderly in an attempt to counter the Tory dominance of that demographic by appealing to left-leaning young people that turn out to vote at much lower rates.
Due to my ideological leanings I have lumped Blairites in with potential Conservative voters and swing voters; this was not exclusively a way of angering fans of New Labour but is because both of these groups seek to court the support of small businesses from a similar political standpoint of bland neo-liberalism with varying levels of governmental regulation.
However, it must be said that Blairites do make up a significant number of MPs and councillors in the Labour Party, and pandering to them by promoting ‘pro-business policies’ is essential in building a coherent force of the Left. Labour must therefore illustrate to small businesses that state-ownership of certain industries can also be beneficial to small businesses.
Firstly Labour must focus its attention of small businesses, not just businesses as a whole, by conducting reviews into business rates and corporation tax with a view to establish simplified systems whereby a smaller business would see its rates and corporation tax lowered with the loss of government revenue recouped through higher rates and corporation tax on large companies. In 2011 the Tax Justice Network released a report that found that the UK loses £69.9 billion from tax avoidance and tax evasion, with loopholes in the tax system more easily accessible to large corporations with well-staffed legal departments.
By having such a large increase in tax revenues, a Labour government should commission a report to establish how much capital investment to repair and improve national infrastructure.
Also in regards to infrastructure, Labour must oppose the current £50 billion proposal for the HS2 rail-link because of its location; the argument put forward by the government is that by linking London with Birmingham people will see capital move out of London and up to the Midlands. I believe this argument to be false, I believe a high-speed railway will actually further concentrate wealth in London because businesses in Birmingham will have quicker access to the 8.3 million people living in London. A more logical solution to rebalance the economy would be to have HS2 starting in Liverpool and ending in Hull via Manchester, Leeds and York, making the north of England more interconnected and encouraging increased capital flows without involving London.
Supporters of the current HS2 proposal also think that there should be an HS3, again I agree with the idea but not the location. Advocates want a third rail-link to connect Manchester and Leeds, but because I’ve already done that, the principle of improving transport infrastructure away from London should be replicated in the South West with Labour suggesting a ‘Y’ shaped option linking up Truro with Bristol via Plymouth and Exeter, before having the line splitting to go to Swansea via Cardiff, and Birmingham via Gloucester.
Finally, Labour must openly state how the nationalisation of certain industries would be beneficial to small businesses. By bringing the railways and utilities back into public-ownership Labour would then be able to point out that, because these would not be profit-making entities, all profits from these industries would either be reinvested to sustain their internal infrastructures, inspiring confidence in the reliability of these services, or the profits would be used to reduce the bills paid by both businesses and individuals, enabling businesses to reinvest profits into their companies and financing improved wages or expansion.
In addition, the establishment of a state-run bank, as I have also mentioned in a previous post, would provide low-interest loans to businesses seeking to expand whilst not being exposed to the risk of investment banking thus inspiring market confidence in the bank’s fiscal security.
Implementing these policies would appeal to people that would have voted for New Labour in a heartbeat, whilst also maintaining their roots left-wing thinking and leaving the Conservatives in a decision to shift to the Left or lose the backing of small businesses.
Pitching a left-wing Labour Party as the natural home of people sceptical of state overreach, pensioners, Blairites and potential Tories is not as challenging as it sounds; by providing policies that would establish a more decentralised state, increased security for people in their advanced years and lower costs for small businesses, a Conservative Party would have to move significantly away from their current discourse or risk a bigger defeat than in 1997.
A newspaper media full of right-wing ideologues will not be kind to a Labour Party advocating policies as radical as I have previously mentioned so it will have to be up to a grassroots movement to get the word out about the rationale behind the proposals, especially those pertaining to small businesses.