Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


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The Left Should Unite and Strike Now

“Anyone in this party who’s in any doubt who we should be fighting, what we should be debating, where our energies should be focused – I tell you: our battle is with Labour. This is a bunch of self-satisfied Labour socialists who think they can spend your money better than you can, make decisions better than you can and tell you what to do, and we should never, ever let that lot near government again.”

David Cameron, Conservative Spring Conference, 16th March 2013.

This passage from David Cameron reveals the hole in which he and his party find themselves.

The Conservatives surely never thought it could get as bad as this. Several things have come together.

Firstly, their key aim of this Parliament was the elimination of the deficit, an aim now stretched out way into the the distance. The austerity medicine delivered has killed patient. 2013, instead of seeing strong economic growth as predicted on 2010, is a zero growth struggling mess.The Government is actually more more money, not less, to plug that gap left by anemic economic activity.

Secondly, David Cameron policies have been a story of flip-flop, cock-up and disaster. The Coalition agreement always a back-of-the-fag-packet look about, and this has been borne out in practice Some policies such as NHS and education reform have been carried our despite deep unpopularity and the obvious fact they will not work. Other policies have been ditched for no reason other trying to popular after the event, such as the minimum price of alcohol.

Thirdly, they expected Ed Miliband to be a disaster. To their shock, Ed has not only not been a disaster, he is doing well. The Labour Party has not fallen apart, but has actually been a successful tactical opposition at least. This week’s PMQ’s, with Ed’s joke about organising things in a brewery, demonstrated the it is David Cameron, not Ed Miliband who appears on the back foot and struggling.

Not only does the Prime Minister have a united opposition to trouble him. The Conservative Party is split and ill-disciplined about issues such as gay marriage and Europe. Many Tory MPs see the Prime Minister’s stance as not Conservative enough, blaming the Liberal Democrats for unduly influencing the Coalition. This has created an opportunity that UKIP has taken with both hands. Eastleigh’s by election humiliation, where UKIP forced the Conservatives into third, was a stinging blow.

The polls also show no comfort either. A recent large poll by Lord Ashcroft showed how successful Labour could be in 2015 and how poor Conservative supporters thought their chances were. Polls have been showing a strong Labour lead of about 10 points for many months.

All these factors led David Cameron to his speech. He knows he is looking down the barrel of defeat if he gets to 2015 as leader. He also knows that he is polling the sort of numbers that Maggie Thatcher was when removed as leader. In addition, he knows that polling at the low 30’s is the irreducible core vote that they got at their biggest kicking in the modern era – 1997.

So should Labour prepare for Government?

Labour is in a strong position, yet quite frankly have done very little. To just allow the Government enough rope to hang himself is not enough. It is complacent and will not allow Ed to lead what would be needed in 2015 – a national renewal on the scale of 1945,

The real fear for Labour has always been stigmatised with being associated tax and spending. Virtually all we have heard from the Government since 2010 is blaming Labour for spending too much. Labour has meekly defended itself at best, and so it has stuck firmly despite being fundamentally wrong.

In addition, the signs are that Labour are drifting to the next election with caution, and a probability to match the Conservatives spending plans as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did in 1997.

This would be very bad, as the clear aim of Cameron’s Government has been to privatise health and education, destroy the public sector and dismantle the welfare state. Another five years of following this Governments spending plans would make these changes permanent. What is required is a clear and loud rejection of austerity, and a laying to rest the economic myths that have now sadly become unquestioned. Anyone who thinks that these myths are true, don’t listen to amateur left bloggers, read the works of Paul Krugman (Nobel prize winning economist) and others.

Given the weakness of the Conservatives, now is the time to strike and strike hard. Labour now has only a few years to set out an alternative economic agenda. It will take time to blow away the myths, and this conversation may not be easy.

Labour needs to articulate their plans for health and education, and on how key services can be better by not auctioning them off to highest bidder. We need to accept that the treatment of the poor, frail and elderly in the UK is a disgusting abuse that shames us all. Vulnerable people need the dignity and care they deserve in a civilised society.

The need for not just growth, but the right growth should be made. We don’t need everyone to buy a new TV or pile money again into a housing bubble, we need to grow by building low carbon energy technologies that supply us for decades cleanly and safely. We need to build in infrastructure – better, cleaner transport and high-speed broadband – that can be the backbone of future businesses. We need to ensure we build enough high quality housing to ensure that everyone can live in a modern, energy efficient home that ordinary people can afford.

The values of our society need to be challenged. As a nation we simply cannot accept the inequality hard-wired into our economic system. Work should earn a living wage, and excessive salaries by the elite should be both limited and action taken to ensure they are not squirreled away in off-shore tax havens.

These are the bold messages that Labour should be shouting from the roof tops now, and every minute up the next election. Labour are well placed to lead a coalition of the left, and with the agenda set out here would surely drive Cameron and company out of Downing Street and deliver a society we could all be proud of.

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The Lessons for Labour

We are approaching half time in this Parliamentary term.

Team Cameron are looking worried. Labour, having appointed a new young Leader, are 2 – 0 up at half time. Ed Miliband had a slow start, but has grown in confidence. David Cameron found hostile economic winds blowing in his face from the Euro crisis, and own goals by his key player, his Chancellor , have left his side up against it.

While 2015 is not in the bag for Labour, they are in a good position, with a 10 % lead solidifying in the polls. The Conservatives need about a 10% swing from Labour to have the chance of winning an outright majority. Given the sluggish economy, real cuts to people’s living standards and the inevitable tension between the Coalition partners as they begin to fight for a distinct pre-election identity, this looks an uphill task.

The first challenge is how to get the economy working again. Any fair-minded person must accept the global economy as a whole, especially the Euro-zone crisis, is an ill wind beyond the control of the UK Government. The Euro-zone crisis looks to be nowhere near a conclusion. The reality is that any Government in power now has a poor hand to play with. While Labour might claim they would not have made the same mistakes as this Government, we will never know. It is likely they would have had great difficulties too. While the global economy struggles, so will the UK economy.

Secondly, the Coalition always looked an unlikely partnership. In many areas of policy – Europe, education, health and taxation to name a few – the heart of the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats beat to a different rhythm. The Coalition Agreement was not a well thought out document. It was a quickly cobbled together set of policies to straddle the major differences between the parties. It has been clear that the poor implementation of the policies, the U-turns and the major revisions to key legislation are all symptomatic to the back-of-the-fag-packet agreement.

This has led to Liberal Democrat MPs voting through policies based on an ideology most of them have spent a lifetime in politics fighting. Conservative MPs also feel fatally compromised on totemic issue like Europe. Both Coalition parties have lost traditional support because of this. They will need to break free and set out their own stalls before the next General Election to try to get that support back. When this occurs the Coalition will become paralysed and totally dysfunctional. David Cameron’s MPs demonstrated over the reform of the House of Lords that they are willing to to break rank. Rebellion is running wild.

Given this then, what can Ed Miliband learn? How can he make Labour’s lead more than a protest vote that will drain away?

The key is the economy. Mistakes have been made by the Coalition, but saying in essence that we wouldn’t start from here is inadequate. Recent polling evidence from YouGov demonstrates that when asked, less that 20% of respondents think George Osborne is doing a good job, and over 50% think he is doing a bad job. Yet despite this, there is very little improvement in Labour’s economic credibility. The public basically don’t trust the Coalition or Labour to make it better.

Labour really needs a good idea of how it would make a difference and engage the public directly. Do they want to cut the deficit? If so, how quickly or slowly? Which taxes would they raise? Which areas of spending would they cut? If further investment in infrastructure was to occur, which projects would they be, how much would it cost and where would the money come from? Until these answers are forthcoming, then their economic competency ratings will not improve.

Another area is it’s response to the NHS reforms made by the Coalition and other policy areas. Rather than policies pulled out the hat eight weeks before the next election, it really needs well thought out policies prepared and a strategy to deliver them. These policies need to live, and updated as time elapses, so that whenever the election is called, they are ‘shovel ready’. The public need to really start to understand what a Labour Government in 2015 might do if the lead they enjoy is to really stick.

The next election could easily result in another Coalition. It was reported in June this year that Senior Liberal Democrats were meeting Senior Labour figures. Labour needs to ensure that it keeps it’s options open, despite an obvious severe and understandable dislike of the Coalition at present. The Liberal Democrats post 2015 will be different, and would be likely partners should Ed not secure a majority. Areas of common ground between Labour and the Liberals Democrats would considerable.

Ed can sit his team down at half time and be satisfied. However, the real work in providing an alternative Government in 2015 has barely begun.


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Time to consider Brick Bonds

A joint report by the National Housing Federation, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing has been published, accusing the Government of failing to tackle the housing crisis.

Kay Boycott, director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said:

Every day Shelter sees families up and down the country whose lives are being torn apart by the shortage of affordable homes.

This government has had two years to start delivering on housing, yet this report paints a pretty bleak picture of its current record on housing in all its forms.  We must now see progress made on the commitments outlined in November’s Housing Strategy and bolder action taken to make sure families across the country can find a decent place to call home.

In Local Authorities across the country there is a battle to build the houses required to meet the needs of those who need secure, affordable housing. The lack of finance and the pressure to protect Green Belt land makes it even more complicated.

In November 2011 Homes from Empty Homes reported that 720,000 homes were empty in the UK, 279,000 for over six months. In addition, many urban areas have unused business properties that could be converted, both providing affordable homes and improving what are often eye-sores in poor condition. Another benefit is the way that no more Green Belt need be built on.

As well as providing homes, this would create new jobs, require more apprenticeships and cut the benefits bill. Creating hundreds of thousands of jobs would really boost the UK economy. Dr Eoin Clarke has researched this issue here.

Clearly funding this via Government in the foreseeable future is a tough ask. However, there is an alternative source that could be created without costing the Government a penny – Brick Bonds.

Currently, savers face record low interest rates and are desperate to find a decent return.. Businesses are sitting on huge cash piles. In the third quarter of 2011, according to Deloitte, UK businesses were sat on a cash pile worth a staggering £ 731.4 billion. There is money out there, it’s just not being spent.

I propose the creation of Brick Bonds. These would be an investment that would allow Councils, Housing Associations and Co-Operatives to borrow money to bring these homes back into good use.

Building affordable homes to both buy and rent securely would not be without at least a modest return. This would make the buyer of the bond enough interest to justify it being a good deal for the purchaser, when stable good returns are hard to find elsewhere.

The Government could assist in making Brick Bonds work. A framework of regulation would make them safe. Some concessions, such as making them partially tax-free, could boost their popularity and help ordinary savers.

Planning laws could eased to enable the easy change of use of former business property to residential property.

A new legal framework could be enacted to allow the compulsory purchase of unused and empty property by Councils and Housing Associations, before they become too derelict.

A new stream of affordable homes would also have the knock on effect of giving those living the poorest slum accommodation in the private sector a way out. Putting slum landlords out of business would be doing society a huge favour.

You never know, this idea might just catch on…


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Moving From the Fringe

The Green Party is firmly established as a minor party in the United Kingdom. Currently it has 1 MP, 2 MEPs, 2 London Assembly Members and 147 Councillors [1]. The question it must face is how does it become a party of the mainstream?

Both the Conservative Party and Labour Party are in an ideological cul-de-sac. Since the financial crisis in 2008, neither has come up with a coherent alternative that can mend our broken economic system. Neither has come close to recognising the scale of carbon emission reductions required to ensure that CO2 levels do not rise above 450 ppm units, essential to capping global warming and preventing a global environmental catastrophe. Neither has a plan that that solve both national and international inequality.

The 2010 Green Party Manifesto [2] was a broad policy platform that provided a real alternative. It demonstrated that it had good policies for jobs, the economy and all the areas of concern to the citizens of the United Kingdom. It demonstrated a party that had moved beyond being just an environmental party, an image the probably still exists in the minds of many voters.

So how can the Green Party move onto the main stage of UK politics?

A new media strategy

The established media focuses heavily on the big parties. There is no national news channel or newspaper willing to give the party any sort of decent coverage.

However, the recent past has seen a growth in social media platforms, and this offers opportunities. Many of the people who would be attracted to the Green Party are young people, to whom Facebook, Twitter and others are a way of life. The Green Party should actively promote themselves in a viral-fashion, and this would get the message to huge numbers of people who probably do not watch many news programmes or read newspapers. This type of promotion is very cheap too.

Publicise itself on all issues

The party has a solid policy base in many areas, so when unemployment figures are announced the party should aggressively deploy it’s messages about how it would do things better that the Government. This would drive home to people that Green’s don’t just care about CO2 emissions, they care about their gas bill, their job and their child’s education.

Work the local community

The base for any party is its activists. Local newspapers and simple, cost-effective leaflets should be used to engage with local communities. If near to an estate is a waste ground that is used for fly-tipping, let the local Greens raise the issue, start petitions and communicate locally about getting it sorted out. This demonstrates to people that Greens don’t just worry about the rain forests, they want the local neighbourhood putting right.

This approach is an excellent base to win Council seats, which is a spring board to winning Parliamentary seats in the future.

Form alliances

The truth is that under FPTP the chance of getting Green MPs is virtually nil. In 2015, with just 600 seats to fight for, Labour will be desperate to hoover up the non-Conservative vote. No doubt people will be told a vote for the Greens is a vote that lets the Tories in. It is critical that Green voters do not allow themselves to be bullied into this. It should be made crystal clear – for Greens to support Labour (the best option at removing the Conservatives) Labour must commit to introducing proportionate representation. No commitment to PR, then no support.

PR would open the way for a better democracy, and if voting Labour in one election to get it is the price, it is worth it.

Overall, these steps would put the Green Party on the road to having a much bigger impact in the future. Of course, after years of fighting a guerrilla war from the fringe, the act of moving into the mainstream would be considerably out of the comfort zone of many people. However, if Greens want to turn their dreams and ideals into the policies of those power , these crucial steps must be taken.

Sources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Party_of_England_and_Wales

[2] http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies/policies_2010/2010manifesto_contents.html


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The Old Ideologies Have Withered

Where does politics lie in 2012?

In this article I will argue that both Labour and the Conservatives both have a crisis of ideology. I also believe Labour in particular must look for a new framework to guide them, and that the answer to what shape a new Labour-led Government would take does not lie in the past.

Following World War 2, the post war consensus dominated all Governments until the 1970’s. This consensus was based on:

  • The nationalisation of key UK industries
  • A welfare state based on the Beveridge report
  • Keynesian economics

The 1970’s saw the UK economy come under pressure from the 1973 oil crisis, inflation and industrial action. The post war consensus was failing.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party to victory. She was a protégée of Keith Joseph, with whom she created the Centre Policy Studies. The CPS promoted free-market economic and monetarism, and was influenced by the works of the Economist Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

The next 18 years saw the destruction of the post war consensus. By the time Tony Blair led Labour to victory in 1997, Labour had accepted much of this free-market model and moved to the centre of politics.

I firmly believe that the post war consensus had already failed by the time Mrs Thatcher had entered Downing Street. It was born of a nation rebuilding from the ashes of war. The UK had a different, tighter class system. The world and UK economy were a totally different shape, and less global in nature.

The new neo-liberal economy also failed, falling off the edge of a cliff during the banking crisis of 2008. Economic inequality been growing for years, but when the banks exploded the world financial system ground to a halt. The system that said that the market will always deliver what people need and is efficient simply overheated and blew up. The effect is still being felt, with years of austerity looming.

What is apparent is that as Labour looks for a new policy framework, trying recreate the past, a new 1945, is totally futile. The world of 2012 is unrecognisable from that of 1945. The world is a large, fast moving economy. Technology has made the world a small place, allowing diverse global relations to be maintained at the speed on an email. Recreating 1945 now is as impossible as recreating Victorian Britain in 1945.

New Labour’s triangulation of neo-liberalism and the post war consensus was trying pick the ‘best’ parts of two failed systems, joining them together and hoping they would work together. The result was a neo-liberal financial system, with some papering over the inequality cracks with policies such as the national minimum wage and tax credits.

A car made of the best parts of two wrecks is a ‘cut and shut’. Thus, New Labour failed – it’s ‘cut and shut’ ideology couldn’t prevent the inequality and shifting of power and wealth to a small elite that neo-liberalism always delivers.

So where does a new left go from here?

Firstly, serious reform of the financial system is needed, and on a global scale. Capital controls are required to stop global capitalists moving huge sums at the touch of a button that results in huge instability.

Secondly, the ever increasing movement of powers from the nation state to the EU, WTO and so on must be reversed. Power needs returning to the individual countries and the democratic rights of citizens enhanced.

Thirdly, consumerism must be replaced by sustainability. The world’s supply of oil and the other resources is being consumed at an unsustainable rate. Within a few decade they could run out. Global warming threatens the whole planet. We need to stop measuring growth simply in terms of the size of our latest LCD television and the model of car we own.

Fourthly, inequality must be reversed. Globally:

  • 1% of the world’s population owns 40% of global assets
  • 2% of the worlds’s population owns 51% of global assets
  • The poorest 50% own less than 1% of global assets

Nationally, inequality has also grown. Wealth needs to be shared more equally within nations and within the whole global community.

This is a difficult shopping list to deliver. It requires tenacity and standing firmly to principles in the face of vested interests. However, this is the only way. A policy of being Tory light is simply the path to electoral and moral oblivion.