Manifesto… warning: it’s a big one!

I will vote Labour at the forthcoming General Election because they are better than the Tories (by a huge margin) and there is no other credible alternative for English voters: UKIP are clearly the party of the dumb and dumber (plus assorted bigots, fruitcakes and tiresome ex-stockbrokers). But I do so safe in the knowledge that more or less nothing will change for the vast majority of people in the UK because politics is a lie.

Well, that seems a bit strong doesn’t it? And aren’t you the one that has defended UK politicians against the haters? Absolutely, but I’m not saying that politicians are liars (although Grant Shapps is, so is ID Smith and well, most of the Tory Cabinet) but that the process is based on a false premise – that your vote will make a difference. It won’t because politics in the UK is about managing a capitalist economy and the requirements of the market (exemplified by the City of London) and those that directly benefit from it (bankers, hedge fund managers, the already very wealthy and the politicians that they talk to).The needs loves, passions, cares and concerns of the general population are a doubtful second.

So if you think that you’re voting for a fair day’s work for a fair days pay, or for the NHS, think again. If either is incompatible with the already wealthy getting a wee bit richer then it won’t happen.  If you think that wars are a waste of human life, resources and materials and you think that a vote for the Green party is a good idea, think again. First they won’t have any more MP’s after the GE than they do now so it’s a wasted vote, but if they did manage a massive turnaround, they would suddenly find the massed ranks of our arms industry (and their supporters in government and the City) on their case and we’d still have Trident. Tories will always look after their own and UKIP are a joke. And it’s on you.

Look where we are now: Tory voters believe that Labour caused the financial meltdown of 2008, they believe that Austerity policies are needed to refill the governmental coffers and they are worried about their savings in Labour hands (despite this government keeping interest rates even lower than the previous incumbents!), Labour voters believe that the Tories are attacking the state (particularly the NHS), and that good jobs are hard to come by these days and that Austerity policies are correct but a wee bit to harsh at the moment. UKIP voters believe that immigrants and/or Europe are to blame for everything, possible including their ingrown toe-nail and that nasty rash on their… Well, you get the picture.

Everyone seems to believe in Austerity and a shortage of money. Voters of every stripe picture a depleted bank balance, a monumental overdraft or a credit card that’s been maxed out. When the Tories tell them we need to retrench and that things like libraries and parks are luxuries we can ill afford, voters imagine a holiday plan that they’ll have to abandon or a car repair that will have to wait until better times.

This assumes that money is a fixed amount of stuff and we’re running out of it. This is not true. Ask all the millionaires, super rich and over-paid heads of companies. Do they feel poor? What about the many enormously wealthy people buying up scads of the London skyline and various bits of our picturesque coast – are they feeling the pinch? What about University chiefs or the heads of the newly created Clinical Commisioning Groups (a group of bureaucrats that the replaced the last lot when he Tories ‘streamlined’ the NHS, although in this case ‘streamlined’ appears to mean that even more people now push paper around) – is their six figure income tricky to manage on? I think not.

Meanwhile, everybody else is increasingly underemployed, employed on zero hours contracts, and haven’t seen or heard of a pay rise in many years…huh? So is there a shortage of cash after all?

Nope, of course not, there’s a shortage of will to share enormous sums of money with the general populace and a lack of interest in measures that will ensure the welfare of the many rather than the few, but there’s plenty of money in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

The government talks about debt and it wants you to imagine that over-spent credit card or overdraft, but national economics are not like your bank account. All countries support a deficit, all of the time and they can manage to have perfectly healthy economies despite their debt. UK parties have sold you a pup when they invite you to consider the national debt as if it were an overdraft. We could keep on spending and spending for as long as tax receipts keep rolling in and banks are willing to lend. Money is invented by governments: it’s not like pie. It’s not like jam for breakfast running low. It’s not even like gold anymore. When they need to inflate a moribund economy they can just print some more of it ( see quantative easing) and hand it to the banks. Just like you can’t.

The Labour party ran a deficit, and it was on the low side (in global terms) up to 2008 when most of the banks in the western world suddenly realised that they were trading air, and doing it rather badly and fell over like so many dominoes. Plop, plop plop.

In order to keep capitalism running, most of the then governments in the west, decided to support the banks and gave them a great big subsidy – taking the money from the national economies and hoiking up their indebtedness big time. Let me be clear: Labour did not produce the 2008 crisis, the banks did. Labour could have said a big ‘screw you’ to the banks and watch them fail, but because most of them financially underpin virtually everything about modern life (mortgages, insurance, credit cards, store cards, interest free purchases, your wages and your pensions) they choose not to do so. Big mistake to my mind, but hey, I don’t have any money anyway.

So 2010 comes along, the Labour party are off somewhere getting a new leader and they take their eye off the ball, the Tories sell the public the Great Lies that are Labour screwed up and Austerity is the new black, and on the back of reluctant support from the voters and a bunch of tory-lite dumb-asses from the LibDems they have gone about wrecking the country for the rest of us. Here’s the problem though, instead of Labour saying, correctly, that banks screwed up, let’s keep them in national hands, regulate them, extract profits from them as payback and let’s look at how the City has messed up the country in general, it said, “right you are, Austerity’s the chap, but could you be a wee bit less heavy handed about it? Please. Pretty please?”

Labour have not offered the voting public anything very much except a bit of the same stuff with touchy-feely loveliness. They love the NHS, and they will get rid of some of the Tories less popular programmes, but they’ll keep on attacking public services, keeping wages lowish, keeping working conditions insecure, keeping the same fuckedupedness  in general. So I will vote Labour, but reluctantly.

If there was a party that would offer the check list of polices below I would vote for them in a heartbeat with lots of enthusiasm and love.

  1. Reform HMRC and collect taxes from the rich with the same enthusiasm they show for the poorer people.
  2. Allow councils to borrow to build new social housing – lots of it. Reform planning law so that councils can decide where this housing would best sit, not the middle class NIMBY types. Even if that means that some of our green belt land get used. Sorry.
  3. Legislate and enforce a living wage. Give some thought to a salary ceiling. Ensure that “remuneration committees” have a workforce representative and are transparent. Ensure that all salary (including bonuses, handshakes, goodbyes share offers etc etc) are published.
  4. Strengthen union rights – especially the right to strike. Support union representation in the workplace and acknowledge its political role.
  5. Renationalise transport – trains, buses, roads, with strategic national planning as a priority.*
  6. Renationalise the utilities – water, power, communications. Enforce strategic and green planning for the future.*
  7. Raise corporation tax, capital gains tax, death duties and inheritance taxes. Add 60%, 70% and 80% (possibly more) income tax bands.
  8. Add more council tax bands to retrieve money accruing to more valuable houses.
  9. Get rid of charitable status for private schools, and look to phasing them out, along with any existing grammar schools. Strengthen Local Education Authorities and place academies under their control. Get rid of “free” schools.
  10. Reverse any marketisation of the NHS. Cancel any outstanding PFI arrangements outright and ban future ones*.
  11. Add social care to the National Health service and increase National Insurance accordingly.
  12. Have a look at the social security system and check that it’s fit for purpose, reform where necessary. Cancel Universal Benefit changes. Ban the use of ‘welfare’ when referring to social security. Improve the link between work and accrued unemployment benefits – JSA is a joke.
  13. Ensure that social security benefit rates are commensurate with a decent standard of living.
  14. Pensions – companies should provide them as of law with state support. And you don’t get to trade them in for a Lamborghini.
  15. Reform tenants rights – ensure that they have the protection of long term contracts etc.
  16. Take a look at income earned from buy to let – is it taxed heavily enough?
  17. Devolution of power to the regions to be implemented – with tax and spend on infrastructure, schools and healthcare a priority.
  18. Get rid of student fees, improve apprenticeship provision.

…And so on and so on……

* no compensation to be given to private companies, if they object…shame, find another country to pauperise.

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Big P, little p

I love politics – I love the cut and thrust of argument and I enjoy reading different views of the same events (even while I thump my forehead in despair at the wooden-headedness of some of the commenters). But I can see that in the UK we are getting nowhere fast with the current system and our understanding of it: we are at the same time ridiculously tribal and consensual: there are huge tracts of thought that nobody argues about anymore, such as the need for austerity or the welfare bill. Whether you’re left or right both are considered, respectively, necessary and too high.

The press tells us that nobody is interested anymore, and the voting figures tend to be used to support that view (although the majority still turn out to the polling booth). I can understand that sentiment, but I sincerely believe that if we don’t vote, we get exactly the politics we deserve: mealy-mouthed suits doing what they’ve always done and basically screwing anyone who doesn’t have a load of money (and no prospect of gaining any). Just look at the current shower – self-serving kleptocracy to a man. But then I would say that, they’re not ‘my team’.

The more I look at the way things are, the more I think that there is a lot more to do than ‘sell’ our version of politics, instead we need to re-frame the discussion – instead of saying what we’ll do if we win, we should be asking people to tell us what they need, what they think is fair and then we should respond to that by working with them to generate policies.

If you think that this sounds a bit airy-fairy – nice idea but what about practicalities – I can assure you it will work. Why, because the Tories did it five or so years ago and it performed a bit of a miracle. They re-drew the world financial down-term as a Labour failure, distanced themselves from any involvement in it and then gave us the solution – Austerity – and the way to achieve it – Cuts – and without so much as a “we are the party of leadership” they squeaked into power and here we are now.

And what are the Labour party doing? Accepting the story of the economic failure, accepting the need for Austerity and more or less accepting that it’s the majority of the countries poorest that will pay for it. They have failed to rebut the view that it’s immigrants that are to blame, they have done nothing to dispute the stigmatisation of those on ‘benefits’ and in consequence they too look set fair to squeak a win at best (and maybe swing the biggest party in a coalition at worst). They have fallen for the Tory story just like everyone else seems to have done.

But Labour could change; their politicians do stand for something different, the MP’s themselves do not tend to come from the same private school, Oxbridge background and I’ve no doubt that they mean well. But unless they show a bit more muscle, the poor of the UK will get ever poorer, the squeezed middle will begin to suffocate and the cities outside London will look tattier, less loved and grimmer. Prospects for young people will suffer and anyone old, sick or vulnerable should make alternative arrangements.

How many times have your heard someone say that they’re not interested in politics? Yeah, a lot. That’s because Politics has become something different from real life. Politics is about white men shouting at each other about abstruse points of policy or economics across a crowded room – and your team hardly ever win anyway.

Big P Politics should always be less important than talking about schools, hospitals, work, money, parks, libraries, childcare, wars, nuclear bombs and justice – but if you put all of that together and get involved, it’s suddenly big P Politics you’re talking about. And if you think that David Cameron is a tosser or that Miliband bloke is weird – who says that you can’t do politics better than them? But you can’t win the match if you don’t put on your boots and join the ‘game’.

If you support social justice, equality (between races, sexes, creeds, classes, able and less able) if you want a healthier economy that works for the majority (and not just the presidents of banks, hedge fund managers and their lap dogs in the Tory party) and if you want the world to be looked after better, you need to tell a different story, design a different narrative, re-frame the current arguments and things can change. Today it might be just you and your mates, but tomorrow it’ll be their mates too and after that? Who know’s – it’s your political future to make.