Friday’s speech by Chris Leslie MP, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury, was a wholly inadequate response to the recent local and European parliament elections. Leslie stated that ‘we won't be able to undo the cuts that have been felt in recent years, and I know that this will be disappointing for many people’. TUC advisor Richard Murphy rightly points out that ‘Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country’.
Ross McKibbin, writing in the LRB, sets out Labour’s options and concludes that ‘the present government’s spending cuts should be reversed (including the more morally outrageous welfare cuts) and Labour should nerve itself to contemplate higher and more redistributive taxation’. This would undoubtedly be a vote winner for Labour. The Economist reports a recent You Gov poll which confirmed that 3 out of 4 voters support an increase in the top rate of tax.
But the case for a radical Labour manifesto in 2015 isn’t just a matter of economic and electoral common sense. It is also a moral and political imperative. Former UNISON President Dave Anderson MP powerfully sets out this position in a Labour List article in which he makes the case for a new economic direction to meet the needs of working people: ‘we need to give people hope again. We need to be, once again, a party of visionaries and not technocrats. The needs of the people who turned to Labour over the last century were easily as huge a challenge as that which faces us now. We can’t allow them to be left to the vagaries of the present government who are dismantling every part of the society that gave our people a voice and a place in our country. And we can’t allow those who will try to make this a simplistic debate about money to win. If we should have learnt anything from the recession in 2008 and since it is that ordinary men and women need no lessons in economics from the ever failing capitalists who really control the current world order’.
Labour’s sister parties across Europe have paid a heavy price for embracing neo liberal orthodoxy in the way Leslie outlined in Friday’s speech. Nowhere more so than in Ireland where lessons are being quickly learned with leadership election contenders calling for a break with austerity policies.
Such a position must be the bottom line for affiliated union representatives attending Labour’s national policy forum on 18-20 July when the basis of the election manifesto will be agreed.