Aspiration Can Belong To The Left

I have prepared the article below for a Labour-linked blog. While still reeling from the shock result of the election, with Labour making very limited headway in England and all but wiped out in Scotland, I think it’s crucial that the upcoming leadership election is not defined by the ‘aspiration’ espoused by so-called ‘modernisers’.

 

People are still working out why the election outcome was so strong for the Conservatives. They managed to more or less maintain their 2010 position and capitalise on the collapse of the Lib Dems to build a wafer-thin majority. So the question must be asked: how did Labour gain so little ground over the past five years? I don’t think the Mansion Tax lost Miliband the election: once the perception of a weak leader and economic incompetence was formed, it was fatal to Labour’s election prospects.

 

In politics, if a narrative is repeated often enough and is not challenged, it rapidly comes to be treated as fact. Within the Labour movement, one such story threatens to cloud our judgment: it is said we’ll never be re-elected unless we ‘get aspiration’. The words themselves ring true, but the idea attached to them is flawed.

 

The truly popular governments of the past were propelled into power because they understood the aspirations of large sections of society. The Attlee government promised nothing less than a war on poverty and injustice. Thatcher and Blair after her saw the longing for freedom to own, speculate and just maybe make big money.

 

Aspiration means different things to different generations. And thus in the meritocratic society governments inherited in the 80s and 90s, when opportunity and wealth (to varying degrees) was in the hands of the many and not the few, it was popular to go easy on the rich and powerful. Naturally so, when kids from council estates were growing up to become millionaire investment bankers, even the poorest support generous tax breaks for millionaires!
Some have attributed Labour’s defeat to its moderately redistributionist platform. They call for a return to the early Blair orthodoxy of avoiding anything that smacks of tax-and-spend like the plague. But to do so would be to wrongly assume the electorate of 2020 wants the same as that of 1997.

 

The young people of today don’t aspire to own a large house in Islington. They’ll count themselves lucky if they can afford a part-share in a tiny flat in Peckham. Gone are the hopes of a stable, rewarding career when today millions scratch out an existence on scraps of agency work or zero hours contract. In these and countless other ways, it seems the hopes of the many have been comprehensively trashed by powerful interests. Governments of all parties have chosen not to address these issues, leading to the toxic feeling of disempowerment and betrayal that so many would-be voters feel.

 

Labour exists to represent working people, so why don’t we get back to that job? If we show voters that we’re in tune with their most simple aspirations, they’ll respond. Our offer in 2020 should be based on aspirational socialism. Let’s promise the next generation the affordable, quality homes it needs; equal access to a world-class education and confidence in having a good job and protection from a strong welfare system. Also, our children deserve the best start in life, so let’s resurrect our pledge to eliminate child poverty altogether.

 

As a country, we seem to have forgotten how to get these basics right. Solutions exist, but they will cost billions of pounds to implement. Labour will have to explain where its priorities would lie if it were elected in 2020. It would inherit a devastated public sector crying out for investment, an eroded tax base to pay for it and probably a small budget deficit to close. Labour must be frank: a just society costs money and we will expect the most privileged to help out.

 

Progressive tax rises should be intelligently designed: for example taxing unearned wealth through Capital Gains Tax or ending tax breaks for landlords is fairer than taxing wages. And above all, our emphasis must be resolutely on these taxes allowing opportunity to be shared with ordinary people. To that end, every tax increase should be linked with a spending policy to aid social mobility. That’s what aspirational socialism means: opportunity for all, ensured by everybody making a fair contribution.

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The Beast of Bolsover is not Beaten

To the shock of most of the Labour movement, the 82 year-old backbencher Dennis Skinner, was last night voted off Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), one of the most powerful institutions in the party. Skinner, a former miner and now vocal backbencher, has represented Bolsover in Parliament since 1970, and remains widely popular for someone seen as belonging to the ‘old left’ of the party. His populist, sometimes edgy interventions in parliamentary debates has earned him the fond nickname “the Beast of Bolsover”.

dennis skinner

The Beast of Bolsover

Under Labour rules, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) elects three representatives to the NEC, by means of an annual secret ballot. Skinner has held one of these seats for most years since 1978, despite his ideological differences with the majority of the PLP. That

is why his defeat is being viewed by some as an attack on the Labour left. It has even been alleged that the leadership intervened to remove him from the NEC. Neither of these claims are true.

It should be noted that Skinner has lost his NEC seat not once, but twice before. He was defeated both in 1992 and 1998. In the latter year, Tony Blair seemed genuinely dismayed at the defeat, and saw that his loyalists restored Skinner to the NEC the following year. Judging by the horror with which many Blairites have reacted to the election result this time, it looks perfectly likely that Skinner can make a third comeback, should he want to.

However, it’s curious that Miliband’s reaction should be so lukewarm. Unlike Blair 15 years ago, Miliband doesn’t seem to mind the loss of Skinner to the NEC. The Labour leadership’s only response has been to say “its a PLP issue”, as if the leadership doesn’t habitually meddle in the affairs of its backbench. I suspect that it could be partly explained by fear of Tory attacks: Ed Miliband, supposedly on the Labour left (hmm) cannot afford to cosy up the an ‘Old Labour’ figure as Blair could. The ‘Red Ed’ claptrap would be stirred up once more. Also, Skinner is no longer the asset to the leadership in placating Labour’s left wing as he once was.

Or, maybe Skinner backed the wrong Miliband. In the 2010 leadership election, he surprised many of us by endorsing right-wing ‘Mili-D’ over ‘Mili-E’. Does that annoy the victor? We don’t know.

Anyhow, many radicals in the Labour fold have reacted with intense anger to Skinner’s defeat, regardless of its cause. A few people have said that they won’t vote for Labour when it has shown its ‘true colours’. Not only will that make little difference (a few hundred more Green and TUSC votes won’t harm Labour) but it misses the point. Dennis Skinner could well be restored to the NEC in 2015, but by then he will be 83. He may fight on for ‘true Labour values’ until 2020. But nobody can continue forever: eventually (and let us hope it’s a long, long time), he will retire from Parliament. His supporters should note that, although the Beast of Bolsover has much to offer yet, they must also look to the future. Where’s the new blood?

Yes To Equality In The Labour Party

When the (largely disproved) allegations surrounding Unite and the Falkirk Labour Party candidate selection process, Blairites within and beyond Labour scented blood. Whilst the media circled Labour, they demanded another overhaul of the link between the parliamentary and trade union arms of the Labour movement. And that is exactly what Ed Miliband promised them. He would spend the next few months hammering out the details of reforms to be approved by a Special Conference in March.

I have to admit, I was unnerved about the motivation for the changes: if they were being forced through by the cappuccino-slurping PPE-ists who are fighting to retain dominance of the Labour Party, it could mean only one thing, namely the weakening of the voice of our trade union affiliates. There are some who will never be happy until the trade unions are forced out of Labour altogether. The day that happens, “Labour” would not be worthy to describe itself as the voice of the workers. Our link with the trade unions anchors the party in the needs and aspirations of working Britain, which is how it should always be. The fantastic work of unions such as Unite, the GMB, Usdaw and Unison of recent years should remind us of that

I have no objection to the introduction of “opt-in” membership of Labour for those joining trade unions rather than the “opt out” system in place for decades. I do wonder why that change should be made when it will cost the party millions, but there are benefits, as I learned recently.

The proposal that will be put to Conference in a few weeks is the abolition of the electoral college for Labour leadership elections. Instead, One Member One Vote will be implemented. Thus MPs and MEPs will lose their huge voting powers, and trade unionist affiliate members will gain voting power. Affiliate members will probably be in the majority, so they will hold the majority of votes.

(However, that leaves the question of what voting power will rest with Registered Supporters, who have 3% of the electoral college. Surely they won’t have parity with fee-paying members?)

I cannot think of a more democratic system for internal elections than OMOV. But this potential victory for party democracy should not distract us from the injustices that exist in how Labour is run. Why do members not have a say in the election of Labour council leaders? Why is it acceptable for the Labour frontbench to completely ignore the orders of Conference? How can we have a genuinely fair and open parliamentary candidate selection proccess?

It will take decades to ensure a genuinely fair distribution of power within the Labour movement, but this is a good start.

Partisanship and Our Politics

Handshake

Photo credit: Aidan Jones

Earlier this week, I wrote an article, Plaid Cymru Thinks Big, in which I expressed my support for much of the policy platform of the Welsh nationalist party. Given that I am an active Labour Party member with a growing online following (and I do not mean to be arrogant when I make that claim) it was certainly a bold move to praise a political rival quite so unreservedly. A fellow blogger, ianchisnall, whom I always trust to give an honest and thoughtful opinion on political matters, made this comment:

You have gone as far as you can without breaking ranks – you name yourself as the Political Idealist. Stick to your ideals and break ranks. The health and energy systems mean that we all need to be willing to challenge the political tribalism. Be a leader not a follower.

This has left me spending a good deal of time over the past few days pondering our relationship with political parties and the effect of such relationships on our politics. I have certainly seen how strong such tribalism can be: it was only when I was elected to the Compass Youth executive when I discovered the cost to the think tank of opening up membership to leftwingers outside the Labour Party. Half of the Left hates us. The idea of sharing ideas- the foremost role of a think tank- with those who have followed a different political path from our own, even when they have similar Socialist values, is so repugnant to many that they resigned from Compass. I have the greatest respect for many of these people, but I cannot comprehend their logic in this instance.

Almost any member of a political party will tell you that they feel a strong emotional bond with it, They ought to after all. There’s something almost magical about being part of an organisation of thousands of like-minded people all working to improve society in line with a common vision. In Labour, we have a rich history built on trade unions, party tradition and the eternal battle between idealism and realpolitik- a battle that rages internally in many of us. I am not alone in being washed up in emotion when the party anthem, The Red Flag, is sung to close Conference, or always feeling a little surge of delight when I see a ‘Vote Labour’ poster proudly displayed in someone’s  window. A political party doesn’t feel like a soulless organisation: it is a peculiar sort of family.

But it is important to remember that one’s loyalty to a political party should never cloud one’s judgement, and should always be secondary to one’s ideology. Of course, your ideology should broadly chime with your party’s,  but you should never be afraid to criticise your party where your views differ. Indeed, I think there’s an important distinction to be made between loyalty to party and loyalty to leadership. For example, I think that Tony Blair was unashamedly disloyal to our Party, cannibalising it into little more than a vehicle to elect a choice band of bland career politicians. Members and constituent trade unions were fine to do the groundwork campaigning and write the cheques respectively, but we were damned if we wanted a meaningful say in our party’s policies. Gordon Brown wasn’t much help either, and spoke of his ambition to do away with members altogether. Well, thanks a bunch(!)

What I mean is, if Ed Miliband were to declare today that his new policy is to disband the National Health Service, members’ loyalty to the values of their party should usurp that to Miliband: they should remove any leader who advocates such a policy. Mercifully, such a scenario is hugely unlikely, but it illustrates my point.

Similarly, I will continue to offer my honest and independent opinion on my party’s actions until we members have proper control over them. As long as I volunteer several hours a week to attempt to win over members of the public to my party, I think I have the right to say where I am being let down. For instance, Labour’s (now broken) silence on the Bedroom Tax was a severe handicap when I was expected to explain to a council tenant sliding into rent arrears that I couldn’t promise Labour’s help. I would never have tried to defend that: I didn’t vote to retain the Bedroom Tax. So yes, I think the tendency of many party supporters to blindly accept the ‘party line’ is counter productive and unnecessary.

We do need to foster a political atmosphere in which co-operation with other parties is more widely accepted. Our electoral system is designed to create a two-sided pendulum (in which there are hidden broad coalitions that we call the Labour and Conservative, or Republican and Democratic, Parties) whereas on the Continent these party divides are out in the open. It’s healthy: it’s much more transparent and it allows for more prudent co-operation. Over here, a member of the public cannot choose between a Progress or a Labour Representation Committee candidate, and are probably unaware of internal factionalism in both main parties. Maybe it would be better if they were.

Until it’s possible to say “Plaid Cymru has some good policies, I think that Labour should be prepared to co-operate with them sometimes” without getting shouted down, I’m going to keep on trying. Similarly, if David Cameron has the good idea of limiting Cabinet reshuffles, I reserve the right to say that, despite my vehement disagreement with 95% of his decisions, I back him on this one. I love my party, but that doesn’t stop me thinking for myself.

Right Said Ed

Team Miliband has been releasing policy documents like there’s no tomorrow at Labour Party Conference, which is being held in the bustling bohemian seaside resort of Brighton and Hove. The hope is that the vacuum of policy and ideology which was a few months ago threatening to implode Miliband’s leadership will be filled once and for all. Miliband said the day before Conference that Labour is “rebuilding democratic socialism”. And in fact, this seems to be true if you look to the headlines produced by Conference, though I note that the (welcome) resurrection of the word ‘comrade’ in the Labour leader’s vocabulary is much less visible compared to last year!

Though I’ve yet to watch Miliband’s speech in full, I have read and reread it and understand it was very well received by the audience. Though I must say, the “Britain can do better than this” theme, though a particularly apt one, did not endure the somewhat laboured (no pun intended) repetition that it was subjected to. However, though it is rare for a red-blooded socialist such as myself to so absolutely agree with the Labour leadership, when Miliband articulated the futility of the “Global Race” that the Conservative Party is so keen on, I was tempted to sue Miliband for plagiarism:

Britain can’t win a race for the lowest wages against countries where wages rates are pennies an hour and the more we try,the worse things will get for you. Britain can’t win a race for the fewest rights at work,against the sweat shops of the world and the more we try the worse things will get for you. And Britain can’t win a race for the lowest skilled jobs against countries where kids leave
school at the age of 11.

We desperately need a government that understands that.

The part of Miliband’s speech that attracted most media attention is a policy announcement which has caught many of us by surprise. Labour would freeze gas and electricity prices until 2017 if it wins the general election which is rapidly accelerating towards us. It will simply prohibit energy companies from raising tariffs during the 20 month period, in which it would also move to break up the “Big 6” cartel of energy firms which have inflicted double digit energy price rises on British households every year since 2009. The details are inevitably vague: Labour must anticipate and close any loopholes that may exist in the policy.

The media hates what they are calling “70s style price controls”. The energy industry within minutes was warning of power cuts, spiralling carbon emissions and the early coming of the Day of Judgment. The public, however, are seeing through the propaganda and see the situation as it is: at last, a politician who is actually on their side and prepared to smash vested interests to help them. No wonder business leaders are running scared: once the political quantum leap of the realisation that the markets aren’t always right is made, anything is possible. Look out, “one percent”! Our politicians are beginning to rediscover principle.

#Unite The Union Is Owed A Huge Apology

 

Remember the Falkirk controversy, people? If not, you can refresh your memory here. Well, the Labour Party has announced that Unite the Union and its associates are all absolutely innocent of the supposed selection vote-rigging that most observers viewed as fact (I’d like to say was one of few who were sceptical of the claims throughout). Labour’s internal inquiry has found that the main evidence was two letters sent by Labour members ‘but written by a third party’. Now that these letters have been withdrawn as evidence, only an email to the party to a rival of Unite’s preferred candidate, Karie Murphy, implicates her and Unite. And so both Karie Murphy and Stephen Deans, the former Chair of Falkirk CLP (Constituency Labour Party), have had their Labour membership reinstated, although Murphy has withdrawn from the selection process.

I said at the time that Labour’s reaction to the Falkirk affair was just as damaging to ourselves than the allegations. The anti-union tendency in the Party seemed delighted at this opportunity to dilute the link between the political and industrial arms of the labour movement yet further, and successfully whipped up anti-uinion feeling in the media and in Westminster. Len McCluskey, who had enjoyed a constructive relationship with the Miliband regime, became highly unpopular as he tried to defend his union against the “smear campaign” operated by figures in Labour. However, Miliband managed to defuse the situation with proposals for reforms to Labour affiliate membership rules.

As I said in my previous article, we are going to almost bankrupt our Party if we press ahead with these changes. And what for? The current system is working, and has in fact encouraged no wrongdoing by any trade unionists. Every trade union member is perfectly able to opt-out of Labour membership, and millions do. We can’t afford the luxury of losing the majority of our members when the Tories can still sell their policies for funding. We don’t improve our political system by making our election much less likely. Nevertheless, I think Miliband will proceed with the changes, even though there is little reason to do so.

Trades Union Congress

 

But what is more painful than the financial cost of Falkirk is the internal friction it has exposed. How could so many of us be so ready to point the finger at our comrades in Unite? Why is it that our leaders, who pay too little attention to the political wishes of trade union members, simply buckle in the face of media pressure to further distance themselves from union members, rather than defending this wonderful relationship? And above all, why do we care so little about the reputation of Unite that we’re ready to accuse it of terrible rule-breaking before checking our facts properly?

They’re all big question that Labour ought to ask itself, but I think it shall probably ignore them. Let’s see what Miliband has to say in his speech to the Trades Union Congress next week.

 

Syria

English: Emblem of the United Nations. Color i...

The UN emblem

Syria. The civil war. An issue which has become impossible to ignore as much of the world prepares to commit acts of warfare to remove the regime which is thought to have “crossed the red line” of attacking its own civilians with chemical weaponry. The ethical calculations required to decide on intervention do not lead to an indisputable answer. It would seem that the British and American public, whose governments are prepared to bypass the United Nations to intervene in Syria, clearly do not support the proposed air strikes. They’ve seen what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and aren’t supportive of our interfering in the affairs of another distant country.

At present, nobody is suggesting that Western soldiers take part in actual combat. The allied forces currently wish to fire missiles directly at military bases operated by the Assad regime. Nevertheless, the anti-war lobby are saying that the West’s proposed response to the brutal slaughter of Syrians is the bombing of Syrians by our planes. I could talk all day about the issue of “collateral damage”, but that’s not what I want to discuss today.

David Cameron agreed to recall Parliament yesterday to secure a motion supporting British attacks on the Assad government- disturbingly, the British Prime Minister has the power to take the country to war without consulting Parliament, but he/she will generally respect Parliament’s wishes if given. However, the Whips go into overdrive to see that votes work to the benefit of party leaders. In my view, the only voice MPs should be listening to when deciding how to vote in an act of war is the collective one of their constituents. Warfare should always be above party politics.

Anyway, David Cameron was forced to backtrack when Ed Miliband announced Labour’s line on Syria: they would reject any intervention that took place before the UN weapons inspectors have reported (and presented ‘compelling evidence’ that international law had been breached) and the UN itself has voted on intervention. Labour would table an amendment to the parliamentary motion saying this. Let’s wait for the facts before we attack. Such a policy, which I personally endorse, received enough support from Lib Dem and SNP MPs that it seemed possible that the Government would be defeated. The the Leader of the Opposition would utilise public and parliamentary support to overrule the Prime Minister on the highest level issue that there could possibly be.

Say what you like about Ed Miliband, but he’s good in a crisis.

The PM promptly shied away from such a parliamentary confrontation, and within hours presented a new Motion to Parliament, which offers agreement in principle to a “strong humanitarian response” but delays a final vote on military action. A couple of hours ago Labour rejected that motion too, saying that they would vote against it unless their amendment was carried in full. The next few hours are going to be suspenseful ones in British politics.

The international community simply cannot permit any power to deploy chemical or biological weapons under any circumstances. If we don’t clamp down-  sharply so- on such war crimes then we put millions at risk from their use in future conflicts. However, we need rock solid evidence that such a war crime has been permitted before we send in the warships.

I leave you with one final thought, which was put to me when discussing Syria on Twitter yesterday: why is the UK and US so outraged at chemical weaponry when between our nations we control enough nuclear warheads to incinerate half the planet?

Which Way Does Compass Point?

Read the article on the prolific LabourList website here.

For a few short years, it seemed that Compass, the peculiar hybrid think tank/pressure group, would be the coalition of Labour left-wingers that would finally gain enough traction to drag the party away from the ideological desert of the Blair/Brown era. In 2010, its membership voted for Compass to join Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, allowing the group to develop close links with the Labour Leader and his powerful close colleagues, such as Chuka Ummuna. This ensured that their policy projects, such as The High Pay Commission report, had a good chance of feeding into Party policy.

That’s why many reacted with surprise, even anger, when Compass decided to allow members of rival political movements to join it. Most of the group’s Youth Committee resigned, warning that their hard-won credibility within Labour had been instantly thrown away. The spirit of comradeship that exists between Labour members could not be maintained in a cross-partisan organisation.

Had I belonged to Compass as this debate raged in 2011, I would have probably argued for an even stronger, not weaker, link with Labour by affiliating to it as a Socialist Society. However, in 2013 I shall happily seek the votes of Labour, Green and Plaid Cymru members to the same Youth Committee that my comrades resigned from two years ago. Why?

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” So said the talented Liberal economist John Maynard Keynes. Simply put, the facts have changed. In this case, I was one of many who thought that Compass could not be both united and powerful as a cross-party group. Two years on, we are able examine the results of this fascinating political experiment.

Compass continues to produce innovative policy documents, support campaigns and participate in Labour’s internal affairs. Some of our policies continue to find their way into the speeches of Labour spokespeople (Build one affordable million homes? Our idea. Living Wage Zones? Ours too). Our membership base continues to be overwhelmingly Labour. At a time when the Party is under attack for failing to present an alternative to the Coalition, Compass offers many of the answers that the Left should be selling to the British politics.

The problem that Compass faces is that it hasn’t given itself a clear role. If it’s a think tank, it should not have members, a youth wing or a group of supporting MPs. Even as a pressure group or think tank, it has a conflict between its mentality as a group of political leaders and its structure as a grassroots alliance. For example, cross-party alliances are managed by MPs, councillors and party leaders. Labour has led coalitions with the Greens on the London Assembly and Plaid Cymru in Wales, but the grassroots of these parties have seldom even met. Members are partisan: their leaders are less so.

We in Compass cannot leave this question unanswered: before we can influence others, we have to decide who and what we are. In my view, we should be a campaigning alliance that is committed to Labour’s electoral success whilst facilitating the sharing of ideas across the Left.

Compass is establishing a campaign for rail renationalisation. It’s a worthy cause: the economy and the environment would both benefit if public transport were to be improved through investment and lower fares. But if we want to turn our aim into reality, we have to reach out to the ordinary Labour members who have been calling for it since 1994. We can’t do that if we’re urging voters to back the Green Party in 2015. If we cannot adopt a ‘Labour first’ position, we risk losing everything we’ve fought for, and every debate we participate in, until we become a small band of voices in the political wilderness. What a waste of talent and ideas that would be.

This Isn’t 1992, Mr Cameron

The Conservative Party is well aware that the next few weeks will be a rare opportunity for them to smash through Labour’s somewhat thinned poll lead (currently 7-10%) before the Opposition gets its house back in order next month.  The Conservative Party knows that time is running out for it to regain the initiative, with the General Election now barely 20 months away. The Conservative Party understands that it has an unpopular record in Government and an unappealing vision for their second term, and so will have to lean heavily on negative campaigning to win.

Not that I’m opposed negative politics outright- I’m in the Labour Party, after all- but I do think that the point of going into politics should be the realisation of a vision of a community, nation or world that is improved in a meaningful way. Politicians should aim to inspire first, and attack opponents second.  I think failure to do this is a major factor in the disillusionment of many with British politics: 1992 was won on the basis that Labour couldn’t be trusted with power; 1997 on how terrible the last Tory government was; 2001 and 2005 on the claim that the Tories are evil; and finally 2010 on the spurious claim that New Labour dragged the country into recession.  We haven’t got a problem as acute as that in the US in which it seems an election cannot be won without spending billions of dollars on highly personal attack ads, but negative politics in any form will have a corrosive effect if it dominates the national consciousness for long enough.

I am thus disappointed, but not angry, that the Conservatives will be adopting a very similar election strategy to theirs in 1992. The overriding theme of theirs is that a Labour Government would hit voters heavily in their pockets. Instead of ‘Labour’s Tax Bombshell’, they have launched this website, ‘Cost of Labour‘, which generates an astronomical figure that Labour would supposedly cost you, based ona few questions on your lifestyle, if they came to power.  I strongly recommend giving it a whirl, but don’t supply your real email address, unless you want to be showered with Tory propaganda emails! Now, I could rant about how they have intentionally misinterpreted Labour’s policies and how other figures were based on New Labour plans that will never be implemented, but I don’t have to. You know the facts already. What this website has illustrated to me is the fatal error of the Right in assuming that the economy is a zero-sum world.

In a fiscally conservative view, the economy will grow at a certain rate regardless of whether a government spends 40% of GDP (the average for western European states) or 25% of GDP (a little lower than the figure in Bush-era America). In their eyes, the public sector can only consume, rather than grow, a nation’s wealth. No value is placed on social goods or investment in people. In short, they advocate false economies. For example, failure to provide a good education to deprived children limits a country’s skills base, increases poverty and crime, and ultimately leads to higher unemployment. £1 shaved off tax bills in 2005 will could easily cost a country £10 over the following few decades, while wasting volumes of human potential in the meantime.

So if the Conservative Party claims that the cuts needed to avoid a 2% rise in Council Tax are justified, we need to make them think again.

 

Compass, the Labour Party and Me

 

I am standing for election to the Compass Youth Committee. I realise that this sentence has little meaning as far as international and less politically avid readers are concerned, but I urge you to read on and find out what I’m on about!

The UK Labour Party has always been a broad church, and as with the Left worldwide, boasted an astonishing range of sub-ideologies, organised tendencies and internal groups. A number of these have developed into full-blown membership organisations, each with a distinctive vision for Labour’s future. The most prominent of these are the Fabian Society, Progress, Compass and the Co-operative Party: all have different structures, different aims and were formed at different times. Fortunately, we have moved on from the 1980s when factionalism almost tore the party apart. Today, the majority of active and senior Labour members will have links to one of these groups, but recognise that Party loyalty comes before internal disputes (though there are still slates in internal Party elections).

In Young Labour (in which I am very active) the majority of members are part of Compass or Progress. Progress was established in the 1990s as a Blairite group, and benefitted from considerable funding from Lord Sainsbury, the millionaire who bankrolled the ‘traitors’ in the breakaway SDP beforehand. It has called for Ed Balls to promise to match George Osborne’s spending plans after 2015, endorsed David Miliband in the leadership election, and has basically said Labour should not oppose the Tories’ welfare cuts. Hmmm. I think you can guess that I don’t agree with these people very often.

By contrast, Compass was founded in the early 2000s, originally by Labour supporters opposed to the Iraq War but rapidly expanding to those concerned that New Labour was too centrist. I decided to order a couple of Compass’ policy documents and was astonished to find over 100 pages of policy that I actually agreed with, almost word for word. It is so rare for me to find so many political ideas that I can endorse wholeheartedly, and I knew I had found my ideological home. I joined at once.

I joined because I felt that, whilst Ed Miliband is coming under intense pressure to revert to bland New Labour ‘pragmatism’ on the one side or behave like a socialist with some inspiring ideas on the other, I should do what I can as a humble ordinary Labour supporter to ensure he is bold and does the latter.

Now Labour’s fragile unity has shattered, our poll lead has shrunk and our policy vacuum is beginning to hurt us. The unfortunate affair in Falkirk, it has emerged, seems to have very little do to with wrongdoing by Unite the Union. Elements in the Labour Party have tried to smear our trade union partners. Basically, this is a time in which the Labour right and the Labour left are fighting for control as they haven’t done for a generation. And as such, it is of crucial importance that the left win, as an Opposition going into the 2015 general election without opposing Tory austerity, the war on welfare, NHS privatisation and regressive tax policies will lose. The public will see that we have simply nothing to offer.

I dread to imagine what Britain would look like in 2020 after a decade of a Government more right-wing than that of Thatcher. We can’t allow it.

So why does this lead me to seek election Compass Youth Committee? Because Compass and Compass Youth need to be crystal clear about what we are trying to do. That is, in my opinion, winning over the wider Labour movement to our ideology; driving youth engagement and activism in the Left; sharing new ideas about the improvement of our society, nation and planet; and above all working constructively with all fellow Socialists. What I will be humbly suggesting to Compass Youth members is that I am well placed to support this.

Only time will tell if they agree.