Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Labour Party is offering a new vision of hope for the British electorate

The Labour Party has an uphill task if it is to win the general election on 8 June but there are signs that the gap maybe closing on the Tories.

The election was allegedly called because Prime Minister Theresa May wants a stronger hand to play with the EU over Brexit. This excuse ofcourse does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. The Prime Minister has not had any problem with getting Article 50 through Parliament, receiving support from the Labour Party. What she does appear to object to is democratic accountability. First, there was the battle in the courts to give Parliament a say at all in the Brexit process. Then the Prime Minister objected to other parties and MPs within her own party trying to bring about accountability via Parliament.

Indeed, one thing that may lose the Conservative’s votes is the seeming growing demagogery of their leader. The presidential style election that the Prime Minister has so far pursued; refusing to debate with other party leaders on television, only meeting her own party devotees around the country and talking to only those she feels comfortable with in the media. The performance with husband Phillip sat alongside on the BBC's One Show couch was particularly excruciating.

The Labour Party though remains up against it. There have been the constant attacks on leader Jeremy Corbyn, often emanating from within the Parliamentary Labour Party itself. The hostility of the media, a number of whom seem to think a general election campaign, should be reported in the style of a series of the X factor has not helped.

Despite all of this the party has remained united in the face of hostility during the campaign. They should after all be in with a real chance. Despite the PM’s efforts to paint the election as all about Brexit, there is so much more at stake.  

The NHS needs more funding, not cuts. Unbelievably, schools are desperately seeking to raise money in order to continue to provide a decent education for children – amid cuts. Public services generally are being cut to the point of non-existence. Some three million children are going without food during school holidays, whilst one million people go to food banks. All this in the fifth richest country in the world Inequality continues to grow to dangerous levels. And things look set to get worse, with more austerity on the agenda and prices rising, courtesy of the falling value of the pound.

Labour does have some answers and has come up with imaginative ideas in its manifesto.  Policies include, putting £6 billion extra each year into the NHS - funded by higher taxes on the top five per cent of earners. The creation of a National Care Service to be funded with £8 billion over the next Parliament. Conditions for care workers are to be improved.

Investment in building one million new homes, including 100,000 council and housing association homes. There are also to be rent caps imposed.

More funding for education, with tuition fees scrapped and a return to maintenance grants.

There are to be 10,000 more police officers on the streets.

On labour rights, zero hours contracts are to be banned and employers stopped from only recruiting from overseas. Paternity leave is to be doubled to four weeks and paternity leave increased. There will also be four extra bank holidays marking the four patron saints of these islands.

On the elderly, the triple lock on pensions, ensuring a rise of at least 2.5% in the state pension is to be retained as are the universal benefits of free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.

The railways are to be taken back into public ownership – instead of being owned by companies owned by other states. Water and Royal Mail are also to come back into public ownership.
A degree of public ownership is to be restored to the energy market, with a state operator in each region. The party is also investing in renewable sustainable energy systems and will ban fracking.

There will also be extra investment in infrastructure such as broadband and transport.

On Brexit, the party seems to be the first to stand up for the whole country not just the leavers or remainers. The manifesto commits to leaving the EU but insists on the need to retain access to the single market and customs union. The rights of EU nationals living and working here are to be guaranteed in exchange for similar guarantees from the EU regarding Britons working abroad. Importantly, there is no reckless suggestion of the type favoured by the Tories of walking away from the EU with no deal. There is to be no “no deal” option, with transitional arrangements envisaged after the two year negotiating period.

On the down side is the continued support for retaining the Trident nuclear weapons system, something that costs the British tax payer a huge amount of money but is controlled by the US.

So there is much in this programme to be optimistic about and get behind. Electorally, it will be difficult for Labour with the mathematics seemingly stacked against them. UKIP appear to be disintegrating, with its voters turning to the Conservative Party, which has after all adopted most of their policies. The Liberal Democrats show little sign of revival, so may not pick up those votes they lost to the Conservatives in 2015. Meanwhile, north of the border, the Labour Party still has some way to go to regain ground over the Scottish National Party hegemony.

One disappointing element of the Labour Party approach has been a seeming unwillingness on the part of the leadership to do deals with other parties in order to keep the Conservatives out. There have been some moves at local level to get Liberal Democrats and Greens to stand down in favour of Labour candidates and via versa. However, the leadership does not condone such tactical pacts. It is a pity because there must surely be room for progressive pacts to stop the prospect of five more years of austerity and damage being done to the country courtesy of another Conservative Government. So it’s an uphill task for leader but the prospects for success may not be as gloomy as some media soothsayers predict.  

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