Friday, May 14, 2010

Layer 309 . . . Economic Competence, Social Justice, Housing, Education, Working Class Votes and Fairer Voting Systems

The real test of the new government will undoubtedly be its economic competence and whether it implements the usual reactionary and recessionary measures put forward by the extreme slashers in the Tory ranks.

Oxzen said this in response to today's Guardian editorial:

The economist David Blanchflower has again said, in no uncertain terms, that any drastic government cuts this year will send the economy back into recession. Presumably Vince Cable hasn't given up this belief either. So now it's down to David Cameron. Does he listen to these individuals - who were effectively the only senior figures who predicted the financial catastrophe - or does he ignore their views and go along with Osborne and co and their simplistic Thatcherite household economics, and their threats of 'the markets'? It's a make or break moment for a man who's recently shown he's capable of rational and balanced thinking, and capable of ignoring the foghorn voices of the extreme right.

Cameron must surely understand that he now has an opportunity to show the working classes that he's no Thatcherite who's prepared to create mass unemployment in an attempt to balance the economy. If he can convince the electorate that's he's doing all he can to prevent the loss of jobs and the destruction of industry then he'll create some credibility with low paid working class and lower middle class voters. If not, then a revived Labour party [or the BNP] will again claim the right to speak for them.

In fact Cameron and Clegg have an incredible opportunity to show they're more concerned about the least well-off sections of society simply by doing the following:

1) Make the first £10,000 earned tax free [Already agreed, thanks to the LibDems]

2) Restore the 10p tax band for earnings between £10,000 and £15,000 [Or £20,000?]

3) Follow Boris Johnson's lead and implement a living wage instead of a 'minimum wage'.

4) Implement the recommendations of Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice - no immediate loss of housing benefit when claimants begin new jobs; removal of disincentives to work, etc.

It's worth paying a visit to the website of the CSJ:

5) Address festering housing issues, and also show they can revive the economy through an emergency programme of house building - decent houses and flats at affordable rents. Cameron needs to come out and say that one of the main mistakes of Thatcherism was allowing the sell-off of social housing without encouraging councils to create more and better social housing. Housing could be a huge vote winner for the new government - everybody wants a decent and affordable home above all other things.

New Labour completely screwed up on these key issues. Clegg and Cameron would be completely stupid not to pursue their stated intentions of greater fairness and social justice by picking up on these crucial matters.

If they can also show that they're determined to get the rich and the super-rich to pay their fair share for a decent society, then they'll be on to a real winner. The new Labour leadership could decide it also wants to do this, but if Clegg and Cam can actually DO IT then they can say, with justification, that Labour failed to tackle these issues in the past, when they had an opportunity, whereas the coalition actually achieved it.

New Labour completely bungled a decade of opportunity to create greater social justice and greater equality. Working people aren't greedy, and don't expect a great deal from governments, regrettably, but they DO want jobs, decent wages, decent homes and decent schools for their kids.

Don't get me started on what New Labour did to education. I've been very fearful of what Michael Banana Gove has in mind for schools, but he's made a decent start by writing a personal letter and letting teachers know he's changing the name of his ministry to - ta ta-ta tah - the Department for Education!

What's more, I'd bet they'll keep this name for the next five years. They must know that teachers were completely pissed off by having to remember some new stupid name every other year. Gove should tell us how much money was wasted on consultants, new logos and new stationery every time New Labour implemented an unnecessary name change.

Check this summary of Gove's letter:

There is, I believe, nothing more important to the fairness of our society and the future prosperity of our country than getting education right.

Improving literacy, raising pupil attainment, extending parental choice, freeing teachers from bureaucracy, improving discipline and closing the widening gap between the richest and the poorest should be our shared goal.

To help us achieve the radical reforms that we will need, I want to refocus the Department on its core purpose of supporting teaching and learning.

In the weeks ahead, I want us to offer all schools the chance to enjoy academy-style freedoms so that heads and teachers across the country can be liberated.

We will also work to allow charities, parents and teachers' groups to open a new generation of small schools with smaller class sizes; introduce a new pupil premium which will ensure more funding is targeted to the most deprived pupils; give schools greater freedom over the curriculum; radically reform our exam system so that all schools can offer a wider range of qualifications; and support our great teachers by giving them more powers to ensure higher standards of discipline.

What's not to like there, providing the new schools don't cause the removal of funding from existing schools? I can even live with the removal of some of the more academically able kids from existing schools providing schools are no longer being judged purely on test and exam success. In fact, the reduction of pupil numbers in existing schools could even be a pre-requisite for creating smaller class sizes in existing premises.

If someone can now convince Gove that schools should be places where pupils enjoy learning for its own sake, and places where the multiple intelligences that children possess are all developed in balance and harmony, and places where children learn to be creative and imaginative, then I for one will be his biggest fan. Can't quite see that happening though.

Then again, I didn't foresee the coalition we now have, with its talk of fairness, social justice and greater equality.


As for the Labour party, here are two good letters from the papers this week:

As the Lib Dems finalise their deal with the Tories (It's Cameron and Clegg, 12 May), my ire is reserved for the senior Labour tribalists like David Blunkett who so forcibly expressed their displeasure at efforts to forge a progressive alliance. There is not a shred of recognition that traditional Labour voters regard the New Labour project, in which he played a major part, as an act of betrayal of everything we believed the party stood for. The disastrous foreign policy, the sucking up to the City and big business, the widening wealth and income divide, the squandering of our civil liberties and failure to engage in serious constitutional reform. A pact with the Lib Dems might just have salvaged the party's reputation. Gordon Brown created the opportunity, but you spurned it. You will not lightly be forgiven.

Rod Morgan


Diane Abbott's criticism of her Labour colleagues for exploring the possibilities of a "progressive coalition" with the Liberal Democrats is based on a series of outdated assumptions, and her reference to 1931 is way off-beam (Comment, 11 May). She is wrong to imply that with the collapse of Lib Dem-Labour talks a near disaster has been averted; in fact, tragically, a golden opportunity for democracy and the left is being missed.

Labour's rightward drift meant the recent Lib Dem manifesto was markedly to the left on a range of issues, including taxation, the renewal of Trident, immigration and Heathrow expansion. Plus, any "rainbow alliance" would have been dependent on the votes of Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the one Green MP, all of whom have put forward social democratic policies that appeal to many former Labour voters. If we are to strengthen the power of the people to resist the demands of the money markets, it is essential that the left pushes for democratic reform now more than ever.

The introduction of a fairer voting system would have needed to be the basis of any Lib-Lab arrangement. This would have broken the stranglehold of floating voters in Middle England marginals over the political centre of gravity, and would have rewarded Labour for mobilising support in its working-class heartland seats. There was every chance that Labour's own policy would be drawn to the left as a consequence. And the green and radical left could have developed a stronger voice of its own.

Michael Calderbank, James O' Nions and Hilary Wainwright

Co-editors, Red Pepper


Unfortunately, as Dianne Abbott made it clear on television last night, neither she nor the majority of her colleagues in Parliament will ever contemplate a fairer voting system or give up their attachment to FPTP. Bastards.

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