Everybody looks forward to summer. Unless of course you’re political animal in which case you’re in for six weeks of pure tedium as the entire political machine shuts down. It leaves us news junkies with little to cogitate. As far as politics goes there are only two stories. Brexit and the labour leadership contest.
The latter is of
diminishing interest. It rather looks like Mr Corbyn is going to see off
the challenge comfortably. And it’s easy to see why. Labour’s big
beasts are more concerned with their career prospects than mounting an
effective challenge. Losing in 2020 is a near certainty for Labour and
none of them wants the job when it means a wipeout. Consequently the
challenger is nobody with all the charisma of flat-pack furniture.
seems that Labour has no-one to challenge Mr Corbyn’s appeal. He is
well liked because he is a figure people can relate to. It’s not what he
is. It’s what he isn’t. British politics in recent decades has been
beset by a dismal ratings chasing trend whereby policy announcements are
made on the basis of what their focus groups have told them – fighting
over the centre ground.
The product of this has been bland
managerial policy devoid of any principle or ideology pushed by anodyne
people. You can barely tell them apart. There seems to be little point
in voting when all of the major parties are chasing the same handful of
voters and why bother with a political party chasing power for its own
Labour as a party has largely forgotten who it serves and
what it is for. A genuine movement is one that decides what it believes
it, defines what it wants to accomplish and then goes out and sells it.
Whether the agenda is popular or not should not matter. If you have the
courage of your convictions you stand by what you believe and you build
your movement over time. If it has something to offer then through
persistence it will succeed.
Contrast that with Blairism. The
Blairite way it to hold one’s beliefs cheaply – to ditch principle
depending on the basis of what the most recent poll says. That may well
be a shortcut to power but power without a real agenda is simply
In that regard Labour should be bold and not
afraid to lose support. It is better to have a coherent movement where
voters know what you’re about than to have a generic umbrella party full
of ambitious charlatans climbing the greasy pole. The test of whether
it succeeds or not is really down to the ideas on sale. That is
ultimately why Corbyn will fail.
Labour is supposed to be the
party for the working class – but that is an increasingly nebulous term.
It can apply to those on minimum wage with insecure jobs or it can
apply to families with a mortgage and two cars. The latter being
aspirational working class who have increasingly conservative views on
taxation – and though largely socially liberal, not as permissive as the
progressive left. The idea that the working class is a huddled mass of
hapless serfs in need of rescue is an obsolete one. Labour continues to
Labour’s article of faith is that zero hours
contracts should be abolished. While that may be noble in intent it’s
not actually that big a problem and affects comparatively few people.
Some even prefer the flexibility it offers. The insistence by Labour
that Britain’s working class are necessarily poor and living in
Dickensian poverty paints a picture that simply does not exist and is
not recognised by ordinary voters. It cost Miliband the 2015 election.
The patronising paternalism that comes with Labour’s anti-poverty
crusade is also a big turn off.
And then we must look at Mr
Corbyn’s bizarre fixation with nationalising the railways. Who owns the
railways is neither here nor there. What people want is clean,
affordable rail that turns up when it says it will. That’s all they care
about. Presently it achieves none of these things.
But rail is
beset by two problems. Overcrowding and price. Subsidise the fares and
you create more overcrowding. Moreover, if you’re subsidising fares for
London rail commuters then chances are that’s not a way to help poor
people. You’re more likely subsidising middle class higher earners in
London. It’s not a policy that speaks much to Labour heartlands like
Sheffield where people take the bus to work – or walk.
tells us is that Corbyn has failed to understand Britain’s ills. Rail
nationalisation is a solution in search of a problem. Britain needs
bigger ideas than throwback socialist ones. The fact is we could spend a
trillion on creating new rail infrastructure and not make any real
impact on our capacity crunch. Rail is an expensive business. What we
need is fresh thinking.
In Britain it’s not actually that
difficult to find relatively good wages. The issue is how much of it we
get to keep. After we’ve paid income tax and national insurance we’ve
already taken a big hit in income. Add to that commuting costs and all
the other costs associated with work and even a highly salaried job
starts to feel like a mugs game. We need to rethink the very idea of
For starters, commuting is an absolutely absurd waste of
time. We spend at least two hours in the day travelling – usually at the
same time as everyone else – creating congestion along with all the
health problems that go with it. Why? And if you’re not spending money
on rail fares then it’s parking fees – often to do desk work we can just
as easily do from home. This makes no sense. If we can get the
workforce working from home then not only can we reduce spending on
infrastructure we can end the spiral of wage inflation. This is where we
can make tangible gains.
Instead of this, the Labour party under
Blair introduced income support benefits and the minimum wage – but all
of this is increasingly gobbled up by the cost of living – while at the
same time adding to the overall tax burden or debt mountain. This is
not sustainable – and the Tory national living wage is the same kind of
thinking; inflationary measures which sound good but do nothing to
increase our spending power or our ability to save.
What we need
is radical ideas to bring down the cost of living and the cost of doing
business. Nearly half the country can’t afford to save for a pension.
We can live fairly comfortable lives on a day to day basis but it’s
increasingly insecure with most of us being only two paycheques away
from financial oblivion. The pound in our pockets is the key to
electoral success – not who owns the railways.
In that, the
government is going to have to do something about how much it takes from
our wages. We have done a lot to take the low paid out of general
taxation but you can’t have a dynamic economy unless people have money
to spend, save and invest. But this is something that is alien to
Corbyn. He thinks we are not taxed enough. It’s difficult to see how
that message can connect with middle Britain. In that regard, Labour’s
centrists have a point.
But then it’s Brexit that really tells
us what’s going on. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the
EU. That in its own way is a judgement on London. There is a lack of
trust that London will do right by them. The rest of England voted to
leave – again in defiance of London.
socially, London is increasingly divergent from the rest of the country.
The political narratives are forged in London. Banking, media and
government is all based there. It has spawned its own insular culture
that lives in a parallel universe to the rest of us. The political
debate in London is one alien to the one happening elsewhere. Policies
imposed on the regions have little or no relevance to the distinct
problems of the north of England. London has too much power.
we have seen a largely platitudinal effort to devolve powers to the
north the new authorities are again imposed by London and in all
likelihood will take power away from councils. Labour should have
opposed this, but to them it’s just another elected office to fill and
Andy Burnham couldn’t wait to give it a bash. The inherent paternalism
of Labour will ensure it is yet another rotten borough just like
We need an agenda to restructure power in Britain.
One that gives the public direct control over taxation and spending so
that they are in control. An agenda whereby people are trusted to manage
their own affairs and give themselves a break when the politicians
We need a movement that seeks to take the power back to
give to the people rather than to take it for themselves so that they
can pull the levers of power. And that's not Corbyn. There is nothing at
all radical about Corbyn’s Labour. They are the same old paternalists
who think things would be better if only they were in charge. It never
occurs to them that people are perfectly capable of finding their own
way. They are every bit as establishment as Mrs Thatcher’s Tories.