Labour can win. Here's How:
Labour's real problem is not the leader, it's the policies, stupid!
London - 18 September 2008
Demands for a change of Labour leader are a huge distraction. What's really alienating voters is not Gordon Brown. It is the government's dire anti-Labour policies, such as post office closures, the 10p tax rate fiasco, the unfairness of the council tax system and the lack of a coherent plan to remedy fuel poverty.
Labour's problem is not so much the leader, it's the policies, stupid!
If Gordon Brown was pursuing popular, progressive policies, no one would care whether he was dull and boring. He'd be lauded to the skies, as he was in the first three months after he became PM in the summer of 2007.
Blaming Mr Brown for Labour's demise in the polls is unfair. He is being scapegoated for disastrous policies that were endorsed by the whole Cabinet. They all bear responsibility.
That is why deposing the Prime Minister is no solution. None of Gordon Brown's likely successors would make any difference to Labour's fortunes. They have also promoted the government's unpopular anti-Labour agenda - including the war in Iraq, privatisation of public services, restrictions on civil liberties and the inadequate regulation of financial institutions, which has contributed to the current economic crisis.
Astonishingly, a year after the Northern Rock crisis, the government has still not reformed the banking system and has failed to fully protect people's savings. This inertia has undermined public confidence in the government's financial acumen.
Would-be leaders like David Miliband, Alan Johnson and Jack Straw have no alternative policies that can revive the party's fortunes. Changing the Prime Minister would change very little. For Labour to have any chance of winning the next election what needs to change is its lack lustre, anti-progressive policies.
The Cabinet - not just Gordon Brown - has currently earmarked £100 billion for an upgraded Trident nuclear missile system, two new super aircraft carriers, ID cards, the on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, computerisation of the NHS and an expanded road building programme. The government has the money but it is spending it on the wrong policies.
If Labour wants to win back trust and popularity, it should apologies for these mistakes and dump its right-wing policies, as many Labour backbenchers and the Green Party have urged. It needs to switch this £100 billion-plus expenditure into policies that will simultaneously help the less well-off, boost the economy and tackle climate change:
* Raise tax-free personal allowances from £6,035 to £9,000 for people earning under £20,000 a year and to £7,000 for those earning £20,000 to £25,000. This could be funded by a rise in tax on incomes over £80,000 and a tax on city bonuses. It would give real financial help to lower-paid and middle income earners at a time of rocketing fuel and food prices.
* Free home insulation for everyone with an income under £18,000 a year, which would assist these householders to permanently cut their energy bills, and also create skilled and semi-skilled jobs and reduce global warming.
* A windfall tax on energy companies, backed up with stricter government regulation of energy and fuel prices, in order to curb future excess profits.
* Abolition of Home Information Packs and a two-year stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers of property worth less than £300,000, to help revive the housing market.
* Cheaper, more reliable public transport, which would aid low income car-less households, and would result in fewer vehicles on the road, less traffic congestion, lower carbon dioxide emissions and reduced pollution and car accidents.
* Replace the council tax with a local income tax, to end the hardship faced by low-income retirees and people who earn just above the exemption threshold. They currently pay the same council tax as someone with a 200% higher income who lives in an equivalent property.
* Increase the deposit protection for savers to £100,000, to give security to seniors who have been wise enough to save for their retirement.
* Stronger government monitoring and regulation of banks and other financial institutions.
While this is not an exhaustive list of the many much-needed policy changes, these or similar policies would win public approval, redistribute wealth, cut carbon emissions and begin to uplift the UK economy.
Even if this progressive agenda did not deliver Labour a majority of seats in 2010, it might save the party from the electoral annihilation that now looks on the cards. It could put Labour in a position to form a minority government with Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and SNP support.
This is not ideal from a Labour perspective, but surely it is preferable to a Labour wipe-out and a landslide victory for the Conservatives?
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