Thursday, 5 February 2015

Labour are a Centre Right Party

Policies taken from the Labour party website (tuition fees not on the website, but reported widely in the media recently), demonstrate that Labour is not a party of the left by any discernible means.

‘We will balance the books: getting the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible within the next Parliament.’

This is a fairly vague commitment, in that it could be that by encouraging growth in the economy, and growth in wages particularly, the national debt can be paid off by rising tax receipts (particularly from the wealthy), without continuing the Tory cuts to public services. But Labour has already said that public sector wages will be held down, and the minimum wage raised only slightly (more of this later). They talk of no money for extra spending, apart from some minor areas, so we must assume that they will continue to cut public sector wages and spending, including jobs, services and benefits. It is often termed ‘austerity lite’.

This is a continuation of the ‘triangulation’ tactics first developed by Bill Clinton and the US Democrats and faithfully followed by the New Labour governments from 1997 to 2010. The aim is to place the Labour party slightly to the left of the Tories, but only slightly. Whether this will be as effective in gaining voter support as in the past, is highly questionable since the electorate appears to have had enough of this, with Labour leaking support to the Scottish National Party north of the border, and to the Green Party in England. Both of these parties are seen as more authentic left parties than Labour now.     

‘We will freeze your energy bills up to January 2017, saving a typical household £120 and an average business £1,800. An incoming Labour government will legislate immediately to make this happen.’

Considering the recent fall in the price of oil and gas, which amounts to something like a reduction of £150 per year for domestic consumers, this policy, timid though is it is anyway, has been superseded by events. Will Labour now uprate this ‘freeze’ to £270 per household? Don’t hold your breath.

‘Earned entitlements: people coming here won’t be able to claim benefits for at least two years.’

Most immigrants to the UK come here to work, not to claim benefits which are more generous in some other EU countries. Indeed more UK nationals are claiming benefits in other EU countries, than EU nationals claiming in the UK. Another piece of triangulation from Labour, since the Coalition government has promised a similar policy and Labour wants to look tough on benefit claimants. This is likely to lead to more street begging and crime, rather than deter immigrants from coming to the UK.

‘We will increase the National Minimum Wage to £8 an hour by the end of the next Parliament – to help ensure that those doing a hard day’s work are rewarded for doing so.’

Without it seems even a trace of irony, a party that calls itself ‘Labour’ trumpets a policy that is so pitiful in ambition it is pretty much irrelevant. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) stands at £6.50 per hour presently. The Living Wage (LW) is currently £7.85 per hour (£9.15 in London), which even Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson agrees should be the minimum. And this aspiration of £8.00 per hour NMW is to be achieved over five years.

Taking a likely inflation rate (Consumer Price Index, which doesn’t include housing costs) of 2% per year, would take the NMW to £7.15 per hour, and this is not a cumulative calculation. Even a small rise in inflation of above 2%, which is far from unlikely, will make £8.00 per hour by 2020 a wage cut. Why on the earth the trade unions continue to fund the Labour party is a complete mystery.  

‘We will stop employees from being required to work exclusively for one firm if they are on a zero-hours contract.’

Wouldn’t a real party of Labour just abolish zero hours contracts altogether? Not this Labour party, no. Instead this policy encourages more zero hours contracts by freeing up workers to take on more than one contract at a time. It is a return to the bad old days of On the Waterfront where dock workers queued on a daily basis to try a find some work, just for that day. All the gains in employment legislation since the 1950s are tossed away by the Labour party of 2015.   

‘We will cap social security: addressing the root causes of welfare spending by getting 200,000 homes built a year and making tough decisions like scrapping Winter Fuel Allowance for the richest pensioners and capping Child Benefit rises.’

A cornerstone of the Welfare State created by the present Labour party’s forbears after World War 2, was the universality of the system. These Labour leaders knew that if they were to get the middle classes to buy into the welfare state then they had to able to see some personal benefit from it. Means testing removes this benefit, making claimants feel stigmatised and is effectively a return to pre war welfare policies where claimants had to prove absolute poverty to claim. People were forced to sell their furniture and belongings before receiving benefit. ‘Back to the future with Labour’ might make a good election slogan for the party?  

Tuition fees: Labour pledges maximum cap of £6,000

This policy returns university tuition fees to the level of the last Labour government (reduced from the present £9,000 per year). It is the worst of both worlds in that it will deprive universities of the funding they need, whilst having no discernible effect on the amount many students will pay back. Students from wealthy backgrounds have these fees paid by their parents so don’t claim these loans. For those from modest backgrounds who do claim the loans, it still leaves a sizable amount to be paid back. Let’s not forget that these students need maintenance loans too and if they do not reach the levels of salary to trigger the pay back threshold, will never actually pay the money back, instead the tax payer picks up the tab. For those that do pay back the loans, they start working life with debts of £30,000 to £40,000 typically. This policy makes little difference.

So there you have it, and Labour whines about losing support to the Greens, who split the ‘left’ vote and will let the Tories in again. It is Labour that is splitting the left vote, with not even very left policies, a mere shadow of the party’s noble past. 

But past it is. 

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