I went to one of Ed Miliband’s event on 8 April and listened with great interest but could not wondering if Labour could really win the European and Local Elections in 2014 and has Labour smelt the coffee.
Ever since Ed Miliband declared his support for localism Labour figures have been looking for concrete evidence of his commitment to devolving power from Whitehall. It was one of the motivations behind the recent letter to the Guardian from left-wing think-tanks which called for “devolution of state institutions, by giving away power and resources to our nations, regions, cities, localities and, where possible, directly to the people.”
In a major speech on the economy tomorrow in Birmingham, Miliband will go a significant way to meeting their demands. Announcing the interim conclusions of Andrew Adonis’s growth review, he will vow to end a “century of centralisation” by at least doubling the level of devolved funding to city and county regions to £20billion over the next parliament (a figure that Labour sources emphasis is the “bare minimum”). As one shadow cabinet member recently put it to me, to see the party’s commitment to devolution, “follow the money”. Alongside this, regions will be offered new powers over transport and housing infrastructure, the Work Programme, and apprenticeships and skills, a move described by the party as “the biggest devolution of power to England’s great towns and cities in a hundred years”.
Miliband and Ed Balls are to write to the leaders of all local authorities, universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships asking them “to draw up joint plans to boost growth and private sector jobs in their regions.” Those regions that bring forward plans in the first nine months of the next parliament, and that meet the tests set by the Adonis review, will receive a “devolution deal” in the first spending review period of a Labour government.
The aim of the policy is to bridge the huge productivity gap between London and the regions (thus rebalancing the economy), and to create the kind of high-skilled, well-paid jobs lacking in so many areas. As Ed Miliband said on 8 April: “Britain is the country of the industrial revolution and Birmingham was one of the great cities of that revolution. But the country of the industrial revolution has ignored the lessons of its own history for far too long: the country that once built its prosperity on the great towns and cities, like Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff, has become a country which builds its prosperity far too much in one city: London.
“We need a prosperous London, but we also need to build prosperity outside it. Today, every region outside London is below the national average when it comes to productivity, while London is 40% above it.”
Given the fiscal constraints a Labour government would face, Miliband is clear that it is the private sector, not the state, that will be the primary source of new jobs. After addressing prices (with announcements on energy and housing) and wages (by promising to strengthen the minimum wage and spread use of the living wage), Miliband’s focus on employment is the next strand of his plan to tackle the “cost-of-living crisis” (see my blog from this morning on why he’s sticking with this line ).
In his speech, he contrasted his commitment to devolution with the inaction of the coalition. Referencing Michael Heseltine’s government-commissioned growth review No Stone Unturned (which was similarly launched in Birmingham), he will say: “This government had an opportunity to make a difference. Michael Heseltine’s review called for a massive devolution of funding from Whitehall to the cities. But David Cameron and George Osborne allocated just £2 billion for a Local Growth Fund in their Spending Review for 2015-16. The best report this government has produced has been the one that they have most ignored.
“We can and must do a lot better than that. It is why nine months ago, I asked Andrew Adonis to recommend the way forward for Labour. We have heard his interim conclusions today and his message is clear: devolving power from Whitehall to our towns and cities is essential to generate the new jobs we need.”
It would be fascinating to know what Heseltine, who shared a platform with Adonis at an event on London last week (the two are long-standing mutual admirers), makes of Labour’s decision to go far further than the Tories in embracing his conclusions. Perhaps he’ll be kind enough to tell us…
One other figure closely involved in the speech was Chuka Umunna (another Heseltine fan), who made the case for regional economic devolution in a piece for Centre for Cities in February, and who, along with Jon Cruddas, Liz Kendall and Hilary Benn, is the most fervent advocate of localism in the shadow cabinet. His “Agenda 2030 ” is crucial to Miliband’s ambition to build “a different kind of economy”.
Having so clearly recognised the merits of devolution, Miliband will now be pushed to go further, for instance by devolving housing benefit (allowing councils to invest any savings in housebuilding) and lifting the cap on council borrowing to allow local authorities to borrow to build. But those who have previously doubted his commitment to giving power away will welcome the speech as a significant downpayment.
Then I started to reminisce on what Labour had achieved whilst they were in government I came to the conclusion that they done:
Labour’s social policy was a success, and this is verified by the LSE’s definitive survey of the Blair-Brown years: “There is clear evidence that public spending worked, contrary to popular belief.” Nor did Labour overspend. It inherited “a large deficit and high public sector debt”, with spending “at a historic low” – 14th out of 15 in the EU.
Labour spending increased, but until the crash was still “unexceptional”, either by historic UK standards or international ones. Until 2007 “national debt levels were lower than when Labour took office”. After years of neglect, Labour inherited a public realm in decay, squalid public buildings and unforgivably neglected human lives that formed a social deficit much more expensive as any Treasury debt. Ministers brimming with optimism set about rooting out the causes of poverty. Tony Blair set up the social exclusion unit inside No 10. “Social exclusion” signified not just poverty, but its myriad causes and symptoms, with 18 task forces examining education, babies’ development, debt, addiction, mental health, housing and much more. Policies followed and so did improvements.
John Prescott’s department published an annual Opportunities for All report that monitored these social targets: 48 out of 59 indicators improved.
So when Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith or Nick Clegg sneer that all Labour did was give tax credits to lift families just over the poverty line “poverty plus a pound” they lie through their teeth. Contrary to Tory claims, benefits were not Labour’s main instrument of social change: the benefit budget fell as a proportion of spending, outstripped by increases in health, education and other social services.
Things got better with money mostly well spent. That’s not the case now. Labour’s years of social progress are being flung deliberately into reverse in the NHS, in poverty, in opportunities. The ill-effects in education from such disasters as the huge cut in Sure Start and childcare are beginning to, to emerge. But moving backwards on just about every social measure is certainly happening: the coalition’s “more for less” is exposed as pretence. They are simply raising more money for the rich. And all because of their driving ideology
The Coalition have borrowed more in 4 years than labour did in 13 and have nothing to show for it except a handful of wealthier millionaires and the return of absolute poverty.
The aim of the Tories and of big business, ever since 1979 and accelerated under this awful regime, has been to crush ordinary people.
Perhaps the biggest ‘growth industry’ has been the private ‘security industry’ and the explosion in the number of debt collectors and bailiff outfits. These cowboys daily flout the law and intimidate those they come into contact with with the sole aim of screwing as much out of them as they can.
Debt collection outfits harass and bully people in contravention of the Protection from Harrassment Act 1997 and will not stop unless they are threatened in writing with legal action. They also attempt to get payment for statute barred debts… that is those over 6 years old. They lie and cheat in pursuit of these and again they face no sanction for so doing.
Bailiffs cheat, lie, bully and intimidate vulnerable people by physical means and they attempt to screw people over by levying massive and utterly unjustifiable charges which are also fraudulently claimed, ie by attempting to charge for visits to their victims that never took place.
I know of many activists have who has campaigned for localism for years, the announcement by Ed Miliband of the end of a century of centralism is a big day. If Labour win in 2015 there will be a huge devolution of power and money to England’s towns and cities to promote jobs and growth, starting with devolving the work programme, skills funding, transport and housing – a minimum of £20 bn over the next Parliament that will no longer be controlled by Whitehall, but will give every area of the country the chance to succeed. I also that some activist will say that Ed Miliband complains that “the middle class, once the solid centre of our economy, is being hollowed out with growing insecurity and the prospect, for the first time since the war, that their children will be worse off than they are.”
By coincidence that’s what’s happening to the working class, but it doesn’t get a mention.
Marxists, including Miliband’s father Ralph, recognise that Britain’s industrial revolution, pre-eminent trading status and national wealth were capitalised by imperial conquest and overseas exploitation.
Domestically, the hewing of coal, production of steel, processing of metals, timber and other materials into finished goods and their transport to markets by road, rail, sea and air were all carried out by the working class, providing huge profits for capitalists.
Yet, according to Miliband, it was the middle class that created this wealth.
Miliband uses the terms middle class, middle income and middle Britain interchangeably, compressing these sectors into his mythical “squeezed middle.”
What does he think that the working class does with its time these days?
There are no longer huge detachments of workers in the extractive and metal-bashing industries. The economy has changed, productive processes have developed and computerisation has transformed the world of work.
But members of the working class still make the economy tick.
Their labour power provides the profits to allow a tiny minority of society to live in luxury while lecturing us all to work harder and appreciate the “real world.”
The working class has always been menaced by unemployment, with a minority denied a job and told that their state benefits could be withdrawn unless they undercut the wages negotiated by unions for employed workers.
Holding down or, even better for the capitalist class, reducing benefits is the favoured means of Establishment politicians to increase the desperation of the unemployed.
That’s why Miliband’s decision to order Labour MPs to vote for George Osborne’s policy of setting a welfare benefit cap in stone for future governments is a betrayal of not only claimants but of the entire working class.
Miliband condemns the Chancellor’s economic programme as a “race to the bottom,” in which “wages for most people will continue to lag far behind the wealth being created and middle-income families will still be locked out of the benefits of growth.”
But by supporting Osborne’s welfare cap, the Labour leader is throwing in his hand with the most viciously right-wing government in living memory.
Worse still, by championing the “living standards of middle Britain” while agreeing to screw the worst-off workers living on reduced benefits, Miliband drives a wedge into working-class solidarity.
He recognises the reality of Britain’s economy in which “a few people at the top scoop more and more of the rewards.”
Yet, in contrast to his willingness to put the boot into those at the bottom of the heap, he has no plan to drive greater social justice by raising taxation on the avaricious elite enriching itself on the backs of the working class, including Miliband’s “squeezed middle.”
Miliband has clearly been influenced by US politics where the working class has been consigned to obscurity as a communist concept and the vast majority of the country are redesignated middle class.
It’s nonsense across the pond and it’s no less ridiculous here.
The working class cannot be wished away or neglected on a political whim, as Miliband may yet discover to his cost.
I say let us not forget where we are all from and move with the times as I’m sure that both coalition and UKIP will not address this issue. I will urge people to vote Labour on 22 May for both European and Local Elections.