The last two weeks have been some of the busiest in the parliamentary year, with a shocking UKIP defection at the beginning of the Conservative Party Conference, and a disappointing speech marking a sad end to the Labour get together. Amidst the shock defection and shameful lapses of memory, the two main Westminster parties have failed to inspire. Instead, both have instilled at the heart of their campaigns a commitment to strip the vulnerable of their welfare allowances, strip parents of their child benefit and strip us all of our civil liberties. Starkly, unless one or both can create a message of hope, the upcoming election in May could be much closer than anyone predicts.
Economically, Britain’s garden is far from rosy. Indeed, the weeds of debt seemed to have embedded themselves further. Public debt now stands at 79.1% of GDP, a revised increase by the ONS of more than 2% under new estimates which include government pension liabilities. Despite painful austerity leaving one in four children living in poverty, both Labour and the Conservatives insist the only way to create a surplus is to cut public services, provisions and budgets yet further. They think that the failed policies of the last 5 years – that cutting spending will reduce the debt - will work, but ignore the fact that debt has risen faster than ever while Osborne has cut deeper than ever.
Shrinking budgets will only lead to shrinking demand and a shrinking economy too. Just as George Osborne announces a fresh wave of welfare spending cuts that will leave the poorest 10 million benefits claimants in this country more than £500 worse off a year, it is clear that people are being forced in to low pay, low skilled jobs. Yet, it seems impossible to escape these cuts. Those who wish to own or rent a home and escape the clutches of welfare dependency cannot do so; house building between 2012 and 2013 fell 8,000 to a record low number. The government’s hopes for the private sector to replace the public sector are not materialising, and the hopes of an aspiration nation are being dashed.
Worryingly, Labour is following course. Although the announcements of a 50p/£ tax rate, a mansion tax, an end to rich pensioner’s tax relief and a bankers’ bonus cap and tax indicate an attempt to balance the books through a commitment to new taxes for the rich, more dangers are revealing themselves. A commitment to coalition spending cuts for 2015 and a further cap on child benefits indicates nothing more than an abandonment of a welfare state that, quite rightly, deserves to thrive and serve our whole community. Furthermore, it is utterly unbelievable that Labour plans to use these ‘savings’ to cut corporation tax, replicating the same dodgy attempts to cushy up to multinational businesses as in the 1990s, and which ultimately contributed to the financial crisis.
It is Labour in particular who should be gaining momentum. The Tories will commit to spending cuts for all and tax cuts for the rich, that’s the same old Conservatives with the same old message. Labour can afford to be more dynamic. Labour can afford to live up to its principals. Just as Conservatives are committed to free schools, Labour should abolish tuition fees – in my view, you don’t tax someone because they’re educated, you tax them because they’re rich. Labour should be assertive with plans to renationalise. Profit making companies that give millions of pounds of bonuses to directors off the backs of the poor and the needy should see their profits curtailed, or be reintroduced in to the public sector.
Agree or disagree, this is about shaping the debate and inspiring people to vote. This is about standing by your principals in the same way you stand by your community. It is about getting the best deal for Britain.
The attempts to strip government budgets are met with social changes that threaten to change our justice system. Theresa May has just announced plans that a Conservative majority government would introduce the axed ‘Snoopers Charter’. Liberty, one of the few organisations committed to the protection of Human Rights, was disturbed by the fact that the Home Secretary thought that civil liberties could be made safer by increasing police powers over passports and the ability of the security services to track emails and phone calls. Once again, our civil liberties are in the hands of neither Parliament nor the Courts, but a government minister who does not use evidence as the foundation for prosecution, but suspicion.
Both parties need to inspire us, politics is not a game. The Conservatives have missed deficit reduction targets, and are intent to cut tax at whatever cost. It seems Labour will swing the same way, rejecting the progress that has always been the heart of its message, and worryingly proving Harold Wilson wrong: that the only human institution which rejects progress is not the cemetery – but the Labour Party itself.
By James Wand