Sunday, 1 April 2012

Seven Steps To Re-Election

The government are in disarray. They're losing their grip. Hardened Tories are revolting. Well, we knew that anyway, except this time they really are losing patience.

A catalogue of (amateurish) errors, disastrous economic policies, complacency, and a sheer aloofness, pervades every facet of this government.

The most incompetent in living memory, as accurately described by Polly Toynbee

In a week in which a radical produced the shock of this parliament and took a supposedly 'safe' Labour seat, it's time for the party to throw off the shackles and put together a list of policies which will resonate and stick in voters' minds.

Half-baked, bewildering, nuanced ideas won't wash. The response to what Labour would do in power about the 50p tax rate made the party look shamelessly opportunistic and dishonest.

Here, I have compiled a list of seven policies which can help steer the party back to power.

Some are outlandish and I realise extremely unlikely to ever get proposed, but they make a powerful statement and shows an element of risk that may well chime with the electorate.

Others are unashamedly populist, but you need to appeal to peoples' hearts, as well as their minds. The public are fed up with hearing the same, tired, worn out ideas. Time to excite and entice. There is also little danger of the coalition pinching any of these!

1. Let's begin with the most contentious: renationalise the railways.

We know this is a popular idea. 70% back it. Maybe people support it because they know it'll never happen, but that might be because no one has yet to propose it.

Everyone has had a miserable train experience, everyone has been ripped off. It's amazing the number of times I've heard people call for renationalisation. And, a recent study shows it's more viable now than ever, and would save money.

2. Following on from this, time to renege on support for the new HS2, high speed rail, project, labelling it as the catastrophic waste of money that it is. All the evidence suggests so.

Far better to invest this money in the current rail network: increasing carriage numbers, widening platforms, renovating stations, and most important of all, reducing (significantly) train fares.

3. Abolish tuition fees: Once fees were introduced, by Labour, it was inevitable they'd creep up and up over time. How are we ever going to convince those from poorer backgrounds that university is open to everyone if we price them out of it?

Higher education should not be the preserve of the wealthy and middle class. £9,000 fees sends out the message that only the usual suspects should benefit from a degree and better job prospects.

4. Introduce PR: Yes, that old chestnut again. Except this time genuine proportional representation, the Single Transferable Vote (STV), and not 2011's proposal for a diluted, semi-proportional, compromised (AV) version.

5. Open Primaries For Parliamentary Candidates: This, for me, is a no brainer. If there's one thing we should be seeking to emulate from the US, it's this.

David Cameron waxed lyrical about it until he saw what it meant in practice. Ed Miliband gave the idea his backing when he was Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

A commitment that allowed non party members to select, in 'open' hustings, each and every new and existing Labour parliamentary candidate, would be an historic change and a victory for open democracy.

It would also challenge complacency, safe seats, and revive the MP-constituent relationship.

Most significantly - and this is the ideal scenario - it may help bring forward a different type of politician; MPs drawn from a wider pool, moving away from the career politician, who hails from the same background, went to the same schools and same universities as his/her colleagues.

6. A War on 'The Tax Gap': Which if successful, would help pay for all of the above.

To focus so much energy on so-called 'benefit-scroungers' (cost to the taxpayer: £1.6bn), compared to the tax avoiders, evaders, and those who either pay their tax late or not at all (cost to the taxpayer: anything from £35bn to £120bn  ) is just obscene.

7. Victory For Francois Hollande: Okay, so this isn't a policy, or something that Labour can do much about. It's a hope. A win for France's Socialist candidate in its presidential elections would provide a much needed boost for centre-left parties everywhere.

With the recent tide in Europe moving away the left, a victory for Hollande would give Labour an invaluable ally, and hopefully with it, a rejection of punitive economic policies.The EU's relentless insistence on fiscal austerity would finally come under attack.

That's just a start.

If the collapse in support for the three mainstream parties says anything, it's that the public are turned off by business as usual. No wonder so much attention gets devoted to mavericks and independently-minded mayors.

Time to be brave.

This article was first published by LabourList on Monday 2 April 2012

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