Labour won’t win in 2020 by re-running 2015

Labour lost the general election in 2015.  A leadership election is underway.  Candidates are writing their manifestos. Is it too early?  Will the candidates be too tempted to re-run 2015 rather than look ahead to 2020.  The political landscape will change. Here are a few thoughts.

Five more years of a Tory government, unhindered by any Liberal Democrat brake, and in hock to the more right-wing members of the Tory party, will mean a harsher landscape.  Not just fox-hunting but abortion restrictions (and I suspect a few Tories will be looking longingly at Orban’s attempt to restore capital punishment in Hungary).  More banks, more in poverty, greater “security” surveillance.  We will be spending billions on the four Tridents. We will have an even more authoritarian society, officially sanctioned.

The Tory leader in 2020 is likely to be from George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Theresa May.  Will they skip a generation after Cameron goes, probably in 2018?  Doubt it. Well-known senior figures appealing to the Tory heartlands.

Public finances will still be in a mess. Osborne’s forecasts on both debt and deficit have been proved wrong; there is no reason to expect any change. There will still be “no money”.  More years of stringent cuts.  It’s difficult to see how significantly more full wage jobs can be created so the tax take won’t increase to mitigate cuts.

The public sector ethos will be further weakened. Not just through out-sourcing, privatisation and ” public sector social entrepreneurialism”.  Top managers in the public sector will be required to operate as private sector equivalents. The internal culture of the delivery arms of the public sector will drastically change. TTIP and ISDS will prevent the re-nationalisation of public sector contracts.

The Scottish Parliament, from 2016, will be firmly in the nationalist camp. It is hard to foresee Jim Murphy (let alone the old school of Scottish Labour) turning the electoral prospects around in a short time.  As Spain has seen with Cataluña a nationalist mind-set always wants more.

Osborne’s “northern powerhouses”, led by Manchester, will be in full swing. Devolution in England will be underway mostly led by Labour councils and they will want, and deserve, more. Power may be devolved but in reality in many cases it simply means power to implement more cuts to local government. Bye bye not just libraries but many areas of local services. No way that the Tories will restore any form of sensible London government.

And looming over all of these changes will be the defining political topic of the next five years: the in/out EU referendum.  Polls may indicate a “stay in” majority but as we have seen polls are not at their most brilliant.  The lesson from the Scottish Independence referendum is that even a seemingly clear 55/45 division does not end the debate.   A “stay in” vote may not end the question; UKIP and the right-wing Tories will continue for a second chance in the 2020s. Will we see Theresa May leading a UKIP/Tory grouping in 2020 pledging to reverse the “stay in” vote?  Or an Osborne  (perhaps even the bend in the wind Johnson) leading a “happy to be in” a reformed EU?

A “leave” vote in 2017 leads to two years of negotiation of the terms of the exit (the Treaty sets a time limit).  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be up in arms if they have been outvoted by the English.  Constitutional turmoil.  How does that stack up in 2020?

In my view Labour leadership candidates will find it easy to outline their social and local policy positions; obviously with different priorities. This is their comfort zone.  But the overwhelmingly strategic political decision they have to take is on how active in the next two years they will be for a pro-EU vote.  No more fence-sitting.

Yes, this means tackling the concerns over migration in areas not used to it and not pandering in UKIP-lite style. It means jettisoning the “Controls on immigration” mug. It means leadership from the front not from the backroom focus group. We all want to reform the EU. If it was being invented now we would not build the current version. But it is the one we have. The 2020 election depends on the EU referendum. Time to step up and be counted: the UK’s future lies unequivocally as a member of the EU. That’s what a potential prime minister in 2020 needs to project.

 

We’re all getting old together…

The EU never ceases to amaze me.  I am an ardent pro-European, a very strange beast for a Brit. My first departure from the Labour Party came in the  1975 referendum on the UK’s membership: not done for a student politician to be in favour of the YES vote to stay in.   (Iraq before you ask).

But at times it is demoralising to be so easily deflated by another Euro-idea.  I picked up a leaflet in Brussels today extolling  the ” European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations”.  It’s worth looking at that phrase again…go back and slowly digest every word and add your own interpretation. 

Older people are a large and growing part of the EU’s population. This rapidly ageing population is changing our societies in important and fundamental ways. Unfortunately, ageing is often seen as a problem, presenting challenges to the age structure of the workplace, the sustainability of social protection schemes and the organisation and financing of health and long-term care services

Well they got that right.  In Spain the government ends free prescriptions for pensioners; in many countries pensions are frozen or cut as part of the “we are all in this together” austerity measures required by the neo-cons and Germans (for different reasons but same effect). The UK changes a tax benefit,, the granny tax.  The pension age is increased so we need to work longer, normally for lower benefits whilst the younger generation campaign for the older workers to leave the workforce in order for jobs to become available to the NEET  and 800 euro generations.  Discussions centre on how benefits, paid  in advance by workers over their working careers, should now be withdrawn.   Plans and schemes to attract older people to cultural activities are withdrawn (free transport  schemes, educational programmes); care centres closed or privatised.

Governments must have signed up to the idea of the year.  Shame no-one told them they were meant to actually do something positive.  My best wishes to the hundreds of networks and organisations working in the field, many of them facing budget cuts as part of the “there is no alternative to pain” policies.

Me?  I’ll age actively, but slowly.

More Europe

The current eurozone financial crisis prompts calls for “more Europe”.  About time too.  For over 60 years Europhiles, and I count myself as one of them, have paid lip service to the declaration “an ever closer and deeper Union”.  It has been so much part of the Euro-mantra that is was on automatic pilot.  It never appealed to the Brits of course. They had they own micro-triumph in the drafting process of the Lisbon Constitution/Treaty which slighty watered down the phrase.

But it remains part of the Euro-DNA.  Of course it was meant to be achieved by technocratic stealth through the Monnet method: little bit at a time, keep below the radar, slow accretion, don’t upset anyone (and don’t tell the voters.. the original sin of the grand old men of the founding fathers).

The euro crisis has flushed everything out into the open.  A Euro monetary union which allowed the largest country, Germany, to ignore its own rules within a year or two of starting, surprisingly finds itself unworkable at the first real sign of trouble.

Fiscal and transfer unions are intregal parts of a monetary union.  Now is the time for ever deeper and closer to be realised.  And very quickly.

The Polish Foreign Ministers’ speech in Berlin sets out quite clearly the path ahead. Read it and lets start the ball rolling.