Let’s start challenging inequality in the here-and-now, argues Lindsey German
Labour's manifesto is leading to the usual howls of rage from the usual quarters. The Daily Mail says Labour is taxing the middle classes, the 'I' says that it is a tax grab on the rich. Some take a more sophisticated approach, saying that it just isn't possible because people will avoid paying tax, and companies won't invest, in addition to finding ways not to pay any increase in corporation tax or levy on high paying companies.
What these arguments say is that the gross inequalities we see in British society cannot be altered and that any attempt to make it even a bit more equitable is just utopian. Both the failure and the basic injustice of these arguments - rammed down our throats for more than 30 years now - are precisely the reason for the rise in support of Jeremy Corbyn over the past two years, and that of similar politicians such as Jean-Luc Melenchon in France or Bernie Sanders in the US.
It says something about the rottenness of neoliberal ideas, that raising the tax on super rich companies from one of the lowest in the developed world is regarded as stupid or dangerous, or 'nonsensical', as the Tories call it. It also says something about the callous disregard for the poorest in society that the suggestion of raising tax on those who earn at least three times the average wage is regarded as a gross infringement of their civil liberties.
As I have said before, head teachers, doctors and top ranking police can afford to pay more tax and they should do. They already spend a far lower proportion of their incomes on tax than do people who clean offices or serve coffee.
The proposals are relatively modest in terms of taxation, as is the proposal for an extra £25 billion on infrastructure spending, bringing it to £75 billion. Indeed, there are many mainstream economists who would agree with the need for further infrastructure spending in a country where public spending on these areas has been devastated.
Why the howls then? Because this isn't about one manifesto, it's about the battle of ideas for what sort of society we want to live in. Labour under Corbyn has for the first time in decades put forward a clear alternative to the dominant right-wing consensus. This seems unthinkable to the politicians and businessmen who have backed that consensus. They are also frightened that putting these ideas into the public domain might actually lead people to think that things can change.
The rallies really matter
Today's manifesto launch sees pledges to nationalise a number of industries including the water companies - vital for infrastructure spending. A poll on Monday for Survation puts the NHS as the most important election issue, ahead of Brexit by a five point margin.
This is good for Labour. Jeremy Corbyn received a great reception at the RCN nurses' conference and will support them in any industrial action. So why is Labour - despite a clear uptick in the last week - so far behind the Tories in the polls?
Seems to me there are two main reasons: first is the way in which the Tories have held onto nearly all their own support following Brexit, plus sucked in most of the Ukip vote from 2015. The second is the difficulties that Labour has. Part of this is the appalling behaviour of many Labour MPs and grandees, who have always refused to accept Corbyn and a move to the left, and did great damage to Labour's poll ratings from the EU referendum onwards.
Part of it is the decay of Labour organisation and support in some of its heartlands. The answer to that is not more of the same triangulation and neglect we've seen since the 1980s but a genuine grassroots attempt to rebuild left politics in these areas.
We have three weeks to try to turn these around and deny May a big majority. It can still be done. The manifesto has altered the debate. The rallies are a huge success - look at the crowds in Leeds and Hebden Bridge. This mobilisation counts for a lot. It is important in enthusing and galvanising support to get the vote out.
It is also important as part of rebuilding a new left, whatever happens in the election. Because we can be certain of one thing: the rich and powerful will do everything to hang on to their wealth and power, and we will have to fight them in order to change society. Let's have those rallies everywhere.
They don't want you to vote if you're young or poor
The report that 25% of school leavers have fallen off the electoral roll in 3 years should surprise no one. It was the inevitable outcome of the change in law brought in by the Coalition in 2014 to make voting registration individual. Households could no longer register all their members, and universities were prevented from registering their students en bloc. This was supposedly done in the name of ending corruption, but its aim was obvious – to make those less likely to vote even more unlikely to vote. And just look, it’s worked.
There is particular concern about 16/17-year-olds, who can go on the register and so able to vote straight away once 18. My home constituency, Hackney South and Shoreditch, is apparently one of the worst. Why doesn’t that surprise me? Safe Labour, with a pretty awful MP Meg Hillier, very poor, very ethnically mixed. What’s to like from the point of view of the Tories? There are similar high figures in neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow.
There is absolutely no good reason for this to happen – apart from blatant politicking of course. Students could be registered from school, from college and university, and individuals signed up through other means – when they take out tenancies, through NHS details, driving licences and all sorts of other official means. There could also be proper explanations in every school about the point of voting. It is fair enough to blame the Tories, but Labour councils could do much more to publicise and encourage registration.
It’s part of a less than engaged attitude towards democracy. I stood for parliament in 2005 for Respect in West Ham and got 20% of the vote. I lost count of the number of people who said they agreed with me but couldn’t register. A related point: why does it take longer to register to vote (over two weeks cut off before the election) than it does to buy a washing machine, get married, or take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway?
Anyway, you must vote. As my old history teacher Mr Harries used to tell us, people died to get the vote. He was quite right, so get everyone you know signed up now.
Not much progress here
The Progressive Alliance had its launch meeting last night. I’m really not impressed with this idea, promoted by among others Labour MP Clive Lewis and the green London Assembly member Sian Berry, and backed by the left reform organisation Compass, that the various progressive parties should pool their resources, standing down in particular constituencies to allow the best-placed candidate to beat the Tory.
My objections range from, who decides who is progressive, to why should any party have to abandon its own policies and identity? I would never vote for the Lib Dems. Even before 2010 and their betrayal over the student tuition fees, I disliked their support for big business and the sometimes frankly racist campaigning carried out in areas like Hackney and Tower Hamlets back in the 70s and 80s. So that’s a big hole in the alliance to start with.
Now, in theory, I have no objection to alliances with other progressives such as the Greens, and nationalists in Scotland and Wales. But I tend to agree with a Green supporter in Somerset I heard recently, who was upset at being denied the right to campaign and vote for her own party. I particularly object to the enthusiasts for this approach who play god, telling us what is best for us to do with our own vote.
Why, in any case, are they going on about this in the middle of an election? Because it isn't about the election but about what's going to happen afterwards. Expect more attacks on Jeremy Corbyn from these quarters.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Tories: the Covid mask slips – weekly briefing
- The trouble with terrorism – weekly briefing
- No Platform: Free speech for all?
- Now it’s neither heat nor eat – weekly briefing
- Sexual violence, economic violence: why women still need our rights – weekly briefing
- Discontents for all seasons – weekly briefing
- The Pandora’s Box of 9/11 – weekly briefing