Lindsey German on creating perspective, fair elections and the Lib Dems
We're on the eve of a major debate between Corbyn and Johnson, and of the launch of Labour's manifesto. Loads of proposals and ideas are being thrown about, and the Tories are clearly doing their best to neutralise areas where Labour scored in 2017, and where they know that they are less popular than Labour. That's what Boris Johnson's abandonment of another cut in corporation tax in favour of more spending on the NHS is all about. Never mind that even the corporations weren’t clamouring for a cut to what is already one of the lowest corporation taxes.
Johnson managed to outmanoeuvre Labour with the announcement as both party leaders addressed the Confederation of British Industry. It may be utterly insincere, but we should not be surprised by Johnson’s lurch towards more public spending in order to win the election. He is capable of putting forward quite radical policies in order to undercut Labour support among erstwhile Labour supporters, especially some of those who voted Leave.
Labour will have to do more to counter this than producing good proposals on the NHS and public services because on their own they will not necessarily be the vote winner we hope they will be. Labour needs to be challenging the status quo. It should be the party relentlessly taking up the Bolton student accommodation fire and its implications, as well as the accusations of war crimes about soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The proposal for free fibre broadband and nationalisation of BT Openreach is one example of what needs to be done. Not only is this a popular policy, but it also challenges the whole ethos of private market capitalism and so opens up the possibility of much wider debates.
Labour supporters are mobilising in huge numbers to go canvassing around the country. This is a huge resource for labour and one which can be decisive in countering the lies and disinformation of the media and right wing politicians. However, there are reports in a number of places which show that there are many voters declaring themselves undecided about who to vote for - genuinely undecided as opposed to just trying to get rid of the canvasser. This seems to be greater in this election than previously.
It means that Labour is not winning over voters as quickly and in as great numbers as it should. What might be the reason for this? I'd put forward three factors. The first is that the Brexit debate is in many cases weakening party loyalties or coming into conflict with party loyalties.
The second is that the political polarisation has led to two more controversial party leaders than normally. Even many Tories know that Johnson is a chancer and a liar so are worried about him as prime minister. Jeremy Corbyn is a decent socialist politician but has been subject to the most vile slurs from media, sections of his own party, and opportunists from other parties, and Labour supporters have to counter that.
There’s finally – and in my view most importantly – a sense that many voters don’t feel the figures involved are credible. By this I don't mean that Labour's figures are wrong, or uncosted. Labour has gone to huge trouble to avoid the how will you afford this or we don't have a magic money tree type of question. But there is nonetheless a scepticism about these figures - and not just from the usual suspects on the right. People are used to promises from politicians, and they are used to being disappointed. People sense too that there will be strong resistance from business to Labour’s more radical proposals and they need to be sure that Labour is really up for a fight.
I think this means Labour needs to talk much more about the society it wants and how it is going to get there. Labour has a very strong case and is the only party with a vision of an alternative not based on inequality and free market misery. It needs to get it out there. Let’s hope the debate tonight makes it clear.
Where’s the Electoral Commission?
The Electoral Commission is there to, among other things, regulate elections and stop irregularities and fraud from happening. It often intervenes, and quite often is harsh towards small parties with few resources, as I know from past experience when I stood as candidate for Respect.
So I’m fascinated to know why it has so far done nothing about major issues of concern with the election. One is allegations that Brexit Party candidates were phoned by Downing Street officials and offered peerages or jobs with the government in exchange for standing down in a number of constituencies so allowing a more favourable contest for the Tories. This is, if true, corruption and should be dealt with as such.
Another is the growing worry about Lib Dem leaflets in a number of constituencies, which are – not to put too fine a point on it – dishonest and misleading. They claim that their candidate is the only one who can win even when past election results show them coming a distant third. Chris Leslie and Mike Gapes, former Labour MPs now campaigning as independents, are using Labour colours and the word Labour in their publicity.
The Electoral Commission should surely pronounce on these rather than allow possibly many thousands of voters to be misled? But that would require challenging major parties, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Lib Dems: don’t say you weren’t warned
I hope those tempted to vote Lib Dem over Brexit will notice Jo Swinson’s remark that the Lib Dems are the natural party of business. And that her party’s policy is to effectively continue austerity policies in terms of day to day public spending. Nothing good will come of a vote for this bunch.
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’.
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