Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bright Red Lines

'At our best when at our boldest' - the words of one T Blair to Labour's party conference in 2002. He was right of course and should he be speaking with Gordon prior to the Leader's speech on Tuesday I hope he will take the opportunity to remind him of what he said and why he said it. Labour is - despite the cynics (many in our own party) who argue otherwise - a centre-left party, not a centre-right one. It's centre-left credentials since 1997 are impressive: the introduction of the minimum wage, the abolition of the assisted places scheme, more help for pensioners, the hereditary principle in the Lords, huge investment in the NHS, debt cancellation etc, etc. The problem is that many of these radical and socially progressive initiatives were carried out during the first term. Since 2001 Labour has been, on the whole, competent but not radical, managerial but not inspirational.

Things have to change if Gordon Brown is to have any chance of turning Labour's (and his own) fortunes around. Yet strangely I am more optimistic about Labour's future today than I have been for some time. Why? Bizarrely the tumultuous events on the world's financial markets in the past few days offer Labour a unique opportunity to stage a fightback and to put some clear red water between themselves and the the 'City' friendly Tories. According to a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies the highest-earning 0.1% of the UK population enjoy an average annual income of £780,043. This is around 31 times higher than the national average income of £24,000. Given the present context, and given Gordon's commitment to fairness and equity, surely a national debate (led by the Prime Minister) about whether the very wealthy should contribute a bit more through the tax system would be most welcome. The public has watched on in horror and disgust at the City traders who deliberately bid down bank shares, bet on the failure of key stock and companies and even - so it is rumoured - spread false rumours in order to line their own already very deep and very full pockets. The debate should not be dominated by where the cut-off should be placed for any new tax - should it kick-in at £150,000, £250,000 etc - but rather it should be a debate about the principle of such a tax.

Talking about such issues could well be fertile ground for Labour and make life distinctly uncomfortable for David Cameron and his front bench. Cameron's Conservatives are made up of the "right kind of people", his people - privately educated and from a background of immense wealth and privilege. Under Cameron, the Tories still believe that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, their economic, and their social views. For these reasons Cameron would be reluctant to get into a debate about the super-rich and what they should or should not contribute via the tax system.

Brown should be bold. He has little to lose either personally or politically but both he and the nation has, potentially, a good deal to gain.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mike - The opportunity is there, but is Brown capable of using it ?

GW

Robert said...

Yes Welfare reforms, no NHS dentist, hospital now cutting back on everything as Labour refuse to Carry on funding, young soldiers having to go to court to get the right compensation, the sick and the disabled now going onto TV with Jeremy Kyle. yes it's been a good few years.

A socialist government the 10p tax fiasco which was no mistake he said he knew what he was doing and I believe him, now we here that labour must give tax breaks to the middle class.

Sorry gents I see no difference between labour and the Tories.