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Trying to get to the bottom of Tory cuts: Why can't they come clean?

It’s the Inequality

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 8th November 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

Gary Lineker has been coming out with some pithy, relevant comments recently on Twitter, and much like an essential feature of the game he professionally played, the result of the US election reveals a country of two halves.

Like Brexit, this result and the corresponding lurch to the right, stem from inequality. Unfortunately, and quite to the contrary of what these dispossessed people have voted for, the resulting administration now has the propensity to make their situation far worse.

It is one thing to be a demagogue and stand up and say what you think people want you to say. It is another thing to deliver that change, especially when your agenda is probably quite different to the one you used to get into power. So those people who voted for him must get used to the idea of getting disillusioned–especially with reference to “building the wall”–pretty soon.

But who can guess what is going on in Donald Trump’s mind? It is certainly the case that he has supported Democrat candidates in the past and has sometimes appeared liberal in what he has said. But he will feel the pressure of a resurgent Republican party and all the extremes that such an establishment contains and has no choice but to act accordingly.

So the lurch to the right is now here to stay and may be enlarged by forthcoming elections in Europe. All of us who are liberal and progressive are undoubtedly fearful. We are fearful, in particular, of right-wing policies connected to: climate change; civil rights; growing nationalism; welfare; taxation and the handling of the economy in general.

The opportunity is there to be seized for liberalism, but we need to make the argument and in particular appeal to those who have been left behind. In reality, no party has truly represented them for years.

In particular our ideas, campaigns and resulting policies must specifically address and advance how changes that have been brought about by exponential growth in technology and growing globalization can and will be a benefit to all and not some. Inequality is the great social evil of our times for those living in much of the developed world and has to be countered head on.

The right will not do this, much as they may claim otherwise. Post Brexit and post Trump, if you are progressive, it’s not enough to stand around and despair. There has to be hope. This is the time for liberalism and progressives everywhere.

 

Let’s Think Again About Universal Basic Income

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 28th October 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

I was disappointed that the working group on welfare at the recent Brighton conference decided not to back a Universal Basic Income (UBI). An amendment (defeated) put forward by members from Calderdale called for negative income tax. But actually, fundamentally, a UBI is both far more essentially liberal and—in any case–the current societal context and demographic trends demand that we should look far more closely at this, especially as we are a progressive party.

The current welfare system, introduced just after the Second World War, has become complex, bureaucratic, top-down and increasingly intrusive—note that all these descriptors are fundamentally illiberal. Remarkable as it was at the time in terms of its radical policies, and essential in modernising our society, now it is out of date and struggling to cope with 21st century society.

The two huge current issues we cannot ignore are the nature and rate of technological change, and the fact that we have an increasingly ageing society. Though full employment should be the goal of any society, increasingly it is not looking like it will ever be achievable again in the UK in a globalised world, especially the concept of full employment with an adequate, living wage for all workers. This is, at the most simplistic level, mainly because of: outsourcing basic, non-specialist work to cheaper labour markets in emerging economies; and advances in technology which will increasingly automate many forms of work undertaken by people.

Low wages have become a stubborn factor in the UK since the 1990s, and it is difficult to see how these can be shifted upwards anytime in the near future. The “gig economy” looks like it is here to stay for lots of us, with the accompanying lack of financial stability that it brings to many households.

The RSA has been investigating a UBI for well over a year and its report can be found here. In addition trials have begun in the Netherlands and are expected to begin soon in Finland. In fact the Finnish Government is designing a national Basic Income system to replace large parts of their current welfare system. There was a referendum to introduce a Basic Income in Switzerland in June this year, which though heavily defeated, shows how the idea is gaining currency. Think tanks in the USA, Germany, UK, etc, are increasingly looking at UBI as way to ensure all can lead a decent life in the modern world.

I am not proposing that this should be a policy “fix” that is “magicked up” overnight and done to people. This seemed to be one of the reasons for the working group to not include it in their conference motion, as they saw the difficulties with implementation. But in truth, that should not have been a constraint for them. For huge systemic changes to occur, there has to be a conversation with the public that lasts years, probably in this case, decades. There has to be long time for people to get used to the idea and thoroughly understand its benefits, what has changed and why it is needed.

We should be actively encouraging that conversation, and be seen as prime movers and advocates for significant changes in welfare. A poll of members on Lib Dem Voice has already shown that members support the idea of a UBI.

Freedom from being in government can have benefits. We should not longer be content with merely tinkering round the edges. We have to be liberal, think big, and UBI is a great place to start.

 

Sorting out the Political Mess

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 28th June 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

I am concerned about many of the issues that people have been discussing on Lib Dem Voice and the media over the past few days. The big issues being:

  • The referendum was actually about issues other than the EU and indeed immigration–in particular: gross inequality in our country; how austerity has created winners and losers when it comes to many cities and regions; and the opportunity this represented for people to punish the political elites.
  • The Leave campaign seem to have pedaled out a lot of untruths—especially the inability to be able to stem immigration in the post-Brexit world and our inability to pour £350 million into the NHS each week.

But time to dissect the politics and ponder the political landscape after this momentous decision. Who is fit to run the country both during this period of massive division and after the dust has settled?

First, the Conservatives. I hope most people are seeing now that the referendum was brought about solely because of a Conservative problem. They were and still are deeply divided on the EU and Cameron thought it worth the political gamble to have a referendum to keep part of his party content (and also to keep Ukip at by during the last General Election). We can see that he lost his bet because he felt he had to resign—at a moment when the right thing to do would have been to stay on and try to sort the mess out. This is very poor leadership, to say the least. Osborne disappeared for three days when the markets were in turmoil and prominent Tory Brexiters were left at a loss for meaningful words, apparently because they did not think they would win.

It emerges that there was no plan from the Brexit camp or the administration, despite what Osborne has said since, for the situation we now find ourselves in. It feels like we have just been part of an almost unwitting right-wing coup, with no-one knowing how to pick up the pieces and move forward with purpose at a time when the country is crying out for leadership.

Who will next lead the Conservative party? I am wondering if Boris Johnson, has in fact played this all wrong. How can someone who campaigned so passionately for Brexit lead a country (or indeed a party) so deeply divided on Europe? There is a need to have a moderate leader and someone who can unite the party and country. That is not Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.

Then there is the issue of competence. The Conservatives have long been touted as the responsible and competent party. For how long did they play the old tune that the Labour party had let down the country through being financially incompetent? But now the charge can clearly be levelled at the Tories that they have been politically incompetent and have thereby put the country at risk. But who is going to call them out for this incompetence?

This brings us onto Labour. At a time when the main opposition party should be calling on the Conservatives for leadership and a plan to sort the political mess out, they are engaged in an internecine war over their own leadership. And it seems that this is going to run and run, as Corbyn will not back down.

Also, Labour came to the party late over the referendum, their leader being seemingly lukewarm over membership of the EU and not grasping the nettle early enough. The fact that they were unable to engage their heartlands shows a clear disconnect between the party and what have traditionally been their natural supporters. Labour seems to be in a crisis.

So what now? The Tory and Labour political classes have fallen into themselves at a time when the country needs them. Serious issues of competence and putting the country first over party politics must come into play here. This has been a desperate moment for party politics and has shown it in its worst light.

There has never been a more important moment for liberal ideas and values in our country. I sincerely hope that, as people all across the country have been joining the liberal cause, those MPs who are more liberal in the Labour and Conservative parties, think seriously about whether they can serve their electorates more effectively as part of a liberal party, united behind its leader and its policies.

Seismic shifts are afoot. It is difficult to see how what have been the two main political parties in this country for around a century can return to “business as usual” after this crisis is over.