20 November 2019 13:11
At this stage in the 2017 general election, Labour was trailing miserably in the polls, desperately needing to make up ground to deny the Tories a shot at a hard Brexit, and all this with a leader whose public approval ratings were at -40. There was no Labour Prime Minister, no end to the suffering of millions under Tory austerity, and – two and a half years later – no progress whatsoever in terms of preventing the hardest of Brexits. Scenario 2 – Both sides fall short of a majority but Labour are able to form a minority government or coalition. Scenario 3 – Both sides fall short of a majority but the Tories are able to form a minority government or coalition. Firstly, "Why do we find ourselves playing catch-up going into every election?", and secondly, "Even if our policies are popular, are there other factors that are preventing us from winning the votes we need to reach Scenario 2, let alone the sacred Scenario 1 – an outright Labour majority?" But they do matter to those typically older, non-graduate voters with more localist, communitarian values, often living in those seats that we lost in 2017 – like Mansfield and Middlesbrough – where we must now convince voters to back Labour if we are going to form a government.
But let us also remember that after nine years of Tory lies, austerity and national self-harm, only a compassionate Labour government will suffice for those people facing the greatest hardship. The fundamental differences in immigration policy between the Conservatives and the Labour Party are strong indicators of the real distance between us and our competing visions for our futures. The changes the Tories intend to make to immigration policy are actually a huge assault on the rights of ordinary people of this country, their rights at work, their access to the welfare safety net and the fundamental basis of the NHS. At a stroke, it would increase by millions the number of precarious workers in the workforce, beyond the number of people on zero-hours' contracts, which have risen from under 200,000 to almost 900,000 under the Tories. Under the Tory plan, migrant workers will have to wait five years before they can claim welfare benefits.
And, once the Tories have established this reactionary principle, what is to stop them insisting that school leavers or students entering the workforce will also have to wait five years, or single parents re-entering the jobs market? Tory ministers also use the argument that migrant workers need to "pay in" to the NHS before accessing it. The public appears to agree, too, with a majority of voters "trusting" the Tories more than Labour with their money. With the general election underway and the Tories going big on their supposedly superior economic record, it's worth seeing how the facts contradict the perception. Referencing worker-strikes during Labour's Winter of Discontent (1978-79), Dominic Raab warned voters that if Labour gets into power there will again be coffins in the streets and rubbish piled high. The fact is that since 1955, when they were first measured, there have been 14 recessions and contractions (by year or quarter) and 10 of them occurred under Tory governments. So, if Labour are so bad with the economy, why have more recessions occurred under Tory governments–and in proportion to their number of years in office? Far from Labour setting a trend of reckless borrowing, it was the Tory PM Harold Macmillan who first tried to borrow from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to save the economy from pound-to-dollar inflation caused by the Suez crisis (1956). The right wing of the Labour party convinced PM Harold Wilson to do what the Tories had attempted: to borrow from the IMF. Despite the fact that there were four recessions and contractions (by year) during Margaret Thatcher's term alone (1979-90), and three during Major's (1990-97, including Q4 of 1990), Labour continues to take the blame for the global financial crisis in 2008, even though Labour was at the time pursuing the very "light touch" financial regulation favoured by Tories. Another propaganda weapon used against Labour is the post-crash memo written by Treasury Secretary Liam Byrne to his successor, saying: "I'm afraid there is no money." This added to the perception of Labour's economic incompetence. Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats used the memo as an election prop and a reminder that the economy is not safe with Labour. Consider other economic measures, like Labour's record on real wages and deficit reductions. By 1970, Labour's Wilson had brought the deficit down to nearly minus 2 per cent of GDP. But within four years, the Tories under Edward Heath had increased the deficit. But under Thatcher and Major, the deficit shot up again only to be gradually reduced by New Labour. By 1955 under the Tories, public sector net debt was 140 per cent (relative to GDP). It continued to fall under Wilson's Labour government (1964-70) and was at 50 per cent by 1979, when Thatcher came to power. But Thatcher's successor John Major increased it and it continued to climb under New Labour. The Tories boast of "record employment." Leaving aside the fact that many people have dropped out of the labour market and those that remain are often in insecure work, today's employment levels are only a few percentage points higher than when they peaked under Harold Wilson in the 1960s. But before the financial crisis, employment actually peaked at 74 per cent under Wilson's 1966 Labour government. In 1979, following Callaghan's Labour government, more than seven in 10 working-age people were employed. It took seven years for employment to reach a high of over 70 per cent again, only to decline under Major in 1993. The steadiest period of employment was during the pre-financial crisis years of New Labour. Even during the crisis, unemployment never fell below 70 per cent, a number still superior to both the records of Thatcher and Major. The Great Recession brought VWS down to just 0.2 per cent, but Tory austerity meant that it took six long years to creep the measure up to 3.9 per cent by 2015, which is still lower than New Labour's peak. By several measures–public sector debt, public sector borrowing, macro-economic stability, and the value of wages and salaries–successive Tory governments have not only failed to perform better than their Labour counterparts, they have often performed worse.