Friday, 6 January 2012

Labour's flagship policy offer?

In his article for LabourList, Gus Baker argues that Labour need bolder and more dynamic policy ideas to inspire the public’s support. Now, I disagree with his implication that “pledges to decrease VAT on home improvements to 5% and regulate peak time railway fares” are all the party currently has to offer; the £2 billion tax on bankers’ bonuses to create jobs is very much in keeping with the public sentiment of the moment, while investment in schools, transport and roads is a potentially very big and bold piece of legislation.

But I do think, firstly, that the main thrust of what the public are hearing from Labour is criticism of the Conservatives; they are not hearing the five point plan clearly articulated. Labour should, more, when criticising Tory policies, be saying “and what they should be doing instead is…”.

And furthermore parts of the five point plan are…vague. With the exception of the £2 billion tax on bankers’ bonuses, the ideas of “job creation” and “public investment”, though clearly policies that Labour should adopt, are not…one, simple idea for people to get excited about, the way the minimum wage was. And meanwhile the VAT cuts and national insurance breaks (again good policies) while are not vague are, as Baker said, are not massively awe inspiring ideas either. Not that we shouldn't support these policies; it's just that they don't make very good flagship policies.

So then...what?

What policies could Labour adopt that are simple, clear and exciting?

Dropping the Health Care Bill?
Obviously something we do believe, and it has popular support, but trying to make it out centrepiece would be problematic because it’s negative; it’s hard to get the public excited about something that is saying “let’s go back to the way things were!”.

Renationalising the Railways?
OK, although I do think this would be a good idea, I’m almost joking by writing it; not only do I think the Labour Party isn’t going to do it, there’s potential for it not go down all that well with the public (potentially; I would love to see someone do a study on this).

Prison reform?
I certainly think Labour should get behind the idea of a more reform based prison system as a way to cut reoffending and thus better protect the public, but this also falls into the category of being too vague and generalised. Furthermore, it would essentially mean agreeing with Ken Clarke; though I would be all in favour of the party working with Clarke on the issue (besides the fact that Clarke is a. lovely and b. correct on this issue, some bipartisanship might win points with the public), such a flagship policy like this would really have to be something we can say the Tories wouldn’t do.

Income tax cuts?
Andrew Harrop recently argued that Labour should advocate progressive income tax cuts. There are ups and downs to this idea…the public might well be in favour, but to some doesn’t seem all that left could perhaps be done alongside public spending to stimulate the economy?, but is that affordable? This could be a strong political move, but how effective it would be without government spending, and how possible it would be with government spending is questionable. But certainly an option Labour should explore.

The Living Wage?
This is probably my top pick: raising the minimum wage to a living wage of £7.20 (£8.30 in London). It’s a simple, clear cut change in the law that would be of great benefit to so many. There is, of course, the question of whether those who are already paid the living wage or above would see it as advantageous to them; but I believe people are both egalitarian enough and aware enough that they themselves might one day end up in a low paid job that they would still support the policy.

These are just some ideas; there are certainly other options…but Labour should certainly think around potential flagship policies that the public can get enthusiastic about.

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