Britain and the Labour Party are fast approaching a crossroads not encountered since the late 1970s.
When you talk about changing the lives and future prospects of the British people, you simply can’t go about it in a quiet fashion. You’re going to stand on a few toes.
Whatever happened to equality?
Traditionally the Labour Party was the party of equality. There was no room for discrimination within the Labour Party. However, over recent years the Labour Party has perhaps become too beholden to “positive discrimination”. Take a recent candidate selection at my local East Kilbride Labour Party. Due to party rules there had to be a male and a female candidate. Is this really fair? Would it not be better to have two female or male candidates, if they were the best? Why have one of each when one of them could be a total washout! To keep a capable person out of a job just because of their gender is discrimination and there’s nothing “positive” about it.
The Labour Party should again strive to be the party of equality and where inequality exists we should tackle the cause and not the symptoms. To gerrymander results with “positive discrimination” may be part of the present, but it has no place in the future. People respected the Labour Party, when it stood for equality.
Furthermore, there seems to be an unhealthy interest in some quarters of society (particularly within our own ranks) with regards to peoples gender, race, sexuality and religion. Moreover, this predominant school of thought, which is rarely challenged, is intent on categorising, separating and pigeon holing people into ever increasing diverging groups.
Is it not a simple undeniable fact that we are all different? No two of us are exactly the same? Is it not better to stick together, find what we have in common and celebrate this? We all feel happy, we all feel sad and we all bleed red. This in turn leads us to education, sadly an even bigger hot bed of not so positive discrimination.
The Labour Party currently supports the establishment of increasing numbers of “faith” schools, based on the many different religions currently practised in the UK. Having been to schools in both the west coast of Scotland and different parts of England, it has always struck me as strange that in Glasgow, children who were all “Christians” and lived in the same neighbourhood attended different schools.
In effect, faith schools are a system of educational apartheid. The Labour Party should encourage all people regardless of gender, race, religion and disability to attend the same local schools, in order to put the heart, soul and unity back into our communities.
Education is another traditional pillar of the Labour Party. Education and equality have always sat well together. Sadly we have really let this one slip.
Here is a story, a true story that tells you how much education means to ordinary people and by ordinary people I mean people like us, the vast majority of people in this country, the 90% of the electorate that don’t send their kids to private schools.
In my home town of East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, the Labour-led council decided to rebuild the entire stock of schools, spending hundreds of millions of pounds in the process.
Even during the worst economic crisis in living memory the council carried on with this investment. Today, East Kilbride’s and South Lanarkshire’s schools are second to none in the entire UK. So what does this tell us about ordinary people?
Throughout this period, I can honestly not recall any opposition to the principle of building these new state of the art schools. The people of East Kilbride and South Lanarkshire were delighted that their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces were getting the best start in life and were happy to pay for this education through their traditional payment method of choice, taxation.
We, the ordinary 90% of the population pay for our education through taxation, the privileged 10% pay for their education through fees, both methods are deeply ingrained into the psyche of each group.
What (we) the ordinary 90% of the voting population really do not understand, is why does it now cost additional direct payments for our children to attend further education? Why, when our children’s formative education is paid for through taxation from nursery to high school, do they then meet a “financial barrier“, when they have already overcome the “academic barrier” to earn their place in higher education?
Surely today as in the past, the vast majority of people would be willing to pay for all education through taxation, in the same way as we currently pay for the National Health Service? After all, would you not rather have a clever doctor, one that was educated through a fair and equal education system, or perhaps you would rather have a doctor of lesser ability but of wealthy parents?
I believe that this unhappy and uncalled for state of affairs has emerged over the years because the members of the House Of Commons, Conservative, Labour and everything in between have increasingly become populated by the wealthy and the privileged, those who have always paid fees for their private school education and see it as perfectly normal. Indeed, they see it as a logical progression to now pay fees for all university and further education. Perhaps if you commissioned a study, you would find that 90% of current MP’S have been to, or send their children to private schools. Nevertheless, what’s normal for them isn’t normal for us, the 90% of ordinary British voters.
For the record, I’m not having a pop at anyone because of their background rich or poor. The relevant point is that in a representative democracy, the representatives (MP’S) should by and large mirror the lives of the people that they purport to represent.
How can it possibly be right that as a society we will pay an 18 year old unemployment benefit for doing nothing, but will give little or no support to an 18 year old wanting to continue their studies?
If the Labour Party were to bring back properly funded further education with maintenance grants and no course fees, it would not only be the popular thing to do, it would be the right thing to do. We, the ordinary 90% of people would be much happier to know that if one of our own had ability, they would not be held back by lack of finance. Britain can not afford to overlook it’s finest talent, after all it’s not where your from in life it’s where your going and the Labour Party should always stand for equality of opportunity.
Without exception, in almost every town and city in the UK there is a chronic lack of both affordable private and social housing. However, this apparent problem can be turned into a golden opportunity for the Labour Party at the next general election.
Long before the start of the financial crisis of 2007 the availability of affordable housing has been an ongoing problem. This is due to several factors:
- The large scale sale of council housing from 1980’s onwards.
- The relative recent historical increase in the cost of private housing in relation to income
- The growth of the private rented sector.
We could of course build new estates of social housing and fill them with tenants who have little or no work and this would still be a social good, far better than the insecure tenancy or the slum landlord. Nevertheless, it is my profound belief that we have the opportunity to do so much better.
The new social housing deal
Peoples expectations of housing have risen in the past 30 years, not so much in the facilities on offer, but in the desire to own a property, unfortunately the barriers to this for many people are at present onerous and include:
- A banking industry unwilling to lend to house buyers (for a variety of well documented reasons including insufficient savings, low wages, insecure / self employment).
- The end of the right to buy scheme in some parts of the UK. Indeed, where the scheme is still operational the remaining housing stock in some areas is so undesirable that no one wants to purchase it.
These problems should be viewed as an opportunity for the Labour Party. We must offer our people a new deal and a brighter future and this is how we are going to do it.
With our new deal, new social housing tenants will be offered shared cooperative ownership terms in the property, in short, every tenant that is in employment and pays rent will have a rent credit put aside in a fund that they will receive when they vacate the property, this is an incentive to both work and pay rent. The new deal will provide a calculated lump sum when the tenant vacates the property, this sum could be used, if so wished, to put a deposit down on a private property.
This is in the belief that many people do have higher aspirations than in the past and that we should help to fulfil these aspirations, other than leaving people with no option than the long term rental of private or social housing. Other benefits of the new deal are that the housing stock would remain in public ownership, providing more tenancies, with a higher turnover in tenants as longer term tenants will have a far better opportunity to move on.
So, at the very least we will build houses and offer people the opportunity to live in high quality social housing with a secure tenancy. However, with shared cooperative ownership we create a whole new dimension, that will help to deliver the aspirations of many people in a fair and socially democratic modern society.
In a decent society, everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to and be rewarded by that society. This should be achieved by the full and active employment of the entire working population. This is not only a social good it’s an economic necessity, as over the longer term you cannot have a welfare state and high levels of unemployment, it is simply economically unviable.
With this in mind, we have to tackle the long term structural unemployment that has been present in many areas of the UK since the early 1980’s. It’s an unacceptable and tragic waste of human talent to pay people to do nothing, demeaning both the unemployed individual and the society itself, not to mention the massive waste of economic resources. No less an evil is the practice of under employment, with insecure terms, low wages and minimal benefits. These are two sides of the of the same story, a tale of woe that has sadly become a fact of life in today’s Britain, as we teeter towards a new Dickensian age.
Even during the boom when the last Labour government were in power the situation did not improve. As a society we were happier to bring in immigrants to fill jobs, than tackle long term structural unemployment, this is the situation that still remains today, with the free movement of labour across the European Union. Here is a simple fact, we will never achieve our goal of full employment as long as we have mass immigration from poorer European countries.
What advantage is there to the ordinary people within our society or Europe to allow this mass free movement of labour between competing nation states. We cannot confuse this with planned immigration, however, the European Union’s “free movement of labour” is more of a free for all, where the main winners are businesses and the biggest losers are lower skilled workers. After all, the teacher, social worker or civil servant has less to fear from this type of immigration than the warehouse operative, shop assistant or care home worker.
Make no mistake, the free movement of labour between European nations is no friend to the ordinary working person. This piece of legislation should be repealed, and the British Labour Party should take the lead on this issue and in Europe at large. We shall discuss this in detail a little later on.
I truly believe that everyone has a role to play in our society, in the post war consensus, if you had only one arm, you would be expected to do a job with that arm. Today, they would probably sit you down in some day centre and employ someone to bring you a cup of tea! If we are to build a truly decent society, everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute through employment and everyone should be expected to contribute through employment. The economic and social benefits would be enormous, with less paid out in welfare, leading to the creation of far higher tax revenues and the subsequent reduction in social deprivation.
I’m very proud to be Scottish and British. However, no one in their right mind can stand there telling me that the Union has either served the people of Scotland, or large parts of Britain well over the past 30 years! Scotland has been totally and utterly devastated, we have little or no industry, mass unemployment and appalling social problems.
You really would need some front to try to claim that everything within the Union garden is “rosy”, it’s far from it. However, what the Scottish people really want to hear from the Labour Party is that we too, are far from happy with the way things are in Scotland and the rest of the UK. However, we will fight to improve matters, we will not turn in on ourselves and we will not walk away. Nevertheless, we must recognise that the Union which has delivered in the distant past, has been failing to deliver for decades, however, we don’t want to break the Union up, we want to fix it.
The European Union
The European Union, in, out, or shake it all about? This question has been routinely buried by all political parties at election time since the mid 1970’s. No ifs, no buts‘, the British Labour Party has to address this issue square on. If we do not get a grip of this issue now, the future of Britain, Europe and the rest of the World could be very dark indeed.
There are similarities, between the SNP and UKIP. Both at first glance offer simplistic alternatives to the status quo, which at first examination look quite appealing.
UKIP are eating into the Conservative vote, The Conservative Party have tried to placate the issue, by offering an in out referendum if they are returned in the next general election. The Liberal Party are slavishly Europhile. The position of the Labour Party is therefore crucial.
The European Union at present is a disgrace and Europe’s ruling elite of the past 40 years have run a once rich successful continent into the ground. Their project has failed and now their time is up.
- If the electorate decide to vote to leave the European Union. Britain and Europe would be severely weakened. The European Union without Britain will be even more of a basket case. Many members would be very worried that we were no longer there. The likelihood of a major conflict in Europe, in the medium term would certainly increase.
- If the electorate decided to stay in the European Union. Britain could (politically) be a busted flush, the country that gambled and lost, we would lose influence and be governed by a weak divided party, that would be outcasts in an ever more failing European Union.
If the British Labour Party move boldly today, the future could be so very much better for all the people of Europe. When you hear of 40% youth unemployment in Spain, you really know there is something seriously wrong.
The European Union can plan quotas for catching fish, or how many apples should be grown. However, for some peculiar reason they are either unable or unwilling to plan or legislate for the mass movement of labour over an entire continent. If the British Labour Party fights to repeal this crazy policy and endeavours to build a Europe of the people, for the people. Then this is surely a future well worth fighting for?