Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The UK's economic model is broken (And only Labour can fix it)

"The UK’s economic model is broken. Britain stands at a watershed moment where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising." As a country therefore we must now "reject the current patterns of economic growth that delivered most of the gains to corporations and the richest in society."   

You might be forgiven for thinking these words were spoken by Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell, those "dangerous, hard left, socialists" now leading the Labour Party. But no! They come from Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. And he's right. And he's not alone in that stark assessment. For he was speaking as a member of the Economic Justice commission of the the Institute of Public Policy Research ("IPPR").

Last week, the IPPR's Economic Justice commission released its interim report. Their conclusion was both alarming and unsurprising. They said things that were probably already pretty obvious to most people looking at this country with open eyes:
  • that over the past 10 years (and long before) the very rich in this country have got a lot richer. Between 2009 and 2015 the UK’s richest 1,000 families saw their assets double from £258bn to £547bn  and since the 1970s the share of national income going  to owners of businesses and property rather than wages has increased by over one third.
  • meanwhile most of us have continued to be worse off  over the last 10 years- the UK has suffered the longest period of stagnant/ falling wages in 150 years. Since 2010 average earnings per employee has fallen by 6% despite GDP rising by 12%. And this is against a background of the wealth & income gap between the richest and the rest steadily wideneing since the 1970s.
  • increasingly millions of lives are blighted by poor wages, unaffordable housing, low-quality jobs and rising unsecured debt
  • They concluded that to put things right the British economy is in need of radical, "deep, fundamental reform, comparable to Labour's Attlee government after the war. " 
And far from simply being a mouthpiece for the Labour party (whom they have also critcised in the past), the IPPR is one of the most well-respected independent policy think tanks in the UK. It was their report on Social Justice two decades ago that heavily influenced much of the better work of early New Labour governments to reduce poverty and improve our public services; through e.g. the introduction of a minimum wage, working tax credits and significant re-investment in our NHS and schools (funded partly by windfall taxes on privataised utilities).

Membership of the Economic Justice commission is in fact drawn from a very broad cross section of our society. As well as charitable, church and community groups it includes significant business leaders, such as Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of the consultancy McKinsey and Company; Helena Morrissey, Legal & General’s head of personal investment; Sir Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. So  when they make such bold statements we really should sit up and take notice.

I'm afraid we are now reaping the bitter fruit  of Margaret Thatcher's failed economic philosophy, just as the USA is suffering from the legacy of Reaganomics. They were in truth just another branch of the false economic religion of neo liberalism. It was built on an idolatrous worship of the false blind gods of the freemarket to whom they sacrificed so much of the state's own assets. Of course, it was done with the best of intentions. They did not set out to make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer. They thought it would benefit all (or at least most of us).

Their economic model would supposedly allow the entrepreneurs a free hand so that they would generate the wealth that would just naturally trickle down to the rest of us and we would all be better off. It went hand in hand with the rejection of our previous social democratic model that planned for the country's future, to allow more balanced rights between business and property owners and workers and tenants and ensure a more even distribution of wealth. (Note that "old" model has by and large still been successfully pursued in many other North European countries such as in Scandinavia and even Germany).

This false economic religion of neo liberalism has not borne the sweet fruits it promised for anyone but the rich. This is just as we were warned by the country's last truly social democratic Prime Minister, James Callaghan. On the eve of Thatcherism in Labour's 1979 manifesto he warned:

"The Conservatives are ready to gamble the people's future on a return to the nineteenth century free market' - despite its pitiless social consequences. .... The new technologies hold out the prospect of faster growth and a better quality of life for all... The use of crude market forces advocated by the Tories will not and cannot achieve these changes in a way that is acceptable to the British people...This election comes at a time of change unparalleled since 1945. A generation has now grown up in a welfare state which remains the envy of the world in health care and education. We have demonstrated a capacity for skill and inventiveness which keeps us at the forefront of world technology. Those are no mean achievements. A Tory Government would put all this at risk."

How prophetic that warning proved to be!

Sadly, in 1979 the country ignored James Callaghan's warning and chose a dangerous socio-economic experiment under Margaret Thatcher that we have been living under for nearly 40 years now. Contrary to what the new model promised, under their free market approach  British businesses have largely hoarded cash or returned it to shareholders rather than investing in the future. Business investment has now been been declining for a quarter of a century; we have piled our money into housing speculation rather than wealth-creating assets. Not only has this meant lower productivity and fewer quality jobs, it has also resulted in too few homes (especially affordable ones) and a much higher cost of living that squeezes most households.

We have ended up with a country with a huge trade deficit, buying far more from the rest of the world than we sell to it. Our surplus in services is dwarfed by our deficit in goods. This has happened not because of the European Union's Single Market (which actually could have offered us the opportunity to increase what we sell as has happened in Germany). Certainly wider global competition played a part in the contraction of our manufacturing basis. However, it was also the result of "disastrous, destructive, deliberate deindustrialisation" (to quote the head of the IPPR) . But another underying reason was a political settlement where policy has been set in the City of Westminster in the interests of the City of London, not the country as a whole.

We have also seen a huge reduction in taxes for the richest at the same time as an increase in those taxes that most hit ordinary folk, especially the poorest, such as VAT.

And we have sold off so much of the state's "family silver" (as the former Tory Prime Minister Harold MacMillan bemoaned). We have dismembered so much of our state structure which has been sold off to rich private individuals and corporations and even foreign governments. These private interests have leached billions of pounds in private profits from our public services whilst usually providing a worse service. This has involved the loss of our council housing and tof he inherent monopolies of energy, water and rail and the ownership and running of our schools, hospitals and even prisons. What will be next? Our courts, our police force, the army? (If you want some further insight into this I recommend reading the excellent Dismembered by Polly Toynbee and David Walker).

And all of this inevitably has has led to an ever-widening gap between the rich few and the many and especially the poorest. 

Sadly, this was an economic model largely adopted by New Labour. Hence Maragaret Thatcher's boast that her proudest legacy was Tony Blair. This was illustrated by New Labour's continued love affair with the City of London (which contributed to the financial crash of 2008) and the disastrous expansion of PFI (which will have cost the state about six times the value of the assets built). However, at least the New Labour governments did significantly moderate the damaging effects  of neo liberalism, e.g. through our welfare system and the introduction of the minimum wage. Such policies did reduce poverty even as they allowed inequality to continue to grow. 

And now we have suffered seven years of Tory-led blind economic incompetence. Self-defeating austerity with the butchering of so much of our public services and the removal of much of the welfare state's safety net. This has almost finished this destruction job of our social democratic model. It has resulted in huge increases in poverty and private debt and a fall in real wages and wealth for most of us whilst the very rich have taken more and more and put back less and less. And the Tories' ritual incanctation (repeated e.g. by my own MP at the election) that the best way out of poverty is work not welfare has rung increasingly hollow. 60% of households in poverty are now working households. 

In consequence of all this we are now a poorer and more divided country than we have been at any time since the 1930s. And many economists believe we are also on the verge of another consumer debt led crash (resulting this time largely from the austerity driven fall in wages). 

It was this growing awareness among ordinary folk that they were getting a raw deal which led to the Brexit vote as an act of rebellion in so many working class/poorer communities. They rightly felt the last 40 years had left them and their communities behind. For some of those leave voters their vote was nothing more articulate than putting two fingers up to our rich privileged establishment, epitomised so well by our then Eton-educated Prime Minsister and Chancellor. 

However, many had been transfixed by the "Euro Monster"- the fictional demon created by  another part of the rich establishment. 
This "Euro-Monster", so the stiory goes, is an evil beast who has taken control of our lives by removing the power for our national governemnt to make decisions in our interests and by forcing on us the curse of uncontrollable immigration. This is supposedly the cause of the raw deal that most of the country has experienced - poor wages and unaffordable housing etc- and which our national government is sadly powerless to prevent. However, it's nonsense, a myth. 

The very large majority of laws that have left ordinary people with a raw deal have been made entirely in this country, eg the selling off of our public services to private and foreign interests or the resetting of our tax system to benefit the rich or slashing funding of our welfare state or restriction of access to justice. At the same time all serious independent research has found there is actually very little link between the economic problems most folk have endured and higher immigration. The disconnect between immigration and economic damage is most obvious when you realise that some of the most strongly leave voting constituencies actually had some of the lowest levels of immigration (eg North east England).

This mythical Euro monster was a self-serving invention of certain rich, establishment interests -like the foreign billionaire owners of the Mail & Telegraph. They invented it to try to blind ordinary folk to the real cause of the loss of control and their raw deal- them!- the rich individuals and corporations in whose interests this country has been run for nearly 40 years. It suits their fictional narrative very well that our membership of the EU (since 1972) happens to have coincided with the real sell off of country to the rich under the economic religion of neo liberalism (since 1979).
It is a sad irony that the the social & economic woes that lead to the Brexit vote are only likely to be worsened by Brexit itself, at least the hard form of it that the current government seem to be recklessly pursuing. If they continue down that route the likely failure to achieve a free trade deal will only make us all even poorer.

There is only one UK political party with a plan to reset our social and economic model to work for the good of all rather than just letting the very rich help themselves whilst so many suffer. That party is Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party and it's why there can and will be no return to New Labour.  Their goals are to achieve ends that should be endorsed by all biblical Christians (which I seek to be) and frankly by all right thinking people of other faiths or none:
  • reduce poverty and homelessness
  • set people free from debt
  • give everyone a fair stake in and a secure place in the resources this country has to offer
  •  protect God's planet that we all share and depend on
  •  increase social justice
  •  pursue peace in this country and the wider world
Their means of achieving these ends were sketched out in their recent election manifesto- For the Many, Not the Few- a title which would well fit the same hymn sung by The Economic Justice commission.  Although the manifesto was finalised at such short notice it proved increasingly popular the more people learned about it. It was also pretty well received by many of the world's  leading economists who in a joint letter endorsed their economic plans as just what the country needed to revitalize our post Brexit evonomy. Labour's radical transformative policies included:

  • a new National Investment Bank ready to lend £1/4 trillion for business and innovation over 10 years
  • a new £1/4 trillion fund to rejuvenate our crumbling infrastructure over the same period
  • increased income tax rates on the richest
  • a potential land value tax to act both as a wealth tax and a means of forcing property developers to build hosuing the country needs now rather than horde until the price is "right" (for them not the rest of us!)
  • a massive programme of affordable housebuilding especially through construction of councl housing
  • the reintroduction of rent controls and greater rights and security for tenants
  • a clamp down on tax evasion and tax avoidance
  • the start of the reversal of the governments' welfare benefit cuts which are plunging so many into poverty
  • new employment rights and protetcions including banning zero hours contracts and new rights to trade union representaion
  • an increase in the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020
  • the abolition of debt-burdening student tuition fees
  • renationalising our railways and water industry
  • establishing a new national energy provider focussed on green  renewable energy production
  • reversing the privatising of the running of many of our public services to bring them back under state/council control
  • caps on pay of those in charge of companies performing government contracts.
Since the election we have also seen the Labour party articulate a sensible soft Brexit: an approach that both respects the (albeit very misguided) leave vote whilst avoiding the Tories' hard Brexit cliff edge that threatens to plunge all of us into even more tubulent economic seas.

And over the coming months hopefully Labour will be able to develop further radical, transformative policies which like 20 years ago will no doubt be positively influenced by the IPPR's final report. Hopefully this will include other policies that Labour has seriously considered but not yet articulated such as enforced profit shares for all employees (which narrowly missed making it to their last two manifestos).

Even the Tory party are slowly recognising that things have to change. Hence Theresa May's already forgotten or watered down promises to cap energy prices, take action over excessive executive pay and now consideration of doing "something" about student loan debts. However what they have actually put forward so far has been very thin gruel which will not really nourish the many.

I confidently hope and pray that our current government will soon fall, perhaps on their own Brexit sword, and that after the following election we should see a radical Labour government elected. A government that will transform and reset our socio-economic model to work for the many not just the few, just as they did under Clement Attlee 72 years ago.

And the real test of that transformation (as it was for Thatcherism with New Labour) will be when the Conservative party adopts that same new social democratic model- just as they adopted the old social democratic model under the likes of Churchill and MacMillan in the 1950s.

This desire to provide an economy that works for the benefit of all and protects the poorest is a very biblical aim. It was with a similar end in mind that God founded his first earthly kingdom of Israel. In  Numbers and Deuteronomy God makes clear that every citizen is to have a stake in their promised land so that there should be no need for any poverty. However if there was poverty (which due to human sin God knew sadly there would be) the poor must be provided for and justice for the poor must take precedence over individual self interests. This included the radical jubilee system of cancelling debts and redistributing wealth, i.e. giving land back to the families who originally owned it. 

Similarly today I believe we need to take back control of our country to ensure we all get a fair share. It is not about taking back control or ownership from the mythical "Euro monster" (who actually controls relatively little). It is about taking back control and ownership from those who really have snatched it from us- the rich individuals and corporations in whose interests this country has been run for nearly 40 years. 

The perfect fair society that will truly benefit everyone can ultimately only be realised when Jesus returns to earth to establish his kingsom of heaven on earth. Until then due to human sin we will fall short, as will any future Labour government. But by God we can do so much better ! And the God that I and the Archbishop of Canterbury believe in challenges us to do so.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

General Election June 2017-What Lessons Did We Learn?

We are now two weeks on from the craziest election that most of us have lived through. An election invaded by two dreadful terrorist attacks and then followed by the tragic events of Grenfell Tower. It  was an election which most of us- myself included- thought could only end one way. A coronation for a triumphant Queen Theresa. Meanwhile poor Jeremy Corbyn would be consigned to the dustbin of history (as the Sun prophesied) and along with him the death of any hope of a future socialist government.

How differently it turned out! I have never been happier to be proved wrong on so many counts. Like many I prayed for a political miracle and we got one. OK it wasn't quite the miracle I'd prayed for-  a Labour government, but we got the next best thing- a Labour government in waiting. We saw a deflated, defeated Tory party, a Prime Minister who had arrogantly proclaimed herself as “strong and stable" with a plan for our post Brexit future, exposed as “weak and wobbly" and whose plan was no more than vacuous soundbites. Most of all we got a Labour party united behind an inspirational leader , with a genuine plan and vision offering the country real hope. As a lady once said, “Just rejoice at that news.”

Let's remember at the start of the election campaign Labour was polling at 18 to 25 points below the Tories and Theresa May's popularity was a staggering 40 points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn's. No opposition leader starting an election from such a low point had ever done anything but fail abysmally. Labour were heading for a car crash (or so we all thought). Yet in the space of no more of a few weeks the election was transformed. The only reliable pollster (yet again) was Survation and even by their measure on 12 May Labour was 18 points behind. But incredibly by 2 June only 3 weeks later and despite (or perhaps partly because of) two terrorist attacks they were in striking distance of the Tories. And that's where they stayed, finishing only 2 points behind them in the actual vote.

And since the election Jeremy and Labour’s popularity has only increased while Theresa and the Tories has continued to plummet. Two post-election polls by Survation (everyone else seems to have given up) showed Labour 3 to 6 points ahead of the Tories . And YouGov (who got the pollsters’ runner up prize) found that Jeremy now had a 34 point popularity  advantage over Theresa- a complete reversal of their positions at the start of the election.
So two weeks on what have we learnt from this extraordinary election?

Have a team of good advisers around you.
"Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in an abundance of counsellors there is victory.(Proverbs 11:14)

Theresa May seems to have prepared her much-criticised manifesto (“dementia tax” and all)  huddled  in a secret broom cupboard with just her two hired special advisers. There seems to have been little if any consultation with her cabinet. By contrast Jeremy Corbyn developed Labour's highly popular manifesto in consultation with his parliamentary colleagues and the wider Labour membership.

Have a vision that can inspire

"Where there is no vision the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18)

Whether you agreed with it or not, Labour offered a (fully costed) manifesto and vision of Britain that was transformative:  returning public services to public control and ownership, abolishing tuition fees, a new national investment bank and a huge reinvestment in the country's infrastructure to revitalise our flagging economy, giving our cash-starved schools and hospitals the funds they need to save them, 30 hours free child care for under 5s, a £10 minimum wage and much more besides.
 Meanwhile the Conservative manifesto promised little beyond vague concepts like a better Brexit and a stronger Britain. It frightened some of their core older voters with the proposal to remove the pension triple lock, means test their winter fuel allowance and the threat of the dreaded “dementia tax on their property to pay for social care in their homes. It offered nothing at all for young people.

Being nice beats being mean
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:15)

The right wing press (i.e. most of it) tried every trick in the book to trash Jeremy's character, pouring vicious lies and bile over him, besmirching him in headlines like “Jezza's Jihadi Comrades” and “Don't chuck Britain in the Cor-bin". And Jeremy's response? “I hear some people have said some nasty things about me. I forgive them all.” The more they tried to darken his image the more the light of his good character shone through. He doesn’t fight fire with fire but with water, never resorting to the sort of spiteful personal criticism directed at him but focusing instead on policies and actions. And his kinder, gentler way of doing politics has resonated with many people and drawn to him far more than have been put off by the gutter press headlines. And as a Christian I have to admit his Christ-like example has both shamed and challenged me when I myself have been rather less gracious with my own political comments.

People value authenticity and honesty
“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” (Proverbs 24:26)

One striking difference revealed between the two leaders was their sense of authenticity. Not everyone likes or agrees with Jeremy Corbyn but most can see that he's “the real deal.” His lines aren’t always the most polished but what he speaks he speaks with a genuine passion and conviction about things he really cares about. He did have certain favoured phrases like “for the many not the few" but he was able to articulate what he meant by them in terms of policy. Contrast that with Theresa May who too often just seemed to mouth safe soundbites and vague values which she would crow bar into her speeches and conversations where appropriate; “strong and stable leadership” “standing up for Britain”/ “for working families”, “no deal is better than a bad deal”, “getting on with the job”. You had no real sense of the substance behind these vague statements, either in terms of passion and conviction or policy detail. Strip away the costume and scrape off the grease paint and you had the suspicion it might all be a rather fake act. And that whiff of falsehood was only heightened when she appeared to directly lie to the watching world after she suddenly changed her “dementia tax” policy. She incredulously tried to deny that her sudden introduction of a cap so obviously missing from her manifesto just  hours before was not a change of policy. A look in her eyes told you she was lying.

People want a leader who connects with  them where they are
“And large crowds followed Him.” (Matthew 19:2)

Many (including myself) mocked Jeremy and his loyal supporters for the large crowds he attracted during his Labour leadership campaigns. We said he’s only preaching to the converted rather than reaching new people and that won’t win you votes in the wider country, not in 2017 anyway. How wrong we were. It was a key characteristic of Jeremy that shone through that he just loves to be out and about meeting and engaging with ordinary people where they are at. This was illustrated by the huge enthusiastic crowds he spoke to just as much as the more intimate one to one engagements. At the end of his BBC Question Time session you sensed he genuinely meant it when he said, “Is that it? But I had so much more to say!” By contrast Theresa May seems to be genuinely frightened of meeting ordinary people unless they happen to be carefully handpicked by her minders and wearing blue rosettes. This fear of engagement seemed to be what lay behind her refusal to take part in the leaders’ debates and in the few instances when we saw her engaging with ordinary members of the public she looked very awkward and ill at ease. At the end of the BBC Question Time you felt she couldn’t get off that stage soon enough. This stark contrast between Theresa and Jeremy has been seen even more graphically since the election following the Grenfell Tower disaster. Sometimes pictures speak so much more eloquently than words. None more so than the picture of Jeremy putting his arm round one of the distraught survivors and the picture of Theresa standing with the emergency services, aloof and apart from the victims. And in these days of instant social media and 24 hour news with their emphasis on the visual, pulling large enthusisastic crowds or pulling awakward faces matter- fairly or unfairly it communicates a message. Before the election campaign Jeremy had only been able to speak to the wider public through the prism of a national media  so very biased against him. However the strict impartiality required by election rules allowed him to freely communicate his message and his character. For the first time many saw him as he really is; a good, honest, thoughtful and compassionate man offering a message of real hope.

People don’t like being taken for granted
“... you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16 )

Most of the electorate rightly felt misled about the need for an election in the first place. We had been told seven times by Theresa May that there would be no election until 2020 as she just wanted to get on with the job of negotiating a “red white and blue” Brexit. In April she then suddenly announced an election on the pretext that she needed the electorate’s authority to negotiate Brexit. This is even though Parliament had just given her the article 50 authority she needed. The real truth was she saw a 25 point poll lead, worsening economic conditions and bruising Brexit negotiations. She realised conditions would never be so good to increase her majority and went for it.
These are totally understandable reasons for calling an election but very far from the reasons she gave . To many it looked like she was taking the public for mugs as she almost demanded them to give her a huge majority to strengthen her hand and negotiate the best possible Brexit deal for Britain.
She was seen to treat the electorate with further contempt by not turning up to a live TV debate with the other party leaders. (Instead sending a woman whose father had died that week).
She then offered up a manifesto promising virtually nothing of substance to anyone and her core older votes having various financial threats made against them.
No wonder many voters thought “stuff you Mrs May, you're not getting your landslslide and you’re not getting my vote.”

Pride comes before a fall
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

If you are going to rather arrogantly pitch a whole election campaign around yourself being a “strong and stable leader” you’d better actually be a “strong and stable” leader or are you likely to be found out. Arrogance is not a particularly attractive quality but if you can back it up people may put up with it. But what “strong and stable” leader runs from a live TV debate with her adversaries or u turns on key policies as soon as they meet strong resistance? As Jeremy Paxman put it that’s not a “strong and stable leader” but “a blow hard who runs at the first sound of gunfire.” For a leader to comes across as both arrogant and weak is a lethal combination.

Not all pollsters are equal
 “...the voice of one crying in the wilderness...” (John 1:23)

Survation must be doing something right! They were the only national pollster who forecast a small Tory victory in 2015 and one of very few who had consistently predicted Britain would vote to leave the EU in the referendum. Almost every other pollster had predicted a comfortable Tory victory this time . Once again Survation got the result right within a percentage point. Before election day the Tory pollster Lord Ashcroft had tweeted  (I assumed sarcastically) about Survation uniquely predicting a hung Parliament, “forget the rest.” Well whether he meant it or not he was right.

Young people will engage and vote if you give something worth engaging in and voting for
Let no one despise you for your youth...” (1 Timothy 4:12)

Only 44% of 18 to 24 year olds voted in 2015. This time 64% voted - an increase of nearly 50- and overwhelmingly they voted Labour as did all under 45s. And in a number of constituencies it was Labour's youth vote that made the difference. The shining example of that was Canterbury which had been held by the Tories since long before the Labour party even existed. However, in Canterbury there was a huge untapped pool of student voters who potentially outnumbered older voters. Labour student activists there like my daughter Josie (pictured on on the far left of the picture above) helped ensure that thousands of students registered to vote in the first place. Then when those students saw a party offering them things that so obviously benefited them- most notably abolition of student fees- for once most of them actually voted.  And this is why Survation were confident they were right to forecast such a close contest- because they could see Labour were offering young people something they would get out and vote for.

Jeremy is a far wiser man than most of us have given him credit for
“Let days speak and many years teach wisdom.” (Job 32: 8)

Even as a Labour supporter I have quite often disagreed with Jeremy Corbyn's positions, sometimes over policy but more so over political strategy. I’ve quite often thought his positions rather naive. However, looking back over the election and then at the many years before then I now have to admit that where I disagreed with him he was mostly right and I was mostly wrong. He is a man of conviction and principle who has very often been out of step with others even in his own party. This voted against his own party's whip 600 times. And yet it seems to me that on the large majority of those occasions when he took a stand against his fellow mps it was they and not he who were in the wrong. History increasingly suggests rather than being naive on most occasions his position was wise and right even if it put him in a minority at the time.
I would point to the following examples where I believe Jeremy has been proved right:
·         Supporting  disarmament of Britain’s expensive but pointless nuclear “deterrent”
·         Supporting sanctions against apartheid South Africa
·         Opposing Britain's military interventions in the Middle East
·         Opposing counter-productive and illiberal “anti-terror” laws
·         Opposing the extension of private interests to own and run our NHS and other public services
·         Supporting increased taxes on the rich tougher action on tax evasion and avoidance
    Greater state control of our banks
·         Renationalizing key public services like our railways
·         Opposing austerity and the starving of our public services and the slashing of welfare support
·         Accepting the result of the EU referendum and the triggering of Article 50
·         Recognising most people don’t want a hard Brexit and would prioritise the economy and free trade over immigration
·         But recognising also that most people don’t  want to re-run the referendum even if they disagreed with the result
·         Agreeing to the Prime Minister’s call for an early election
·         Prioritizing the complete abolition of student tuition fees.

You don't have to win from the centre ground -you can move the centre ground left
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I believe this is now a time of change. What was considered extreme left I believe is becoming mainstream . A political earthquake is happening and the centre ground is shifting. Some of Labour’s supposedly most left-wing policies were among their most popular- supported by many who didn’t even vote for them. These include renationalizing our railways, building more council houses and increasing taxes on the rich and larger corporations to fund better public services.
After careful and prayerful examination of the issues and the evidence I am convinced that the Conservatives (and to an extent New Labour) have been taking this country in the wrong direction.  This has already caused much misery and suffering and the loss of opportunity for so many. A continuation of the same can only lead to things becoming even worse for nearly everyone.  I am convinced that the society they are building is one that is increasingly alien to the biblical Kingdom of God values that I and most of the country believe in (whether they share my Christian faith or not). 

But under Jeremy Corbyn Labour now offer a genuine alternative. A “transformative” agenda in which people throughout the country are increasingly believing (or at least hoping). It is not simply about putting more money into our failing public services, desperately though they need it. It's about a different way of running the country- “for the many, not the few.” This isn’t just another meaningless slogan.  This is at the heart of Labour's policy agenda. And it’s not only about building a more just and equal society. It’s also about using our national resources more sensibly and efficiently so that they go further and taking a longer view to invest for the future rather than making short term savings at a longer term cost.

This cause isn’t going away because it’s a cause whose time has come. During the election Labour already won over many people who could see that we need to turn this ship of state around. When things only get over the next few weeks or months or  years before the next election (as inevitably they will for most I fear) I believe many more will follow them. Labour I am sure will stand firm in its position, waiting for them– taking a stand for them, the many against the privileged few, for a redistribution of wealth, power and opportunity to build a fairer, more equal and efficient society and economy. We are now preparing for the next election whenever it may be when I am confident Labour will finish the job of winning the nation’s hearts and minds to this cause. I am confident that they will then secure a  majority and lay down their roots. And in time I am hopeful that this cause will no longer be considered left wing at all but sensible and moderate. It’s where we are now that I believe is foolish  and extreme. And as the centre ground moves, even the Conservative party in time I believe will move with it, just as it did in step with Clement Attlee’s earlier transformative Labour government over 70 years ago.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Who should you vote for in this election?


Part 1- The Choice is in your hands 

This may be the only bit you need to read!

I believe on Thursday the country has the clearest political choice we’ve faced for two generations. And it’s literally in the hands of our youngest generation of voters to make the difference. In the 2015 election and the EU referendum if young people had actually turned up and voted we would have had a different government and we would be remaining in the EU- what most young people had actually wanted. Instead too many young people stayed shy of the polling booth and they let their futures be determined by the votes of older generations. This has left many saddled with even greater student debts and even worse prospects of earning a good salary or getting a home of their own. No one can fairly say in this election that the choices on the menu are just the same dish served with different sauce and garnish.

We can choose a Labour party offering us a credible (and costed) hope and plan to:
  •  invest in a better future for our young people and for everyone
  •  invest to grow our economy
  •  save our dying public services- rescue our schools, and hospitals and put more policemen back on our streets
  •  provide truly affordable housing
  •  protect the poor
  •  trade freely and prosperously with our European neighbours despite leaving the EU.
 Alternatively, we can choose (or let others choose for us) another five years of Conservative government that will give us:

  •        more painful austerity
  •        failing cash-starved schools and hospitals
  •        less police on our streets
  •        more declining pay packets for the many and more riches for the few
  •        more homeless on our streets and queues at our foodbanks
  •        a no “free trade” hard Brexit dragging our economy into recession.

If you're already convinced there's no need to read on! Just make sure you vote Labour (or where another party are the main Tory challenger vote for them). And remember they close at 10pm!

If you’re not sure where to vote then just search the website of your local council who should have a section literally telling you where you can vote by street name. Go to the polling station identified. Don’t worry if you can’t find your polling card or you haven’t got your ID. They will just mark off your name and address on their list of registered voters. Pick up the voting slip, go into one of the booths and mark an X against the name of your Labour (or other chosen) candidate. You just get one vote for one candidate! Fold the voting slip up and stick it in the big black box. Btw it’s possible to be registered to vote in more than one place but you can only actually vote in one place, so choose wisely! (And don’t do what I did in my first general election 30 years ago- deciding to vote in Gravesham rather than Nottingham I missed my train south by a few seconds and got home too late to vote at all!)

 If you're still not convinced then invite I you to please read Part 2 below before you decide how or whether to cast your vote.

Part 2 A political journey- seeing through the fog of political myths

As a Christian and a political watcher, I have tried to carefully and prayerfully examine the evidence and the issues that should determine the way I should vote. My starting point has been to look to God and the guidance in the bible and the life of his Son Jesus as to what are his values and priorities- to try and make this country and this world better reflect the values of his Kingdom that he will bring when he returns to earth. “And what does the Lord require of you, o mortal? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6 v 8). This also means opening our eyes as widely as we can to see the world and the people in it as it is – warts and all. This requires effort to try to see our way through the fog of myths and lies that so often prevent us from seeing how things really are. Open our eyes to where those myths come from- very often the media organizations owned by super-rich individuals who do not necessarily have the best interests of most of us at heart.

And here I will make a confession. One of the things I am most ashamed of. When I talk about being blinded by fogs of political myths this isn’t just arrogance on my part. I’ve been there myself. I speak with my own experience of having been misled by political myths. That’s why in this election I have set out to unmask the truth behind what I believe are some of the political myths that can often mislead us in the way we vote. So here it comes... In 2010, I voted Conservative. There I’ve said it and will probably now find certain left-leaning facebook friends de-friending me!

I had previously only voted Liberal Democrat up to 1995 and then “New” Labour. My reasons for this sudden change in 2010 are quite complex. It was partly because I had felt let down by the New Labour government over a period of 13 years, particularly over Iraq and more recently over Jack Straw’s regressive approach to justice. In rebellion, I had intended to vote Liberal Democrat but had concerns over their local candidate. I therefore looked at the Conservatives’ offering and thought aren’t they just offering a more competent version of New Labour? You see I had (at least partly) bought into two Tory messages. First, that the Conservatives were the most competent party to manage the economy following the Financial crisis that Labour (I thought) was partly responsible for. Second, that David Cameron’s Conservatives were really compassionate “One Nation” Tories as he claimed. Both of these were pure Tory myth, as I was soon to recognize.  

On the first one see my previous blog;

Labour have in fact always had a better record of managing our economy and the crash had zero to do with their spending and borrowing, which before the crash was significantly lower than the borrowing they had inherited from the Tories (36% v 40 of GDP) Their only failure there was not regulating our bankers more tightly, but the Tories were then complaining that they were regulating them too much! 

As for being compassionate “one nation” Conservatives, as soon as they were in power (and despite a coalition with the Liberal Democrats) they set about an austerity agenda of cuts to our public services and welfare that was largely unmentioned in their manifesto. Their policies massively increased poverty and inequality whilst extending large tax cuts to their super rich backers. They also seriously reduced access to justice (even more than Jack Straw had hinted). At the same time their austerity approach stifled our economic recovery sand  the national debt increased rather than reduced in breach of tehir own economic targets. Within weeks after the election the scales were removed from my eyes. I saw that the beast I had in fact voted for was an altogether different creature to the one I thought I was voting for. I felt very guilty and foolish that I had been taken in by the Tory myth machine. (Even more so when I witnessed their restrictions on access to civil justice bringing redundancies to my team at work).

I grew disillusioned with politics and was much distracted with the civil justice changes that ravaged my own area of work, (despite fruitless lobbying of my Conservative MP). This prompted a period of introspection and I suffered an episode of moderate depression.

After this had settled I started taking a closer look at the political scene again in the months leading up to the 2015 election. I was attracted back to Labour by Ed Miliband who seemed to be trying to pursue a more compassionate and collective approach away from New Labour. I therefore joined the Labour party in February 2015. (The first political party I had been a member of since the SDP in the early 1980s and for whom my dad stood in 1983). I was actively involved in campaigning for Labour in the 2015 General Election. And it all seemed to be going pretty well until those damned exit polls!

After Labour’s disheartening defeat in 2015 their leadership campaign followed in which I had initially supported the mainstream favourite “soft” left candidate, Andy Burnham. 

Facebook exchanges with supporters of the rebel outsider Jeremy Corbyn challenged my assumptions about him and his agenda. My wife and daughter had already been won over by Jeremy .

And then I read the book “The Establishment- And How They Get Away With It” by the Guardian journalist Owen Jones. It talked of things I suspected might be true but had never quite fully grasped. It was firmly based on hard evidence of the reality of how Britain was run today- mainly for the benefit of the establishment and the super-rich few, rather than the many and especially not the poorest. I realised from this that since 1979 Mrs Thatcher had set this country on a selfish and self-destructive path to dismantle most of our state and follow the false gods of the free market. It was a direction that new Labour did quite well to moderate but still broadly embraced and continued. Its results were unjust and unfair, to the poor and the ordinary majority, and ultimately only really benefited a rich few. It was therefore contrary to the values I believed in as a Christian. It was also a direction that was ultimately inefficient and wasteful of our precious resources. There was a better way; to wrest control and ownership of our public services from the hands of the rich few for the benefit of the many, provide genuinely affordable public housing and re-balance our economy and society so that it was run for the benefit of all rather than a rich elite. I recognised this was not some extreme communist vision of how society could be. It was broadly the social democratic mixed economy model on which our society had been run from 1945 to 1979 through both Labour and Conservative governments. It is also broadly an approach still successfully followed by our North European neighbours including Germany and the Scandinavian countries. I realised that this was a moderate and sensible approach. It was the current direction where we were headed (in tandem with the USA) that was extreme and foolish.

I recognized that this was the message Jeremy Corbyn was preaching in the leadership election. It seemed unlikely that an almost lone rebel of the party, a thirty year back bencher who’d never held high office could somehow be the faithful remnant who still held onto these political truths. A bit like his near lookalike Obe Wan Kenobi. The last Jedi left to pass on his truths to a new generation. I was won over and voted for Jeremy.

In the nine months that followed sadly I gradually fell out of love with Jeremy. I was still convinced that his political diagnosis and medicine were right as nearly 40 years of evidence bore out and I could still see he was a good man. However, it became increasingly evident that more than 30 years as a rebel backbencher had not best prepared to him to work with and lead a team of MPs and shadow cabinet. Equally his long habit of always being able to do/not do and speak/not speak whatever he wanted to regardless of the reaction was getting him into a lot of unnecessary controversy. He needed to up his game.

And then came the EU referendum. Jeremy Corbyn had campaigned for Remain but very much ploughed his own furrow without sharing the approach and platform of the Labour Remain campaign. If the result had gone for Remain then his lone wolf approach would have been overlooked. However, when the vote went unexpectedly wrong not surprisingly many in the remain campaign felt like me that in a small way Jeremy had contributed to that disastrous result. When he then announced on live TV the next morning that the Prime Minister should immediately trigger article 50 to get on and leave the EU this was the last straw.  And it was this that prompted his MPs’ rebellion – in the shocked and fevered atmosphere of the failed referendum when our Prime Minister had just fallen on his sword. Many of us then felt Jeremy should do the same. His MPs’ rebellion and the second leadership election therefore had nothing to do with policy disagreement but because of the way it was felt Jeremy had failed to lead his team in a co-operative and effective manner. Hence apart from Trident his leadership challenger Owen Smith (who I supported) promoted almost exactly the same policies.

The leadership challenge failed and Jeremy increased his overwhelming mandate with Labour members. Jeremy did his best to rebuild a Shadow Cabinet and continued as Leader. Since then and during this election campaign Jeremy has proved he has been able to learn and seriously upped his game by collaborating better with his colleagues and being more careful in his actions and choice of words. He did so whilst still continuing to pursue passionately his political vision for a better Britain that increasingly millions have been embracing in this election. On many counts he has proved me wrong (twice!) and I am enthusiastically campaigning for him in this election as the leader of a cause I firmly believe in for the good of this country.

As a country, I am convinced we have been heading in the wrong direction since 1979 and we now need to turn this ship of state around. For too long we have been steering a course of selfish individualism that has benefited the fortunate few but harmed the many. We have thrown overboard so many of the valuable things of the state that made sure everyone got a decent chance- truly public services run for the public good rather than private profit, truly affordable public housing, proper and free access to justice, free education and a proper welfare safety net so that everyone can afford proper food and other basic necessities. These precious things of the state I believe are essential to ensuring that we work towards the values of the Kingdom of God that Jesus wants us all to strive for and which are summed up in his essential command to “love your neighbour as yourself.”

My Recommendation to You- Vote Labour unless…

I have reached the conclusion that it is only the election of a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn that can start to turn things around to build a better future for our country more in line with  Kingdom of God values. I recognize that there are more than two parties in this election and that there are many good things also in the policies e.g. of the Greens and Liberal Democrats. However, the reality is under our outmoded first past the post system only two parties can end up in government of the UK after this election- Labour or Conservative. I would therefore suggest that to exercise your vote responsibly you need to vote in the light of that choice- would it be better to have a Labour or Conservative government? For the reasons given here I am convinced that it is a Labour not Conservative government that this country desperately needs right now.  In most constituencies therefore I would encourage everyone to vote Labour. However, I also recognize that in certain constituencies the real challenger to the Conservatives will not be Labour but Lib Dem, in parts of Scotland the SNP and in Brighton and the Isle of Wight the Greens (In Northern Ireland I would advocate the SDLP). Whilst there would be no coalition deal between Labour and these parties in the event of a hung parliament they would share much of Labour’s progressive agenda. They could be guaranteed to vote down a Conservative minority government but broadly support a Labour one. Voting Labour rather than Lib Dem in say Guildford is only going to dilute the progressive anti-Tory vote and confirm a Tory MP. If you wish to see a Labour government but are unsure tactically who you would be best to vote for then have a look at: 

For those with the stamina for it ! I now set out in more detail why I believe voting in a Labour government would best realize politically biblical Christian values for the benefit of us all. Alternatively, you might just want to skip to the conclusion!

Part 3 How do the two main parties measure up to Christian values and priorities?

For background if you've the time please see my earlier blog pieces on why I believe the following to be (or not be) the key biblical Christian values on which we should exercise our vote ;

1. Looking after the poor and marginalised

This is the number one social issue on God's heart. It is highlighted 128 times across the bible. Since 2010 poverty in this country has increased massively, mainly due to government policies like the bedroom tax, benefit cuts and sanctions. Official figures show that since 2010 the number of children living in poverty has risen from 2.6 million to 4 million, annual foodbank use from 41,000 to 1.2 million and homelessness has more than doubled. The Tories make no commitment to reverse the misery of poverty their policies have caused. Indeed, they are committed to further increase poverty through policies like extending universal credit, ending universal free lunches for primary school children and the continued cap on benefit increases and the removal of the pensioners’ triple lock. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimate Tory policies will increase child poverty by 50% by 2020. By contrast Labour would end the bedroom tax, remove the cruel and arbitrary benefit sanctions regime and the benefit rates cap and start to reverse the other damaging welfare changes. They would also increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020 and extend 30 hours of free childcare to all 2 to 4 year olds to make more of a reality of work being a way out of povert . And Labour in government have an excellent record of substantially reducing poverty, especially child poverty and pensioner poverty, e.g. through targeted welfare spending, Sure Start centres and introduction of a national minimum wage.

The only answer that the Tories have to the clear case that their policies have increased poverty is that the way out of poverty is through work and that only their prudent economic management can provide those jobs. (Indeed this was the only answer my own local Tory MP could give me to this question!) The only problem with this answer is that work is no longer a way out of poverty for 100,000s of people – 60% of households in poverty are now working households. For further details see my previous blog piece;

Meanwhile, contrary to their myths, the Conservatives’ record of economic management is actually pretty dreadful and has led to the UK now having the lowest rate of economic growth in Europe. Labour's economic record in government is in fact far better and it’s current economic plans are widely supported by the world's leading economists. (See below re better management of our resources). On all the available evidence of the two main parties the Conservatives have been and would continue to be an enemy of the poor whilst Labour have always been their friend. If you share God's priority to help the poor then once you know the truth about the two parties and the effects of their policies I would suggest you could only vote Labour.

2. Caring for the sick

It was Labour who created our cherished National Health Service which for nearly 70 years has provided free healthcare to everyone according to their needs rather than their ability to pay. Contrast that with the situation in the USA where there is no universal free healthcare. For example, over there families of victims of violent tragedies such as we have just witnessed in Manchester London would have to set about fund raising campaigns to pay for their medical bills. Surely none of us want to end up with an American style health system. But who can be sure that's not where we'll be in ten years if we can continue as we are?

From 1997 to 2010 Labour rescued our NHS from chronic underinvestment and long waiting lists after 18 years of Tory neglect. They substantially improved the quality of services and reduced the waiting lists. After 7 years of underinvestment by the recent Tory led governments our NHS is now on the verge of a crisis with lengthening waiting lists, effective rationing of care (e.g. often virtually no mental health services provision), declining service standards, closing hospitals and NHS trusts heavily in the red.  Although in gross terms spending on our NHS has gone up the demands of an ageing population mean we need to increase our spending as a % of GDP just as our European neighbours have. Instead Tory government spending has significantly fallen as a % of GDP and would continue to do so. Most experts believe if we carry on this way our NHS as we know it will be unsustainable and we are likely to see free NHS care limited to an increasingly narrow range of services and other services will be the privilege of those who can afford to pay for it. For a helpful overview I suggest watching The NHS: A Visual Essay- Juniordoctorblog.com#voteNHS#GE2017.

But it is not just about how much money you put into the service that matters, as the Tories are so fond of telling us. It’s also about how that money is spent and how the services are managed. But it is the Conservative’s approach here which is wasteful and inefficient. Their market led reforms and reorganisation have made the service less not more efficient. Allowing private commercial interests to run many parts of our NHS has meant billions of government money being leached from the system to pay out private profits and CEOs’ inflated salaries. Millions more are lost on wasteful tendering processes (including lawyers’ fees). We have also ended up with a disjointed overcomplicated system of competing interests and authorities with a lack of clear control. Sadly, New Labour to a large extent aped the Conservative market approach (strongly opposed by Jeremy Corbyn). However, under Jeremy Corbyn Labour is now committed to returning our NHS to a proper publicly owned run and accountable service which should ensure a much better use of health resources.

The problems of NHS funding are inherently linked with social care where government funding through councils has been slashed by Tory cuts. This has led to wasteful “bed blocking” by elderly patients who medically are well enough to no longer need a hospital bed but can’t go home because there is no care package in place to look after them there. The Tories offer no solutions to our health and care crisis because in real terms they are not prepared to invest the money needed to provide these services and with their “dementia tax” debacle we saw what disarray they are in over this issue.

 Labour would put £37 billion extra into our NHS and significantly increase social care spending. These commitments have been fully costed in their manifesto to be paid for by tax increases on those who can afford it. They also acknowledge that there will be a need for individuals who can afford it to make some reasonable contribution to care costs. However, Labour would undertake a proper consultation before deciding the terms of any such contribution. This is unlike the Tories who suddenly announced a hasty policy of uncapped contributions and then within hours sought to introduce a cap but without giving any clue as to the level of that cap. Again, consistent with their record in government, it is Labour who have the policies to best provide care for our sick and infirm.

3. Ensuring justice for all

As a lawyer acting for victims of industrial disease and personal injury I know first-hand how the Tory-led governments have squeezed access to justice. In my own area this has led to many meritorious but more difficult cases being turned away. Those clients who still get representation have generally found themselves losing 25% or more of their compensation to pay for legal costs that can no longer be recovered from the guilty party.  But this has not just affected my own area of law but virtually every part of our legal system. We have seen massive cuts and restrictions to legal aid in family law disputes and crime, housing and welfare law and judicial review. This has left many finding themselves the victims of injustice without the means to pay for any lawyer to stand up for their case. We have also seen many victims of unfair dismissal and mistreatment at work deprived a remedy because of the extension of the qualifying period for employment period to two years and the imposition of employment tribunal fees. Not surprisingly this has led to a huge drop in employment tribunal applications because so many are now either barred or cannot afford to pursue their case against their employer. Meanwhile the government has massively hiked court issue fees in civil claims – in some cases increasing them tenfold. Such restrictions to access to justice I would say are in almost direction contradiction of scripture; “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31 v 8-9). 

In their current manifesto the Conservatives make no promises to reverse any of these injustices and in fact propose to extend even further restrictions to access to justice including further limitations as to when successful claimants can recover legal costs. Labour’s manifesto is not as detailed on justice issues as I would have hoped (partly no doubt because of the hastily called election). However, they are committed to reversing or at least reviewing a number of these including the removal of employment tribunal fees, the creation of employment protection from day one of a job, a reduction in court fees and a full-scale review of the legal aid and access to justice issues in both civil and criminal cases. (Notwithstanding Labour’s last Lord Chancellor, thankfully long gone), it is Labour governments who have nearly always been the ones to extend access to justice, including through the original establishment of legal aid and employment tribunals. It can only be they who can restore access to justice once again.

4. Ensuring everyone has a fair share and opportunity, including a decent home and education

A key part of ensuring everyone has a fair share must be to provide access to decent and affordable housing to as many people as possible. Since 1979 Conservative and New Labour government have both followed policies which have led to the slow destruction of our stock of affordable public housing following the start of Mrs Thatcher’s infamous right to buy policy. The Tories’ removal of rent controls and other protections for tenants have only worsened the situation. This has ultimately led to the desperate and unfair situation we currently have with the property rich few and the property poor many. Millions of people, especially younger generations, are left without hope of ever owning their own home while often stuck in poorly maintained accommodation whilst paying exorbitant rents. Many young people can’t even see themselves having the means to move out of their parents’ home. And disturbingly, an increasing number find themselves without a home at all. I highlight this issue as part of my previous blog piece;

The Conservatives wedded as they still are to following the gods of the free market simply have nothing to offer to address this crisis. Their new right to buy housing association properties overall only worsens the situation, as housing experts warned them. Even when in this election they suggested policies that might assist such as building more affordable housing they have backtracked on those proposals and greatly diluted them so that the so called affordable housing is at double the rents of social housing. It is Jeremy Corbyn’s “new old “ Labour alone who provide the solution that’s needed- a big programme of building genuinely affordable council/public housing alongside new rights and controls to protect tenants.

The Conservatives have also narrowed the door of opportunity of a decent education for all to give everyone a decent shot at success in life. They have already cut real school spending per pupil leading to many schools taking desperate measures to cope with their overstretched resources. This has included cutting half an hour from the school day, dropping “minority” subjects, cutting lunch breaks short, stopping all school trips, increasing class sizes to well above 30 and endless appeals to parents to stump up cash to pay for basic things like books and computers that  the state should already be providing. Think how much worse it will get if the Tories are re-elected when according to the IFS their spending plans will mean schools will face a further 7% real terms cut in funding.

And again, it’s not just about how much (or little) money the Tories are putting into the system. It’s also about how that money is used- very badly in many cases. The Tory blind faith in the gods of the free market have seen millions wasted in often substandard free schools set up not where they are needed but – often poorer areas, but just where someone fancies starting a new free school- often in affluent areas where apparent academic success is rather easier to come by. The lack of local control prevents sensible planning and spending of educational resources where they are needed. And for their next trick the Tories now propose an expansion of grammar schools, supposedly to improve social mobility. This is despite all the research evidence which shows grammar schools reduce rather than improve social mobility, favouring children from more middleclass families who can get them coached through the tests. More wasteful inefficiency. 

Meanwhile the Tories axing of maintenance grants for poorer students and the ever-burgeoning size of tuition fees have ramped up huge debts on the backs of our young people going to University. This has already resulted in a significant fall in the number of students from poorer backgrounds applying to University. Labour by contrast will start to put local authorities back in charge of local schools to restore sensible local planning and directing of school resources to where they are needed. They will also pump £6 billion per annum extra into schools’ budgets (paid for by costed tax increases on those who can afford it). And on an issue close to my own heart they are the first major political party to commit to a phased plan to remove the deadly asbestos from our school buildings.  Labour would also restore the maintenance grants for poorer students and abolish tuition fees. This would not be the first time that Labour have rescued our schools from decline. I remember my wife starting her first teaching job aged 22 under a Tory government in 1991 and facing class of 38. New Labour reinvested in our schools to reduce class sizes and provide a better education for all.

If you want to see our schools and universities provide a decent free education for all our children, allowing  everyone the best chance in life regardless of background, all evidence suggests you need to vote Labour.

5. Looking after the planet

Protecting God’s world for the good of future generations here and around the world should be very high on any Christian political agenda. Labour are not the Green party but they are a green party and unlike the Green party they have a prospect of being in government to put green policies into action. In government their record on looking after the environment was certainly not perfect but they made real progress, eg with the Climate Change Act and the successful incentives to build up renewable energy and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. (Once a quarter when I get my cheque for the little solar panel farm on our roof I still fondIy remember Ed Miliband’s time as Climate Change Secretary!). 

Under the Conservatives, despite their “support” of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the country has largely gone backwards on protecting the environment. They withdrew virtually all support for solar power and have held back our progress from fossil fuels to renewables (luckily for me my solar panel income was guaranteed for 25 years!) They have even begun exploiting a new and risky fossil fuel- fracking- even in our national parks. They slashed spending on flood defences, which inevitably increased the damage from quite foreseeable flooding (a false economy if ever there was one). They have also breached European clean air limits in our cities which have led to 10,000s each year dying from lung conditions. Their failure to act on this therefore has literally been responsible for thousands of deaths. This has just lead to sanctions against them by our Supreme Court. Labour’s manifesto commits it to a new Clean Air Act to clean up our dirty cities’ air. They would take affirmative action also to clean up our seas and rivers, creating “blue belt” spaces. Through funding from their new National Investment Bank they would reinvigorate our green technology industries to work towards replacing our reliance on damaging fossils fuels with renewables.

6. Keeping peace and order

The approach that recent Conservative and New Labour governments have taken to international relations has failed. Since the Iraq war our military interventions in various places over the past 14 years, however well-intentioned, has only led to destabilisation and chaos and poverty in the countries we have left behind. These have become largely “ungoverned spaces” which have been a breeding ground for terrorism and mass migration. Our recent interventions have frankly done more harm than good. Theresa May’s Conservatives only pledge more of the same failed approach. Jeremy Corbyn is a committed peacemaker here and throughout the world, being awarded the Ghandi prize for peace in 2013. His labour government would take a different approach as a peacekeeper encouraging dialogue, compromise and peace, just as Tony Blair’s first labour government were so successful in doing in Northern Ireland (after adopting the very approach for which Jeremy Corbyn has been so unfairly criticised). 

Their approach would certainly not mean an abandonment of our armed services, as some rightwing bloggers have suggested - Labour (like the Conservatives) is committed to investing 2% of our GDP in our armed forces. It would as part of that commitment carry out a strategic defence review and yes renewal of Trident would be part of that review, although it currently remains Labour party policy. (Trident is in truth about as useful and relevant to our defence and security as man buying a tank to guard his home when his roof is leaking, his windows broken, front door coming off its hinges, his burglar alarm broken and his computer virus software expired- The myth of our own independent nuclear deterrent. See my earlier blog piece; 

Much more important than Trident, Labour is committed to starting a reversal of the large Tory cuts made to our police numbers (nearly 20,000). The Police Federation warned the then Home secretary one Theresa May in 2015 that the government’s slashing of police numbers would cause community policing to collapse (which it has). This, they said, would not just remove their positive influence but would also cause “local intelligence”- key to the fight against terrorism- to “dry up.” This is exactly what has happened. We shall never know whether if there had still been the numbers to provide proper community policing in Manchester or London the recent terrorist acts would have been prevented. They might or might not have done. But as many leading former police officers have said to reduce police numbers in the current climate was a foolish risk to have taken with the nation’s security. No amount of new laws and restrictions on our freedoms which Theresa May has recently suggested can make up for the critical lack of numbers of police officers on our streets including armed officers. As Jeremy Corbyn has rightly said “you cannot do security on the cheap.”

7. Allowing freedom of speech and belief
New Labour’s record in government on protecting freedom of speech and belief was a bit mixed. There was certainly plenty on the credit side; the Human Rights Act, the abolition of blasphemy laws and further employment protection legislation, including protection of whistle blowers. All of this protected and enhanced freedom of belief and speech. However, there were also some knee-jerk reactions to a new age of terrorism post 9/11. This included the Terrorism Act 2006 much criticised by the UN for proving too broad and vague a description of encouraging terrorism that it went far beyond prevention of real terrorism. Alongside this was a draconion new power to detain suspects for 28 days without charge.  Many including senior police officers and current Tory cabinet Ministers criticised these measures as excessive restrictions on our freedoms which risked being counter-productive . 

It would appear Theresa May may be about to commit similar mistakes and indeed going rather further. See her recent suggestions about Chinese-style internet controls and restrictions in the name of preventing the encouragement of terrorism and if necessary changing human rights legislation to force through sweeping new powers. But we don’t even need to look ahead at what a new Tory government might do. One of the greatest restrictions on freedom of speech in this country is something we are seeing and hearing (or rather not seeing not seeing and hearing) right now. It’s the Conservatives’ Lobbying Act 2015. Had you wondered why charities working with those in social need (ie most of them) have been so quite on any social issues during this election? (i.e issues affecting the very people that they are working to help)? That’s because the Lobbying Act gags them from saying virtually anything that might be deemed “political” during an election campaign and indeed supposedly during the whole twelve months before an election. (Tricky that one when until six weeks ago no one even knew there would be an election) I would say this legislation is in almost direct contradiction of that key scriptural principle quoted earlier; “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all the destitute.” (Proverbs 31 v 8).

By contrast Labour would repeal the “chilling” Lobbying Act and by opening up access to justice e.g. through removing employment tribunal fees. they would help facilitate people defending their freedoms.

8. Managing our resources and relationships to best achieve these ends

Of course, all Labour’s good intentions would amount to nothing if incompetent management of resources meant there was no money to fund all those good intentions. After all, don’t Labour have quite a poor track record on managing our economy and didn’t their previous reckless spending and borrowing cause our economy to crash? In a word no. It is one of the biggest and most successful political lies of all time. Labour’s spending and borrowing had zero to do with the economic crash which was 100% caused by reckless actions of the banking industry and Labour governments’ economic record is overall quite a lot better than Conservative governments. Overall, they have borrowed less, delivered higher levels of employment and higher levels of economic growth than the Conservatives. The last Labour government’s borrowing was only 36% of GDP before the banking crisis and bail out- less than the 40% they had inherited from John Major’s Tories. (It only shot up to 60% because they took the emergency action needed to stop a complete banking collapse). Before the crash they had also brought about a record period of economic growth for the country. The cack-handed approach of our recent Tory-led governments by contrast through self-defeating austerity has stifled our growth whilst increasing our national debt to 89% (although in truth the debt level is not a significant problem).  Their idolatrous obsession with leaving everything to the gods of the free market and putting everything up for sale-  “selling off the family silver” as a former Tory Prime MInister Harold MacmIllan warned them, has led to an inefficient waste of resources enriching the fortunate few and leaving the many short-changed. For further details and evidence see my earlier blog pieces;

Their similarly economically illiterate approach to Brexit is having an equally damaging effect on the economy. Nearly all serious economists have warned that prioritising complete control of European immigration over free trade access risks causing a loss of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue. As a result, since the Brexit vote many multinational companies have put on hold any UK investment and our economic growth has sunk to even lower than Greece’s.

By contrast, Labour would pursue a Brexit that prioritises free trade and jobs over immigration. Contrary to Tory myth-making Labour would not increase borrowing to pay for day-to-day spending- this is why they have carefully costed how they would fund these commitments taxes on those rich individuals and companies that can best afford it. Note the contrast with the Tories who have given us no costings at all for their own commitments and have now admitted they can’t even fund the primary school breakfast they would offer in place of free school lunches!
 What Labour would do is take advantage of the current very low interest rates to give our economy and its infrastructure the investment boost it will so badly need to post-Brexit. Unlike the Conservatives these economic plans are very widely supported by leading economists - see the letter written by 129 of the world’s leading economist backing Labour’s economic plans

The truth is that it is Labour who have both the record and the plan to best manage our resources. It is the Conservatives whose management of the economy falls badly shortly, continually even failing their own targets, as witnessed by their ever-postponed plans for eliminating the annual deficit.

9. The best leaders to take us there

Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn is an evil demagogue and neither are the prefect leader this country needs. As a Christian, I believe there is only one leader who can fulfil that criteria- Jesus Christ (when he eventually returns). But he’s not on the ballot paper! However, despite my previous criticisms of Jeremy,  I am quite convinced that the available evidence shows Jeremy fulfils far better than Theresa the biblical qualities that we should look for in our nation’s leader.  Theresa might look more like our traditional image of a leader and might give smoother soundbites. However, I would suggest that at the stuff that really matters she falls quite far short. Meanwhile although Jeremy does not score 10/10 against those same leadership qualities I believe he gets rather closer than Theresa does. I looked at this in some detail in my recent blog;

I found on the evidence that across all these key criteria Jeremy has more of the qualities we should look for in our nation's leader:
  •      A heart for the poor and needy
  •      A peacemaker
  •     Of good character
  •     Able to teach and reach people
  •     Humble
  •     Wise and listening to good advice
  •     Strong and stable- yes even on that one!

I am therefore also convinced that Jeremy has much more of the skills actually needed to negotiate the best Brexit deal for this country.

However, being a good leader is also about the quality and wisdom of those you appoint around you is also very important. Let’s leave aside poor Diane Abbott. Even her old friend Jeremy evidently now recognises she isn’t up to the job! (And would mostly likely be replaced by others “coming in from the cold” eg Yvette Coper or Lisa Nandy). When it comes to the Brexit negotiating team for example  I would suggest that Labour’s is far more credible. Who would you trust more to negotiate with the EU- one of the country’s leading lawyers Labour's former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer QC or Bojo the clown waving his joke union jack and winding up the other EU leaders ?



I don’t know who will win this election, which is proving to be the strangest and least predictable general election in the 43 years that I can recall . I concede is still very possible that Theresa May will win with a substantial majority and it is still pretty probable that she will get some sort of majority. However, the mixed polling suggest that is no longer inevitable. And I earnestly  hope and pray that  we will instead end up with a Labour government.  Not because I want my “red team” to beat the “blue team”. Not because I wish any ill of Theresa May or other Conservatives (I do not). But because after careful and prayerful examination of the issues and the evidence I am convinced that the Conservatives are taking this country in the wrong direction, which has already caused much misery and suffering and loss of opportunity for so many. And because I can see another five years of the same can only lead to things becoming much worse for everyone.  I am convinced that the society they are building is one that is increasingly alien to the biblical Kingdom of God values that I and most of the country believe in. If you share those values with me then I would urge you to vote for a Labour government in this election, even if you have to hold your nose to do it!  

If (as I concede is rather more likely) Labour fall short this time the political cause Jeremy has led is not going anywhere, even if Jeremy himself should resign.  This cause isn’t going away because it’s a cause whose time has come. During this election even if Labour fall short they will have already won over many people who can see that we need to turn this ship of state around. When things only get over the next 5 years (as inevitably they will for most I believe) many more will follow them. Labour I am sure will stand firm in its position, waiting for them– taking a stand for them, the many against the privileged few, for a redistribution of wealth, power and opportunity to build a fairer, more equal and efficient society and economy. We will be preparing for 2022 when I am very confident Labour will finish the job of winning the nation’s hearts and minds to this cause and should secure a large majority and then lay down its roots. And in time I am hopeful that this cause will no longer be considered left wing at all but sensible and moderate. And as the centre ground moves, even the Conservative party in time will move with it, just as it did in step with Clement Attlee’s Labour government over 70 years ago.