Game-changer for Labour

Labour conference this week confirmed the party now has a radical and credible economic alternative that can win an election, writes Ken Livingstone.

Labour’s conference this week saw a series of policy announcements and keynote speeches that set out a real vision for a better Britain.

In re-electing Jeremy Corbyn by a landslide, Labour’s grassroots showed that they understand that the extent of the deepening problems facing Britain, including our long-term structural economic problems, need a response that is radical, credible and can be popular on the doorstep.

The 10 pledges that now make up the basis of Labour’s vision to rebuild and transform Britain can now provide this.

As someone who led the Greater London Council and was honoured to serve two terms as mayor of London, it’s also clear to me that we need a radical Labour government nationally — with a clear and coherent alternative economic strategy — in London more than ever, alongside the Labour mayor who is faced with having to reverse the damage done by two terms of Boris Johnson as a “do nothing” mayor.

Although London is seen as, and in many ways is, a big success story, it faces potentially catastrophic problems that this government is ignoring. Increasingly, global warming means we will need a new and bigger Thames barrier if we are to avoid catastrophic flooding.

As anyone who travels through Victoria or London Bridge knows, our public transport system is completely overcrowded, while the population continues to grow.

Air pollution is killing nearly 10,000 Londoners each year, which means one Londoner in 20 will die because of the government’s inaction. And the biggest problem we face is the lack of affordable housing.

Since Margaret Thatcher stopped the building of council homes for rent, house prices have soared beyond the means of most Londoners and our children and grandchildren are forced to rent homes that cost more than half their take-home pay.

Vast swathes of London are seeing families who have lived here for generations forced to leave the city in a devastating tide of social cleansing.

Almost all the growth in our wealth has gone to the richest 1 per cent, while working-class and middle-class families have seen real incomes cut by 9 per cent since the banking crisis. Even more Londoners will be impoverished in the years ahead as austerity continues.

The scale of these problems requires leadership from someone who can think outside the box. Corbyn has been denounced by some for having voted against the party line more than 500 times.

But it was not just Iraq, he consistently opposed the policies that saw Labour and Tory governments preside over the wiping out of our manufacturing and chronic under-investment in our economy.

The Tories say manufacturing was past its sell-by date and did nothing to invest in it. But Germany did and one-fifth of its economy is still manufacturing whereas ours is now less than 10 per cent.

That matters because more than half of all our exports come from this sector, which is why we now have the biggest trade deficit in our history.

The Tories have very cleverly concentrated their attack on Corbyn on peripheral issues as they will go to any lengths to prevent the media discussing Labour’s economic plans to rebalance and modernise our economy.

When the issue of the economy does come up we are subjected to the big lie that we are in this mess because the last Labour government spent and borrowed too much.

The truth is that of the 36 years since Thatcher came to power there were only two years in which the Tories produced a balanced budget and three years in which Labour did. All governments have borrowed to fund their revenue spending.

The Tories constantly say Thatcher’s economic strategy saved Britain, but in the 30 years following Thatcher’s election the British economy only grew at two-thirds of the rate it did in the 30 years before she came to power.

Thatcher slashed public-sector investment in infrastructure and housing but the private sector not only failed to fill the gap, it didn’t achieve the levels of investment in business that were the norm before her era.

With the re-election of Corbyn as leader this week, Labour has now confirmed it is the party that can put forward popular policies that are based upon a radical and credible alternative economic strategy to this increasingly failed neoliberal “model.”

As John McDonnell put it in his conference speech: “The next Labour government will be an interventionist government. We will not stand by like this one has and see our key industries flounder and our future prosperity put at risk. We will implement a comprehensive industrial strategy.”

Labour’s economic plan for a big expansion of investment in transport, housing and upgrading our broadband system to match the levels of our competitors is crucial to turning the British economy around.
As I’ve said in this column before, investment is not just the most important factor in economic growth but outweighs all others put together.

When I persuaded the last Labour government to put £5 billion into building Crossrail, ministers knew that the growth generated by the project would give them between £10 and £15bn more in tax.

And this is why when David Cameron and George Osborne took power and slashed the last Labour government’s investment spending it pushed our economy back into recession.

Another big Tory lie is that Labour will increase taxes on ordinary working people, but we don’t need to do that as long as everyone pays their fair share.

The scandal of Google, Starbucks and Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg. Tax avoidance and evasion, mainly by international corporations, could total as much £150bn, the equivalent of a quarter of the government’s budget.

Labour will crack down on the tax dodgers and that, alongside sound and sustainable economic growth based on investment in our future, can provide the money we need to provide the healthcare and education we all have the right to expect.

As Corbyn put in his conference speech: “If we focus everything on the needs and aspirations of middle and lower-income voters, of ordinary families, if we demonstrate we’ve got a viable alternative to the government’s failed economic policies, I’m convinced we can build the electoral support that can beat the Tories.” Let’s do it.

First published in the Morning Star