UK Politics

Green advice for Brown

Peter Tatchell, having left Labour for the Greens, still has a word of advice for the old party. He reckons that the advice is so obvious a school child could have worked it out, so its no skin off his nose to articulate it. But that’s besides the point, Tatchell believes, because with these few simple steps, Labour could avert disaster and still win the next election – which, let’s be honest, most people are quite pessimistic about.

He did tell me that he doesn’t support Labour, and this article does not advocate support for Labour. He said “I am a Green Party member and the Green parliamentary candidate in Oxford East. So I am not looking at this issue from a vested standpoint as a pro-Labour activist. I want the government to pursue policies that promote social justice, peace, civil liberties and environmental protection.” His motive, he says, is to see the policies he believes in implemented. The fact that he believes these policies will help Labour win the next election are incidental, but something Labour should consider a fringe benefit to taking his advice.

“Since appeals to reason and compassion don’t appear to work with New Labour, I am appealing to their self-interest and self-preservation instinct in a bid to secure a change of policy, to a more progressive agenda,” he explains.

In a press release he put out this morning he says: “David Miliband, Alan Johnson and Jack Straw have no alternative policies that can revive the party’s fortunes. Changing the Labour leader would change very little.” And so he sets out what he thinks those “alternative policies” should be.

Before I go on, here’s a bit of it.

  • Free home insulation for everyone with an income under £15,000 a year, which would assist these householders to permanently cut their energy bills, and also create jobs and reduce global warming.
  • Stricter government regulation of energy and fuel prices, in order to curb excess profits.
  • Abolition of the £300 Home Information Packs and a two-year stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers of property worth less than £300,000, to help revive the housing market.
  • Cheaper, more reliable public transport, which would aid low income car-less households, get more vehicles off the road, ease traffic congestion and contribute to cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Replace the council tax with a local income tax, to end the hardship faced by low-income retirees and people who earn just above the exemption threshold. They currently pay the same council tax as someone with a 200% higher income who lives in an equivalent property.
  • Increase the deposit protection for savers to £100,000, to give security to seniors who have been wise enough to save for their retirement.
  • Raise tax-free personal allowances from £6,035 to £8,000 for people earning under £20,000 a year and to £7,000 for those earning £20,000 to £25,000, which would be funded by a rise in tax on incomes over £80,000 and would assist the lower-paid at a time of rocketing food prices.

These sound, for the most part, quite sensible to me. I might quibble over the details. For instance, I don’t think the “free insulation” is a very good idea because an earnings-level cut off is arbitrary and I can imagine 101 scenarios where a person earning £18,000 a year might have less disposable income to spend on insulation than a person earning £14,990. I think it would be far more sensible to require all council-owned properties to be insulated across the board and for tax-incentives to be given to homeowners and landlords to insulate privately owned properties.

I’m also concerned that the more protections and guarentees given to customers by the government, the more reckless banks might be inclined to be with the money in their charge. I think this needs to be thought through carefully.

Where I depart somewhat from his line is what he says Labour shouldn’t have done or should not plan to do (as opposed to what he thinks they should do in the future).

“Gordon Brown has currently earmarked £100 billion for an upgraded Trident nuclear missile system, two new super aircraft carriers, ID cards, the on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, computerisation of the NHS and an expanded road building programme. The government has the money but it is spending it on the wrong policies.

“If the government wants to win back trust and popularity, it should dump these right-wing policies – as many Labour backbenchers and the Green Party have urged – and switch this £100 billion-plus expenditure into policies that will simultaneously help the less well-off, boost the economy and tackle climate change.”

I think it is foolish to call having a strong military a “right wing” policy. Freedom has a cost. And opposition to computerisation and roads is just more hemp and sandals-style Green rhetoric. While I supported the military intervention in Afghanistan but not Iraq, I don’t think or accept that either of these operations was “right-wing”.

But Tatchell’s two sets – the dos and don’ts – are mutually exclusive, so you can easily – I think – divorce the standard coulda-woulda-shoulda Green stuff from the good sense of some of the rest.

Right now, while  I would quite like Labour to win the next election, I don’t think they actually deserve to win. I’d like to think that Tatchell’s advice is sufficient to avert election disaster. Right now, I’m sure there is a lot of shouting and contradictory prescriptions rising above the smoke and powder around Downing Street.

Is getting Labour back on track as easy as Tatchell says it is?