Labour has shifted taxation from the rich to the poor, cutting corporation tax from 33% to 28% and capital gains tax from 40% to 18%, and introducing a new Entrepreneurs’ Relief scheme, taxing the first million of capital gains at just 10%. It tried to raise the income tax paid by the poorest earners from 10% to 20%. Labour has lifted the inheritance tax threshold from £300,000 to £700,000, and maintained the cap on the highest rates of council tax. While vigorously prosecuting benefits cheats, it has allowed tax avoidance, mostly by the very rich, to reach an estimated £41billion(20). Inequality today is slightly worse than it was when Labour took power (the Gini coefficient which measures it has risen from 0.33 to 0.35(21)).
wrote George Monbiot this week in a laser-guided attack on Labour's record in office.
Last night, in Crewe, Labour's supporters yet again failed to turn out to vote, just as they'd failed to turn out in this month's local elections. (Many previously Labour supporters may have changed their preference, but I think the reason Labour lost is because not enough of their previous supporters turned out at all). I wrote in the wake of the local elections disaster that if Labour were surprised, they shouldn't have been: this has been coming for a long time.
Yet they don't get it. They really, really don't get it. They categorise their supporters as either 'core' or 'aspirational', as if the working classes have no aspirations. That's the contempt with which New Labour regards its bedrock and its main support. It has taken cash from unions ever since 1997, while continuing Margaret Thatcher's anti-union policies and thumbing its nose at organised labour at every opportunity. In a bid to break free of trade unions, which they hate, New Labour have sought funding from elsewhere, and look at the trouble that got them into.
New Labour might still not get it. But their former supporters have.
The only way to assure the future of the political left in Britain is not to vote Labour. The only way to make them wake up is to crush New Labour at the polls - to send a decisive message that can even enter the thick skulls of Gordon Brown and chums. Yes, it will be presented, wrongly, as a 'swing to the right', as last night's by-election was, but in the cold light of day the facts will make themselves apparent. If you have contempt for the left, they won't support you. You can't win without them. The Tories will always get 10 million votes in a general election, even if they promised to boil everyone's children in tar; that's a sad fact, but it's not going to change any time soon.
It's not about the economy, stupid. It's about being fair to people, reducing inequality, making life better, giving a shit about poverty, not starting illegal wars, not destroying civil liberties, not doing what the Daily Mail wants just because they say so, not doing what Rupert Murdoch wants just because he says so. It's about actually having principles about things. It's about actually having compassion and caring about other human beings.
If New Labour won't listen - and I don't think they will - then they're finished. Those smug and stupid assertions in 1997 - from the likes of Andrew Marr - that the Tories were routed, were wrong. So, so wrong. Back then, New Labour claimed they had won over the middle ground, and the Tories would struggle to win it back. They could take their 'core' support for granted, and ride on the back of it to 50 years of election success, despite producing ever more right-wing policies. They were wrong then and they are wrong now if they think that's the way out of their troubles.
The solution isn't to try and win over Tory votes by jumping even further to the right - did the 10p tax disaster, reducing inheritance tax for the rich and capital gains tax for the rich see a wonderful result at Crewe and Nantwich? No? It won't work. Copying Conservative policies will just make Brown look weaker than he already is, and it will make it appear that David Cameron is setting the agenda, which unfortunately he is.
New Labour must listen to those it has hated for so long - those people in Labour clubs up and down the country, trade unions, the left. Without them, they will win nothing. They will be obliterated. David Cameron offers a more polished and hopeful vision for the centre-right, despite not really having any policies about anything; he just seems more confident and professional. Those in the centre much beloved of New Labour will go back to their home with the Conservatives. Jeremy Hardy wrote in 1997 that it said something about the Tories' failings that people would be willing to vote for a shower like New Labour; it will say something about the failings of New Labour that people will be willing to vote for a shower like the Tories - still hopelessly divided over Europe, with many nasty and unpleasantly rabid elements, a home for people who have a cruel streak for minorities and the poor. But they will.
If there is any hope for Labour, it must be to jettison the scramble for Daily Mail Man and to try and win over once again those people it has despised for so long - the left. If it fails to do so, election disaster awaits.
The irony is that if New Labour had actually done something about the hugely unfair, unjust and undemocratic voting system in the UK - which it could easily have done with its landslide majority in 1997 - they wouldn't be facing annihilation. But then they thought they were indestructible. They thought they couldn't lose. That was hubris, and they were wrong. Now they must take the consequences.
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