The vision of the future offered by the Tories implies, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies :
I. Living standards in 2022 will be no higher than in the pre-financial crisis year of 2007, which means the Conservatives will have presided over the longest period of stagnating incomes since the Napoleonic wars.
ii. The poorest third of the population will actually be worse off than in 2007, due to the benefit cuts that have yet to take effect.
iii. Further misery will be caused by collapsing public services, as the Tories extend to 12 years the most severe squeeze on the NHS since it was founded in 1947
The Labour manifesto offers a less bleak outlook, with significantly higher borrowing to fund investment (something the IFS supports), and higher expenditure on public services funded by taxes on the better off. The Labour vision would imply a role for the state somewhat larger than at present, but in line with other high income countries in Europe.
The main IFS criticism is that Labour may need to extend some tax increases beyond the higher income groups that it says it will target, because IFS analysis suggests that just hitting the very well off will not raise as much as claimed. That need not be a fundamental criticism:- it requires an adult debate when and if Labour are in Government concerning what can be afforded and what levels of taxation the electorate are willing to support in order to secure better services. It might also require some better targeting of expenditure promises – but at least an attempt has been made to cost the Labour manifesto, something that the Conservative manifesto does not do.
The bigger problem for both manifestos is that they may not be deliverable if the UK is simultaneously self-harming by proceeding with BREXIT. BREXIT will mean:
I. Economic growth is likely to be slower:
a. We are in for a prolonged period of uncertainty as to our future trading relationships not just within Europe but in the wider world. Decisions to invest will be delayed, some investments that might have come to the UK will go elsewhere to avoid the uncertainty, some activity will re-locate to the EU.
b. There is no evidence to suggest that there are offsetting benefits to growth as a result of looser regulation or lower taxation. Our growth rate within the EU has been comparable to that of Germany and the US and slightly higher than the average of high income countries – so there is no reason to believe that the EU has been holding us back. The fast growing countries are those like China who are still catching up with income levels in the rich countries, and no mature economy can expect to do as well.
ii. The budget situation will be even worse:
a. Any savings on our contributions to the EU will need to be offset by the cost of existing commitments, and the cost of expensively creating at national level equivalent institutions to those that currently provide needed services at European level (or paying for continued use of EU institutional arrangements). The amount of unnecessary or wasteful expenditure that we pay for is likely to turn out to be a relatively small share of our contribution, outweighed by the higher overheads and duplication of creating UK equivalents from scratch after 50 years without them.
b. If we succeed in reducing migration, which seems to be a major demand by those who supported BREXIT, there will be an immediate impact on the budget through the loss of tax revenues the migrants would have paid, the increased cost of training and recruiting national staff to do jobs nationals were previously unavailable or unwilling to do, and the cost of expensive and inefficient non-solutions like trying to recruit agency staff to cover the gaps.
c. The biggest impact of leaving the EU is likely to be felt initially in London and the South East. Those elsewhere in the country can be forgiven for shedding no tears for the wealthy city folk, but the impact on the budget is less easily dismissed, with London and the South East the only part of the country that raises more in taxes than it spends on services. If the impact on London turns out to be significant, as seems worryingly likely, then the effects of a reduced tax surplus will be felt in even less money for supporting public services and paying benefits in the regions.
Whichever party forms the next Government will face severe economic and social problems caused by the unprecedentedly long period of flat incomes and underfunded public services. It seems utterly bizarre that both parties are committed to making these serious problems disastrous by proceeding with a BREXIT that offers no benefits. We are ‘taking back control’ of the ship in order to steer it into the iceberg. Both parties are grossly irresponsible to continue to steer full speed ahead on the current course on the basis that a fairly small majority of the crew thought that it was a good idea almost a year ago.
I am quite excited that my first novel is now out on Kindle, go to amazon.com./author/mickfoster to find out more. I now need to sell enough of them to feel that I haven’t just wasted several months of my life. Apologies to friends, family and casual acquaintances that they are likely to be bombarded with my attempts to bully them into buying it, sharing it, reviewing it. You may as well give in now – especially as it costs less than a pint.
On Dec 14th at 8 p.m., the Dave Warren Jazz Quartet are back at the Three Elms https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Three-Elms-Chignal-St-James/640784632746021?fref=tson .
We are also playing in a jazz festival on December 10th at the Morden Arms in Greenwich https://www.facebook.com/morden.arms. We have an hour slot at 3.30 and I am really pleased that a couple of old friends have promised to drop in to see our set. It should be a good day, with about a dozen bands playing from mid-day onwards, reflecting a variety of jazz styles.
You can here us at http://www.guitar-ukulele.co.uk/jazzquartet/ though we have evolved quite a lot since that recording was done. We still play some tunes from the great American Songbook, but mixed in with some Latin tunes and a lot of groove-driven material from the likes of Gabor Szabo, Roy Budd, Ernest Ranglin, Hugh Masekela and John Scofield.
Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4, they found time for a long piece on Emojis, and continuing fact-free speculation about what might be happening to the child abuse enquiry, but nothing at all on Yemen the day after the debate in the Commons. The only explanation I can think of for the continuing neglect is that BBC news values have been corrupted by a desire not to upset the Saudis, the Americans, and our arms industry.
How Labour Can Return to Power
There is a possible route back to power for Labour, based on three strong policy platforms:-
i. Remain in the EU
Be the party for the 48% who wish to remain in the EU, and for the many more who are coming to that view as the lies of the leave campaign and the shambles of the negotiation become increasingly obvious.
ii. Reduce Inequality
But also be the party for those who have been left behind by globalisation, many of whom voted Brexit because they had so little to lose. Labour was always the party of redistribution, taxing those who can afford it in order to help those who need support. We need to focus on the hardships faced by so many and tackle head on the inevitable Daily Mail critique that Labour wants to tax ‘hard working families’ to provide handouts to the workshy. The approach cant be just about taxation and benefits, it also concerns investment in infrastructure to support a more balanced distribution of economic growth, less biased towards the South East. But we also need to say explicitly that economic growth is not the only goal, we have to concern ourselves with how the benefits are shared.
iii. Invest in public services – including a commitment to adequately fund health and social care.
We spend far less on health than other richer countries including our European neighbours. Comparison with others suggests we already have the most cost effective health system in the world. Meeting rising demand effectively is only possible with more money, something we should be willing to pay for.
There are several good answers to the question ‘how do we pay for all this?’:-
Relax Austerity: As argued in a previous blog (’public expenditure cuts:not needed, but very damaging’, https://mickfoster.wordpress.com/) , there is no pressing case for further austerity, and a higher share of public expenditure in GDP is prudent in current circumstances where debt service remains low by historic standards, and is likely to remain so. Without making the further cuts proposed by the Tories, the debt will fall as a share of GDP simply through economic growth at historic rates, and there is also scope for higher taxes, ending our participation in a race to the bottom.
Better In than Out: If we do not leave the EU, we will save ourselves considerable costs of adjustment and will benefit from rather higher economic growth. This theoretical result from modelling is already being confirmed by the plunge in the value of the pound at the prospect of a hard Brexit.
Stop Tory Vanity Projects: We could liberate some funds for worthwhile public expenditure by changing our priorities – scrap the dubious Hinkley and HS2 projects, and (ideally) the entirely pointless expenditure on Trident.
Can this bring Labour back together?
With the exception of the possibly contentious issue of Trident (though I have never understood why such lunacy has support in the party), I would imagine that a platform based on these three pillars could be attractive to most Labour MPs. There will need to be debate based on research to help forge evidence-based compromises on how far to push issues such as redistribution and a more expansionary fiscal policy. The prospect of a reasonable shot at forming a Government should focus minds.
What is the alternative?
I doubt if there is one in the short term. I suspect that there will be an opportunity for a no-confidence vote that might prompt a new general election at some stage in the run up to triggering Article 50. The only hope for Labour to be a relevant political actor in that process –or indeed in 2020 – is if it has something distinct and clear to say on the case for remaining in Europe. That is the only issue where there is a real possibility of attracting enough new voters to evict the Conservatives. When the Tory Government seem set on inflicting enormous and irreversible damage to our economy, our society, and our Union, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be the party of the sane alternative, attracting voters who would not perhaps normally vote Labour. We must seize that opportunity.
It seems that every BBC interviewee now has to answer the question 'how does that make you feel?', usually followed up by prompting them to seek redress or apology from someone. These interviews never elicit any useful information, but encourage us to wallow in others' joy or excitement or (all too often) their grief or distress. The intereviewer prompts people to respond with the expected cliches. Only very occasionally does the BBC broadcast the obvious response -'how the hell do you think I feel?', or 'why are you asking me, I am a victim but that doesn't make me an expert.' I am not sure when the BBC became so sloppy and so tabloid. It is especially annoying when the focus on emotions squeezes out interviews and analysis that might shed light on broader issues. I want the BBC to inform, educate, and entertain. Asking someone in grief how they feel does none of these things, it is simply lazy journalism. Our shared humanity makes such questions at best unnecessary, and at worst insensitive and intrusive. Please share if you agree and we might try to put a bit of pressure on the Beeb; I would also be interested in any comments if you disagree.
The Essex County Council election is important to YOU if you:
Have elderly relatives in need of support to maintain their dignity and independence
Have children in State schools
Use the roads and highways that cross our county, and that the ECC is responsible for maintaining
Are concerned about the services available to support vulnerable children and adults
Use and enjoy the library services and the opportunities for further and adult education
All of these services are under threat.
-The Tory Government is cutting the amount of money it provides to ECC by a third – some £50mn.
– But a bigger population and the cost of paying the National Living Wage mean it will cost the council an extra £40mn just to deliver the same services.
– Together, this means ECC needs an extra £90mn in 2016-17 just to stand still. It has increased Council Tax by 4% – the maximum it can increase it without calling a referendum – but this will bring in only an extra £22mn.
– The council plans to fill the remaining gap in 2016-17 by drawing down reserves to dangerously low levels (just 23 days of expenditure), and by continuing to cut overall expenditure despite the severe pressures from rising demand and increasing costs.
– On it’s own website, the Tory run Council admits it does not know how the increasing shortfall can be met after 2017-18.
This is happening across the country –indeed, relatively wealthy and fast-growing Essex is better off than most councils.
The Tory Government is not putting public finances on a sound footing – it is transferring the problems to local authorities and to health Service Trusts, and building up problems that are becoming increasingly apparent and will be expensive to solve.
What difference would a Labour Council make?
We will need a Labour Government to solve the underfunding of the services on which those of us who are not Eton educated millionaires depend.
But There are four key reasons to vote Labour in the ECC elections:-
To send a message to the Government that you are not happy to see money wasted on tax cuts for the rich while our roads are full of potholes and basic services on which we and our loved ones depend are in risk of collapse.
To elect a council that you can trust to prioritise the things that ordinary people want and value.
To fight back at local level against extreme Tory policies that undermine your public services, and for which they have no mandate – including the forced academisation of primary schools, and the creeping privatisation of almost every public service.
Vote against Private affluence for the few – but Public Squalor endured by all of us.
What does anti-semitism mean?
We would all agree that hatred or dislike based on something fundamental that individuals are unable to change is always unacceptable – whether it be skin colour or some form of disability or any other characteristic outside their control. None of the allegations about anti-Semitism in the labour party fall into this category.
The problem with religious discrimination is that it involves criticism not of what someone is, but of what they believe – and in the interests of free speech, we need to stress that the right to criticise the beliefs of others is legitimate and should be protected. The alleged cases of anti-Semitism do not take this form either.
We are instead dealing with Labour party members expressing views about the policy and conduct of the state of Israel, both within it’s own borders and, more particularly, within the territories that it has illegally occupied since 1967. We are all presumably in agreement that the policies and practices of the Government of Israel must be a legitimate field of debate within a national political party that has to articulate policy positions on all current international and national questions.
The accusation of anti-Semitism thus derives from the fact that Israel is the only majority jewish state, and that for many jews the state of Israel as a homeland for jewish people is a core component of their jewish identity. This dual identity inevitably leads to the potential for confusion when the behaviour of the state attracts criticism.
The issue then comes down to questions about how individual party members have chosen to prosecute the discussion. There is a spectrum:-
i. Open and civilised debate of the issues is presumably acceptable to all of us, using facts and analysis that are open to challenge.
ii. Deliberate lies and mis-representation are clearly not acceptable, though they are all too typical of the current level of political discourse in the UK. Where facts are contested of course it can be difficult to distinguish case i from case ii.
iii. Social intimidation of those holding different views should never be acceptable. We may dislike what others have to say, but should protect their right to say it.
iv.The more extreme ends of the spectrum of discrimination, involving physical assault or worse have not been alleged, although it could perhaps be argued that a discriminatory environment dangerously lowers the taboos and barriers that protect individuals from the risk of assault.
If we apply this framework to the three cases that have recently attracted most attention, they seem to fall into the category of legitimate discussion of the policies of the Israeli state.
In the case of Naz Shah, there are two separate facebook allegations, neither of them in my view straying outside the bounds of legitimate political debate.
The post which was the proximate cause of her resignation showed a picture of Israel superimposed over the United States, with the comment: “Problem solved and save you bank charges for the £3bn you transfer yearly.” In comments below, Shah said she would tweet Barack Obama and David Cameron with the suggestion and said it would “save them some pocket money”.
It is obvious that this was not intended as a serious political suggestion. It was a satirical comment on the close US-Israel relationship, and the financial support that enables Israel to continue to be militarily dominant in the region. Critics of Israel would argue that it is US financial support that has enabled Israel to ignore all pressure to negotiate a settlement. It is not necessary to agree with this view to accept that it is legitimate to hold it. The original post that Shah was re-tweeting did not come from some jew hating extremist site, but from Professor Norman Finkelstein. He is described in Wikipedia as “an American political scientist, activist, professor, and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust, an interest motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors.”
It may be a poor joke, but it is hardly anti-semitic, and nobody was harmed by her comments. Had it been a serious suggestion to forcibly transport the inhabitants of Israel to the US it would of course have been offensive, but it was clearly no such thing.
Other re-posts and comments by Naz Shah make the following points:-
- “The reality is that through its historical and current colonial project the Zionist apparatus in Tel Aviv and globally continues to enact policies and practices that are deeply inhumane, that are unequal and have created physical realities that have left the mantra of Tony Blair precisely what it was meant to be an ‘(un)viable two state solution’.”
- During the Gaza conflict, Ms Shah posted a link on Facebook to a newspaper poll asking whether Israel had committed war crimes. She wrote: “The Jews are rallying to the poll.” And then called on people to vote “yes”.
iii. Naz Shah claimed that no Israeli children had been killed by stone throwing Palestinians.
The first point is certainly well within the realms of legitimate political debate. There is widespread agreement in the academic literature that the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements has resulted in a reality on the ground that makes a two state solution now unviable.
The argument that Israel committed war crimes is also hardly controversial. During the Second Intifada, the UN Commission on Human Rights reported “widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Israeli occupying power, in particular mass killings and collective punishments, such as demolition of houses and closure of the Palestinian territories, measures which constitute war crimes, flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity.” In 2014 Amnesty released a report with similar findings, criticizing Israel for excessive and reckless use of force for which Israeli soldiers are not held accountable. Amnesty said characteristics of the violence suggested it was employed as a matter of policy, and that there was evidence some killings amounted to war crimes.
The third point could be argued to be a case of mis-representation by Ms Shah, as there does appear to have been one such case. However, even if true, the critical point (as Ken Livingstone pointed out) is the enormous disparity in the body count with far more Palestinians killed than Israelis.
Were any of her tweets or comments anti-semitic?
I would say they are not. It was perhaps careless to refer to ‘the jews’ voting in support of Israel rather than more precisely suggesting that Israeli supporters were highly motivated to vote. However, all of the comments are concerned with the conduct of the Israeli state, and have nothing to do with personal hatred of jews. If anyone is guilty of deliberate mis-representation it is those who are making the accusations of anti-semitism.
The deliberate identification of an opposition to the Zionist project with anti-semitism is made explicit in comments by Joan Ryan, Labour Friends of Israel chair, who said: “This incident underlines yet again the need for the Labour Party to take urgent action to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism in all its forms.” The two are however clearly quite different things. Zionism was a political movement to establish a homeland for the jewish people. It was a legitimate aim, but aspects of the way in which it was in practice carried out, with expulsions of Arabs without compensation or right of return, continue to be problematic, as does the continued expansion of illegal settlements.
The second case relates to Oxford University Labour Club. A decision by the club to support Israeli Apartheid Week, which seeks to highlight Israel’s “ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people”, has angered some Labour MPs, who have called for the party to dissociate itself from OULC. Louise Ellman, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “I am deeply disturbed by the news that Oxford University Labour Club has decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week and by the revelations from Alex Chalmers about the troubling tone of the discourse in which this debate appears to have been conducted.” She said comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa were “a grotesque smear and the Labour party should dissociate itself from them”.
The allegedly ‘grotesque smear’ has a prestigious pedigree.Israeli treatment of non-Israelis in territories occupied by Israel for nearly fifty years, has been compared to South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during the apartheid era by the Congress of South African Trade Unions,, by former US President Jimmy Carter,, by archbishop Desmond Tutu and by Michael Ben-Yair, attorney-general of Israel. In 2009, South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council released a 300-page study that concluded that Israel practiced colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.The accusation of anti-semitism appears to be unfounded unless all of these prestigious individuals and bodies are also guilty of it.
The final case is that of Ken Livingstone. The most annoying thing about his intervention is that it kept a damaging debate going and escalated it at a time when efforts should have been focused on the coming elections. However, for what it is worth, he appears to be factually largely correct in what he says, and again it is difficult to see how his comments can be taken as evidence of anti-semitism. He said that Hitler initially wanted to expel the jews because he hated them and that his officials held discussions with the Zionists to that end. He did not suggest that the Zionists supported Hitler, nor did he suggest that Hitler was anything but repugnant in his attitude to the jews. His comments were in answer to a question, and were largely irrelevant to the debate on anti-semitism.
His other points were to draw attention to Israeli brutality towards Palestinians including the gross disparity in the body count, and the tendency of the pro-Israel lobby to label anyone criticising Israel as anti semitic. All of which is fair comment.
My conclusion is that there may have been some unguarded language used at times, but the cases that have received such publicity and had dire consequences for the individuals were of startling triviality and were not evidence of anti-semitism. They are explained perhaps by common cause among those wishing to damage Jeremy Corbyn, and those wishing to deflect all criticism of Israel.
The startling thing is that the ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ receive so little criticism for their support of a regime that has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and of imposing unacceptable levels of suffering on the inhabitants of the occupied territories. As a labour party member, I am hurt and offended by labour party members appearing to defend the indefensible, and bringing my party into disrepute by associating it with a regime that has a long history of oppressing the rights of the Palestinian people. That is the real issue. A little mild upset or irritation experienced by some party members because of strongly worded criticism of the conduct of a foreign power seems utterly trivial in comparison with the lethal and discriminatory behaviour by Israel that her critics seek to highlight.. The accusations of anti-Semitism seem to be contrived in my view to stifle a debate that needs to be brought into the open. There are indeed examples of unacceptable bullying within the labour party, but they are not coming from those now accused of anti-Semitism, but from those who are making the accusations to silence necessary debate.
Economic Growth under Labour and under the Tories
Looking at the long term economic growth rate under both Tory and Labour Governments since 1950, there is no significant difference between them – it averages 2.6% p.a. during periods of Tory rule, 2.5% per annum under Labour.
Both parties performed poorly until the 1980s
Comparing the performance of the UK to France, the USA, and the average of high-income OECD countries, the UK economy performed poorly compared to our competitors under both Tory and Labour Governments until the end of the 1970s.
The conservatives under Thatcher initially presided over a deep recession that caused mass unemployment and extreme misery, but later years did see the UK outperform our competitors on economic growth. Over the 1979-97 period of Tory Government as a whole, however, the GDP increase of 52% under the conservatives was higher than France’s 44% but lagged a long way behind the 63% average of the OECD countries let alone the 70% increase in the USA.
The only post-war Government to achieve faster economic growth than the average of all rich countries is the labour Government of 1997-2010. Under labour the economy grew by nearly 30%, whereas the high income countries as a group achieved growth of about 28%. From 1997-2008, Labour consistently achieved high GDP growth with low inflation. During the period, the cumulative increase in national output per head in the UK was greater in percentage terms than in either the US or France. The major and important difference from the Conservatives is that labour achieved this good performance while also distributing the benefits more equitably, achieving major reductions in poverty, especially child poverty.
The period of growth came to an end with the global financial crisis. During the global recession from 2008, the cumulative decline in national GDP in the UK was about 4.7% compared to an OECD average of about 3.5%, and about 3% in the US and France. The UK was hit harder because of the far greater relative importance of banking and finance in the UK economy. The recession was not caused by labour economic mismanagement.
What is less well recognised in the UK (though acknowledged in other countries) is that the UK performed a really significant role in brokering the necessary international action to save the world financial system from collapse. It is ironic that labour ended up with a reputation for economic incompetence when most international observers would give the UK much of the credit for preventing the global recession being a whole lot worse.
Under the Tory led coalition since 2010, recovery in the UK was slow, and (unlike the US) the UK had still not recovered the pre-slump peak level of output per head by 2014. The IMF and other commentators have argued that unnecessarily severe austerity policies have damaged economic growth since 2010.France performed even more poorly during the recovery because of the problems of the Euro zone – the decision to keep us out of the Eurozone was another example of sound Labour economic judgement.
Growth is only one aspect of economic management. Another indicator of the skill in economic management is the control of inflation, with both parties accepting that a target of about 2% per annum is appropriate. Although direct responsibility is given to the Bank of England (a significant reform introduced by Labour), Government can make their task much more difficult if it fails to retain good control of its own spending.
Recent economic history suggests that Labour has performed better than the Conservatives.
Both Labour and Tory Governments struggled to control inflation in the 1970s in the face of multiple oil shocks abroad and industrial relations problems at home. Despite the severity of the recession that it induced through over-tight monetary policy in the early 1980s, the Thatcher Government still struggled with inflation rates above 5% as late as 1991.
Under Labour from 1997, the UK consistently enjoyed a benign combination of moderate inflation and economic growth. Only the global financial crisis brought this to an end. As argued elsewhere, this was not caused by labour, nor was the labour Government especially profligate in its spending decisions. It was appropriate to allow some expansion in the budget deficit to avoid a still deeper recession. The debt never approached unmanageable levels. The debt has been far higher than the current level of about 80% of GDP for much of our history, it is easily financed with current low global interest rates, and will come down in relative terms as economic growth is restored- even without the planned deep cuts in public spending.
Did Labour ‘Tax and Spend’ Excessively?
Another frequent allegation is that Labour Governments tax and spend excessively. Judge for yourself:-
I. The labour Government of 1997-2010 generally spent less than the 38% of GDP level reached in the final years of the previous Conservative administration. There was a brief (and rapidly reversed) expenditure blip to 38.8% in 2005, but the eve of the global economic crisis saw the Government spending the same share of GDP as their predecessors. Tax revenue was a little higher, which could be argued to reflect a prudent policy of avoiding excessive deficit spending in good times.
2. During the global crisis, which required extra expenditure to avoid a deep recession, expenditure peaked in 2009 at 43.6% of GDP. This is higher than the average of the rich OECD countries, but is lower than France (47%) and comparable to Denmark (43%) Italy (42%) and the Netherlands (42%). Those who have suggested that Labour economic policies would lead to disaster might want to contemplate these figures – and the fact that high spending Denmark and the Netherlands score 3rd and 6th in the global rankings of the World Happiness Report.
The conclusion to draw from this analysis is that there is little difference between the two parties in terms of the quality of economic management. If anything, Labour has performed better since 1997, enjoying greater consistency with less ‘boom and bust.’
The big difference between the two parties is in how the fruits of economic growth have been distributed. That will be the subject of a future briefing note.
 Calculated by the author from Office of National Statistics GDP data.
 Based on World Bank World Development Indicators. Re-unification makes a comparison with Germany difficult.
 World Bank, world development indicators, analysis by the author
 For quotes and analysis see William Keegan, Saving the World”? Gordon Brown Reconsidered , October 2012, ISBN 978-1-907720-56-7