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WEDNESDAY will see one of the most consequential budgets of our time proposed to Parliament by Rishi Sunak. The importance of this budget simply cannot be overstated.
It will reflect how the government chooses to rebuild Britain out of the devastation of the pandemic and it will show the government’s priorities and ambitions for the people of the country. It will also show quite clearly how the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer prioritises tackling the inequality that plagued this land long before coronavirus hit.
2020 marked the year that, along with Jon Trickett MP and Cllr Laura Smith, former MP for Crewe and Nantwich, I co-founded the organisation No Holding Back.
More than a year has passed since then, during which time we have undertaken a virtual tour of every corner of Britain, listening to the grassroots communities on which the politics we represent were founded. We published The Challenge for Labour, a report based upon the analysis of the conversations that we had.
It is vital as politicians to listen but essentially it is even more important to then shape the policies and the solutions to provide answers to the problems raised. This must be an ongoing exercise. It is not good enough to just check in to tick a box. Building on that first initiative of the virtual tour, we have now set up a new Activists’ Assembly, the first iteration of which focuses on Wednesday’s Budget.
We have been blown away by the response to our first consultation. Over 1100 have responded with their priorities for the Budget. There is a clear signal of what people would like to see and we will be releasing the findings on Monday evening.
The responses that we have had have come from a wide cross section of society and it is absolutely crucial that their views are heard before the Labour front bench responds to Rishi Sunak’s fiscal plans.
It is obvious that currently the Labour Party machine is prioritising returning to the acceptance of the status quo of the Blair years over the politics of progressive transformation of the Corbyn period. A rewriting of history and ducking and diving of responsibility is underway and frankly no good will be achieved long term if this approach continues.
Labour was steadily losing support from the Labour heartlands for decades because solutions were not being offered to improve the lives and opportunities of those living there. People and communities whose votes had long been taken for granted felt alienated from the politics of Westminster.
2017 was the only time that that changed, when a real progressive agenda for change was put forward and people were excited about what that meant. For the Many not the Few offered hope despite vicious internal attacks and, in my view, attempted sabotage from those who prioritise holding the gears of the internal machine as more important than getting the Tories out of power.
By 2019 the hateful attacks on the party leadership by the media and organised sections of the Labour Party, plus the disastrous second referendum campaign and lack of discipline of the left on the matter, had sealed the fate of socialist and transformational policies coming to the forefront of British politics.
Those very policies are the blueprint to drive us out of the economic disaster that we face now. The answer to how we bridge inequality starts there.
It is clear as day from our original tour with No Holding Back and this latest consultation that those popular policies are still popular. That has been proven in various polls nationally and it would be disastrous for Labour to ignore this and offer more or less the same as the Tories (and conceivably even less).
The full economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are still being quantified and understood, but it is already clear that it is a major economic event, unprecedented during peacetime.
Government action will be critical to ensuring the avoidance of an “economic Long Covid” that could reshape Britain’s economy for years to come, accelerating inequality, deepening poverty and further widening regional economic disparities, with all the associated social, economic and political costs.
We must not forget however that not everyone has experienced economic losses because of the Covid-19 economy. At the very top of the income distribution, many amongst the very wealthy have been making a killing. The private contracts being dished out to friends and associates of the top leaders of the Conservative Party go to show how utterly divided and corrupt things have become.
Given the social, political and ecological harm created by runaway inequality, Labour should call for a windfall tax on excess profits and/or a wealth tax, rather than increasing taxes on work or spending during an economic contraction.
If the Labour leadership is to oppose any increase in corporation tax, they’d be out of step with the country at large – 67 per cent of voters, including 76 per cent of Labour supporters, say they’d favour an increase. Britain’s existing corporation tax rate, at 19 per cent, is the lowest in the G7.
Starmer needs to stop listening to the likes of Peter Mandelson, who is famous for taking the heartlands for granted with his “nowhere else to go” comments and instead listen to those who live and breathe the concerns of real communities crying out for new politics.
Taking bolder action, more in line with the scale of the Biden economic stimulus proposals we have seen in the US, can begin to radically transform the situation and instead put Britain on a different path.
Lives can be saved and a more hopeful future achieved, mass unemployment can be prevented and we can halt and reverse the spiralling levels of poverty and wealth inequality in this country. We need a budget that will protect health, jobs and incomes. That is what the Labour Party should be about.
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