Voting Labour

No one likes being told how they should vote. Instead, I’ll share a few reasons why I’m voting Labour.

Critically, I want to emphasise that in the UK General Election 2019 I have a choice to vote for something that I value, that resonates with me, that feels urgent and necessary, and charts a path forwards through the many challenges faced by the UK and our entire civilization (if you feel this is melodramatic, I feel you are not paying attention). This is a stark contrast with GEs prior to 2017, which for me were typically sordid exercises in lesser-evilism. But I don’t want to talk about lesser evils, or reasons not to vote for other parties. I want to talk about reasons for voting Labour, today.

Economically, Britain needs to both end austerity and take proactive steps to address rampant inequality. There are powerful moral arguments to be made for both, but also economic arguments. Austerity has been a clear failure via whatever metric you choose, having neither reduced the national debt nor produced significant economic growth. Inequality concentrates wealth and those who do not benefit do not spend; low spending and hoarding of capital suffocate economic growth. Labour proposes to address both with a progressive tax on the country’s highest earners, the introduction of a superior living wage and the scrapping of austerity schemes like Universal Credit. A modest raise in corporation tax will also help here, and may even result in companies choosing to invest in R&D rather than continue to bung cash to shareholders. This is extremely basic economics.

The NHS is one of Britain’s most beloved and fiercely defended institutions, for all the negative headlines and scandals. Labour intend to deliver the investment the NHS needs to address crumbling infrastructure and take steps to reverse privatisation of and marketisation within the NHS. Other services, like rail, energy, mail and water will return to public ownership. You may have heard arguments about historical problems these services had when under centralised public ownership. To that I reply that their performance under private ownership has a track record of worse services and higher costs both to users and to the state.

In addition Labour, uniquely among UK political parties, are exploring alternative models of ownership that decentralise control and support people getting involved in the services that they rely upon. This is one way in which the 2019 manifesto marks the start of a potential journey – one that indicates the sincerity and seriousness of Corbynism when it comes to engaging with the problems we face.

The housing crisis in the UK is no secret, unless you’re lucky enough to be a homeowner. Living in Brighton & Hove I was very familiar with my partner and I paying well over half of our income to subsidise the mortgages of buy-to-let landlords and live in sub-standard, poorly-maintained properties whilst getting hit with arbitrary fees from lettings agents. Meanwhile new homes have been constructed at a pitiful rate for years; as any stan for capitalism will tell you, the whole edifice is driven by companies pursuing their self-interest, and for the majority of big construction firms increasing supply by constructing large numbers of houses would undercut the prices they’re able to charge for a more limited supply. This is basic market forces. Combining a rent cap with large-scale construction of new council homes will significantly alleviate the mounting pressures on those seeking stability and security in their home.

I’m frankly exhausted by Brexit, so I will simply say that for several years now it’s been evident that Labour’s policy on the subject has never been complicated, except in comparison with tedious ultras to whom “cancel it entirely” or “enact the worst form of it” are the only two options on the table. Don’t @ me.

Last but certainly not least, on the environment Labour’s policy is more radical than even the Green Party might offer. Committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 is a titanic and challenging commitment, but also one that is absolutely necessary given the scale of the problems we face today. Between this and a Green New Deal backed by a National Investment Bank, Britain could become a leading nation in combating the unfolding climate crisis, and in mitigating those effects which are already inevitable. This is the world we live in now, and of all the major UK parties only Labour is taking this seriously.

A lot of these policies came out of the Labour Party Conference earlier this year, some with unanimous support. Labour over the last few years has transformed into an admirably (if messily!) democratic party, with rank and file members offered more of a say and more influence on policy than at any point in the party’s history. I’m proud to have joined the party in 2017 and to have played a tiny part in its transformation from a rudderless vehicle for failed politics to the dynamic force for positive change that it is today.

Perhaps another day I’ll address why I will not vote Liberal Democrat, or – ha ha – Conservative. But for today, this is about hope: for real progress and positive change. The dream of electoral democracy is that it can offer us the vision of a path toward a better future. I invite you to join me in voting for hope.

What are the Lib Dems good for?

I originally wrote this in mid-August, and although politics has come at us fast over the following couple of months, I feel like this is still relevant. 

It’s funny how politics can burn you. It’s not that long ago that I remember thinking of the Liberal Democrats as a potential force for progress and positive change in the UK. Call me naive, because when it came to electoral and party politics, I certainly was.

Before 2010 the Lib Dems had long pushed for voting reform and abolition of First Past the Post. I welcomed it. Such reform, I believed, would undermine what I saw as a contemptible convergence between Blairite Labour and Cameronian Toryism, each squabbling over the swing voter demographic of whatever middle England was imagined to be, proposing similar policies and twitching the curtain of the Overton window as they scapegoated the nebulous figure of ‘the immigrant’. Anything but more Blairism, I thought, but never the Tories.

The Lib Dems also took a stand over tuition fees for university students, saying they should be abolished. Tuition fees had only grown since my time at university, where I was lucky enough to pay only £1,000 a year. I had a stark memory of a favourite seminar tutor, an American academic studying for his PhD, telling me he was almost £100,000 in debt already. Who would want to reproduce such a repugnant state of affairs? A firm stance against fees, the main cause of such debts, seemed noble, admirable, and simply right.

I also had memories of Charles Kennedy being the one major party leader back in 2003 who had vocally opposed the invasion of Iraq. Come 2010 Kennedy was no longer the party leader, of course, but if a party’s leader had taken such a prominent anti-war stance in the face of support across the British media and political landscape, surely the party itself must be characterised by being anti-war?

You might be forgiven for thinking this, if you didn’t look closely.

Like many who might have felt politically engaged but had little knowledge of actually-existing electoral politics, I imagined that the Liberal Democrats represented an alternative to New Labour and Cameron’s rebranded Tories. When Clegg outperformed the other party leaders in televised debate (thanks to the cunning tactic of remembering a few peoples’ names for up to two minutes), I even allowed myself to imagine a Lib Dem surge that would put New Labour out of power but prevent the Tories seizing the reins!

We know how the 2010 election played out. The Liberal Democrats acted as kingmakers and went into coalition with the Tories. Sometimes it was claimed they would blunt the worst excesses of Tory nastiness, and it’s true that the Tories after the coalition went deeper and further – but this built on top of the extensive, immiserating, and cruel austerity cuts they had already implemented. The widespread contempt for the Lib Dem coalition period is perhaps best represented by a well-known tweet in which a Lib Dem special advisor retrospectively celebrates the months of effort pushing for a plastic bag charge in return for tightening benefit sanctions.

Notably the party’s total reversal over tuition fees – a shift from abolition of fees to tripling them – enraged students and led to mass protests toward the end of 2010. Although the protests failed to produce any change in tuition fee policy, I believe these experiences – for a whole generation of students and young people – of betrayal for political expedience, of mass organisation and action, of heavy-handed policing and condemnatory media narratives, were significant factors in the undermining of centrist political narratives and of the future Corbynist surge.

Certainly it didn’t do popular support for the Liberal Democrats any favours. Although they spent five years sharing power with the Tories, come the next election they plummeted from 57 seats in Parliament to eight.

Update: in an odd mixture of surprising candor and – probably – desire to move on from the party’s record during the coalition era, Tim Farron tweeted this out in mid-October this year:

In the subsequent period in the wilderness, Clegg passed leadership to Tim Farron, who is perhaps best remembered as something of a joke: a deeply awkward man who failed to refute accusations of latent homophobia. My notes here simply read “discuss the tenure of gay frog milk man“. The Lib Dems regained only a few seats in 2017’s snap election, with Farron’s gambit of positioning them as “the Remain party” falling short against Labour and Tory strategies. What more need really be said?

Now we have Jo Swinson. A leader stepping forward at a time when Brexit dominates the British political landscape more than ever before, she appeared to have doubled down on Farron’s strategy. The Liberal Democrats were the ultra-Remain party. Under her leadership nothing else mattered more than stopping Brexit.

A scant few weeks later, her party rejected efforts from Labour to establish a second referendum with Remain on the ballot. So… was this proposal somehow not good enough? Will only the fantasy of cancelling Brexit suffice? Is this simply because they hate the idea of Prime Minister Corbyn so much? Is Swinson, whisper it, accepting the inevitability of Brexit? Rather than attempting to moderate the damage of the politically inevitable and move on (which seems clearly, to me, to have always been what lay behind Labour policy on the matter), is she positioning the party to benefit from being martyr figures when a no-deal Brexit proves ruinous?

One can only speculate. But the moment made me recall, back in 2015, watching the situation in Greece unfold. Syriza had just capitulated to the EU troika despite the ‘Oxi’ referendum result. I asked myself and my friends on Facebook: if they can’t do this, what are Syriza even for?

Now I ask the same of the Liberal Democrats. Having burned their progressive credentials in the cold fires of austerity government, by demonstrating themselves to be so free of principal that they will drop core policies, and by actively working against the only realistic counter-Brexit strategies still on the table, I have to ask their members and supporters: what do you imagine they are for?