Can there be a liberal-left ’08 manifesto?

12:30 pm - January 18th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    

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Is it feasible to think about a liberal-left manifesto for 2008? I don’t mean one for the Labour party, or the Liberal Democrats – but one for the activists, thinkers and those on the left of the political spectrum as a whole. Gordon Brown’s “Autumn horribilis”, as Sunder Katwala dubbed it, makes it all the more important for the Labour party to seek new direction and ideas. Does that create an opportunity for those of us on the liberal-left?

The Fabian Society is concentrating on foreign policy this year, the theme of its annual conference tomorrow (I’ve been asked to pitch at one of the Fabian events, so if you want to say hello, get in touch). And though the American presidential elections and our foreign policy in the Middle East are obviously of interest and concern to us on Liberal Conspiracy, my question is: what can be done in the UK? What are the big ideas? The campaigns?

This is a prelude to me publishing my own manifesto and I’d like to hear what our readers and contributors have to say on the issue. Without getting into the exact definition of what liberal-left means again, is it even possible to have a year-long manifesto? Does it make any sense? Does it get us anywhere? Or are there specific issues that you would like to see more awareness of or a push on? This isn’t necessarily about a Brown comeback but more generally about liberal-left concerns. Thoughts welcome.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

Challenging the neoliberal consensus should be at the forefront of the left’s thinking — though I suspect this notion might draw hostility from many on this site. This isn’t to say that other things shouldn’t be prominent on the manifesto, but without this centralising principle the left will continue going nowhere fast.

Putting things less abstractly, I would suggest a good place to start would be massive rises in income tax for the wealthy. A top rate of 40p in the pound is just ridiculous. Some proposals:

– A marginal rate of 60p for those earning in the region of £60,000;
– A marginal rate around 85p for those earning above £100,000;
– A marginal rate around 90p to 95p for those earning above £150,000.

These numbers are off the top of my head and obviously don’t have to be set in stone. But after 10 1/2 years of New Labour government, it is time to challenge the idea that we can’t raise the top rate of income tax.

Pull the plug on Trident.

I personally think an emphasis over the next few years has to be on local politics and local representation, one way or another the basic views of the people are not getting heard anywhere near enough.

Hey we could have it in a pub in Southall and call it the Southall Manifesto! 😀

Hey Sunny – I’m for working out what to do and how to get there but I’m not sure it is meangful to have a manifesto for a year. All journeys start with a single step, etc, but the project needs to be about more than so many months. We’re doing a ‘year ahead’ series in OurKingdom and I’m struck that there are strong differences of perspective and priority, between say those concerned about Northern Ireland and those whose concern is England or, the most recent, human rights. Sure, overcoming differences and sectional interests is what a Manifesto needs to do, go for that! But why for 2008?

Abolish the Fabian Society and its tradition of managerialist crapspeak and finger-wagging wowserism?

“- A marginal rate of 60p for those earning in the region of £60,000;
– A marginal rate around 85p for those earning above £100,000;
– A marginal rate around 90p to 95p for those earning above £150,000.

These numbers are off the top of my head and obviously don’t have to be set in stone. But after 10 1/2 years of New Labour government, it is time to challenge the idea that we can’t raise the top rate of income tax.”

Brilliant. Perfect for finishing off Labour’s reign with the most unimaginable recession you could believe. With that sort of tax rate, you could almost have people starving in the street! Instead of attacking work and employment, why not challenge the actual bad side of the current “neoliberal consensus” and remove the strangleghold that government licensed corporations have over various markets.

Nick –

What tosh! Those figures just encompass a small part of any changed fiscal regime. Did I say the government should introduce across-the-board tax rises? No. I’m just proposing that the tax regime is made more progressive, with the extremely wealthy paying more. This could be accompanied with a decrease in regressive taxation, putting more money in the pockets of the poor. This would be better for staving off a recession as poor people are more likely to spend it.

And that’s just one side of the fiscal equation. Increased tax revenues don’t have to go towards reducing the PSBR. Targeted spending in can be far more revitalising for the economy than ensuring nothing gets in the way of some hedge fund manager buying his third Porsche.

As for my attacking work and employment. Well, perhaps my proposals may increase the unemployment rate among divorce lawyers. But hey, is that really such a bad thing?

But how about creating employment in a revived manufacturing sector? Yeah it’s crazy, I know, but when we’ve turned all the golf courses into allotments because the house of cards we built in place of a real economy has collapsed, we might just regret doing nothing. We should set up a publicly funded development bank to slowly and painstakingly begin a process starting up one or two industries (finance is not an industry!).

In any case, getting back to taxation, I just threw some numbers out there and you are more than welcome to throw out some different ones. I chose the numbers I chose because I figures some people would react as you have, while others would think I haven’t nearly gone far enough. I actually veer towards the latter view, but I’m more interested in what others have to say. Seeing as other proposals have not been forthcoming, here are some from Prem Sikka at CiF …

Oh, and I couldn’t give a toss about Labour, by the way.

9. douglas clark

Seems to me that, given the private sectors love affair with ridiculous salaries and bonus’s, that we are enabling a new elite. The state seems comatose, when it comes to this sort of thing, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, ain’t it a bloody shame?

Well no.

It is OK, it is the marketplace, allegedly.

That it does not seem to exist much outside of London says it all really.

London, well bits of it, are a protected state within a state.

I was quite happy when the Rolling Stones pissed of to France.

The problem is not so much the fact that people can earn those sorts of salaries as what they do with their wealth. The answer, for some, is to buy more and more property, which inevitably has had a distorting effect on the housing market in London and the South East. The single biggest reason why many people on average incomes cannot afford to live there any more is that there is now a critical mass of people on huge incomes who can sustain house prices at their present levels. The only way there will be a housing crash is if these people start being laid-off in large numbers.

Should a liberal-left manifesto try to address this by, for instance, further changes to the tax regime for second homes or even by actually restricting the amount of property any one individual can own? I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.

I’m going to keep it basic.

I would like to see LC focus on women’s issues – namely, abortion rights and modernisation of abortion law (if I see another bishop yapping on about the rights of the unborn child on the news I’m going to lie down on the M4) and strengthening trade unions.

Trade unions are particularly important for women, because we’re the ones suffering most in this highly corporate era – we get paid less, get tiddly little pensions and still get discriminated against in the workplace when we get pregnant.

I also think LC should campaign for Gordon Brown go to Antarctica and stay there.

The Labour party will not win the next election if he’s the leader.

10. Personally I think that owning a second second home should cost you as much as it would if it were your first in terms of running it, and more importantly contribute as much to the local economy. I find it amazing that some people in this country are happy to blame immigration for and housing squeezes yet fail to look as far as the effect that second homes can have, especially in rural areas.

I wouldn’t like to see anyone limited in the amount of homes they can buy, just limited in the amount of damage that they can cause to the local area by doing so, surely that’s the most liberal thing you can do?

12. couldn’t agree more

I’m with Kate. The current threats against abortion rights are probably the most serious we’ve faced since the 1967 act was introduced, and I think the left needs to mobilise on this instead of leaving it all to women’s groups.

I’d also like to see more support for trade unions – if they manage to get their act together this year the public sector unions should hopefully be campaigning together to fight Brown’s pathetic below inflation pay offer. LC should be backing the campaign to secure decent pay for what are some of the lowest paid workers.

As, umm, liberals, why not try being liberal?

No ID cards, restore civil liberties like habeas corpus, the right to a jury trial, the right to silence, the right to no punishment without a trial… know, liberal type things?

Just a thought.

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