Recent The Left Articles

Yes I’ve changed my views since the election

by Sunny Hundal     July 23, 2015 at 10:28 am

As is common these days, I get abused on Twitter by some lefties outraged that I’ve not fallen in line with popular opinion on the left.

In my latest column for LabourList I show why the assumption that Jeremy Corbyn will appeal to non-voters or UKIPers with his ‘clear principles’ or economic populism seem wildly optimistic. Britons who don’t vote or opt for UKIP are largely culturally conservative Britons who prefer the Daily Mail and Express over the Mirror, and value policies that the left would not want to sign up to (patriotism, low immigration, cutting welfare). Their biggest gripes are about immigration and welfare benefits, and in favour of reducing them not increasing them.

When you know Corbyn is a bit radical, why the shock when someone points out he may only appeal to other radicals?

Anyway, my point is this: yes, I’ve changed my opinions views the election.

I haven’t changed what I believe in. I still believe in economic and social equality, I believe in an economy that doesn’t unfairly reward the already rich and privileged, I believe in the free provision of education and other public goods like health. I believe the railways should be nationalised and that large parts of the banking sector have become a parasite on our economy. I still believe that climate change, sustainability, clean energy and ending waste are among the biggest challenges of our time.

But the British left is broken. I’ve written several articles on how we are out of touch, out of focus and repeating the same mistakes. And I’m sick of going along with this farce. I want to see a left that isn’t dogmatic, is full of new ideas and not constantly harking back to the 50s, wants to win and is willing to build wide coalitions to crush the Tories.

None of that is going to happen with silly sloganeering about “the politics of hope” – especially if the only people being preached to are the already converted. I don’t want to provide false hope with my articles, I want to point out that the world is a complicated place and not everything is as clear-cut as people assume. I want to challenge the the groupthink and narrow focus because that’s why the left keeps losing. I want us to think more about tactics and strategy not just repeating slogans that make us feel like we have principles.

Labour’s “greatest hits” are a list of things it has done while in power, not a record of principles held while in opposition.

We lost the election in May so badly that I felt intellectually jarred. The assumptions I had made about voters reacting to Labour policies and ideas came crashing down. The Tories totally outclassed us and many of us still don’t know why. But the last five years have been futile not just for Labour, but even leftwing activism. Most of the big movements quickly fizzled out due to lack of focus, lack of strategy and infighting. Isn’t it time to wake up to this?

As Gerry Hassan points out:

The left barely understands how it comes over to people not inside its constituency and fully signed up. ‘The world is wrong’ is self-evident; ‘why are you not one of us?’ runs the logic. The next step is to embrace resistance and defensive, oppositional language, invoking ‘austerity’ and ‘Tory cuts’ and feeling self-justification and self-satisfaction. Do people not stop to think that these comfort zones are a substitute for thinking about issues?

The Tory party thinks about winning power first, then implementing their agenda; the Labour party wants to have a massive fight over its principles first, and it doesn’t even get near power.

If some lefties just want to just shout slogans and express their principles, that’s fine. They have a right to. Though they’d be better off joining a protest group or single-issue campaign. But if they want to win campaigns, to win political power and affect change, that requires a very different way of thinking. It requires building electoral coalitions and speaking to people who aren’t convinced by us. It require saying things that not everyone will find palatable at all times.

This is the kind of left I want to see. That’s why I’m no longer willing to go along with the group-think and purity tests. If you want that too, come with me. If you want to carry on as before, feel free to ignore me from now on.

Do the Tories have a mandate for their policies? Erm…

by Sunny Hundal     June 22, 2015 at 8:32 am

Seamus Milne says:

Opposition to all this [austerity] has barely begun. But there’s no democratic reason for people to accept it. The Tories were elected by fewer than 37% of voters. Only 24% of those eligible backed the Conservatives – and that’s not counting the unregistered.

I know some people will not want to hear this but this is a ridiculous argument.

I’m saying this because I’m also opposed to Tory austerity: we have to find a better argument than ‘the Tories have no mandate‘ because it sounds ridiculous to anyone outside the hard left.

1) The Tories went into an election offering even more cuts. They did way better than the party that warned against having that level of cuts. This means we have to find a different way of selling our argument, not repeating it endlessly in the hope that by some miracle people will rise up against austerity.

2) Voters, by definition, are the people who vote. Of the people who voted the Tories did the best and that DOES give them legitimacy. That is how people see it and by pretending the election was a fraud makes lefties look silly.

Also, if we are indeed focusing on election turnout, it may NOT be a good idea to have anti-austerity protests headlined by a celebrity who urged people not to register or vote*. It makes us look really confused.

I’m not saying all this to make people depressed, though it will undoubtedly will do that to some. I’m saying this because I hate this line of argument as it doesn’t have currency outside the hard left, and because the Left really has to start being consistent on registration and voting.

* the fact that Russell Brand changed his mind at the last minute doesn’t absolve him, I’m afraid.

ISIS has grown because we sat around doing nothing to stabilise Syria

by Sunny Hundal     June 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm

A group called ISIS, which even some in the al-Qaeda leadership have disassociated themselves from, are now rapidly taking over large parts of Iraq. There is a sense of panic in the air because it obviously means more conflict in the Middle East, and more refugees trying to escape their brutal control.

But it has also sparked an odd debate here in the UK.

In the Guardian, Owen Jones writes: ‘We anti-war protesters were right: the Iraq invasion has led to bloody chaos’.

But this has been obvious for a few years now. I opposed the invasion from the start and was at most of the demonstrations against it (including the big one in Feb. 2003). Only a few deluded idiots now believe the invasion of Iraq has gone well. In fact the invasion was a disaster from day one, despite attempts by Americans to stage a few stunts to pretend it was going OK.

So that’s an old debate, while the one about ISIS is a new one.

Firstly, ISIS has grown out of the chaos in Syria, which we sat by and watched instead of working with Arab countries to end. We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb Assad’s military installations and weaken him – thereby driving him out into asylum in Iran or elsewhere.

I wrote about ISIS in January this year, saying: “as these groups become prominent, the fallout is being felt in surrounding countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Pakistan”.

Sitting by and watching has made things worse. We’ve gone from 20,000 dead in Syria (“if we intervene now, we’ll make it worse”) to nearly 200,000 dead (*silence*). The ongoing chaos has helped ISIS grow and destabilised surrounding countries. And all that is about to get worse.

As I said:

Intervention in Syria is not a matter of ‘If’, but a matter of ‘When’. Do we wait until the situation spirals further out of control, and Al-Qaeda re-establish a powerful base, or go for damage limitation earlier?

Secondly, are we meant to be against countries militarily intervening in other countries? I ask because Iran is now sending troops into Iraq (without official invitation) to fight ISIS. What if those troops are used to suppress Kurds? Will people on the left raise their voice then?

Basically, we are sitting around watching the situation get worse, as many predicted. ISIS hasn’t grown because we invaded Iraq (though we definitely wrecked the country and Saddam Hussain would have been better placed to quell them)… they’ve grown because Syria was allowed to spiral out of control.

Since we have now committed to sitting around and doing nothing, the situation in the Middle East is about to get much worse.

Addendum: in case it isn’t clear, I’ve given up on the prospect of any military action now. We’re now committed to sitting around on our hands and pretending it could be worse.

‘But why are Jeremy Clarkson and Nigel Farage still so popular?’

by Sunny Hundal     May 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Suzanne Moore has written a column in the Guardian today that I whole-heartedly agree with.

Here’s her key argument:

Clarkson is not stupid. Nor is he a maverick or outlier. He is a central part of the establishment. He parties with Cameron. Just as Ukip is not a maverick party, but made up of disgruntled Tories; just as Boris Johnson is not a maverick but a born-to-rule chancer; just as bloggers such as Guido Fawkes pretend to be anti-politics mavericks but are hard-rightwingers – this section of the right deludes itself that it is somehow “outside” the establishment rather than its pumping heart.

Saying the unsayable is actually dully conformist. Pick on anyone different and mock them. Endeavour to take away not just their rights but the concept that they ever had rights in the first place. All this is done preeningly, while a white middle-aged man pretends he is downtrodden and now some kind of freedom fighter.

[I hate to point this out but its the Guardian that has twice published fawning profiles on Guido Fawkes emphasising his anti-establishment schtick.]

I broadly agree with what Suzanne says. But there’s a point here that follows on but isn’t quite addressed: so why are Clarkson and Farage still popular? Saying this is because their followers are just racist doesn’t quite hit the mark, despite the obviously racist remarks made by both.

There’s something else going on here.

Supporters of Farage and Clarkson do think its right that people speak truth to power. They do want someone who is anti-establishment. But don’t see themselves as the establishment.

Imagine a world that is rapidly becoming more sexist and homophobic. Attacks on women and LGBTs are on the rise and the younger generation have even worse attitudes. You can see your world crumbling in front of you and you want out. You’ll support anyone who stands up to this rising tide of hatred. Even if they’re rich, white and well-connected.

This is the world that Nigel Farage and Jeremy Clarkson fans are in. They hate progressive politics and they hate the march of political correctness. Their entire world is falling apart and they hate the future. They hate ‘political correctness’ and they see it going from the Left all the way to the Tory leadership.

Whether we on the Left think this is silly or not is irrelevant, this is the world they are in. For them, the likes of Clarkson and Farage are speaking truth to power. If your world looks full of political correctness and green politics gone mad, then you’ll support Clarkson and Farage for railing against it.

We are in the middle of a culture war.

Globalisation and immigration have made this generation (mostly older and less well-off) feel like the world is slipping beyond their control. This is why there’s no puzzle as to why Farage and Clarkson are popular despite being rich, powerful and part of the establishment: their supporters see them as on side in this cultural war.

I know where I stand as an unapologetic social liberal, and I’m comfortable with that. My side is winning, after all.

But the socially conservative classes know they’re losing badly, so the culture war is intensifying. They want their world back and they think Clarkson and Farage are the last holdouts.

In other words, there’s little point in asking why supporters of Farage and Clarkson don’t want to speak truth to power. They do. But they have a point – times have changed. They are no longer the establishment… we are.

A New Rural Manifesto for Labour: we call for your support

by Guest     September 10, 2013 at 9:01 am

by Jack Eddy

It is uncontroversial to say that Labour lacks rural appeal. Labour’s voice in the British countryside has been inadequate for decades, but has hit a low-ebb in recent years. Even in the suburban and rural areas where Labour was able to gain some traction from 1997 onwards, the last General Election saw a massive swing to the Tories.

And yet, the Labour Party in the past has successfully gone out to the British countryside to court the rural vote and build the foundations of support. Such accomplishments can come again, but we need renewed endeavour and new direction. If this does not change – and we do not instigate that change – some rural communities may not survive these difficult times.

This is why we at South Norfolk CLP call upon all rural CLPs, as well as other interested affiliates, to support us in our call for a new Rural Manifesto – as specified in the proposal officially endorsed by South Norfolk CLP; a Rural Manifesto made in rural Britain, for rural Britain.

Priority should be given to framing policy to reflect the impact on rural communities, on a number of different issues:

Public transport and other infrastructure improvements, as well as rural unemployment and businesses will be an important subject. In the entirety of Norfolk, the 3rd largest county, there is only one late evening bus service. This is not uncommon for rural areas, with negative consequences to regional economies and rural life in general.

Additional aid to the young and unemployed for the purpose of making them as geographically mobile as possible will be hugely helpful to finding employment. A possible solution could be found in providing travel cards to rural unemployed (allowing travel for free or at a reduced rate), who live at least 2 miles from the nearest major centre of employment – valid for use 1 month after finding permanent work.

The NHS is important to us all, but many rural communities are seeing their NHS services disappear as cuts and privatisation begin to take hold, and they are fighting to stop it. One solution to help meet increasing demand, and go some way to solving the unique issues around isolation from services in rural areas, could be to focus on increasing the number of smaller, satellite hospitals that are strategically located around existing central hubs in rural locations. ‘Satellite Hospitals’ would focus on anticipatory care, diagnostic services, as well as urgent accident and emergency admissions, leaving the central hospitals to focus on the more complex and specialised treatments. By dividing up local populations into different catchment areas, it would enhance the experience of patients by offering a smaller, community feel, as well as provide more jobs.

Naturally, properly dealing with Europe and immigration in rural policy is a must. We must explain how businesses, services and local economies in rural Britain depend on Europe and immigration. Many rural businesses rely on European immigrants and the EU enables farmers and horticultural businesses to trade easily with the mainland (in either goods, equipment or expertise). Many rural businesses could not survive without immigration or the EU in general. Labour needs to illustrate how jobs held by British workers would cease to exist if Britain exited the EU.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what needs to be covered in a Rural Manifesto – and it is up to us all to decide what must be covered.

To do this, we need you to get our Motion passed in your CLP and submitted for the upcoming Labour Party Conference by 12 noon on Thursday 12th September. We also invite you to contact all whom you feel will be interested, so that we can reach everybody that can help us succeed in this enterprise.

If you are interested and have the time, please contact me at and I will send you the proposal for the Rural Manifesto and South Norfolk’s Motion to the Conference.

Labour’s battle with Unite over Falkirk is a sign of weakness AND strength

by Sunny Hundal     July 5, 2013 at 8:25 am

Let me start with a short story. In 2007 the constituency of Ealing-Southall had a by-election after the sitting MP died. One of the leading contenders was Sonika Nirwal – the first Asian woman to be elected leader of a Labour group (in Ealing). She would have been a breath of fresh air and everyone expected an All-Women-Shortlist to be drawn up. But Ms Nirwal didn’t get it. She didn’t even make the shortlist. The AWS plan was abruptly discarded and only two men made the shortlist: veteran councillor Virendra Sharma and an unknown newcomer. It was obvious who would win.

There are countless such stories across the Labour party. They aren’t new and they aren’t unexpected. As Hopi Sen points out: “The system can be manipulated, so it is manipulated.” Unite’s mistake in Falkirk was to get caught trying to manipulate the system.

So here are some thoughts on this internal battle.

It could escalate
The argument over selection mistakes in Falkirk is merely a proxy battle – both the Progress types and the Left of the party know this. It’s also one both sides are itching to fight, and could escalate unless Ed Miliband seeks to placate both sides not just Jim Murphy’s contingent. It is also utterly absurd for Labourites to say the rules need changing to prevent unions from ‘fixing selections’ – since ‘fixing’ is practiced widely. Change is needed but it cannot just target unions.

Labour still has a working class problem
Unite’s actions are justified for many activists on the left for one reason: working class candidates are badly under-represented across Labour. At least Unite is trying to address the problem, while the Labour leadership isn’t, they say. Unless it is rectified there will always be resentment over perceptions that middle-class candidates are able to stitch-up selections while working class candidates aren’t. Many point out that Unite have the right to pursue their interests in the same way Progress do, but with added legitimacy.

It is a sign of strength…
…that Labour is willing to stand up to its biggest donor and tell them to stop interfering so blatantly. The Tories don’t have the guts to stand up to the City or big business. And to an extent Ed Miliband is right to be angry since the Labour Party and Unite are separate entitities, not joined at the hip.

But it is a sign of weakness…
…that Labour capitulates so easily to the right-wing press over a minor beltway story. Take another example: twice a year Ed Miliband’s office hosts a reception for the political press. Some left-wing bloggers (including myself) are invited too. But for some unexplicable reason they also invite Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) and Harry Cole even though there is absolutely no benefit in doing so. Several journalists always point out that the Tories don’t even bother with the New Statesman, let alone hostile bloggers. Whatever the Labour leadership say, to everyone it looks like a sign of weakness they feel the need to invite mortal enemies, and feeds into the view that they are always worried about what the rightwing press.

Fighting the battle of the 80s
It feels like many of those stoking up fears about unions after Falkirk are still living the battles of the 80s against Militant. Of course Falkirk was nothing like that. In fact, there are far more instances of irregularities with Asian voters in areas such as Birmingham and parts of London. Are they going to ban Asians from standing or voting for Labour? Of course not. The point is that this controversy is being hyped up by people who either have an agenda against the unions or are fighting battles of the past.

The full report needs to be published – otherwise it just looks like Labour is pursuing a vendetta against Unite.

Have left-wing protests become too broad to be meaningful?

by Guest     June 20, 2013 at 9:55 am

by Michael Jefferies

Many will have seen the spectacular photos documenting the recent protests in Brazil. The streets were full, block after block with people standing shoulder to shoulder – an impressive show of people-power by any measure.

Striking was the near invisibility of political parties and single issue pressure groups. In fact, there have been reports of the crowd shouting down fellow protestors that tried to raise political flags and emblems.

Contrast this with the G8 protests in Northern Ireland this weekend were we saw the full cacophony of the ‘usual suspects’ joined by more novel entrants. Nearly everyone has some sort of visible affiliation: Amnesty, Unison, anarchist groups, a spread of communist/socialist organisations, the County Sovereignty Movement, Free Palestine – the list goes on.

Notwithstanding the time, money, sweat and inconvenience that the G8 protestors endured – the strategic utility of their efforts was close to zero – mirroring the unity in their demands.

In Turkey, unity seems a little better. Turkey’s crisis of liberalism elevated a narrow-interest protest to a national, popular movement. Examining pictures (and with the caveat that I can’t speak Turkish), the presence of political organisations is by the G8 standards minimal (with the exception of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP)).

Perception matters. It determines who will join a protest and it heavily influences the narrative that may result in the political change that protestors would like to see.

Should the presence of the TKP be perceived to rise, I fear moderate liberals – the majority of the protestors – will fail in their fight against illiberal democracy.

Increasingly, successful street protesting requires unity and harnessing the masses. Without mass support, street protests are easy to ignore, before being in practice curtailed as they encroach on the activities of wider society.

Small disruptive protests may gain publicity and represent tactical victories – but only on minor issues do they translate into strategic success.

Maintaining broad, united support requires marching for specific, realistically attainable objectives that are widely supported.

It’s essential that the protest remains open, non-partisan with a mutual expectation that people check their other grievances and ideological axes at the door – especially when this baggage may alienate potential supporters.

Essential that is, if people are interested in actually changing facts on the ground rather than clinging to narrower maximalist demands.

Michael Jefferies works in defence and blogs at Full Spectrum Strategy

A liberal left welfare reform plan

by Don Paskini     May 29, 2013 at 11:00 am

Labour MP Simon Danzcuk wrote an article recently attacking the ‘Metropolitan liberal wing’ of the Left for their support of the status quo on welfare and their opposition to any kind of welfare reform. Striking a similar tone, Isabel Hardman in the Telegraph noted ‘the Left’s lack of resolve’ on welfare reform, citing the way that Labour ‘scuttled away’ from reforming the assessment of entitlement to disability benefits.

In both cases, the assumption is that opposing one particular daft idea necessarily implies support for the status quo. Those of us on the Metropolitan liberal left have all sorts of ideas for reforming the welfare state. These include:

1. Introduce universal, affordable childcare.

2. Make work pay by increasing the minimum wage above inflation, expanding the number of employers who pay a living wage, and introducing a Community Allowance, where people can take on ‘mini jobs’ of up to 16 hours per week with community organisations while continuing to receive their benefits.

3. Allow councils to borrow to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, and take on vested interests in the private rented sector.

4. Cancel Atos’ contract and enable disabled people to co-design a reformed Work Capability Assessment which treats people with dignity and reduces the error rate from 17% to under 1%.

5. Introduce a Right to Paid Work, offering socially useful jobs of at least 25 hours per week paid at the minimum wage to all people unemployed for two years or more.

6. Replace the Work Programme with grant funding for charities to support unemployed people to develop their skills and find work.

7. Develop a national strategy to ensure that by 2020 no one has to rely on a foodbank to feed themselves or their family.

8. Introduce new government targets to reduce poverty for pensioners and working age adults as well as children. Set a target that poverty for all three groups should be lower in 2020 than it was in 2010.

9. Link increases in benefits to increases in earnings.

10. Delay implementation of universal credit, cancel localisation of Council Tax Benefit, and instead focus on improving and simplifying the current system by reducing the error rate, expanding Social Fund crisis grants and loans, and improving the quality of service offered by Jobcentres to claimants.


The last time that the liberal left had significant influence on welfare policy was between 1997 and roughly 2004, a time which saw record falls in poverty amongst children and pensioners, and increases in employment rates amongst groups such as lone parents and disabled people. The centre right reform agenda, led under successive governments by David Freud over the past few years, has been far less impressive, marked by bold claims about reform combined with remarkable incompetence in delivery.

It might give right wing politicians a thrill to promise yet another biggest shake up since Beveridge or crack down on scroungers, but I think we’ve had quite enough of them overclaiming, underdelivering and then trying to fix the evidence to cover it up. Instead, the liberal left’s approach is focused on achievable solutions to the real problems facing people on low incomes.

Do benefits for rich pensioners preserve ‘universal support’ for welfare?

by Sunny Hundal     April 29, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Ed Miliband was today asked on Radio 4’s #wato whether Labour would cut benefits for wealthy pensioners. For now the answer is no, and I have a feeling it will stay like that.

I wrote earlier the Tories were not serious about cutting the social security bill because they ignored two major components: lack of well-paying jobs and the large proportion we spend on pensions (plus there’s housing benefit, which I missed out)

I’m not expecting to win any popularity contests, but I’ll say it anyway: I think Labour should commit to cutting benefits for wealthier pensioners in the form of the Winter Fuel Allowance, Freedom passes subsidised travel and free TV licenses. The definition of ‘wealthier’ is key, because I genuinely mean wealthy people not struggling middle-class people. I.e., people who earn the top rate of tax or have over £500k in savings.

The main leftwing case against stripping these benefits is that it ‘undermines universalism’. I’ll focus on this here, and make the case for in another post.

Owen Jones argues it will “breed a middle-class that is furious about paying large chunks of tax; getting nothing back”. The Guardian’s John Harris also asked in Jan: ‘Who will speak up for the universal welfare state now?‘.

I used to believe this too, but I’ve changed my minds for several reasons.

First, there is no evidence for the view that these benefits keep up support for the universal principle.

Despite increasing the number of universal benefits in recent decades (especially during New Labour years) – support has still fallen.

What actually happens is people support those specific benefits they get, but don’t extend that support to across to other benefits or the idea of universalism.

Or to put it another way, people are far more discerning than we give them credit for. Handing out a Freedom Pass to a rich pensioner is not getting us support for unemployment benefits in return. I’d love to see the evidence but it’s just not there.

Secondly, the argument that we’re chipping away the welfare state by cutting these benefits is a bit odd, since New Labour introduced the Winter Fuel Allowance. There are other universal benefits that can be preserved and supported. There seems to be an element of knee-jerk defensiveness here that assumes all changes are a one-way street and no more universal benefits can ever be introduced in the future.

Thirdly, the universal state isn’t just about cash benefits, and we shouldn’t assume that will buy support. We need a different kind of a universalist social security system, one that focuses on health and social care, education and training, child care and early intervention, and reducing inequality in a more fundamental way.

These benefits are a sticking plaster – like charity. The broader aim for the left should be to re-structure the state to reduce inequality, not rely on small handouts to wealth pensioners in the hope it buys support for other policies.

This is the short case against preserving these benefits on the basis of universalism. So why should Labour get rid of them anyway? I’ll write that in another post.

I’m going to simplify this by posing some questions:
1) Where is the evidence that, in the UK, means-testing one kind of benefit reduces support for other benefits such as for unemployed people?

2) I’m for universal benefits. All I’ve said is that I’d like the focus on other kinds of benefits rather than cash hand-outs to rich pensioners. So why are people saying that means-testing these pensioner benefits will undermine universal social security?

Another update: I think Daniel Sage was trying to write a critique of my point but ends up reinforcing it. His graphs show that offering universal pensions leads to more support for pensions, but not more support for other kinds of benefits such as JSA.

What does ‘contributory welfare’ mean?

by Don Paskini     April 8, 2013 at 9:00 am

Labour has just announced what they are calling a ‘radical shift’ to welfare payments. They want ‘a return to the contributory principles of Beveridge’, where what you get out of the welfare state should be based on what you put in. This is possibly not what lefties had in mind when urging Labour to rediscover the ‘Spirit of 45’, but let’s explore further what this might mean.

Labour haven’t yet explained what ‘the contributory principle’ would mean in practice, though the IPPR think tank have previously suggested ‘National Salary Insurance’, where people who have paid taxes before becoming unemployed would be entitled to receive interest free loans from the government, which they pay back when they get a job.

The idea behind ‘the contributory principle’ where ‘you get out what you put in’ sees the welfare state as a kind of insurance system. It is intended to appeal to people who, in Labour minister Liam Byrne’s words, ‘feel like they put an awful lot more in than they get back’. It appears that by ‘contribution’, Labour means ‘pay national insurance’. In practice, this means a welfare system which provides greater financial support for men, older people and able bodied people, and less support for women, young people and disabled people (as the former are all much more likely to have paid national insurance before needing support from the welfare state).

This seems to me to be a very limited view of what it means to ‘contribute’ to society. It doesn’t recognise parents who work hard to give their children the best start in life, people who spend their time caring for others rather than in paid employment, or the person who is too sick or disabled to hold down a job (by everette devan). It is not obviously ‘fair’, for example, that a millionaire ex-banker who loses their job should be deemed to have contributed more and receive more help from the state than someone who doesn’t work because they are caring for their severely disabled children.

Even on the narrow measure of ‘contribution to government revenues’, it is hard to see why the only measure should be national insurance payments. To take just one example from one of the best parts of the modern welfare state, someone with severe mental health problems who attends a peer support group and helps others to manage their condition might end up saving the taxpayer tens of thousands in reduced social care costs through their contribution to the wellbeing of others, even if they’ve never paid a penny in national insurance.

So as Labour develops their ideas about ‘contributory welfare’, rather than being transactional and focused on one particular measure, it should recognise all the different ways in which people contribute.

Another concern about ‘the contributory principle’ as it is currently described is that it aims to answer the question ‘how can we identify who the contributors are, so as to be able to pay them more in welfare payments than the non-contributors?’ Instead, I think that ‘contributory welfare’ should be about making changes to the system so as to answer the question ‘how do we enable people to contribute more to society, and to live with dignity?’

Answering that question necessarily goes beyond the issue of welfare payments and helps to shape decisions about spending priorities across a much wider range of areas, from support for childcare, primary and secondary education, job creation and so on. Rather than dividing people into those who contribute and those who do not, it recognises that we all have the potential, with help at the right times, to contribute more and help each other. For some, that support comes from universal services such as primary and secondary education. For others, it might mean financial help when out of work, alongside advice to help get a job. For others still, it might involve prompt, targeted interventions such as reducing domestic abuse by working with perpetrators.

Rather than looking back to try to recreate an insurance system from the 1940s, I think there is a real opportunity here. The definition of what ‘contribution to society’ should mean is, to paraphrase Ed Miliband, too important to be left to politicians and people who work for think tanks. Labour could bring together people from all walks of life to discuss and come up with proposals about the different ways in which people in modern Britain contribute to society, and come up with a report what kinds of support they need in order to be able to contribute more.

And I can think of just the person to chair this kind of review).

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