Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION COMMENT: Parties set out their wares for the coming General Election

In Editorial on September 3, 2014 at 8:48 pm

The lifetime of the present Government is slowly grinding to a halt. And already the two main parties are preparing  for next year’s election battle.

As we go to press, the Tories are yet to hold their annual conference, and any comment will have to wait until our next issue. But we can see at least a whiff of the hustings in Cameron’s Cabinet re-shuffle that took place in July. This clearing of the decks was clearly focused on the General Election. 

Many members of his Cabinet just had to go. They had become just too unpopular. Michael Gove, of course, is a case in point. So, too, was Owen Patterson, the former Environment Secretary. Here was a man who’d never had time for Green issues and policies, and he succeeded in botching up the Government’s response to the floods that ravaged much of the West earlier this year.  He had to go (as did his predecessor, Caroline Spellman, when she botched the Tories’ attempt to sell off the forests in 2011). Others in and around the Cabinet went before they were pushed.

But there were some surprising omissions. Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be untouchable at present, but what about Ian Duncan Smith?  Here’s a hatchet man who’s become deeply unpopular in certain circles through his sustained attacks on the poor and underprivileged in our society. Surely he should have faced the axe? 

Or maybe not.  After all, attacking the poor is part and parcel of Tory policy. It’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it. It may be unpopular with those who have a social conscience or are part of the anti-poverty lobby but they’re not likely to vote Tory, anyway. And it all goes down very well amongst readers of the Murdoch press, the Daily Mail or the Express. In other words, those who believe in the myth of those “skivers” who just want to “live off the Welfare State” (or what’s left of it). 

Of course we’re likely to get more details the Tories’ actual election policy later this year – and as the campaign mounts as we go into 2015. We don’t see much change in its general thrust, but there maybe some re-phrasing or a few tweaks here and there.

LABOUR IN CONFERENCE: 

But what of Labour?  What kind of counter-attack to the repugnant face of latter day Toryism are we likely to see from the Labour leadership?  

If the headlines from the party’s policy deliberations are anything to go by, the answer’s not a lot. “Austerity” (as defined by the ConDem Government) is likely to continue. Ed Miliband made that clear with his declaration that “we can’t spend our way out of recession”.  It’s a statement that needs questioning – or, at least, clarifying.

We could spend our way out of recession if we were prepared to apply some re-focused Keynesian policies.  Or, as the Labour Government did between 1945 and 1950, concentrate on the priorities needed to re-build a broken Britain. 

Britain remains a wealthy nation – yet that wealth is hardly evenly distributed.  And, in too many ways, the present Government has created a broken Britain that badly needs fixing. And it should be emphasised that austerity was applied during those post-war years.  It was a case of spending what money was available on the needs of the people.

In the last issue of the Clarion, we suggested in our Comment column that there was a division within the Parliamentary Labour Party between those who favour a “cautious” electoral strategy “(in other words, one that doesn’t promise too much) and those who advocate one based on radical change”. 

We suggested that a radical change IS badly needed. If not, what is the Party offering the electorate that’s different? What many of the voters want is a sense of hope – hope for a better future, and a better society. But if Labour’s recent meeting of its national policy forum is anything to go by, it seems that the advocates of caution have won out. 

OFF THE RAILS: 

Even promised action on our railways sounded like a botched compromise. It seemed that rather than taking back our railways, to be run in the interests of those who use them, a Labour government would merely tender for franchises when they arose. 

This badly needs clarification, but on the face of it, it sounds as though the result could at best be a patchwork of lines under different forms of ownership.  There seemed to be no pledge to end the franchising system completely, as and when each particular franchise ran out – despite the fact that in successive opinion polls, an overwhelming majority want a return to British Rail. 

Which is a shame – as “Labour sources” emphasised that its policy would not include a “return to British Rail”. Why not?  It’s true that following the Beeching cuts (and particularly after Thatcher came to power) British Rail was under-capitalised, but it still managed to run services cohesively and reasonably efficiently without the massive subsidies that the private rail companies receive today.

It all seems symptomatic of a fear of public ownership and control by the current Labour leadership.  Maybe it goes further than that. Maybe there’s a fear of offering the electorate hope in the face of a hostile media and a society that seems to be losing trust in the political process altogether.

Labour needs to grasp the nettle, and at the very least offer voters something different.  

But maybe we’re just being too pessimistic. After all, when it comes to deciding who’s going to form the Government next year, there are really only two options. Either we endure another five years of Tory rule (This time without the Lib Dems) or we’ll have a Labour Government – warts and all. 

THE CURATE’S EGG:

The experience may well be rather like the curate’s egg – good and bad in parts. Miliband and his party have promised to repeal the appalling legislation that is undermining the NHS. He’s also pledged to do away with the iniquitous “bedroom tax” – probably one of the nastiest measures introduced by any government in recent times. And the promise to introduce a living wage for all should make a dent in our scandalous low wage economy. 

Hopefully, Labour would apply its social welfare policies without the vindictive zeal of current Tory politicians, and provide some level of relief for the poorer  families in our society. 

Periods of Tory government – such as those of Thatcher and now Cameron – quite often force those who believe in a far better, more egalitarian, society to lower our sights.  We may still aspire to our Socialist principles, but the situation we live with today forces us to face up to a new, and nasty reality.

Labour may well not Socialism today – or even tomorrow.  But hopefully it’s a player that has a greater grasp of social realities than those who make up the present Government – and a degree of sympathy towards those who suffer the most. And however we look at it, our people and our society just can’t afford another five years of Tory rule.

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