The Labour Party moved to the left after 1979. But now those who chimed in with the right wing, saying that the 1983 manifesto was the longest suicide note in history, should think again. A very interesting part of that manifesto proposed the establishment of a national investment bank and suggested that the Bank of England exercise much closer control over bank lending policies, with its development plans being agreed with the government.
The manifesto also proposed the creation of a public bank through the post offices and a securities commission to regulate the City’s institutions. It called for a new pensions scheme that would give rights to trustees and contributors to control the investment strategies of pension funds. The last paragraph of this section of the manifesto also made it clear that any banks that failed to co-operate in the national interest fully would be taken into public ownership.
Following the election, the Tories continued with their free-market strategy and, when Labour finally defeated them in the 1997 election, there was a very big change of mood. The New Labour government did dramatically increase investment in health and education and made some valuable reforms, such as the Human Rights Act and the Minimum Wage Act.
However, with Gordon Brown as Chancellor and Blair as Prime Minister, Labour resolutely refused to end the Tory strategy of deregulation. New Labour used its influence in Europe and on the board of the World Bank and the IMF to continue the development of free markets and globalisation through free trade.
Peter Mandelson, while European trade commissioner, presided over a strategy to enforce an open-market policy on developing countries which enabled globalised business to dominate vulnerable markets and destroy local industries and agriculture. The crisis that has developed over the past three months has been a long time coming and has been essentially brought about by excessive levels of consumer debt and the massive US federal debt.
In order to avoid a complete meltdown of the banking system, governments all over the world are now either taking outright ownership of failing banks or taking a substantial equity share in them. All governments are currently pumping billions into bank loans so that the internal lending system can be revived between financial institutions.
The problem now becomes political. Brown and Alistair Darling claim to have saved the banking industry from total collapse and the only interference in the workings of the banks that they have made is to try to control executive pay and bonuses. We have also seen a rather limp statement from the housing minister, asking them to slow down on repossessions of the properties of people with mortgage arrears.
The stark reality is that the free-market system has brought about this crisis and the competition rules of the European Union have already been torn up with respect to banking. It is time to draw from this lesson and make changes.
New Labour’s reliance on the market to solve all problems has come a cropper. The government is currently building fewer houses for social rent than at any time since the 1920s. Since all developments in the pipeline are effectively “add-on” to private-sector developments, it’s likely that there will be a housing shortage for those in need in the near future.
We urgently need to invest in new building, providing local authorities with the powers and funds to purchase properties facing repossession and to buy unsold private-sector homes and turn them into council tenancies. It is also clear that many industries and companies are facing short-term financial problems and, therefore, unemployment is beginning to rise. Without rapid intervention by central government, we will see a repeat of the devastating rates of unemployment of the 1980s, at the height of Thatcherism.
This is not an isolated issue that only faces western European economies — the global effects are enormous. A very disturbing report from the UN food and agricultural association showed that one billion people are now desperately hungry because they can’t afford food. In other words, one in six of the world’s population is now starving.
Over the past month, there have been very welcome developments and discussions about what a socialist economy would look like in this country and on a wider scale. Free-market capitalism and deregulation have created the hunger, poverty, misery and insecurity that many people are facing. Surely it is now time to explain that the role of the political system and of central government is to ensure that everyone has food, work, housing, health and welfare available for them.
The solutions are at hand — fully nationalising the banks, taking failing rail companies into public ownership, protecting public services from cuts, increasing pensions and benefits to help reinflate the economy, putting huge resources into conquering the misery of homelessness and overcrowding that so many families face.
Globally, the peace and anti-war movement has shown that people can and do work across frontiers to achieve a common aim. We have to use the same spirit to conquer the global hunger and poverty brought about by the madness of free market global capitalism.
Sadly, there is also Laura Pidcock, telling us that we plebs in North West Durham have no culture. I cannot tell you how much I ached to vote Labour this time, and how much I still do. All my heart yearns for the national victory that is now in sight. But I cannot possibly vote for her. And nor should you.