The Labour leadership election is the first party leadership contest I have ever followed, and the first I have ever actually heard of. This, primarily, seems to be because of Jeremy Corbyn, the left wing outsider who is rejecting the ‘centralist’ approach favored by the other candidates and appears to want to bring back ‘old Labour’ as it was before Thatcher and the 1980s.
Now, I’m not a Labour supporter (or a avid supporter of any of the parties), but I do find it refreshing that someone, literally anyone, is trying to bring Labour in a new direction. At the moment, and at the time of the last election, they appeared to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. They are not anti austerity, but they want to appear ‘nicer’ than the Tories. They want to appeal to the ‘working class’, but they don’t appear to know how to do that. And, whilst they tried some ‘leftish’ policies, some which sounded quite good (emphasis on apprenticeships rather than universities was one I liked), they weren’t distinguishable enough from the Tories to really make an impact, and if you have a choice between a party which, whatever scruples you have for them at least are fairly clear and consistent with what they aim to do, and a party that changes its image all the time and appears to be suffering from an identity crisis, I imagine many people will pick the former. However, I’m not sure this return to old Labour principles is going to be beneficial in the long run, simply because Old Labour belonged to a world that, even though it was only a few decades ago, is no longer the world we live in today. Jobs have changed, pastimes have changed, technology has leapt forward and the people who are now the ‘working class’ that Labour traditionally seeks to represent is not the same working class that was here 30-40 years ago.
Personally, I think the Labour party in itself, the party that represented the old working class, is done. And it is done simply because the working class that used to support them has changed a lot in the last few decades, and with it they have new needs and new demands, and Labour has not evolved along with them. The working class used to be a distinctive group, filled with miners, factory workers, and people who largely did physical labor, that is at least how I imagine the working class of 30-40 years ago and before. Now the mines are closed, and although some factories still exist from what I have seen they make up less than 10% of the total workforce. I would say the new ‘working class’ now describes people who work in retail, or customer service. People who work in shops, bars and offices. People who perhaps wouldn’t have been classed as working class thirty years ago, and it is debatable if they really fit the bill of being ‘working class’. Class distinctions and divisions have changed a lot, and what class means has changed a lot too. And these people have new needs, and new agendas. And I would argue that Labour cannot say they represent them when they either sound so much like the Conservatives they may as well merge with them, or claim to represent views of a people that do not exist in the same way as they used to. People are anti austerity because they claim it hits the poorest and helps the richest, and under the Tories this does appear to be the case at least in some areas, but many of them do not really seem to have definitive vision of what they want instead of austerity. I do not believe Old Labour can claim to represent enough people, but New Labour is so close to the conservatives that people are now saying they should just merge together. Neither seems to truly represent the people in today’s society, and does not offer a real alternative to what we have now.
One alternative that offers real change, greater freedom and ultimately greater equality is a real free market, liberal society and although many people dismiss it based on biases and often incorrect assumptions, I’m now going to try and show through some examples how it could provide a real alternative and ultimately benefit the working class (as well as everyone else). This system does not necessarily push for austerity, but it does push for far less government spending and intervention, and because of this it may not be popular with many Green Party and Corbyn supporters, but less government spending does not necessarily mean a worse quality of life and people becoming poorer, in fact those who support it tend to suggest it will make things fairer and actually lessen the gap between the rich and the poor in a way that austerity on its own without changing the basic principles behind it cannot do.
As the tax boundaries currently lie, you pay 20% tax until you earn over £31,000, then every penny you earn after the £31,000 is charged at 40% tax rate, and then those who earn over 150,000 are charged a 45% tax rate. This is clearly unfair, as you pay double the tax if you earn 31,000 and only 5% more if you earn over £150,000. To my mind, the solution isn’t to increase tax. In fact, I would suggest the opposite. Cut taxes to 10% at the most for the lowest tax bracket (or remove them altogether) and if you must have taxes (although ultimately you may not need them) make it 20% for the middle and say 30 or 40 for the upper.
The current system makes it so if you end up earning more money, you will initially actually make less (this happened to me, I got a £1,20 an hour pay rise and lost £62 a month) although you will make it back in a tax rebate, although this will often take about eight months or more as it often starts the April after you began working. I wouldn’t say that the current system is terrible, but I do feel that everyone involved would benefit from their taxes being lessened both so they would take home more of what they earned and so getting a pay rise or a promotion would be initially more attractive and would have a more visible reward. Although £150,000 sounds like a lot, it is nothing compares to those who made their money from inheritance, or the stock market or other non standard vocational means. Those who earn £150,000 or more are not ‘upper’ class or necessarily rich, and often they may never benefit from a lot of the things their taxes pay for, if they use a private company they are still paying for the NHS, if they privately educate their children they are still paying for state schools etc. However, Labour wouldn’t cut the taxes, because many of their policies (at least their old ones) involve nationalized services, which means they need people to pay a certain amount of tax in order to keep these afloat.
There also seems to be an uneasy partnership at the moment between the private and public sector, often where some tax funded areas are controlled by the council but are carried out by a private company that is subsidized by said council. I would also at this point like to talk about NHS dentists for a moment. This is not a free service, but presumably our taxes cover it as they cover other aspects of the NHS. It is subsidized, but it is hardly cheap. And because the NHS dentists are more readily available as they are endorsed and subsidized by the government, that means private dentists, whilst they may offer a better service, have to charge more because they will mostly have less customers and no extra perks. What I think would be better is if dental practices were privatized and independent of the NHS and therefore the government, which rather than rising prices I would say would actually lower them over time, as there would be more competition for more clients and many people will respond to the cheapest rate. If there is competition, not every dentist could afford to be expensive because they would lose clients, and if they had enough that they could raise their prices and their clients didn’t like it, they would have other places to choose from who would lower their prices to attract these customers. Therefore logically it would be cheaper because if these practices had to rely on people directly rather than government taxes, they would have to answer to the peoples demands, and if they demanded cheaper dental care, they would have to comply or eventually go out of business. In broader terms, there are many people who may not want to fund the NHS and may not use it, because they can get a better service with less waiting time elsewhere or if they (as some do) do not agree with the medication the NHS administers. If they do not wish to fund it, is it fair that they have to through their taxes? People always go on about how the NHS is free and should remaind free, but is it truly free when peoples taxes, which often amount to around £400+ a month, help pay for it? Would it be more expensive if they paid for it outright? It would be if the NHS itself was privatized but still subsidized by the government, but if it was all privatized and you had other, competing, companies to choose from it may well end up cheaper than what we would pay in taxes to the NHS. This isn’t the same as choosing the American system of insurance, although this may be beneficial in some areas, and it may not be perfect, but I wouldn’t dismiss it without learning more about how it would work.
Another area I think would benefit from complete privatization is universities, and I am aware this is quite a controversial statement, but bare with me.
We know that more and more people are going to universities each year, and that the prices for these university places have reached extreme levels. At the moment, because the government will happily give a massive loan to anyone who wants one, anyone who wants to go to university regardless of their grades can go to a university (although whether said university is highly regarded, or will benefit their lives in the long run, is debatable). We have recently heard that those who do not go to university and do an apprenticeship may well end up earning more than a university graduate and be in far less debt, but largely because of Blair’s New Labour and the idea that everyone needs to go to university to get on in life, people still seem to be opting for the university root regardless of the financial obstacles. And I do not believe the current system, where people become more and more in debt to the government and are very unlikely to pay back their debt over the life time is ultimately sustainable, or good for anyone involved. The prices will either rise to ridiculous levels and beyond, or the government will have to stop issuing loans, because if you keep giving out more and more money and, as the degree becomes more and more worthless less and less graduates will be earning enough to pay it all back, you will end up running out of enough money to fund it all. And I do not think the government needs to be involved at all. If the universities were allowed to run themselves and be completely responsible for themselves, and if people are aware that they are paying upfront (even if they end up paying less), they will probably be more scrupulous over which university they go to and more likely to look at alternative routes. What I think would happen is that some universities would close or change to ‘training colleges’ or apprenticeship schemes, where they would give their students real work experience in a career where they would earn money and get real experience in that field which would help them get a job later on. This is not an inferior system, I see no reason why a vocational subject like ‘Project Management’ needs to be a standard university degree, and it would be beneficial both to the student and the economy if instead people could gain real experience on the job that would be recognized later in life. This would also mean there were less academic universities, which would make it harder to get into one but would also make the degree worth more and, fairly quickly, would become cheaper as with less universities and more finances at stake the universities would need to make their prices more attractive to the students who do want to do an academic subject. Student loans would not have to disappear, they would just be controlled by banks, or independent body’s (like I believe they do in Germany already) which, whilst they may be subject to interest rates, would again have competition and therefore have to make themselves attractive to their clients, whereas currently there is just one loan to choose from. I do think that the only logical alternative to what we have now, in our current university system, is privatization, and that this would ultimately benefit rich and poor students alike, because university is not currently free, it cannot be free in this country with 91 universities, and the way it works now is getting worse and worse.
One thing I noticed about the Labour manifesto in May, and one that they kept harping on about and suggested was beneficial to the poorer in society, was to get rid of zero hour contracts. Now, I am not sure how much this would have covered, if it would be extended to those who work through an agency (who do not have the same rights as those employed by the company directly) and things like part time bar work at events, and I am sure that some companies do take advantage in some areas. However, ultimately I feel zero hour contracts are beneficial to those on lower incomes because it allows flexibility. If you have never had a job, or you have been out of work for a while, and a company is required to offer you a contract straight away, they are unlikely to pick you. But if it is a zero hour contract that allows a turnover for those who, for whatever reason, decide or it is decided by management that they are not right for the job, they are more likely to give more people a chance and, if you are right for the job and they want to keep you on, they are then able to offer you a contract. With things like temporary bar work/seasonal work etc they could not have a fixed contract because the hours could not work that way, and temporary work is a great way for inexperienced people, especially young people, to gain skills that they can then use to get a full time job. If I had not worked for an event company and not worked at one off day bar work jobs, I would not have been able to later get a job for a year in the student bar, because a ‘zero hours contract’ allowed me and many others without any experience to work in that setting. I would say that forcing employers to offer a contract right away for every job would create more unemployment because companies are less likely to take a chance on those with less experience, and it is a catch 22 situation where you cannot get a job without experience, but you cannot get the experience for the job if no one will employ you without experience. Zero hour contracts allow more people to gain experience, and therefore I would say they can be and are often good for the very people the previous Labour party said they were trying to help by eradicating them.
The basic principle of all this is, basically, that the government does not have the experience, expertise or ability to successfully run all the nationalized industries that they currently control, and that having one centralized system that controls everything isn’t the best way to run a country. If different sectors, like universities, medical care, schools etc are allowed to control themselves and compete with each other for consumers, the consumer ultimately has the power over who they give their money to and the company needs to appeal to the people and give them what they want in order to survive, because the government will not save them if they fall on hard times. So if every company was very expensive and many people wouldn’t afford them, especially in places where they would need these people to use their services, they couldn’t sustain themselves on those prices and they would need to lower them in order to attract people. Basically people would have the power, there would be no banker bailouts, no government helping along multi national companies, and a wider choice of services offered that people would be able to choose from. Yes it may not be perfect, and things like benefits obviously wouldn’t be sustainable, but I do not think the way they work now is sustainable either. If you are on benefits and got a house that way, you cannot start working or you will lose them. Therefore you will have to live in relative poverty and ultimately be unable to leave it because you cannot earn more money without losing everything you have. I am not saying some sort of social security would not exist, but it would probably be on a voluntary system and would literally be for those who cannot earn money due to ill health (mental or physical). It would not pay way over the minimum wage, and you would not be better off on benefits then you would be in a job, which ultimately is (although you may disagree) a fair system, because if someone earns say £22,000 a year and their taxes help someone who is on benefits to earn £23-25,000 a year, if that person can work (if it is not due to a mental or physical disability) why should someone who earns less money fund someone who does not work to ultimately have more for, pretty much, doing nothing. Obviously during the recession there were not enough jobs to go around, and many people could not work regardless of how much they tried to get a job. However, in a world which encourages competition between businesses and would therefore likely increase the number of businesses, as well as several illegal industries now being legal, what would probably happen is that there would be more companies, and thus they would employ more people, so in theory (I cannot make guarantees until we actually see it in practice) there would not be a shortage of jobs, and there would be more roles to choose from, so people would not be forced to get low paying jobs because of the job center forcing them to do so. I do not think working is the moral thing to do, or that people ‘have’ to work, but if someone does there is no reason why they should help others not work if they are perfectly capable of doing so. Perhaps rather than a benefit system for people who can work, if you have worked in the past it could be like an (optional) pension scheme where you and your employee pay in a certain amount that will sustain you if you do fall on hard times later in life, or perhaps communities would have the option to create their own mini benefit systems for that area. For those who do have mental and physical problems that hinder them working, I wouldn’t go as far to say there would be no support. Perhaps a small tax could be in place for that, or perhaps there would be companies that would work in a charity non for profit way that would directly fund them. There are options that could work that don’t have to be tax based, and obviously this would need its own debate and list of options, but it isn’t something that would be ignored. I also think that if there were more medical options available through more medical practitioners outside of the NHS, mental health care would get better because there could be specialists (those who work exclusively with depression, or bipolar, or multiple personality disorder etc) and therefore people would get a better level of care and support as their doctor would fully understand their condition. They would still have to go through an evaluater to see what they would need, but as there would be more specialists in theory anywhere there would be more awareness and it would be easier to diagnose someone with the correct illness, rather than putting them through various treatments that are not going to help them. I am not sure how it would all work out, obviously it is a big process and a big change, but it is an idea.
My basic point in this little tirade is that I do not believe nationalisation and increased government interference is going to help the ‘working class’, the ‘new middle class’ or anyone else. Even though privitization is often thought to be ‘right wing’, in line with the tories ideology and responsible for the increased wealth and power of a few multinational private companies, I think that ultimately ‘real’ privatization actually works in favor of the people and against big companies, because it does not allow the government to prop up the companies they favor. The company is responsible for its own success, and it needs to appeal to what the people want in order to maintain their success. If the people decide they do not want to support said company, they can simply buy from someone else. The companies would be at the mercy of the people, and prices would fall as standards would rise in an attempt to maintain the favor of the people and, in doing so, keep taking their money. As a side note, a more liberal society would also mean by default that people have the freedom to do what they want with their own lives and bodies, and many new industries that are currently illegal (but do not necessarily harm anyone) would exist, which would in itself create new jobs, new opportunities and new boosts to the economy.
I am not saying this will create a completely equal society, I do not think such a thing can realistically exist, but I believe it is a truer form of democracy than simply putting a cross on a ballot, giving money that you will never see to the government and relying on them to run everything. It is an alternative, and perhaps you don’t agree with it, but nevertheless I think we need a real opposition party who wants to reflect the needs of the current society we have, and whilst I am sure Jeremy Corbyn means very well, I get the impression he is reflecting an old Labour that will not benefit the current ‘working class’ simply because the working class of the 70s and 80s is drastically different to what it is today, and things like cutting taxes and allowing more companies to compete to give them cheaper rates may be more beneficial to today’s society than the government trying to control everything when they are not capable of doing so.