It’s time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B

A report to "produce a feasible set of reforms that deal with the economic crisis in an alternative way" is being drawn up by a group of progressive think tanks.

Where is the alternative that prompted half a million people to take to the streets of London on March 26th. Yesterday marked a whole two months since the public marched against the staggering £81 billion-worth of spending cuts deemed necessary by the coalition for ‘rebalancing the economy’. Yet despite the dynamism and diversity of the anti-cuts movement, the very word ‘alternative’ is in danger of becoming discredited.

It is this danger that saw Neal Lawson, chair of the political pressure group, Compass, and Left Foot Forward contributor Howard Reed, director of Landman Economics, put forward an outline for a ‘Plan B’ at the New Political Economy Network (NPEN) this week.

The aim of Plan B, Reed said, is to:

“Produce a feasible set of reforms that deal with the economic crisis in an alternative way, while taking some of the first steps towards a more serious challenge to economic orthodoxy.”

Over the next few months, Lawson and Reed will collaborate with a wealth of expertise from Compass, NPEN and beyond, inviting economists, academics, and environmentalists, trade unionists, equality and democracy advocates, and protest groups, to contribute their findings. The final report will be published by Compass in the autumn.

From the outset, Plan B – “provocatively titled” said Reed, to counter George Osborne’s claim there is no such thing – promises to challenge this “orthodoxy” in a big way.

Its premise is that the coalition’s die-hard focus on ‘dealing with the deficit’ simply does not constitute a truly transformative long-term solution. Society, and the forces which govern it, have to undergo changes which go far beyond Osborne’s short-burst economic recovery. It must become more economically stable, environmentally sustainable, and socially just.

Reed said:

“We see little value in ‘saving the economy’ now just to let it go back to the bad old days of debt-fuelled bubbles, unfair outcomes and carbon intensive growth.”

For Britain to progress in real terms from this historic recession, and the political and economic thinking that led to it, we must ensure that the bubble doesn’t become “re-inflated” – and that means significantly changing our priorities.

Some will wonder how ‘Plan B’ will differ from David Cameron’s Big Society. But yesterday YouGov president, Peter Kellner, wrote that the Big Society was “failing on two fronts”. Firstly, in “proclaiming the need for a bigger role for community action, at the very time when government financial support for many charities and voluntary organisations is being cut”, and secondly in the lack of clarity around the PM’s “big idea”.

Kellner elaborated:

“Until the prime minister manages to persuade the (59 per cent of) voters that the Big Society is not a cover for public spending cuts the Big Society is doomed to remain unloved.”

For a concept which talks of ‘empowering’ the people, it seems the people themselves are sceptical that the government has their interests at heart. In a YouGov poll (pdf) a meagre 19% agreed it was a ‘real vision’, while only 9% of pollsters thought the Big Society will work. This leaves a huge gap for Plan B.

Reflecting on Labour’s stance on the coalition’s fiscal strategy, Reed remarked:

“The lines of difference between the government and the opposition are important, but rather thin. Cutting less and slower is better than cutting more and quicker, but it does not point to an alternative political economy.

“On 26 March, up to 500,000 people marched for an alternative, but as yet no concrete and full worked-up alternative strategy for economic recovery exists (to the best of our knowledge), despite the fact that a large amount of relevant and useful research is going on in this area.”

But what is a ‘political economy’? According to Lawson:

“…a political economy is something which exists to create and sustain the kind of society you want.”

One area which will feature heavily in Plan B is the value of work and the worker, which will draw on the research of the Institute for Public Policy Research, the High Pay Commission, and the New Economics Foundation to inform a response to issues ranging from living wages, work flexibility, and investment in industry over cost-cutting, to gender inequality, and the value of different forms of work.

Talk should be of “redesigning the public sector”, not stripping it back, said Reed, and effective services “can’t be done ‘on the cheap’ without compromising service quality and/or universality”.

Reed,citing the arrangements for the Work Programme as a prime example, added:

“Attempting to provide services without adequate funding risks very poor outcomes and service ineffectiveness.”

A Plan B alternative for public service delivery will consider NEF’s work on ‘co-production’, along with accepting that spending will have to be increased in certain areas.

In closing, Lawson said the success of Plan B rested on “political generosity” of its contributors:

“The right never have the answers: they just have a bunch of instincts, and they just start moving and shaping and making things happen… We can only do it with active participation. This has to be about movement building, and we should see this as our goal, in order to get the things that we want.”

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30 Responses to “It’s time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B”

  1. Marilyn Freeman

    It's time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B: writes @DressToTheLeft's Daisy Blacklock

  2. Compass

    It's time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B: writes @DressToTheLeft's Daisy Blacklock

  3. Ed's Talking Balls

    Meaningless drivel.

    This demonstrates the sheer hypocrisy of Labour when critising the Big Society: dismissing others’ ideas as vague is laughable when your own ideas are so utterly airy-fairy.

    I thought the article was a spoof, but then remembered I was reading LFF.

  4. Ed's Talking Balls


  5. Anon E Mouse

    You say; “It’s time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B”

    Why didn’t you expect the last government to have a Plan B when a million people, double the number cited here, marched against the war in Iraq?

    Tell me why Labour believe it’s acceptable (as your headline would suggest) to condone the bloodthirsty warmongering and killing of 100 thousand innocent woman and children in Iraq yet not allow a government to pursue it’s own economic course?

    Seems to me that Labour supports big business more than the lives of innocent people. Typical…

  6. graeme

    Labour’s plan B = more borrowing, more spending, more debt. Simples.

  7. Ashley Bramwell

    It's time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B: writes @DressToTheLeft's Daisy Blacklock

  8. Hasson Mali

    If even the OECD is calling for a plan b, then the government is really in trouble. But there is little from anyone about a real thought out plan b – no one to challenge the narrative, Labour are currently failing on this. It is the wider context that needs to be challenged.

  9. Ed's Talking Balls

    The OECD isn’t calling for a Plan B. Read what the Secretary of the OECD said, rather than what LFF tell you he said.

    To be fair, I have no problem with differences of opinion in politics. Quite the opposite: it’s perfectly healthy. What isn’t helpful, however, is saying ‘we wouldn’t have done this’ but refusing to say what you would have done.

  10. scandalousbill

    Anon, even though it is off topic, you say:

    “Tell me why Labour believe it’s acceptable (as your headline would suggest) to condone the bloodthirsty warmongering and killing of 100 thousand innocent woman and children in Iraq yet not allow a government to pursue it’s own economic course?”

    “Seems to me that Labour supports big business more than the lives of innocent people. Typical…”

    It is your reading of history that is off the mark. Tony Blair relied on unwavering and unconditional support from the Tories for approval of the Iraq invasion against a rebellion of Labour MPs and the resignations of Robin Cook and Claire Short.

    Eds Talking Balls,

    The OECD did provide a cautionary note on the nature of the Coalition spending cuts. They have also not been alone in revising downward their outlook for growth on the UK economy. Do you seriously think that this would be their last downgrade, and if so, based upon which factors?

  11. Richard

    “(as your headline would suggest)”

    The headline only suggests what the warped mind of a benefit scrounger with too much time on his hands wants it to suggest.

  12. matthew fox

    More denial from the right, the Government is borrowing more because of Osborne’s budgets, and no Conservative is prepared to take responsibility.

  13. Dave Citizen

    There is a coherent alternative out there but it isn’t popular with most of the gate keepers to public debate and therefore gets very little meaningful air time.

    Many are arguing for a rebalancing of British society that would release Britain’s resources back to the talented entrepreneurs that could make better use of them. This would require a break up of the vested interests that, having accumulated so much, switch their attentions to defending gains made.

    Adam Smith wrote at some length about the economy distorting effects of vast accumulations of personal wealth. Interestingly, Ed Milliband appears to be about the only mainstream politician who is keen to act on Smith’s analysis. He seems to understand that tackling extreme wealth inequality is crucial to creating a more dynamic and productive economy, freed from the stifling distortions that arise when extreme wealth defends its gains.

  14. 13eastie

    The “500,000” got a speech in which Red Ed compared both himself to Ghandi and deficit reduction to apartheid.

    What more did they want?

    As Clare Short would have doubtless said, “It will be golden elephants next”

  15. matthew fox


    The Rally against Debt produced 350 attendees, why was that, considering the organisers speculated thousands would turn up?

  16. mr. Sensible

    Graham we’re getting more borrowing and more debt under this plan at the moment, aren’t we.

    A good place to start would be to take a tougher approach with the banks, something the Coalition said it would do but didn’t.

  17. Anon E Mouse

    scandalousbill – I didn’t mention the Tories – you did. Are you suggesting the Iraq War was the idea of the opposition and not the government?

    matthew fox – What has the number who turned up to a rally not under discussion got to do with anything?

    mr.Sensible – A tougher approach to the banks will not solve this financial crisis…

  18. matthew fox

    @anon e mouse

    Everything my simple minded friend. The Rally against Debt was supporting the deficit plan, and only a pathetic 350 inbreds turned up.

    500,000 people protested against the cuts and Osborne deficit plan.

    If the deficit plan was good for the country, it should have been the other way round, but it wasn’t.

  19. 13eastie


    I have no idea why you might suppose the Rally Against Debt has anything to do with the fact that Labour, despite having retained the services of three different opposition Treasury spokesmen since the election, has failed to put forward a single policy alternative.

    But you are well wide of the mark if you believe that the Rally Against Debt was in support of the Govt. Most people there were aghast at Osborne’s plan which will see the debt rise to £1.5 trillion under this Parliament.

    Don’t forget: Red Ed’s political journey from Islington to Westminster mirrored precisely Mahatma Gandhi’s, and his “struggle” comparable to that of Steve Biko!

  20. John P Reid

    clare short voted for iraq and resigned afterwards,272 labour M.P.s voted for Iraq 139 Tories did, if those 139 tories abstained Iraq would have still gone through,by a mojority of 40, As for labour opposing the cuts 8.8 million people voted labour last year on the condition it had 85% of the cuts the tories propose now.

  21. Anon E Mouse

    John P Reid – You are rewriting history – this country was taken to war by a Labour government and no amount of spin from you can change that.

    The fact the opposition voted in favour was because parliament was lied to by the government who believed in the dossier presented.

    Also you may want to speak to Ed Balls because he won’t agree with your assertion that the Labour cuts were only 15% less than the governments and the result last year was the parties second ever worst election defeat and things don’t seem to be any better at the moment…

  22. Anon E Mouse

    matthew fox – I’m not sure if your post is a wind up. Any minute now I’m expecting Jeremy Beadle to pop up laughing..

    However even you have bought the government’s spin. Hook, line and sinkers it appears. There are no cuts in spending any more than Thatcher ever brought them in. The government will have racked up the debt to a higher level by the next election.

    Those who marched against the debt, as pointed out by 13eastie above, are just as aghast as normal people who would rather not give the equivalent of building a primary school every 20 minutes in interest alone to city slickers and spivs who run our financial markets.

    I realise that Labour is “comfortable with people getting filthy rich” – demonstrated by their knighting and rewarding of the bankers. Then being lead by a tax avoiding property millionaire who’s never done a single days work in his life and deputised by a countess toff but this is ridiculous and the debt should be paid off ASAP.

    The government needs to stop spinning and get the bills paid and Labour supporters need realise they are being taken for idiots by the coalition and start engaging whatever brain cells they have.

    Although judging by the posts you’re making matthew fox, I feel it may be a lost cause…

  23. matthew fox

    @Anon E Mouse

    Jeremy Beadle died in 2008, I bet more people turned up to his funeral then the rally for debt.

    Thatcher was bankrolled by North Sea Oil Revenues, with her and Major blowing an eye watering £300 Billion pounds, and when Labour came into power, the National Debt stood at £400 Billion.

    As an inbred, you will not have noticed, that the banks have only lent 88% of the promised lending to businesses, under project merlin.

    If you had a few brain cells, you would understand that April PSBR was appalling because April is normally a good month for revenues, but tax receipts where actually down.

    The OECD, Osborne favourite economic organisation, has downgrade economic growth for 2011 and 2012, due to Osborne’s two wrecking ball budgets.

    Osborne forecasted that the Government borrowing would be £122 Billion for 2011-2012, which is a credible as Scotland winning the World Cup in 2014.

  24. dress to the left

    It's time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B: writes @DressToTheLeft's Daisy Blacklock

  25. Anon E Mouse

    matthew fox – I never mentioned any of this – you did. Seems to be you’re having a conversation with yourself.

    But you are continuing to miss the point.

    This government is NOT decreasing the debt. For whatever reason it is INCREASING the debt and Labour, whilst clearly a party that loves big business more than any other (by lower taxes) just doesn’t have a credible response.

    But you’re ignoring my valid point about protests and their numbers.

    Waffle all you like matthew fox (all your previous blogging suggests you will) but twice the number marched to stop Labour’s bloodthirsty warmongering in support of a Republican US President and the government ignored them.

    Therefore to suggest that a smaller march should result in changing their position on money, rather than human beings being blown up overseas, says everything about Labour’s values.

    It appears Labour values money than humanity…

  26. matthew fox

    @Anon E Mouse

    You seem to value stupidity over sense, my dim-witted rodent.

    Would you like to remind me which party is angry over the 50% tax rate? I will give you a clue, it begins with a C.

    I see your running away from Project Merlin, Osborne has made sure the bankers have got their bonuses, even though, they are failing to keep their end of the bargain, or has Lord Oakshott, changed his name to Robert Diamond.

  27. Anon E Mouse

    matthew fox – The only person discussing these points is yourself. I don’t know why.

    All I said was that it is factually accurate that double the number under discussion here marched against the war in Iraq – the war where the Labour Party, determined to slavishly suck up to George W Bush, lied to the commons and killed thousands of innocent woman and children overseas.

    Since DOUBLE the number marched against the war and nothing was done, why does the author believe HALF that number should result in a change in the economic position the government chooses to take?

    So since Labour didn’t listen on big things where innocent people suffered death and mutilation to big themselves up to George Bush, why should the government listen now on something as mundane as reducing the amount the country spends on public services?

    Hardly as important to normal people as killing innocents – unless of course you support Labour where I suppose lying is OK – bullying certainly was under Gordon Brown, so I guess it’s not that big a leap.

    But finally the main point that you seem unable to understand is that in FACT the government ARE NOT cutting public spending – they are actually increasing it and relying on Labour’s useful idiots to do their job for them.

    Which you are. Congratulations matthew fox…

  28. Pam Field

    RT: It's time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B

  29. Jill Hayward

    RT: It's time to deliver what half a million marched for: Plan B

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