Five questions for the Labour leadership candidates

Answer these and you might yet win us over


With the Labour leadership contest getting into full swing, we all want to hear what the contenders have to say about where Labour went wrong and how it can do better. Receiving satisfactory answers means asking the right questions. What the Americans call ‘softball questions’ just won’t cut it.

With that in mind, here are some of ours:

Do you oppose the current government’s spending cuts?

Arguments over whether the previous Labour government spent too much may seem pertinent now, but by 2020 they will be largely academic. The Tories didn’t fight the 2005 election on Black Wednesday and nor will Labour contest the 2020 election on the 2008 financial crash. More pressing are the cuts coming in this parliament – cuts being pushed through for the purpose of creating an unnecessary budget surplus by the next General Election.

Whatever ‘tough decisions’ you think any government would have to make on spending, do you oppose the level of the Conservative cuts about to come?

Does the Labour party accept the principle of the free movement of labour?

A great deal of hot air is expounded on immigration by politicians who repeatedly talk about Labour must ‘addressing voters’ concerns about immigration’. This is too ambiguous, for surely there are a broad range of concerns – some perfectly reasonable and others frankly unpalatable.

A good starting point would be to know whether the potential leadership candidates accept the principle of free movement within the European Union. If yes, then we should be honest about the fact and move on to dealing with some of the local impacts of migration.

In many ways honesty about free movement is the prerequisite for trust on issues around integration and the welfare state. Otherwise we end up mired in discussions about net migration, something which (if you accept free movement within the EU) is largely beyond the control of politicians.

If you don’t accept the principle of free movement, how are you planning to negotiate British withdrawal from that covenant at European level? And what if Europe says no? Would that mean leaving the EU?

What’s the best way to tackle Britain’s poor level of social mobility?

“In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power…are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class.”

Those weren’t the words of the late Tony Benn or Dennis Skinner, but of former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major, that well known scourge of capitalism and tribune of the working class.

Elitism in Britain is now so pronounced that the coalition government’s own social mobility commission has compared it to “social engineering” in favour of the rich. Just 7 per cent of Britons are privately educated yet, according to a government report published in August, 33 per cent of MPs, 71 per cent of senior judges and 44 per cent of people on the Sunday Times Rich List went to fee-paying schools. Of the rich countries listed by the OECD, the three in which men’s earnings are most likely to resemble their fathers’ are the UK, Italy and the US – in that order.

What’s the first step in righting this wrong and stopping Britain throwing away so much working class talent?

What will you offer to working class voters who have abandoned Labour?

It isn’t only middle class families who ‘aspire’ for something better; working class households do too. Increasingly Labour is failing to connect with this section of the electorate, no doubt in part because it previously took it for granted. The question now is how to reconnect and win it back.

One of the big issues working class communities face is insecurity – be that economic insecurity or cultural insecurity around the sheer pace of change immigration brings with it.

That raises two questions: What sort of pro-worker policies should Labour embrace to reconnect with the aspirational working class? And how can free movement of labour benefit communities who currently only see it through the prism of cheap unskilled labour and neighbours who don’t speak English?

Migration is good for British GDP; how then can we ensure that neglected communities see more of the financial and cultural benefits of immigration?

Are property taxes such as the mansion tax really ‘anti-aspirational’?

Since the devastating General Election defeat just over a week ago, there has been a surge of people trying to distance themselves from policies which until recently they appeared to endorse. Listening to most pundits today, Ed Miliband got everything wrong.

A great deal of the criticism levelled at the former Labour leader is that his policies were ‘anti-aspiration’. Labour leadership contenders Tristram Hunt and Andy Burnham have already slammed Miliband’s proposed mansion tax, with the latter calling it – yes, you guessed it – ‘anti-aspiration’.

But is this really true? House prices in London increased by almost 20 per cent last year. If the value of assets is increasing more rapidly than the value of wages, it’s better to tax the assets, is it not? Those fortunate enough to be beneficiaries of Britain’s crazy house price inflation ought surely to pay their fair share, no?

On the left we mustn’t be pushed into a corner where we say that the only way to raise revenue is to make bigger and bigger spending cuts. A property millionaire is now created in Britain every seven minutes, mainly in London. A small tax on properties worth over £2 million pounds is a reasonable ask – or better, a rebanding of the council tax rates to make sure those with the most are paying more than their middle class counterparts. Wouldn’t you agree?

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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