Smith must break with Labour's past and hold big business to account
All successful electoral campaigns do two things: disassociate themselves from their opponents’ criticism of them, and associate themselves with what their opponents claim to do best.
Owen Smith must dissociate himself from what New Labour became – too close to markets and the logic they espoused – and associate himself with the anti-managerial people power of Jeremy Corbyn.
He must embrace unions, cooperatives and most importantly give people control of their future relationship with technology. ‘Transparency over your future’ should be his message.
The current leadership campaign is not meant for a mass audience but the Labour Party membership. We do not know the exact demographics of Labour Party members but what we do know is that they are predominantly middle class and based in urban centres.
They don’t want to hear how you are going to be tough on welfare, crime and cut taxes. This is where the Labour establishment got it so wrong in the last leadership contest.
Harriet Harman’s moves on the Welfare Reform Bill unfortunately backfired because she didn’t realise that the membership had shifted leftwards. Owen Smith must learn this lesson and not lurch to the right.
His aim is not the hard left or the right of the party, but soft left voters who leant their support to Corbyn. They need a narrative. They need to feel they are not selling out their principles. To put it bluntly, they need to feel proud of supporting him.
That is why Smith must wholeheartedly disassociate himself from New Labour economics and call for the economics of transparency. New Labour got many things right, from Surestart to the minimum wage and the Equalities Act, leaving a progressive imprint upon this country.
But its architects bought into the neoclassical notion of the market; that if it is left alone competition between companies means it will regulate itself.
Gordon Brown accepted the 2003 assertion by Robert Lucas, winner of Nobel Prize for Economics, that the ‘central problem of depression prevention…has been solved for all practical purposes’.
The business cycle, the downturn and upturns that the market go through, had been tamed to the point where they no longer need attention. But as we know, it hadn’t.
The mantra of Peter Mandelson ran through the spine of New Labour’s economic policies: ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes.’
They believed that huge profits were permissible if they fed the coffers of the Exchequer, and were redistributed on an unprecedented level into public services.
They allowed the investment side of banks to intermingle with retail. They put flexibility above security for workers and gave a platform for the Coalition to make things far worse.
All these policies eroded peoples’ trust in the economic system, as it became less accountable and transparent to workers.
That is why Owen Smith’s proposal on wage councils are so welcome. But he must go further. He must offer tax cuts to companies that are willing to be run along the John Lewis Cooperative model. The money for this would be funded by companies unwilling to do so.
Through ‘New Deal’ proposals, he must offer state funded jobs to the unemployed rather than insecure private sectors jobs, which often offer no career progression or training.
These jobs should also focus on creating green jobs, centred around a massive green housebuilding programme, to make all new homes eco-friendly, funded through progressive taxation and an eco-levy on companies that continue to under-perform on sustainability.
Finally, he must introduce an equivalent to Roosevelt’s 1933 Banking Act commonly known as Glass-Steagall, which split the investment and retail sectors of the bank. This will put accountability to workers at the heart of our economy.
Beyond this, we are entering an age where a tiny conglomerate of companies are harvesting massive amounts of data about us, but we have hardly any say in how this is used and what should be able to be used to generate a profit.
There is a prolific glut of new technologies, which are becoming more and more intrusive in our lives. The terms and conditions are ‘we’ll-take-everything-but-your-firstborn-child’.
Julia Cohen, a prominent academic in this field, asserts that the state and companies are working together in to survey our personal lives. But where is the regulation to protect us?
Smith should set up an urgent review into the practice of companies and what they can do with your data. Transparency must be restored, by companies to consumers.
The free market is supposed to be the great liberator of the individual, but it has in fact made the individual just another centralized commodity to unaccountable multinational corporations.
Smith has a moment, a tiny second in which he must make a new settlement, where the economy can become accountable to the worker.
Make a clean break with New Labour and embrace transparency. Offer a bold narrative. Trust people and workers, and they will trust you.
Sam Pallis is a Labour member on the executive of his local CLP and an active Young FabianSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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