A wealth tax, ministries for labour and social security, massive infrastructure spending a more cash for the NHS
Owen Smith outlined 20 policies he would campaign on as Labour Party leader and seek to implement as Prime Minister, in a rich speech aimed at the Labour Left.
Smith has been denounced by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘Blairite’ since he joined the Labour leadership race, with some even claiming he is ‘pro-austerity’ and wants to privatise the NHS. (It’s not clear why Corbyn would have appointed such a person as his shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.)
Today’s speech ought to put paid to this charge of Blairism, given the plainly egalitarian nature of his election programme.
In a blistering attack on inequality in Britain, Smith said people were ‘right to be angry’ about ‘a country where people think the system is rigged against them’ – echoing the populist pitch of Bernie Sanders in the United States.
He proposed a wealth tax on the top one per cent of society – a 15 per cent tax on their unearned wealth (i.e. from assets like property) – and pledged to reverse the Tories’ millionaire tax cut and cuts to inheritance, capital gains and corporation tax, along with bringing back the 50p rate for those earning over £150,000.
This, he said, would fund a four per cent real terms increase in spending on the NHS every year in the next parliament. (Note: he wants to increase public spending on the NHS, not privatise it.)
One of his more radical proposals was to scrap the Department for Work and Pensions and replace it with a Ministry for Labour and a Department for Social Security.
He also wants to ban all zero hours contracts and replace them with minimum hours contracts, end the Tories’ freeze on public sector wages, repeal the Trade Union Act and put workers on all companies’ remuneration committees.
As a guiding principle, he wants to focus on equality of outcome, not just equality of opportunity, and repeated his pledge for a £200 billion ‘British New Deal’, a development fund to build social and economic infrastructure.
You can read the full list of today’s 20 policies below. They form an undeniably a Left wing, democratic socialist platform – and there is likely more to come.
Put simply, this is a set of policies Corbyn supporters would have praised from the rooftops, had they been uttered by Corbyn or his team in any precise and easily digestible way, (rather than buried in a long speech of generalities and things ‘we should look at very carefully’).
Indeed, the Corbyn team did try to claim credit for some of the policies before Smith even spoke today, in particular his plan for a Ministry for Labour dedicated to quality jobs and workers’ rights.
They said shadow chancellor John McDonnell had announced this earlier in the year, but as Smith quipped in his Q&A, this was the first most people had heard of it, and this can’t be blamed solely on an anti-Labour media.
(Smith added that this policy had never been debated at any Corbyn and McDonnell-led meetings of the PLP.)
Regardless, this is a strong start for the Labour challenger, who delivered his speech well and ably handled questions from the press and public, with a number of attacks on the Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s time in post.
He closed his speech with a direct rebuke to both Blairism and Corbynism, saying:
‘We need revolution, not evolution.
Not some misty-eyed, romantic notion of a revolution where we’re going to overthrow capitalism and return to a socialist nirvana.
(I don’t know who I’m referring to…)
But a cold-eyed, practical, socialist revolution where we build a better Britain.’
Owen Smith’s 20 policies announced today:
1. A pledge to focus on equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity
2. Scrapping the DWP and replacing it with a Ministry for Labour and a Department for Social Security
3. Introducing modern wages councils for hotel, shop and care workers to strengthen terms and conditions
4. Banning zero hour contracts
5. Ending the public sector pay freeze
6. Extending the right to information and consultation to cover all workplaces with more than 50 employees
7. Ensuring workers’ representation on remuneration committees
8. Repealing the Trade Union Act
9. Increase spending on the NHS by 4 per cent in real-terms in every year of the next parliament
10. Commit to bringing NHS funding up to the European average within the first term of a Labour Government.
11. Greater spending on schools and libraries.
12. Re-instate the 50p top rate of income tax.
13. Reverse the reductions in Corporation Tax due to take place over the next four years.
14. Reverse cuts to Inheritance Tax announced in the Summer Budget.
15. Reverse cuts to Capital Gains Tax announced in the Summer Budget.
16. Introduce a new wealth Tax on the top one per cent earners.
17. A British New Deal unveiling £200 billion of investment over five years.
18. A commitment to invest tens of billions in the North of England, and to bring forward High Speed 3.
19. A pledge to build 300,000 homes in every year of the next parliament – 1.5 million over five years.
20. Ending the scandal of fuel poverty by investing in efficient energy.
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.