By Mike Phipps
The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs has launched a new pamphlet offering an alternative to the government’s disastrous public health and economic policies in the COVID-19 pandemic. Winning the Future: Socialist Answers to the Corona Crisis contains contributions from a range of Campaign Group MPs, including former leader Jeremy Corbyn and ex-Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
“Many of the ideas were in our 2017 and 2019 manifestos – and Keir reflected many of them in his 10 Pledges,” notes Campaign Group secretary Richard Burgon MP in his Introduction. “Now is the time to build on these progressive policies –even to deepen them.”
He proposes a “Zero COVID” strategy, to drive down the virus as effectively as has been done in New Zealand and parts of East Asia. “That means investing in our NHS and local public health teams and kicking Serco and the like out of the failing system. It means ensuring people have the financial support, including sick pay at real living wage levels, so they can afford to safely isolate… It means creating smaller class sizes by rehiring all qualified teachers, turning community spaces into classrooms and ensuring all children have broadband access at home… We must be active in demanding the extension of furlough, challenging evictions, fighting freezes to the minimum wage and benefits, opposing ‘fire and rehire’ practices becoming the new blueprint for the economy and we must be pushing for a programme of public works to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled jobs through a Green New Deal and the rebuilding of our public services.”
In his chapter on radical economics, John McDonnell MP proposes vital measures to avoid a recession. These include an increase in the minimum wage, sectoral collective bargaining and a restoration of trade union rights. Banning zero hours contracts, a minimum earnings guarantee and a plan on the scale of the post-war Marshall Plan to tackle climate change are also central ideas.
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP underlines the importance of a Green Industrial Revolution/Green New Deal to tackle climate change. Before the last election Labour set out thirty recommendations which required investment of 1.9% of GDP each year and would have provided a net benefit of £800 billion across the UK by 2030 and 850,000 new jobs across the green energy sector. The technology, skills and resources all exist, but standing in the way is an economic and political system that refuses to serve the public interest.
Mick Whitley MP highlights the recent avalanche of manufacturing job losses, with British manufacturing industry having shrunk twice as fast as other OECD countries since 2000. “Future government subsidies should either be tied to a no-redundancy agreement or should result in the government getting a public stake in the company,” he argues. Government aid should also be conditional on companies committing to socially responsible practice.
Clive Lewis MP, also focusing on sustainable economics, calls for finance to be democratised and for the state to be decentralised and democratised to drive decarbonisation. Apsana Begum MP, focusing on social security, proposes universal basic services as the foundation of a decent life. Claudia Webbe MP repeats the Labour manifesto call for a stand-alone Ministry for Employment Rights. And Ian Byrne MP reminds us of the to 2019 commitment to introduce a Right to Food, as part of a commitment to end the scandal of hunger and food banks.
Diane Abbott MP’s article, focusing on anti-racism, calls for “a complete transformation in the relationship between Black and Asian people, especially young people, and the state.” The Prevent programme, which demonises the Muslim community, should be scrapped and there needs to be a return to community policing. ‘Hostile environment’ legislation should be abolished and the victims of the Windrush scandal fully compensated and government detention centres closed. Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP agrees, calling for the scrapping of no recourse to public funds and the arbitrary immigration health surcharge.
Jeremy Corbyn MP addresses global rights, peace and justice. “Real security is not from a power to destroy others,” he argues, “but of knowing food, health, education and housing will be available for all citizens.” Real peace “can only be developed if we begin to redress the imbalance between spending on aid and humanitarian work compared to military spending and get real control over arms exports.” Highlighting the conflicts in the Middle East, he calls for the recognition of the rights of all peoples and for full recognition of Palestine and an end to the occupation.
Kate Osamor MP pens an important contribution on making housing a public right. Homelessness has increased by more than 250% since 2010. The bar for local authorities being required to help homeless individuals should be lowered. Renters’ unions should be given public support to hold landlords accountable. “We must also introduce rent controls urgently and freeze rent caps until average rents are at an affordable level,” she argues. “We need to end no fault evictions and strengthen security of tenure for all tenants by introducing 5-year fixed term tenancies for renters and extending eviction notices to at least 3 months.” And social housing should be promoted as a real alternative to home ownership.
Zarah Sultana MP highlights the millions squandered by private companies taking advantage of the current public health crisis and calls for an end to NHS privatisation. Paula Barker MP wants social care brought into public ownership. Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP calls for public accountability to be exercised over natural monopolies, such as water and energy, via the state. Tahir Ali MP calls for more powers for properly funded local authorities, including the ability to set a business rate and borrow more freely. Beth Winter MP calls for a constitutional convention to create a new structure for the UK based on a union of equal nations. And Jon Trickett MP and Ian Lavery MP map out what the Labour Party needs to do next to win power – from community organising to providing an alternative vision for the country.
Whoever said the left was short of ideas? The proposals here are a great start for building towards a radical manifesto for Labour at the next election.