Monday, June 12, 2006

Political cross-dressing: Should left-of-centre voters now support Cameron?

Last week's outbreak of political cross-dressing, with David Cameron saying let's be nice to public sector workers and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown threatning them with miserly pay increases, provided plenty of food-for-thought for my Saturday Column and accompanying Podcast.

It led me to pose a question which I think could well become a defining issue for many existing Labour and Lib Dem voters in the run-up to the next General Election. It is this.

"Is Britain better off being governed by a centre-right party that seeks to adopt an inclusive approach to voters of a left persuasion, than a centre-left party forever fretting about whether it can also appeal to the right?

"In other words, could a David Cameron government, in practice, turn out to be further to the left than Tony Blair’s?"

I suspect there will be some fairly robust opinions on this - Stalin's Gran, I'm relying on you for one!

But it seems to me at least a valid question to ask whether voters on the left will get a better hearing from a man who seems keen to court their support than a man who has always been able to take that support for granted.

The question is given added significance by the dramatic lurch to the right of the Lib Dems, who have abandoned their unique selling point of being the party that backs progressive taxation in a cynical bid to outflank the Tories in Middle England.

There are a lot of centre-left votes which are going to be up for grabs at the next election. And mine is one of them.

* You can read my column in full on my companion blog, In the name of God, go!


RedEye said...

Under Labour, we have the right to four weeks' paid holiday, the right to trade union recognition in a workplace where 50% of the workers vote for it, the minimum wage, and the right to leave in a family emergency, all opposed by the Tories.

From Cameron, we have nothing (so far) but a load of warm words (and we know his role in drawing up the last Tory manifesto) George W Bush talked about 'compassionate conservatism', and then became one of the most right-wing presidents since the 1920s.

So no, despite my opposition to ID cards, privatising the probation service, and the early release scheme, I'm not tempted by Cameron.

If, on the other hand, the Tories really want to show they've changed re. policy, they could follow Lord Sainsbury's advice and commit to take the low paid out of tax. As Frank Field has said, what makes people think working-class people like paying tax. Plus, of course, it would do a great deal to ease poverty traps. It would also be a great improvement on the current crazy merry go-round where low-paid people pay income tax and NI, then have to fill in horribly complicated forms to claim what is a benefit in all but name. And, if they're really unlucky, they'll be paid too much (because the low-paid are the people most subject to fluctuations in income), try to tell the Inland Revenue that they're being paid too much, be completely ignored, then have all the money taken back as if it's their fault, and end up having to accept food parcels from the Red Cross (as, I believe, one Citizens' Advice Bureau report stated).

Not just that - the means-testing is horrendous. I know at least one factory worker who has been deterred from doing overtime because, with the tapering off levels with his tax credit, he'd end up worse off. If, by contrast, he was removed from income tax, the worst that could happen is that any income above say £12,000 would be taxed at 10p-23p.

A factory worker who wants to do some overtime in order to better himself, and to have a nice holiday (or have some home improvements) for his partner and child should not be penalised by means-testing. It shouldn't be what a Labour government is about, and it's a damn shame it is.

This is why I'd vote for Alan Johnson in any leadership contest against Brown. It's not just Brown's Al Gore-like bum notes (like asking us to believe he was pleased by Gazza's goal against his country, or that he listens to the Artic Monkeys in the morning), it's his penchant for complexity and means-testing (oh, and it's a pity he knackered what was one of the best private pension systems in Western Europe before the £5bn raid on pension funds through the scrapping of the tax credit on dividends paid into them).

And I'm sure Johnson doesn't share the wrong-headed critique of tax credits advanced by Blairites quoted a few years ago in the New Statesman, namely that the main thing wrong with the tax credits is that they're some 'booze and fags charter'. Such blinkered snobbery towards ordinary working people from the moutpieces of a couple who enjoy so many freebie holidays with their pals from the ranks of the super-rich really is disgusting. If that's their view of the people we should be in politics to help, then they're not living in the real world. Indeed, it's what the late Kingsley Amis would have called a 's*d the public' mentality.

Oddly enough, one of the few consolations of a Cameron government for this social democrat would be (fingers crossed) David Davis as Home Secretary. No more early release schemes, and build more prisons. Hopefully with Howard's idea of a maximum sentence and a minimum sentence. No more dishonesty in sentencing. Instead of people serving half of their sentence for good behaviour, give them more time in prison for bad behaviour. I'm on the centre-left because I support the underdog, not because I want to pamper criminal mad dogs.

G Eagle said...


I enjoyed Redeye's thoughtful comments

My worry about the Minimum Wage is that, the higher the Minimum Wage, the greater the disincentive to employ folk

The danger is that the right to a Minimum Wage for some could well become the right to be Unemployed for many, as they find themselves priced out of employment

It would be interesting for Redeye to give us his estimate as to how many British jobs have disappeared because of the Minimum Wage

Your obedient servant etc

G Eagle

RedEye said...

None, as far as I know. The Tories predicted mass unemployment, but it didn't happen. I know of employers in my area (the West Midlands) who initially took advantage of what used to be the lower rate for 18-21 year olds, but then found they could afford to pay the full minimum wage.

Of course it shouldn't be set too high (some on the left want it at £7 an hour), but it's one of Labour's great achievements that, unlike the Thatcher and Major years, we don't have the disgrace of people working seventy two hours a week (as they would be again under a Cameron government, given his opposition to the forty eight hour working time directive) for two pounds an hour.

The minimum wage has, in fact, made it worthwhile for many people to work through easing the poverty traps (as have - if you leave out the means-testing - the tax credits; I criticise them when the money could be given in a far more efficient way through taking the low paid out of tax, but it's money they didn't get under the Tories).

You mention unemployment. It wasn't just George Soros' actions on Golden Wednesday that helped us have low unemployment, it's also this government's giving independence to the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee which has given us low unemployment.

To return to the argument advanced in Paul's column, it's also worthwhile noting that John Major made very similar noises to Cameron when he became Prime Minister ('a classless society', 'a country at ease with itself'). What did we get? VAT on fuel (which Ken Clarke tried to double to 16%), which really hit the low paid, references to beggars as 'eyesores' (on the Euro election campaign trail in 94), Ken Clarke bringing an extra 100,000 low-paid people into taxation through the abolition of the Wages Councils, and the abolition of the Wages Council, which hit some of the most low-paid people in the country.

RedEye said...

Whoops - I meant to say Ken Clarke brought 100,000 extra people into taxation by freezing allowances. Another man, like Cameron, who has conned many on the centre-left through his mood music, when they should be watching his policies and actions. Which Home Secretary denied leave to appeal to the Bridgewater Four? Michael Howard? No, Ken Clarke. He also, as Health Secretary, had a very dismissive attitude towards government compensation towards haemophiliacs (who, thanks to negligence by the government) were infected with AIDS.

Paul Linford said...

Thanks Red Eye for taking the trouble to make such considered responses. You may well be right in your assessment of Cameron - I have merely posed the question and, for the time being, am keeping an open mind on the answer.

Your point about Major is interesting. I personally think his instincts were much more centrist and that had he won with a bigger majority in '92 he would have led the Tories in a different direction. But with a tiny majority he increasingly became a prisoner of his own right-wing (the "bastards") as well as haunted by the ghost of his predecessor. There are many who would argue, in terms of his personal politics, that the Major of the early 90s was indeed to the left of the present-day Blair.

stalin's gran said...

It is the duty of every true socialist, indeed of every right-thinking man and woman in this country, to vote Conservative at the next election. The neo-fascist, Trotskyite tendencies of New Labour must be expunged from the body politic once and for all. Every vote for Cameron is a peaceful but powerful equivalent of a roadside device or a bomb in a bus station. Paul - sorry that took so long to do, despite your kind invitation.

David Gladwin said...

Wot, no policies?

If you ask me (and I appreciate that you didn't, but I'm like that) then national politics in the UK has taken on the character of local government elections.

All candidates make vague and similar noises about services and reform and all the rest of it, presumably intending to reveal or think up an agenda of their own if they're lucky enough to be elected.

Can we really trust any of them?

G Eagle said...

Dear Redeye

I have again enjoyed your letting me have such thoughtful & well-considered comments. I am sorry that I cannot claim to be equally well-informed

However, my eye is caught by two of your remarks about the Minimum Wage ....

1. As to an estimate of jobs lost because of the Minimum Wage, you remark "None so far as you are aware"

?? Does this indicate a lack of adequate concern about the "real-world" consequences & potential damage of policies which you favour

2. "The Tories predicted mass unemployment but it hasn't happened"

I wonder if the reality is that mass unemployment is indeed creeping up on us

* as a West Midlands man, you have seen car factories closing "on your door-step", with thousands of job losses

* there are frequent reports of British Jobs exported "beyond the seas" (eg the HP Sauce factory in your area has been so threatened)

* am I right that the level of state employment is now 20% of the work-force - such a level could conceal large levels of unproductive employment

* there is such a shake-out of so many nurses and others in the NHS, which we are told will not damage patient care - this could only be if there is massive over-manning (or "over-womanning", in these enlightened times)in the NHS

I remain your obedient servant and
Best wishes

G Eagle

RedEye said...

No, it doesn't. I find it interesting that you asked me that question (maybe rhetorically). If you're going to attack the minimum wage because you think it will make unemployment rise, the burden of proof is on you to show that it has caused unemployment. I hope that doesn't sound tetchy, it wasn't intended to be. I merely say 'as far as I know' because it has slightly more humility than saying None at all.

What we know is the Tories said unemployment would rise by millions thanks to the minimum wage. It didn't.

As for Paul's point, I'm really not convinced by Major's centrism. This is a man who denounced the Social Chapter as 'immoral', said beggars were eyesores, and put getting rid of capital gains tax and inheritance tax ahead of taking the low-paid out of tax. When confronted by genuine concerns about Yorkshire Water forcing customers to take their water from turnpipes, after having put profits for shareholders ahead of repairing leaky pipes, he made some cheap jibe about Labour being against success.

It may be that his initial instincts were to privatise the railways in a way which would have resurrected the pre-nationalisation Big Four, but he allowed his ear to be bent by Malcolmn Rikfind and Sir Steve Robson into a disastrously fragmented form of rail privatisation. He certainly wasn't to the left of Blair re. the railways, when New Labour has (however grudgingly) re-nationalised Railtrack.