5 reasons I’m voting Labour (for the first time ever)

Thanks for coming to read this blog post. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but… REGISTER TO VOTE. Right now, because the deadline is today. The majority of people are already registered to vote, and most of them will vote. Don’t miss out.

So here’s where I stand, for what it’s worth. I’ve been having a look at the manifestos and at my local candidates. I’ve never voted for Labour before, but I will be doing this year. Here are the 5 main reasons they’ll be getting my vote on June 8th. None of them are tactical.

1. For the good of your health

Thanks to unachievable ‘efficiency’ targets enforced by the current government, the NHS is seriously struggling to stay afloat. It doesn’t have enough money to keep up with demand.

Labour promise £30 billion over the next 5 years, which still isn’t enough, but would take us some way towards filling the hole that was created when spending increases pretty much stopped in 2010. The Conservatives, meanwhile, offer £8 billion. And even that would probably involve some serious bending of the truth.

A lack of funds is the main issue for the NHS right now. But there are also some good ideas in Labour’s manifesto. There’s focus on ensuring safe staffing levels (one of the current government’s failures) and allocation of a greater proportion of funds to child mental health. One of the most interesting ideas is the proposal for a National Care Service, supported by an additional £8 billion of investment. This could support the long-overdue changes that are needed in social care, that the current government has ignored.

The Lib Dem manifesto seems pretty good on health too, and has some nice ideas of its own. It’s just a bit less ambitious and underestimates the extent to which the NHS needs greater financial support. The Green Party haven’t released their manifesto yet, though I expect it will be quite similar to Labour’s on health.

2. For the sake of the economy

The Labour manifesto says that we need to “upgrade our economy”, which is true. We have a crisis in productivity that requires action. Labour’s proposed National Transformation Fund is about providing the investment that could help solve our long-term economic problems. A big part of this long-term remedy is the inclusion of a Fiscal Credibility Rule, which would prevent the government from overspending on things that won’t generate value in the future. Labour would also create a National Investment Bank, which (they estimate) would facilitate £250 billion of private investment in regional development and local businesses.

The Conservatives have long struggled to understand basic economics. It’s why the deficit has grown so much in their hands. Considering the Conservatives’ kamikaze approach to EU negotiations, it could be that they just don’t care.

One of my old economics lecturers has an article that covers the question of whether Labour’s manifesto pledges ‘add up’. They do.

3. Because workers used to have rights

One of the defining features of our recent economic history is that the economy has been growing but wages have not. It’s because our employment rights have been stripped away and the trade unions prevented from doing their job. Crippling trade unions is a Tory pastime, of course, and it’s no surprise to hear Labour say that they will work with the unions.

But the Labour manifesto could be a game-changer. Labour outline a 20-point plan for the reinstatement of workers’ rights, including banning zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships, preventing employers from recruiting cheap labour from abroad and introducing a (real) living wage.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have very little to say on the matter. Except that they will continue to support a fake ‘living wage’. The Lib Dem manifesto also does not say much on this issue, suggesting that they don’t appreciate how damaging the current situation is to our society.

4. Because my local candidate is working for it

Your local MP could be way more important to your day-to-day life than Jeremy or Theresa. I live in a relatively safe Labour seat, but our MP has recently stood down after 25 years. Our new Labour candidate, Ellie Reeves, seems like a good egg. Most importantly, she is working hard on her campaign. Ellie’s background as a trade union lawyer makes her the kind of person I’d like to see in parliament.

5. It’s better than not voting

Yes, our democracy is broken. Capitalism is broken. Society is broken. But they aren’t going to be fixed or replaced within the next 2 weeks, and a lot of people are having a really difficult time right now. I’m not going to ask them to wait until we figure out how to bring an end to the neoliberal experiment. We at least need a government that can get us through the next 5 years without increasing homelessness, sending people to food banks, crippling the NHS, and all the while letting Amazon and co walk away with what’s rightfully ours.

No one party is ever going to represent my views perfectly. I don’t agree 100% with everything in the Labour manifesto, and my vote doesn’t imply that I do. But what’s the alternative? There’s nothing heroic in spoiling your ballot paper. Vote for whichever candidate you think will do the best job of representing you. Right now, Labour is the only party offering real solutions to the country’s problems.

So that’s it, really. VOTE. Register here. If you think you’re registered but you haven’t received a polling card yet, you can check. If you’ve always voted for the same party, ask yourself why that is. If you’re not sure who to vote for, visit Vote for Policies. Go and find out what your local candidates have been up to in the last couple of weeks. If they’ve been an MP before go and look at their voting record. Stop reading newspapers. Every winning party since 1979 has been supported by the scumbags that run The Sun. Go and find out for yourself what the parties are offering you. FullFact can tell you if they’re lying.

Why I’ll wear a #SafetyPin

I really really don’t like public displays of passive activism. I didn’t even do the Ice Bucket Challenge! But #SafetyPin is different.

It’s different because it’s inclusive. Anti-racism and anti-xenophobia movements are needed right now, as hate crimes have increased since the EU referendum. But there are other groups of people who deal with these kinds of attacks. Transgender people regularly experience harassment. The mass shooting at Pulse was a brutal reminder of some people’s views towards gay people. You don’t have to spend much time on Twitter or in a male-dominated environment to witness sexism. The safety pin can stand for all of these. And it needn’t detract from the anti-racist message – that’s the beauty of #SafetyPin, it’s intersectional.

It’s different because it goes beyond a timid form of solidarity and sends a practical message. It makes the statement that “you are safe with me”. That’s a commitment. A commitment to act should action be necessary – ideally with words but if necessary with fists. On a more fundamental level it lets people know that they can talk to you, that they can ask you for help and you won’t think they’re a weirdo.

It’s different because it’s just a safety pin. I don’t need to go on Etsy to buy one. I don’t need to post a selfie for my social kudos to count. This – combined with the literal meaning of the safety pin – makes it more difficult for other groups to hijack it as a symbol.

Well this is what it means to me anyway. I appreciate that other people may not feel the same, and that’s fine. It sort of doesn’t matter. What matters is that I can wear it as a reminder to myself – more than to anyone else – of how I intend to behave. I’m a straight, white, English-born cis male. I don’t know what it’s like to be subjected to abuse, but I know what it’s like to feel safe. And I know it shouldn’t be a privilege. Wearing a safety pin isn’t the solution, but it reminds me to become it.

And now, for your listening pleasure…

Photo credit: Haragayato (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Harnessing anger: my thoughts on the election

I’d have written this sooner, but instead spent my weekend having fun; witnessing and celebrating the wedding of two friends. It was difficult to avoid talking politics, and although my reading at the ceremony was taken from Les Misérables I was not trying to start a revolution. I’m probably not going to do that here either, but let’s see…

Few people wanted a Tory majority. Lots of people are angry. But having caught my breath after Friday’s blow, I started to see the outcome of the election in a more positive light.

How did we get here?

We only have ourselves to blame. By ‘we’ I mean those of us striving for social justice, and in particular those of us with (at least) a basic understanding of economics.

The Conservatives won because they were able to convince the electorate that the economy is in a mess thanks to a high deficit, that the only remedy is cuts, and that we have the Labour Party to thank for this. It’s a lie. Perhaps Conservatives have convinced themselves that it is true, but it is not. At a stretch, we could claim that Labour should have done more to prepare the country in the run up to the financial crisis, but this is hardly fair. Almost nobody saw it coming and opposition politicians at the time were not making any according demands. The Labour government made a relatively good start at pulling us out of the recession. It was coalition austerity that pulled us back under – until the bubbles almost stopped. We failed to communicate this message.

There is no doubt that the Tories and the press succeeded in making this lie become common knowledge. Certainly, it was mediamacro wot won it. We could be paying the price for the next five years.

So why the optimism?

There were three possible outcomes for this election: a Labour majority, a Tory majority or a progressive coalition of left-leaning parties.

If we had gotten a Labour majority it would be business as usual, politically speaking. It’s what we’ve come to expect – periodic switches between Labour and Tory. There would likely be no reform to our electoral system, which is so badly in need of overhaul.

Had a coalition or otherwise pluralistic government been established, our faulty system would have to some extent seemed justified. After all, the majority would be represented. But this would be a fortunate quirk.

Only a Tory majority, in a country where the majority of voters are probably left-leaning, highlights the ridiculousness of it all. This election has been a shambles, and it will – I am certain – lead to electoral reform. People are angry, and because many of these people support UKIP the media will pay attention. Hateful though the party is, I will happily stand side by side with the ‘kippers to demand a more representative voting system.

What now?

Well, I don’t much care for party politics. I would not lose any sleep over the Labour Party taking a shift to the centre – as they probably will – in trying to be all things to all people. They are fast becoming a lost cause. What we need to do is mobilise on the issues that we care about. We need to communicate effectively why certain changes need to be made. You need to decide what they will be for you. Personally I will be focusing on the following:

  • the need for electoral reform
  • the need for increased public investment
  • the value of immigration

I will not be doing this by trying to convince political parties (except for communication with my own MP), but by trying to steer public opinion. It won’t be easy – unless people switch off their TVs and put down their newspapers – because there is a powerhouse of vested interest pushing in the opposite direction and stoking the politics of fear.

This may reflect my own echo chamber, but I thought the run up to the election saw far more fact checking of politicians’ claims and better communication of evidence from the likes of Full Fact, The Conversation and More Or Less. These efforts are important, but it seems to have made little difference. People don’t vote based on evidence, or even on what is true. Feelings dominate, and the dominant feeling has been fear; of immigrants, of people on benefits, of Labour, of the SNP, of change.

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life. It told the story of success enjoyed by a group of campaigners in California trying to convince people to support gay marriage. Essentially, campaigners visited people who opposed gay marriage and had a conversation in which the opponent would gradually convince themselves that equal marriage is right. A key finding was that the most successful campaigners – by some margin – were those who themselves were gay.

Ukippers! You are best placed to campaign for electoral reform as your votes are the least represented in parliament. There are various ways we can all contribute, starting by signing a petition.

Public sector workers! You are best placed to explain the value that your labour brings to society.

Immigrants! You are best placed to highlight the benefits of free movement of people in Europe and beyond.

The rest of us can call in to question that which is untrue or unworthy, and elevate that which is factual and laudable.

There are of course other issues. On the question of Scottish independence I am nihilistic; the people of Scotland should be able to do whatever they want. Though I expect the Scots will be placated with devo-max. Another issue is the ‘renegotiation’ of our EU membership. Leaving the EU would be foolish. Thankfully most people would probably support EU membership right now.

If anything is able to defeat a politics of fear it is a politics of anger. Our challenge is to steer people’s anger in a pro-social direction; towards the members and mechanisms of government and away from society’s usual scapegoats.

I leave you with this:

On migrants dying in the Med

I recently listened to an episode of The Inquiry concerning the recent reports of migrants dying in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean. More than 3000 people are estimated to have died last year. The show asks the question of whether Europe could stop this happening – the answer, essentially, being ‘yes’.

The experts present an interesting array of conflicting views on the crisis. Naturally, I see the problem from an economist’s perspective: a problem of choices and incentives.

There are two possible changes to the status quo that would solve the crisis: either A) prospective migrants cease trying to make the journey, or B) European countries ensure the safety of those who do. The two are not mutually exclusive, yet this seems to be how the problem is currently perceived. That’s understandable. If migrants stop making the journey there’s no need to ensure their safety. But if we do ensure their safety, more will attempt the journey. Still, I think this perception needs reviewing.

So how could we achieve option A? Well, we’d either need to increase the expected cost of the journey for migrants or decrease the expected benefit. Ensuring safety decreases the expected cost (i.e. reduces the probability of death), so can be expected to increase attempts. The only humanitarian way of increasing the opportunity cost of the journey would be to improve the standard of living for potential migrants in their home countries. This could provide a selfish justification for prioritising aid for these regions, that I wouldn’t necessarily oppose. But while this could be a long-term solution, there is little prospect of it making any difference in the short-term. The other side of the coin – decreasing the expected benefits – is a non-starter. Given that the migrants’ lives are sufficiently bad for them to risk death, we would have to ensure that their lives were almost as unbearable once they arrived in Europe.

The only short- to medium-term solution, therefore, is option B. European countries must ensure the safety of the migrants. I think it is our humanitarian responsibility to do so, and for me the argument becomes one of having to justify not doing this. But I know many would disagree, because there is also a cost-benefit calculation on the side of receiving countries. We don’t have all that much control over the benefit that migrants have to receiving countries, but we can certainly adjust the costs. Happily, the EU offers the ideal opportunity for collective responsibility. Currently, receiving countries are responsible for migrants to the EU. If a migrant lands in Italy, the Italians have to deal with them. If they are first picked-up in the UK, the UK has to deal with them. The solution seems clear to me – this responsibility should shift to the EU. The EU should be responsible for each migrant that lands anywhere in the EU. Any direct costs should be shouldered centrally by the EU. If a migrant claims asylum, the claim should be to the EU, and the EU should have the power to grant asylum to which ever country it deems fit (based on a fair distribution across countries). Through this mechanism the (perceived) burden would be redistributed from countries like Italy, France, Germany and the UK to other EU member states.

Personally, I support the moral case for open borders. But that’s not going to happen any time soon, so we need politically practical solutions. It seems to me that in this case there is one available.

Fear of offending has not trumped freedom of speech among today’s young people

A recent article on The Conversation UK got me a bit riled. Here’s the opening gambit:

One of the many debates generated by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris has been centred on the different ways that older and younger generations understand and support the concept of free speech.

In a recent article headlined: “We may be Charlie but our children are not”, Times journalist Alice Thomson observed that the young generation are: “far more racially and culturally sensitive than mine ever was” and while they may “wear the T-shirt in solidarity with the victims”, they recoil from imagery that they instinctively perceive as offensive.

This is particularly the case at universities, where all manner of speech and imagery finds itself banned – sometimes amid a huff of offended protest. This has become more routine now, because causing offence is deemed to be “unsafe”.

And here is my follow-up comment:

This is hogwash.

You make no distinction based on who it is that is being offended. Let’s consider the ’77 punk movement. They were offensive and exercised their right to free speech. But who were they offending? The powerful. The system. The elite. The man. Intolerance itself. White riot indeed!

Now let’s consider the prevailing movements that dominate media headlines in this country nowadays. UKIP. They exercise their right to free speech alright. And they’re offensive. But who is it that they are offending? The powerless. Marginalised and minority groups. Is their right to free speech suppressed? No. The opposite. Their offensive and intolerant ideas reverberate around the media.

This distinction is vital, and anybody who does not recognise it will conclude that political correctness and free speech are incompatible. Such a person would be a fool.

“If you want a tolerant society, went the argument, you have to suppress intolerant ideas”. You state this as if it is self-evidently untrue, but why is it? We *should* be suppressing intolerant ideas for the very fact that they are intolerant and do not contribute to the development of a fair society. We should suppress them by using tolerant ideas and exposing them as foolish. But this can only be achieved if tolerant retaliations are given a large enough audience. If outlets for tolerant ideas are few, then restricting the number of outlets for intolerant ideas seems perfectly reasonable.

The young may be afraid of offending marginalised groups; this is a triumph for the progress of good ideas and should be celebrated. But the young are not afraid to exercise their freedom of speech. It’s just that when they do speak, nobody listens.