When someone on the left appears in the media, there is a tendency for no-content progressivism to fill the space where genuinely alternative proposals might be put forward. The left is on the defensive, but to put a convincing case we need to talk about more than what we are against.
While this is not a novel proposal, and there’s no shortage of alternative economic plans, but what we need is not so much a policy outline addressed to the political class, but a set of demands which both resonate widely and suggest a radically different way of doing things from the near consensus of mainstream politics.
If I had to choose five demands that would work right now, here’s what I would go for:
1. Higher taxes for the rich
While combating tax evasion and introducing ‘Robin Hood’ taxes are things we should welcome, what about the white elephant in the room: making the rich pay more tax? We should undoubtedly support attempts to make the rich pay what they already owe; but I want to close the gap between the rich and poor, not least because gross inequality leads to a dysfunctional society.
2. The public release of official records showing the annual income of every British taxpayer who earns over £100,000 a year
As well as safeguarding transparency, this would force employers to justify their exorbitant wage packets to their employees. The Chief Executive of Tesco was paid £5 million in 2005. In the same year the average Tesco employee was paid £12,713. Is it credible to assert that the Chief Executive was 430 times more industrious and productive than the average Tesco employee? No, it isn’t.
3. The right to recall MPs who break their manifesto pledges
Capitalist democracy is limited enough as it is. While it might be reasonable to grant politicians a degree of leeway based on the practicalities of government, it should be possible to recall any MP elected on a platform which they subsequently dump once in government. The prospect of a ministerial car and a pat on the back from a Lord should no longer be allowed to turn our politicians into pledge-breakers.
4. The return of the utilities to public ownership
The market engenders freedom, so it is said, and nowhere is this more apparent than the utilities, where consumers are ‘free’ to pay as much as companies require them to for services they cannot do without. The alternative (there is always an alternative, because champions of the market despise coercion) is the freedom to go and live in a cardboard box in the woods.
People are angry about the price of electricity, gas and train fares, but the left does not at present make the connection in the public mind between huge price rises and the collections of sports cars the bosses of the utilities have in their driveways. Let’s start to change that.
5. Tackle the exploitative buy-to-let housing market
Again this relates to a modern distortion of the notion of freedom. We all need somewhere to live, but today the freedom to make a large wad of cash out of this need trumps the need itself. As a first step, adequate social housing should be demanded with controlled and sensible rents that undercut the private sector. This in itself would bring down the average cost of rent substantially.
Most people below the age of about 30 will never own property, let alone a ‘portfolio’ to exploit. It’s about time we put these people first, rather than a collection of parasitic accumulators masquerading as respectable businesspeople.
What do you think? Is this the right five demands to focus on? If not, what would you prioritise? Let me know in the comments below.