Labour must not legitimise austerity in the minds of the electorate – Jon Trickett MP


“Although it’s true that an incoming Labour Government will face some extremely difficult economic circumstances, it would be a huge mistake to echo the Tories’ narrative about austerity.”

By Jon Trickett MP

The near-collapse of the Conservative Government following the Mini-Budget has raised expectations that Labour will soon be returning to power.

In some polls, Labour has amassed a colossal 36-point lead over the Conservatives who appear to have lost the confidence of the British people. This feels like one of those moments in politics where there is a sea-change in public perceptions.

The Conservatives have been on a slippery slope for some time. They won the 2019 General Election on a pledge to ‘level up’ the ‘left behind’ areas of our country, but the policies never matched the rhetoric. This is because the vast majority of Conservative MPs and members have no interest in actually tackling inequality.

Then over the last twelve months, the trust between the Conservative Party and voters has been severely damaged by Boris Johnson’s scandal-ridden premiership and Liz Truss’ shambolic handling of the current economic crisis.

The new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, will have the almightiest task on his hands to save his party from electoral oblivion. What can Labour do now to make sure the Tories are not able to come back from their current position?

In The Times newspaper on Monday the former New Labour Ministers, Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett, have called on Labour to define its offer to voters and to be bold in its policies.

I certainly agree that now is not the time for timidity. Labour should be presenting a radical but credible programme to voters that demonstrates how we will make their lives better. It may be tempting to play it safe by offering very little and hoping that Labour falls into Government as a result of the Tory collapse. However, that path leads to voter apathy and will constrain a future Labour Government to maintaining the status quo.

Being bold must not mean ditching our principles and adopting the policies of our discredited political opponents. In truth, the easiest path for any Labour Government to take is to maintain the status quo. Instead, being bold must mean making the case for radical socio-economic reforms that are so-needed in our country after 12 years of Tory misrule.

Following the Mini-Budget fiasco and Kwasi Kwarteng’s replacement as Chancellor by Jeremy Hunt, the Conservatives are once again reverting to austerity policies in an attempt to reduce the UK’s budget deficit.

Although it’s true that an incoming Labour Government will face some extremely difficult economic circumstances, it would be a huge mistake to echo the Tories’ narrative about austerity. Between 2010 and 2015, Labour adopted a position in support of spending cuts – but attacked the Tories for going too hard and too fast. We all know how that worked out.

We must not legitimise austerity in the minds of the electorate. If the last 12 years have taught us anything it is surely that austerity simply doesn’t work. It destroys public services, damages productivity and weakens our entire economy.

Labour must be crystal clear that we will not support a fresh wave of cuts to public services and social security. There is a clear alternative to cuts: tax increases on the wealthiest in society. The bold move would be for Labour to support a wealth tax. This would mark a significant break from the discredited orthodoxy of trickle-down-economics that claims low-taxes are good for the economy at large. 

Last year the billionaires in our country increased their wealth by £55 billion. But at the same time millions of people across our country have been thrown into poverty because of rising inflation. Wealth doesn’t trickle down, it’s hoovered up. Asking those who are better off to contribute a small amount for the good of the nation should not be too much to ask.

Research by my office found a tax on those with individual wealth over £2 million could raise £304.1 billion over a five year period. Not only would a wealth tax ensure there is no return to austerity, but it would also ensure we can afford high quality public services and infrastructure into the future. 

The additional revenue that could be brought in from a wealth tax could be used to kick-start growth, overcome economic stagnation and transition to a decarbonised economy. These problems can only be solved by big, bold solutions. We urgently need investment on the scale of the post-war Marshall Aid to update outdated infrastructure and invest in renewable energy – especially in held back areas.

Crucially, this investment should be designed to create well-paid, unionised jobs. Labour must turn the tide on four decades of attacks on trade unions and workers’ rights that has caused wages to stagnate and made jobs insecure. Nothing would signal that Labour is on the side of working people more than a radical package of labour reforms within the first months of a Labour Government.

This should include a big offer on the minimum wage and public sector pay, scrapping zero hour contracts, giving all workers rights from day one in the job, scrapping all anti-trade union legislation passed by Thatcher and Cameron, and if Sunak presses ahead with plans for minimum service requirements in some industries then that legislation too.

The proposals I have just mentioned on tax, investment and workers rights are just three policy areas crying out for bold reforms. In the face of an economic crisis, voters know that only big solutions will be sufficient to solve Britain’s problems. We know from polling that these proposals have widespread public support. If Labour is brave enough to argue for them we will carry voters behind us and then transform our country when we enter Government.

Featured image credit: Jon Trickett MP

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