By Ken Livingstone
The following article, setting out why Tory economic policy is failing and the Labour framework set out by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is necessary, was first published by the Morning Star.
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Jeremy Corbyn was right to say last week that the Budget the Chancellor delivered was “actually a culmination of six years of failure” and that “this is a recovery built on sand.”
Almost all the growth in our wealth in recent years has gone to the richest 1 per cent, while working-class and middle-class families have seen real incomes cut by 9 per cent since the banking crisis.
Yet in much of the media, we are still subjected to the big lie — repeated again by George Osborne this week — that we are in this mess because the last Labour government spent and borrowed too much.
The truth is that in the 36 years since Thatcher came to power there were only two years in which the Tories produced a balanced budget, and three years in which Labour did. All governments have borrowed to fund their revenue spending, but there has not been enough investment in infrastructure and rebalancing our economy.
The Tories constantly say Thatcher’s economic strategy “saved Britain” and claim that Osborne’s austerity is now building on this legacy. But when Thatcher died The Economist, which devoted six pages to her record, did not mention growth in the economy or investment.
We were told that breaking the power of the unions, cutting taxes for the wealthiest and big corporations and deregulating the banks would unleash a wave of investment and growth. But in the 30 years following Thatcher’s election the British economy only grew at two-thirds of the rate it did in the 30 years before Thatcher came to power.
And while the Tories say manufacturing was past its sell-by date and did nothing to invest in it, Germany did and one-fifth of its economy is still manufacturing, whereas ours is now less than 10 per cent. That matters because more than half of all our exports come from this sector, which is why we now have the biggest trade deficit in our history.
Now the ideologically driven austerity of Thatcher’s heirs, confirmed again in the Budget last week, threatens even our fragile economic recovery.
As John McDonnell put it, “productivity growth, the essential ingredient in delivering rising living standards, has stagnated,” while “the gap between the UK’s productivity and those of the Germany, the US and France is the widest it has been for a generation.”
The scale of these problems requires leadership from people who can think outside the box and present a clear, radical alterative. Jeremy, John and the talented team that has been put together have shown in their response to the Budget this week that they are up to this challenge, and have put the issue of investment in our economy centre stage.
What holds back Britain’s economy is a lack of investment, both public and private, which is now running at its lowest level since WWII.
Nearly all economists now agree that investment is not just the most important factor in economic growth, but outweighs all others put together. This is why, when Cameron and Osborne took power and slashed the last Labour government’s investment spending, it pushed our economy back into recession.
In contrast, Labour’s economic plan for a big expansion of investment in transport, housing and upgrading our broadband system is crucial in turning the British economy around.
Given the very low level of interest rates this is the best time to borrow in order to invest. When I persuaded the last Labour government to put £5 billion into building Crossrail, ministers knew that the growth generated by the project would give them between £10bn and £15bn more in tax.
Another big Tory lie repeated ad nauseum is that Labour will increase our taxes, but we don’t need to do that as long as everyone pays their fair share.
The scandal of Google, Starbucks and Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg. Tax avoidance and evasion, mainly by international corporations, could be the equivalent of a quarter of the government’s Budget. Experts believe that tax avoidance and evasion equals 10 per cent of our annual GDP, at least £120bn and perhaps as much as £150bn.
Jeremy has made it clear he will crack down on the tax dodgers, and that can help provide the money we need for the healthcare and education we all have the right to expect.
Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world and the idea that we can’t make the changes necessary to give all our people the chance to succeed is rubbish.
The Labour leadership’s clear position on the economy can win the 2020 general election for Labour. Jeremy and John’s ability to speak clearly and provide a real alternative to cuts and austerity is what’s needed now because they are offering hope for a better future to a generation that has had no hope. Let’s make it happen.
Ken Livingstone is re-running for the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee as part of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) ticket. Nominations are now open and each constituency party can nominate up to six candidates. You can follow his campaign at facebook.com/Ken4LabourNEC and @Ken4LabourNEC, and find out more information about the CLGA at grassrootslabour.net.
This article was first published by the Morning Star, where it can read here.