openDemocracyUK

If Labour wins power... what would you suggest?

Just suppose...

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
7 May 2015

If the final YouGov poll is accurate (and Shaun Lawson's eloquent analysis of a large Tory lead over Labour wrong) then it seems Labour will get a few more seats than the Conservatives and Ed Miliband will shortly be in 10 Downing Street, at the head of a minority government with the media aghast and the Tories going into meltdown. The first few days could be decisive for Labour's future. It will need to establish a sense of freshness and legitimacy. Obviously it will announce the abolition of the bedroom tax and Tory NHS legislation, but these are merely restorative. Then there are big, determining policy issues to be delivered: what kind of constitutional convention and welfare reform, for example. But what Ed Miliband's government needs to do straightaway is create a novel direction and momentum, so that does not look like a return to the past. The key to this is releasing energy in others and bringing new forces into play. So here is a question, what would you do in this apparently very unlikely event, that is not necessarily in the manifesto, can be announced quickly and clearly points the country in the direction of renewal and democracy?

Here are four suggestions!

1. Announce a referendum on membership of the EU in September. Miliband said he didn't think EU membership was an immediate priority and opposed two years on uncertainty and renegotiation that Cameron pledged. But nearly half the electorate will have voted for parties that called for a referendum, hundreds of thousands of them Ukip supporters willing to sacrifice their vote to register their belief. Miliband should say he humbly recognises this as well as predictions that the issue will continue to blight the UK for ten years unless it is resolved. Therefore he wants it done swiftly and in a principled manner. Anti-EU sentiment declined during the election as people saw what Farage really stands for. I have no doubt that it would be won. And calling a referendum will split the Tories, gather the Lib Dems and the SNP behind Labour and resolve the issue of legitimacy, while taking the media and the right by surprise. Also, it will be good for democracy.

2. Announce that the pound is over-valued by 30 per cent, saying Labour wants sterling to represent the interests of manufacturing not finance. The markets will hear this. With inflation low it is an ideal time.

3. Announce that local governments will be permitted to raise bonds to build housing especially on their own development land. Housing came through as a key issue and whatever policies might be carried out in terms of rent control more homes must be built. Blair promised this, Brown promised this, so did Cameron. Exhortation is not effective and the central government does not build homes. With developers seeking 20 to 30 per cent return, they are sitting on land and gaining from any rise in prices. Local governments, able to borrow at historically low rates, can make a good return - dozens of capable new house builders will be enabled. It will take time, of course, but it will galvanise councils, including Tory ones, across the land.

4. Make David Owen Secretary of State for Defence, as he is the one politician able to propose much better ways of spending the military budget than replacing Trident while immune from charges of being 'weak' or 'inexperienced'.

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