EU referendum: Beyond liberal economics

The official campaigns from both sides of the EU referendum debate are both so exasperating I frequently find myself wishing I could vote against both of them.

Neither campaign deserves my vote, and yet, it is an historic question, which is bigger than both official campaigns. It is bigger than David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn; certainly bigger than Nigel Farage or George Galloway.

While the official campaign representatives haggle over how best to reduce immigration and cut benefits, the rest of the serious, complex issues that are affected by EU membership never seem to get a look in. It isn’t surprising; this EU referendum debate, and the reason we are having it in the first place, is all down to the fight in the UK between different types of conservative; between economic liberals and social conservatives. No wonder the spectrum of debate is narrow. 

Take Lord Stuart Rose’s comments to the parliamentary select committee last week. Lord Rose asserted that Brexit (specifically, an end to the ‘free movement of people’ between EU member states) would lead to fewer people on the Labour market, and, consequentially, higher wages. Will Straw, the Labour Executive Director of Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, was asked about this on the Daily Politics and replied that the evidence shows free movement of people is ‘good for the economy overall,’ while Conservative Danny Finkelstein said that higher wages aren’t always a good thing as they could increase unemployment. It’s not just the In campaign. Look at the way Boris Johnson, on the Andrew Marr Show, dismissed concerns about job losses as a result of Brexit, by saying that leaving will be good for the economy overall.

What if you simply want to know more about the impact of staying or leaving on your wages or on your job? You’d be forgiven for getting the distinct impression that this debate isn’t about you; that both sides consider you to be at best an annoying irrelevance.

These things are gold dust for the likes of Ukip, a party which loves to play the ‘anti-establishment’ card whenever it can. Without so much as having to lift a finger over workers rights or wages, Suzanne Evans, Louise Bours and Douglas Carswell get opportunity after opportunity to frame themselves as the only people in the room with any concern for low waged workers. (Or, I should say, for some low waged workers. They do not even pretend to care about all workers.)

With the arguments we keep hearing both for and against EU membership so rooted in classical liberal economics, it is unsurprising to see that Jeremy Corbyn flat out refuses to say he is “on the same side” of the debate as David Cameron. He is right, of course. He is on neither side in the fight between the two kinds of Tory. He is neither a classical liberal conservative nor a social conservative. His cautious, carefully-weighed answer to the question of which ‘side he is on’ may be intellectually honest, and to many it will be admirable, but unfortunately it leaves a gaping hole in the referendum debate which Alan Johnson cannot fill by himself. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party needs to be asking – and, ideally, answering – the question: what are the modern left-wing arguments for and against the EU project, and how do we weigh them up? 

The Labour party should not be scared of debating this openly. No-one can accuse them of ‘splits’ or ‘division’ when the Tories are practically plotting a leadership coup over the issue. And it’s not like the Labour party is taking the opportunity to criticise the Tories for being divided on Europe – they’ve had a bat and ball handed to them and they’re choosing not to even attempt to swing a hit; the least they could do is take the opportunity to work up a modern, social democratic vision of the EU while the government is busy fighting among themselves.

Besides, for all the critical talk of ‘splits’ in the Tory party over Europe, I find it rather refreshing to see politicians drop the ridiculous pretence for once that everyone in one party agrees on every single thing all the time; that they must all stick to the lines they are given, even if it doesn’t fly, even if it makes no earthly sense, even if everyone in the room knows full well that they do not believe it because they have said so in the past, on camera. 

And here lies one of the big risks for the In campaign: that the freedom to speak authentically puts the Brexit campaign at an advantage. Brexit is mostly made up of people who have spent years, decades, perhaps their whole political lives pondering the issue of the EU. While sometimes coming off as slightly weird and monomaniacal, it is evident from listening to these people that they care deeply about the subject, and know the arguments inside out. Michael Gove, Owen Patterson, Douglas Carswell, David Davis, John Redwood (although not, quite noticeably, Boris Johnson): these men give the distinct impression that there are very, very few questions about the EU that a journalist could throw at them which they haven’t spent hours considering for many hours over the course of their lives, while boiling an egg, waiting for petrol, sitting on the toilet, and basically any time their minds wander.

In contrast, many of those who are part of the In campaign are striving to stay on message, and repeat the approved lines. Many of them – not all, but many – appear as if they have not given the subject much profound or careful thought at all; in some cases because they never imagined Brexit to be on the cards in any serious way, and in some cases because they simply don’t see it as that important.

While sticking to a clear, agreed message might give the In campaign a more professional image, especially to the usual analysts, who tend to work in communications, media, or both, and therefore view everything through the lens of whether it looks like ‘good communications’ or not, we only have to look to the successes of people like Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump to see that this isn’t always a winning strategy these days. To many undecided voters, David Cameron and his colleagues risk sounding stilted, unenthused, arrogant, and – perhaps the biggest risk to the In campaign – elitist. The narrative that the ‘establishment’ wants us to stay in the EU and ‘the ordinary people’ want us to leave is helped further by stories about vital documents being withheld from pro-Brexit ministers or John Longworth being suspended from the British Chamber of Commerce over pro-Brexit comments. (Both these things may of course be entirely reasonable, but they feed into a perception about the fairness of the debate.)

And this is where Jeremy Corbyn’s voice is so sorely missed for many in the EU referendum debate – and where it is conspicuous by its absence. His ‘USP’ as we all know is his authenticity and his tendency to formulate policy positions on the basis of evidence, and by listening to the people affected, rather than choosing them as part of a communications strategy or ideological narrative. It is a strength, but it is also a great challenge to pursue intellectual honesty – and not just in politics. When you follow evidence and logic on complex issues you often end up with a conclusion that displeases those with much more power than yourself, or, a conclusion that does not fit under any labels, and it is therefore not saleable.

This is the problem with the EU debate. The right-wing case for the EU (that it facilitates globalisation in the modern world and is good for business in general) is saleable. The right-wing case against the EU (that it brings red tape and regulation, and allows too much immigration or the ‘wrong sort’ of immigration) is saleable. The left-wing case for leaving (that it is a “capitalist club,” which dilutes and overrides parliamentary sovereignty) is saleable. And yet, even though the EU is a social democratic project in so many ways – indeed, this is why so many right-wingers want out – it seems to be beyond the wit of the Labour party to articulate a saleable, authentic, progressive case for staying in the EU. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, with a large mandate, a philosophical thinker with an authentic voice who has credibility among left-wingers, seems the ideal person for the task. We may ask ourselves why he seems so cautious about stepping up to it? 


What happens to Labour if ex-Lib Dems vote Green?

The week that Ed Miliband made his speech about being less photogenic than David Cameron, the Green Party announced a new economic policy: a wealth tax, affecting around 300,000 people, of 1-2%. This tax would only fall upon people with over £3m, making it difficult for those who oppose it to obfuscate with philosophical questions about who we can legitimately consider rich and thin ends of wedges and where do we draw lines. There may be a debate to be had about all of that, but whether you define ‘rich’ in terms of capacity to buy things, comparative living standards, whether you measure it by median wealth or by mean, it’s really beyond argument that £3m places you firmly in the ‘rich’ box.

The objective of policies like this is often not so much a matter of putting them into practice (I doubt the Greens are expecting to win a full parliamentary majority any time soon) but to flush out your opponents and lead them into a trap.

I’ve written before about why I’m not convinced that the 50p rate of tax is much of a solution to inequality, but if it was intended as a political trap for the Tories, as I suspect (cynically perhaps) that it was, then it worked beautifully. As soon as Miliband declared he would bring it back, the likes of Philip Blond were denouncing it as an attack on “average” hard-working families. They were either trying to spin the policy’s impact in a dishonest way, or they actually think £150,000 a year is an “average” income.

Similarly, the Green Party’s wealth tax may not make a huge difference to inequality either way (the rate of tax people are supposed to be paying is somewhat irrelevant if they don’t pay it) but it flushes out the worst logic against progressive taxation, and highlights the ridiculous extent to which it can be taken. We hear arguments that a wealth tax will disincentivise hard work. Because having £3m minus 1% is just peanuts, a totally demotivating low wage. Who would ever work for that, right? Never mind the fact that the second part of this argument is usually that these people have such high earnings in the first place because they have such a strong work ethic.

Around the time the Green Party was publishing its wealth tax proposal, former Labour leader Tony Blair was making jokes to the think tank Progress about the exact number of millions he is worth. That he believes the difference between £100m and £20m is significant enough to be worth correcting, that he thinks it’s funny to laugh, self-deprecatingly, at only having £20m, tells us a lot about the former Labour prime minister and the circles he moves in. Perhaps it also tells us something about the Labour Party; or rather, it reminds us of something about them. It reminds us of one reason why the British public grew slowly more and more sickened by the hypocritical smell of money sloshing around the same people who lectured us about morals and values and British citizenship every day of the week.

Labour has been rightly nervous about losing some of their more traditional Labour voters to Ukip, but they must not forget that the core of their strategy has been based on the presumption that the bulk of the disgruntled Lib Dems who turned to them in 2010 will stick with Labour into 2015. To get the majority they need, they are dependent on winning enough votes from those disgruntled Lib Dems to push them over the mark. That is a group of voters often mocked but not to be taken for granted, electorally speaking. These are people with strong values, who would often much rather vote for a small party that reflects those values, than vote tactically for the biggest party able to ‘keep the Tories out’. In other words, these are people who would very seriously consider voting Green in a general election.

The Labour Party needs to do more than just not be the Tories or the Lib Dems to secure those voters. Firstly, it needs to show it takes seriously human rights and civil liberties. These aren’t abstract philosophical concepts to be discussed over brandy on a rainy day to Lib Dems; they are central grounding principles which underpin everything else, from foreign affairs to welfare reforms, from policing to economics. Making Sadiq Khan shadow justice secretary is a good move but it may not be enough to win the trust of yellow voters, particularly given Labour’s pretty sour record on civil liberties.

Secondly, Lib-Dems-in-refuge and other potential Green voters will be looking for meaningful commitments on electoral and constitutional reform. Modernising the House of Lords is a policy area which sounds abstract and irrelevant to many, but is in fact essential to making any sort of real progress in all kinds of areas: education reform, welfare spending, and the right to die are all heavily influenced by the makeup of the upper house.

And thirdly – which is where the Green Party’s wealth tax comes in – former Lib Dem voters want to see fairer taxes, although not necessarily higher taxes. That’s something Nick Clegg likes saying because it sounds universally lovely yet it’s vague enough to mean more or less anything you want it to. But the sentiment underneath is actually an important point of principle for many Lib Dem voters. Many people don’t want taxes put up for the sake of it, but do want a modern tax system that reflects the disparity of wealth in the country, reflects wealth rather than income, and applies the same rationale for taxation to everyone.

Our tax system feels extremely outdated, with an entire scale of different bands up until £150,000 a year, and then from that point on, a flat rate of tax whether you earn £200,000, £1m or £50m. And that’s even if you ‘earn’ it in the way that Tony Blair is ‘worth’ £20m.

Just as the Tories managed to successfully tap into the lack of sympathy among people struggling to pay for a bigger mortgage towards council tenants with allegedly ‘spare’ bedrooms, and just as they managed to tap into the lack of sympathy for striking public sector workers among private sector workers with no pensions, the same populist attitude exists towards many left-wing policies. Politicians may very likely find that the majority of the public – be they unemployed or minimum wage workers, families earning £55,000 between them, and even many of those with twice that – will struggle to muster an enormous amount of sympathy for people whose wealth reaches into multiples of millions claiming they’re no longer motivated to bother working their hardest because they’ve been asked to pay an additional 1% in tax.

The Green Party might not be a huge electoral force, and they might not be all over the news in the way Ukip has been, but they could still win over enough ex-Lib Dems and disillusioned Labour voters to keep Labour from nailing down that nervously held together majority that they so keenly need to get back into power. Ed Miliband should spend less time making speeches about how he’s so much above the trivialities of politics, and get on with behaving like he’s a future progressive Labour prime minister, with a competent grasp on the severities of it.

Why we need more feminist economists

 As long as women are economically invisible, we will continue to be politically invisible.

Economically inactive. Outside the labour market. Net recipients. Whatever the opposite of ‘hard-working taxpayers’ is. This the language applied to women all over the world who are, in reality, doing millions – sometimes billions – of pounds worth of unpaid work.

It’s true that low paid and unpaid labour by members of any gender is undervalued in most economic models, but if you’re in the 84.6% of UK women who cook and clean every day, for free, if you’re one of the women working 30 hours a week in unpaid childcare, if you’re one of the women who spends 14 hours a week caring for someone elderly, then, like much of the unpaid labour carried out by women around the world, the useful, constructive, vital work you do is often not even recognised as ‘labour’ in the first place. And when so much of our politics comes back to economics, as long as women are economically invisible, we will continue to be politically invisible.

Even prominent voices on the left keep taking women’s unpaid labour for granted. It’s taken for granted because we’re taught that it’s simultaneously a lifestyle choice and an inevitable part of our biology. Unpaid work is part of the gender role society nudges us into us from childhood – a role which coincidentally just so happens to include the quiet, patient provision of unpaid labour that economic structures depend upon.

The question is not, as it is often put, how to get more women interested in economics. Lack of feminist economist thought itself isn’t the problem. Lots of feminist economists are out there, being exciting and original and intelligent all over the place. Their work just keeps getting ignored. Well, until now. Because it’s possible, just possible, that we are reaching a tipping point in modern economics. The economic crisis, which just happens to be occurring alongside an upsurge in feminist thinking and direct action, could be a crisis that goes beyond the stale and sour pendulum swing from Smith to Keynes to Friedman to Keynes and back again.

So, where to start? Organisations like the Fawcett Society have been doing great work in looking at austerity and how it hurts women. But that’s still largely working within existing economic frameworks. We need something more radical than an argument about cuts versus spending. The coalition reforms to tax and welfare, for instance, are not bad for women simply because they do or don’t amount to an overall cut or an overall increase in public spending. Women should not need to be dependent on the goodwill of the paternalistic state for our liberty or rights. The reforms to welfare and tax are bad for women because so much of the specific policy detail actively promotes a regressive push-pull effect on women which nudge, nudge, nudges us back into what are affectionately (some would say, inaccurately) known as ‘traditional’ gender roles. The government insists this is not what they’re doing. But whether by agenda or accident, the impact for women is the same.

Too often, we look at women’s sexual liberation predominantly as a social issue, not an economic one. We look at how it upsets our choices, how it stops us enjoying sex or food or driving or buying things, how it makes us unhappy in our appearance, how it makes us feel. But the worst thing about social disempowerment is that it facilitates economic disempowerment – and economic disempowerment facilitates structural oppression. It is structural oppression.

Take women’s rights as workers. A new study (as if we needed another one) found that 60% of women have experienced harassment in the workplace. And that’s without a breakdown by wage or profession. In some professions it is almost certainly higher than 60%. We must ask if harassment is worse in bars, catering, and cleaning jobs than in office work, for instance? Are receptionists and PAs subject to more or less sexism than managers and directors? Is it worse in professions where male employees or customers feel the most threatened, the most economically disempowered themselves? Is sexism in the workplace symptomatic of a lingering discomfort about our right to be here at all? After all, whatever the intention, it reminds women that yes, we are allowed into the club but we must play by their rules. We must take the banter, we must dress appropriately, whatever they decide that means, we must shave our armpits. We acknowledge, in how we navigate the myriad of microaggressions, that we are, after all, in a male space. We are still guests in the workplace and we are still guests in the economy. That is why David Willetts – famously known as “two brains” and praised for his adherence to rational, evidence-based policy making – was able to blame the rise of women in work for the rise in male unemployment. Women, like immigrants, don’t just do jobs. We take jobs.

The full economic empowerment of women is nearly impossible because the disempowerment of women is actually the bedrock of the world economy. According to United Nations figures, for example, in Asia, over 60% of all food grown is grown by women. In Africa, that rises to 80%. Yet the vast majority of these women are officially labelled by economists and academics as “economically inactive.” (If growing food is not a valuable part of the economy you have to ask what the point of the economy is, and who the economy is for?)

Economic disempowerment is useful to those who would wish us under control; it makes us dependent on the benevolence of the powerful. That often manifests itself as benevolent sexism. We become reluctantly grateful for the generosity of, for example, the government. Needless to say, it’s not a generosity that can be relied upon. Like all benevolent sexists, politicians take praise for what they ‘give’ and deny responsibility for everything they ‘take away’.  And this is not abstract theory. The economic disempowerment of women has fatal consequences.    

In a report today, the Chartered Institute of Housing confirmed what organisations like Women’s Aid and End Violence Against Women Coalition have long known – that cuts to benefits, in this case, the benefit cap for instance, is actively keeping women trapped in abusive relationships.

It isn’t hard to see how a benefits system built to ‘incentivise’ partnerships and ‘disincentivise’ being a single parent (9 out of 10 of the latter being – yes, you guessed it – women) is inherently patriarchal. A whole spider of coalition policies do just that. Some ministers even state it as an explicit intention, such as with the marriage tax credits. The list is long. Universal credit for couples to all be paid in a lump sum to just one partner. Tax cuts for married couples. The marriage incentive buried in the child benefit changes. Through all these policies, women – specifically, women without much money, who don’t fit the approved, gendered economic role laid out for them – are being positioned as recipients, not agents, of the economy. We talk so much about the sexual objectification of women. Where is the anger about the removal of our economic agency? Where is the anger about economic entitlement towards our bodies, our energy, our time, our labour?

Sure Start centres, childcare tax credits, child benefit, housing benefit for single parents, working tax credits for anyone on a low income and/or part time, insecure, inflexible work – all these things are seen as net outgoings, economic expenditure, all of them ripe for cuts. All of them are painted as ‘women’s issues,’ batted around in a scrabble for the ‘women’s vote’ – the implication being both that women are ‘other’ and that these resources aren’t beneficial to the broader economy, only to women, who don’t count as part of the economy anyway.

It’s not just numbers on a spreadsheet, in some office. Women are being beaten. Women are being killed. Women’s Aid says refuges are turning away thousands of women a year because of under-resourcing, as a direct result of cuts. Two women a week are now killed by a partner in the UK. Two a week.

We must also remember that this is all happening alongside a growing narrative that, with alarming patience, quietly, slowly, determinedly undermines women’s right to reproductive choice. Sex education is under threat, especially with the rise of free schools, a quarter of them religious. Claire Perry MP said at the Tory party conference this year that she expects the abortion time limit to be revisited in the next parliament, because of ‘new evidence’. And a parliamentary debate recently heard ‘evidence’ relating to sex selective abortions, with furious demands for restrictions on choice and inflammatory, inaccurate claims being thrown about with very little challenge at all. We must remember that many of the smart, ambitious rising stars of Tory feminism hold pro-life convictions, and may be able to salami-slice policy on abortion backwards in a way that Tory men are sometimes less able to get away with.

(To avoid the inevitable derailing of the salient point here, yes, I do believe you can be a pro-life feminist, but the truth is, I don’t much care about whether policymakers are pro-life. What I care about is whether they are anti-choice or not. Let’s leave the messy ethics of abortion, life, and faith for another day: this blog post is about economics, and the fact is, we cannot have a sensible discussion about child benefit, housing benefit, school meals, tax credits, social work or flexible working without unequivocally defending women’s right to control our own reproduction as a starting point.)

Just as welfare and unemployment is all too often approached as if it exists outside the economic model we’ve chosen, rather than as a symptom of it, so the ‘lifestyle choices’ that women make are also constantly removed from the economic context and realities in which they exist. Women do not, in any meaningful sense, choose to be paid less because we want to be mothers. Gender roles dictate which work is to be done by which gender, and then we assign it economic value accordingly.

The intergenerational poverty, unemployment, and educational disenfranchisement at the root of social inequality intersects with women’s rights and choices too tightly to be left unpicked or ignored. We cannot expect to develop any meaningful progress in either economics or feminism without treating them as two sides to the same coin – and without being afraid to profoundly, radically, and unapologetically rethink the painful intersect between the two.

Dear Labour party

Ed Miliband has had his clause IV moment. Apparently. He’s standing up to the GMB Union (well, kind of) in their recent motion to ban (sort of) the Blairite organisatiion Progress, from the Labour party. Or something.

It’s very important to the Labour party. They’ve all been bickering about it on twitter for days. Well, that, and the call Brown did or didn’t have with Murdoch where he threatened ‘war.’ Guido Fawkes has reported that Peter Mandelson told him the call did happen. (You can see why, after months of telling people how pointless and irrelevant Leveson was, a whole pile of Guido Fawkes types have suddenly decided it’s interesting after all, can’t you?) The Cabinet Office seemed to confirm Brown’s story that it didn’t. And now, Alistair Campbell’s diaries are explaining the details of the ego sandpit-slaps between Blair, Brown and Balls. Stop the presses! Apparently Blair said Brown was “brilliant, ambitious, and bonkers!” Well done you, Labour. You’ve really got your PR pants on straight, haven’t you? I mean, if the personal fighting of Mandelson, Brown, the GMB Union and Progress doesn’t get you rocking in excitement then what will.

Presumably every time Labour activists are on the doorstep voters say: “well, I do hope you’ve decided what your position is on Purple Book?” Or, “Personally, I find that ‘In The Black Labour’ is much more convincing than Blue Labour. Apparently there’s something called Orange Labour but I’ve never liked the colour Orange. I hope your next manifesto comes out with a striped cover. That would make me vote for you. This is all very important to me. And please make sure you denounce that think tank Progress. They are funded by pharmaceutical companies and they are similar to that group Militant from way back when. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Watching the Labour party at the moment is like watching a drunken fish trying to climb a tree. I say this with all the greatest of respect: what the bloody hell is the party doing? I mean, on the day Stephen Hester got his unpopular, controversial bonus, Ed Miliband made a speech about chocolate oranges, thus reminding everybody of why they actually all bloody well love capitalism; instant access to cheap tasty chocolate being a key plus. When the budget proved a (rather foreseeable) public relations disaster for George Osborne, the Labour party managed to make themselves almost sound even worse than the government as they struggled to articulate what they would actually do instead, repeating the line about the 50p rate of tax cut being a tax cut for millionaires (even though the top rate starts at £150,000) and then refusing to commit to reinstating it anyway. When it emerged that unpaid Jubilee stewards were left to pitch tents under a bridge at 3am, John Prescott and Tom Watson spoke up about it, but the Labour leader? Did he denounce it as an example of this ‘irresponsible capitalism’ he made a speech about? Because taxpayers’ money subsiding free workers in terrible conditions is a somewhat better example of irresponsible capitalism than selling a cheap chocolate orange, surely? Did he stand up for those unpaid workers? No. He made a speech about the importance of being English.

Not that his Englishness speech bored everyone. It prompted a lovely squabbling match amongst Labour activists about whether the left should talk about nationalism more. It’s true that the Labour party have lost a lot of voters to the BNP because of their immigration policies which were seen as too lax, and whether that’s fair or not, they were certainly chaotic and poorly defined. But they also lost a lot to the Liberal Democrats over Iraq and civil liberties, something they would, in spite of the Liberal Democrats’ single digit polling, do well to keep in mind.

The Labour party’s problem isn’t that they’re not talking about Englishness enough, any more than their problem is that they aren’t saying enough to denounce unions like GMB, or that voters are associating them with Progress. It’s funny that the same voices aching over whether investigations into possible corruption like Leveson and even issues like equal marriage are relevant to what they patronisingly call ‘ordinary people’ outside the ‘Westminster village’ or the ‘metropolitan elites’ (a painfully self-regarding argument that can go and piss on itself, frankly) are pulling their pants down and getting comfy on the sofa over arguments about a possible ban which won’t happen anyway on a group most people have actually never heard of within Labour.

It’s not that the party doesn’t need to resolve the Tony Blair problem – or, more specifically, the Iraq problem. As long as that war is bloodying the map and gobbling up human lives, they will have to beg hard for forgiveness. They may never get it. There are people who can’t forgive Thatcher for her divisive policies. I don’t think I can really forgive the Tories who voted through Section 28. And it strikes me that although some of those Labour politicians who voted for the war like Andy Burnham, or those like Ed Balls who say they supported it at the time but “would be against it if they knew then what they know now” voted ‘very strongly’ against any kind of an inquiry into it, and ultimately, accepted Tony Blair as leader because, like it or not, they were elected on his coattails. They aren’t going to win back many of those votes by flicking peas at each other over the dinner table. They’ll get back our votes by acting as if they know how to run the country.

A sensible, alternative economic policy would be a good start. Labour have said they can’t promise to reverse Tory cuts, won’t reinstate the 50p tax rate, and  aren’t going to protect public sector pay. They won’t stand up for strikers or make any constructive criticisms about the Welfare Reform Bill. They won’t explain properly whether they actually support the Lib Dem policy initiative of raising the personal tax threshold. Would they put these taxes back up against for the poorest if elected? After all, this is the party that scrapped the 10p tax rate. It’s too much to expect a fully calculated budget years before a general election but it’s not too much to expect them to actually criticise the coalition budget in a coherent, consistent way, especially when it presented such a gaping own goal for them.

People like leaders who have confidence. Most people don’t know how the economy can be fixed. Even experts don’t agree. Most people like to think the treasury is run by someone who knows, vaguely, what they’re doing. George Osborne isn’t getting results, but his dogmatic confidence is overwhelming. When it comes down to it, an awful lot of people will instinctively feel safer with someone who has an arrogant swagger than someone who can’t make up their own mind about what they think.

Sometimes the Labour party give the impression that the fun and games of politics is of more interest than running the country. That’s all well and good for a while but the country actually deserves a decent Labour party with workable economic policies and a strong, credible voice against stark-staring injustices like workfare. With affection in my voice I say to the Labour party that they all need to be hit with a stick and kicked up the backside. Come on. Don’t make me vote Liberal Democrat again.

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