Freedom to live, not freedom to exist, work and then die
In a bizarre twist of fate, Jeremy Corbyn was the only candidate during the 2015 leadership election to defend the Blair government’s spending record. This is demonstrative of how, regardless of faction, no Labour Party figure is showing a full appreciation of the lessons of the past. This has been true for a while of the “moderate” wing of the party: as explored in Christopher Olewicz’s article for The Social Review, the moderates have struggled to effectively articulate their opposition to Corbyn. Yet, as we have seen in the two years that have followed, the left additionally has failed to fully take advantage of the moment.
Despite everything encouraging contained within the 2017 manifesto, it was also clearly a missed opportunity. Even many ideas from Corbyn’s own leadership campaign failed to make the cut. For example, Corbyn’s policy on extending right to buy to private renters was not part of the 2017 programme despite the same policy being included in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto. The manifesto, despite its relative radicalism, still essentially played it safe. In a society where automation threatens and promises to usher in a new industrial revolution, we should welcome a new form of social security based on a Universal Basic Income. Where Labour has been ‘patchy and inconsistent’ on social security in the past, Labour now can revolutionise its stance. It can do this in various ways with UBI, but I would propose the following. An unconditional payment of money that is enough to live on, delivered monthly, with the option to have some automatically invested in a nationalised investment bank and free access to accounting classes if desired. By offering classes as a choice rather than an obligation, these services will be better targeted. As well as this, through automatic investment, people will directly be involved in growing the economy, and seeing where their invested money goes in their local communities. This could easily be tied into co-operative banking practices, giving these people a say in how these investments are distributed. This is the basis of a new deal between the state and the individual , ensuring every individual would have security over their lifetime and would have more ownership over the economy. This principle of long-term security should underline any future addition to the welfare state.
Secondly, the vision needs to go further to ensure that people are ‘safe for life’. This can be assured through a ‘Housing First’ policy. This policy, put into practice in Finland, has achieved its proposed goal of ending homelessness with relative ease. It has already been trialled in the UK before, and has a proven track record, so why not push it further? We can ensure that surplus housing falls into the hands of their communities. When homes are sold, give the relevant co-operative housing associations the first right to buy. By bringing the management of housing directly into the hands of those who use it, you involve the community in a way that is actually meaningful to them. In areas where there are not co-operative housing associations, legislate for their formation and employ co-operative management systems for council housing, bringing communities together. By ensuring that people are always entitled to a home, and that there will always be active communities to welcome them, we ensure that people not only have a place to inhabit, but a place to live.
Finally, we should look to end the scourge of mass private land ownership in Britain. As The Guardian reported, about 25,000 individuals own roughly half of the country’s land. Clearly, that is an unsustainable trend. With 30% of land still owned by the aristocracy, we have not challenged some of the fundamental roots of wealth inequality. We should tackle this head on, with an Unused-Land Value Tax as a replacement or add-on to council tax to ensure that unused land falls into the hands of the community via local government.
So where do these three policies lead?
It should link to changing the way we rank countries internationally, moving away from the use of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and using an Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI). GDP fundamentally is an inappropriate measure of the general well-being of a society and is, in general, a metric packed with numerous flaws. While it is unclear whether one would lead into the other or vice versa, what is clear is that both are necessary for a new left vision.
It should lead to a society with less of an emphasis on work. A society where being on social security is not seen as a reason for judgement, but seen as a basic right. In such a society, a ‘safe for life’ UBI, a ‘Housing First’ policy and greater public land ownership ensure that everyone has an income, a home and access to land regardless of their background. People would be allowed to pursue their own decisions without the constraint of a lack of capital weighing them down.This utopian ideal could succeed in fostering a culture that places a greater value in the arts, sciences and general work-life balance.
A positive, vision for real change is out there. Idealism shouldn’t be a dirty word – we should dare to think bigger.