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Labour’s Alternative to Tory Austerity

24th October 2016

Labour’s Alternative to Tory Austerity

By Barbara Humphries

The Labour Assembly against Austerity was founded in 2013, as part of the People’s Assembly against Austerity. In spite of support from the major trades unions and the late Tony Benn, it only had the support of a limited number of Labour MPs at the time. These of course included Jeremy Corbyn.  Labour was not a committed anti-austerity party then – Ed Miliband was telling the Conservative-Liberal coalition only that they were ‘cutting too far and too fast’, a fairly timid opposition.

So much has changed in three years, with its third conference, which was held at the weekend, attended by 300 people. We were addressed this time by members of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Diane Abbott and Cat Smith. They both outlined the catastrophic fall in living standards, which has taken place as a result of austerity, possibly the largest ever experienced by working people in this country. Cat Smith said that many local authorities were facing bankruptcy due to government cuts, and were going to be unable to meet their statutory duties. Diane said that the Tories were trying to find scapegoats for their failures, such as refugees and migrants. Kelvin Hopkins MP put this into historical perspective, when he said that the strategy of neo-liberalism, which has dominated politics since the 1970s, is now being challenged.

The conference was divided into workshops, on Corbynomics, tackling the housing crisis, inequality in austerity Britain, scapegoating migrants, health and education, and women and austerity. It was only possible to attend three of these, unfortunately!

I attended the discussion on Corbynomics, which was led by economist Michael Burke and former Labour MP Chris Williamson. Michael Burke said that the British economy was twice the size of what it was in the 1970s, but people were worse off, working longer hours for lower real wages. It was necessary to invest to grow the economy, taking advantage of low interest rates. This would generate the wealth needed to protect our public services. The British economy had a productivity problem, with much lower rates than in Germany for instance. The government’s plans for Brexit had confirmed that ‘project fear’ had been right. If access to the single market was not maintained we could expect to see falling GDP rates over the next 15 years – in other words we could be 7% poorer.

Chris Williamson pointed out how austerity had failed in its own terms. The government was nowhere near being able to pay off the national debt in spite of years of cuts. It was borrowing more than in 2010. The redistribution of wealth away from working people and their families was adding to the failure of the economy. Corporations were sitting on funds they were not investing. Tax cuts for the rich were pointless as they did not spend their money. In the 1970s the top rate of tax had been 83%.  A house building programme led by local authorities could help regenerate the economy, as well as solving the housing shortage.

In the session on inequality, speakers outlined the dire situation facing young people, whose expectations of education and employment rights were being diminished. Many did not have the opportunity to join a trades union, said Caroline Hill, chair of Young Labour. Chris Williamson said that by 2020 Britain faced becoming the most unequal society in the developed world, worse even than the US.

Speakers at the closing rally – Building for a Labour Victory, included shadow cabinet ministers Catherine West and John McDonnell.

For a full list of speakers,see

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