I’m not a member of any political party at the time of writing. This is the UK norm, with only around 850k people being affiliated to any party in that way, out of an electorate of around 47 million.
For years I’ve felt uneasy about so directly supporting a party when all of them usually have some policy or other I firmly disagree with, especially without feeling like I’ve had enough resources at hand to work towards enacting change from within.
In more recent times I’ve also not felt I’ve understood what any of the parties not in currently in power even really stand for. I’ve ended up voting for various left-leaning parties over the years depending on the situation at the time.
However, in the present time of a truly dangerous and chaotic government, my previous rationales have started to feel potentially like weak excuses to me personally. I decided to try and figure out what the only other party that realistically at this point could win a national election, Labour, stands for to see if I could feel comfortable more directly supporting them. If recent polling carried forth into actual votes they’d in fact have a landslide victory
I don’t love the Labour website. The first thing you see is a form requesting your contact details on top of a somewhat nausea-inducing background video sequence. Then, inevitably, a cookies popup that as far as I can see you can’t actually decline, along with a donation popup.
But get through all of that and there’s a link to “Labour’s vision for Britain”.
It looks like right now their number one priority is a plan for economic growth. This is understandable given the recent devastation of the economy by the present government and the impact this has had, and will have in future, on British citizens, even if I’m not convinced that economic growth is the necessarily the measure a good society should optimise for. Historically though it has at least correlated with a lot of good things, but perhaps only up to a point.
As to what they plan to do to fix the situation, much of the plan seems to be based on British job creation and industrial strategy.
At a glance I am good with the idea of altering business rates to promote investment, fairer competition and creating a council to inject a sense of long-term strategic thinking. I’m nowhere near expert enough to know whether these are plausible approaches to the problems at hand, but at least there’s an intuitive reasonableness we can later determine if there’s any evidence to back it up.
Obviously it’s easy to say “we want more fair and good green jobs”- so as always the devil will be in the detail, but it’s a reasonable vision to have.
In former days it’d be one of those annoying generic slogans that it’s hard to really imagine any mainstream party being against. But it actually doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the top of the list of Conservative priorities - quite the opposite. At times the Conservatives seem desperate to inject culture-war topics into the UK political sphere which isn’t going to help on anything environmental.
What other concrete policies are Labour pursuing these days? To get a sense of their current priorities I checked out their campaigns page. Here’s roughly what I gathered from a trawl of the various sections.
- Boost people’s income - better pay will improve the economy as well as tackle the cost of living crisis.
- Ban zero hours contracts and “bogus” self-employment.
- End the “qualifying periods” some jobs have that mean people have to wait up to 2 years to realise certain rights, including unfair dismissal, sick pay and parental leave.
- Update trade union legislation for the modern era, removing certain restrictions.
- Stop the energy price cap rising, by taxing high oil and gas profits.
- Ensure people who have prepayment meters don’t pay more for energy than everyone else.
- Insulate all homes that need it.
- Invest in sustainable British energy (wind, tidal, solar) and back nuclear energy.
- Create a publicly owned energy company that delivers energy independence and security with 100% clean power by 2030.
- Build industries in every region of the UK.
- Invest in electric car batteries, green steel, renewable ready ports.
- Create a national wealth fund.
- Recruit 13,000 extra police / PCSO officers to rebuild neighbourhood policing
- Improve training, vetting and misconduct procedures.
- Introduce rules on strip-searching children.
- Address the epidemic of violence against women/girls, including introducing domestic abuse experts.
- Crack down on the criminal gangs who trade in people.
Expand the NHS workforce by:
- doubling the number of medical school places and district nurses qualifying per year.
- creating an additional 10,000 nursing/midwifery placements per year.
- training 5000 new health visitors.
Primary school education: “Build a Britain where children come first” - this one was extremely vague.
- Target 70% home ownership.
- Build high quality affordable homes
- Reform the private rented sector
Some of the things I liked in what I saw:
An emphasis on not just creating jobs, but ensuring they are secure, decent and paid well enough to provide a decent life. The fact that even under the current highly stigmatising welfare regime a whole lot of people claiming benefits, or even needing to make use of food banks, need to do so despite the fact they they have paid jobs is absurd.
Banning zero hours contact and fake self-employment feels like a good sentiment in general to reduce the abuse of folk in for example the gig economy. It is plausible to me that zero hours contracts could be used in a way beneficial to all in some limited cases so I don’t know if a full ban is the correct answer. However they’re right to identify that, surprise surprise, that’s not what actually happens at present so it might be a good policy in net terms.
The green stuff: targeting of jobs and industry towards green industries, insulating homes, investing in green energy et al. The environment is the disaster-in-progress that may finally ruin the quality of or even end some of our lives if nothing else gets us first. Actually it already is doing so. Mitigating climate change should be a priority for every party, particularly as we already know a lot of what needs to be done - it’s a case of actually doing it.
Expanding the NHS workforce, assuming this comes with investment. After the Covid pandemic and chronic mismanagement on the part of the Conservatives, the NHS is in a quite precarious state with huge waiting lists to catch up on - including 6 million people waiting to start hospital treatment. Whether this expansion can happen fast enough to be the only major change needed I don’t know - I would assume not - but it’s clearly a necessary step for the future.
A focus on domestic abuse and other violence against women, areas of crime that are unfortunately common and also very rarely prosecuted in many cases.
Creating of a publicly owned energy company - to facilitate the shift towards green energy, but also to create jobs, reduce dependence on countries such as Russia, build resilience and in the end lower fuel bills. I’m happy Labour aren’t scared to introduce policies that might be seen as being at least in the direction of nationalising parts of some critical industries, even if they have gone out of their way to make it clear that we’re not talking about nationalising existing companies.
Taxing the vast profits of fossil fuel energy providers. This might prove somewhat impossible many cases when a lot of them are not British-situated companies. For those that are within the appropriate jurisdiction then it seems right to me to windfall-tax the profits of the energy producers which have been incredible at a time when the cost of energy to consumers has created a real crisis.
Reforming the private rental sector - rents have never been higher. A few years ago the Conservative MPs, many of whom are themselves landlords in addition to their day job(s), voted against requiring landlords to make their homes be ‘fit for human habitation’. Reforming could mean many things, but I expect most of them would be better than today’s situation.
Some of the things I felt wary about:
A lot of the security section. “Crack down on human traffickers” is the sort of detail-free statement that always worries me on this topic.
It could mean creating compassionate policies to ensure people who want or need to get to the UK can do so in a safe and humane way to the benefit of us all. Or it could mean going full Farage and inventing wave machines to literally push boats full of some of the most vulnerable people in the world back into the sea.
To be fair the latter idea was dreamt up (and thankfully discarded) under a Conservative administration - but I imagine Farage would also be into it. At least Labour’s plans do specifically include cancelling the ridiculous and awful plan to ship asylum seekers off to Rwanda, which is a very good thing.
But, outside of that specific point, my fear is that is this ‘cracking down’ will be more in the latter direction. Starmer has specifically said that there’s very little substantive difference between his party’s thinking on immigration and that of the Conservative Party. In a time where the official policy is to create a ‘hostile environment’ in a way that may not even actually be legal, this is the kind of thing that I find abhorrent enough to be extremely off-putting. I couldn’t defend it.
I was disappointed there was almost nothing about education. My understanding is that the education workforce is depleted, of low morale and struggling with workload in an environment of damaging low budgets in a similar way to the NHS workforce. A poll suggested half of the teachers in England plan to quit within the next 5 years. Most experience various degrees of poor mental health due to their work. There’s also the impact of the disruption to normal schooling practices on all concerned - students, teachers and parents - that the pandemic triggered.
I’d actually have liked to see a specific mention of mental health in general. It’s estimated that an astonishing 10 million people in England would benefit from new or extra mental health support.
I also wished I’d seen something about international aid or other policies that support the wellbeing of people in other countries. Britain does not exist in isolation. Despite the frantic and damaging chaos resulting from recent UK political decisions, there remain countries that are in far worse states with their populations suffering solvable trauma. In some cases Britain may even have played an unfortunate part in creating the harms that they suffer. In all cases we should show them compassion.