Here's 10 left-wing things Gordon Brown could do

But I couldn't think of any of them on LBC!

I was on Petrie Hosken's show on LBC last night discussing politics and the week's big news stories with the Tory blogger Iain Dale and the Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack (the former "head of innovations" for the party - what on earth is that, then?) for an hour. As the show came to an end, Petrie gave each of us less than a minute to tell the listeners what one thing Gordon Brown should do to revive Labour's fortunes (Pack said "Resign!"). I have been kicking myself since, as my rather flat and dull answer was to say he should take a risk and hold a referendum on proportional representation on the same day as the general election. Now, don't get me wrong. I do care passionately about electoral reform and genuinely believe that proportional representation would revolutionise British politics (and prevent future landslide majorities for both Labour and, thankfully, the Tories) but I accept that it's not going to set pulses racing. Nor is it going to energise the rank and file of the Labour Party or, for that matter, the wider left. As I left the LBC building in Leicester Square, one friend texted to say, "Jeez, PR? What kind of lefty are you?"

She has a point. PR is a necessary but not sufficient part of a robust and risk-taking Labour fightback. Like Polly Toynbee, I think Gordon Brown has nothing left to lose over the next nine months, so it's time for him to throw out his copy of the Daily Mail, stop worrying about "Middle England" and go for broke. As a wise man once said: "This Labour Party [is] best when we are boldest, best when we are united, best when we are Labour."

So here are ten things Brown could do in the coming months that I should have pointed out on LBC last night:

1) Scrap Trident, saving the taxpayer around £20bn.
2) Crack down on tax havens and tighten tax loopholes, saving the taxpayer around £25bn a year.
3) Impose a retrospective 90 per cent tax on all 2008/2009 UK bank bonuses.
4) Scrap ID cards and the national identity register, saving the taxpayer at least £5bn.
5) Increase Jobseeker's Allowance from the miserly £64.30 a week to at least £75 a week.
6) Scrap charitable status for private schools, saving the taxpayer around £88m a year.
7) Impose a windfall tax on the multibillion-pound profits of energy and utility firms.
8) Abolish prescription charges in England to ensure equality across the UK and to bolster the NHS.
9) Lower the threshold for the new 50p top rate of tax from £150,000 to £100,000.
10) Raise the threshold at which tax is paid on redundancy money - currently £30,000 - to £50,000.

There you go! I feel a bit better now.

Now, what would your left-wing advice for G Brown look like?

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage