Banks, Balls and those cuts

When will bankers pick up the bill for the financial crisis and the recession that they caused?

Two headlines from the front page of the Guardian/Observer website over the weekend caught my eye:

Public sector cuts wipe £1bn off building firms' stock market value

and

City banks squirrel away £5bn to pay for staff bonuses

Notice any glaring contradictions there? And who says that public-sector cuts are all about "bloat" and "inefficiency" in the state sector, and have no impact on the private sector? Tell that to the folks on the board of Taylor Wimpey, which has lost 30 per cent of its value over the past two months.

It is outrageous -- OUTRAGEOUS! -- for RBS, Barclays et al to set aside roughly a third of their income for bankers' pay and bonuses. Whatever happened to us all being "in this together"? Labour leadership candidates are right to urge this coalition government to extend the bankers' bonus tax into the next financial year. It's just a shame that the last Labour chancellor -- Alistair Darling -- went out of his way to make it a "one-off".

The fact is that both the public sector and private-sector companies such as Taylor Wimpey are paying the price for the sins of a reckless, irresponsible and greedy financial sector.

By the way, on the subject of Labour leadership candidates, have you read Ed Balls's comment piece in today's Guardian? It is a passionate, informed and well-argued riposte to those on the right, and in the centre, who are rushing to cut the deficit without stopping to learn the lessons of history (and is entitled "Don't repeat the 30s folly").

My favourite bit?

Yet there are Labour voices who believe our credibility depends on hitching ourselves to the coalition's handcart. That is wrong. I believe this risks condemning Britain to a decade of deflation, unemployment and social division.

There is an alternative. Like Keynes and Lloyd George, it is Labour's responsibility to set it out. It must be a clear plan for growth, a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction, and a robust explanation of why that will better support our economy and public finances.

More of this, please.

In terms of attacking and opposing the coalition and setting out an alternative to Con-Dem cuts, I think even the Miliband brothers would agree that Balls has dominated the party's leadership election so far. Indeed, the shadow education secretary's campaign team will be delighted by this passing remark in Julian Glover's column in the same newspaper:

This battle is real. Ed Balls is doing well, ripping into Michael Gove and VAT. Conservative theories as to which Labour leader would cause them most trouble have been revised as a result.

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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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.