This is not an acceptable plan for economic growth. Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

None of the parties can communicate their plans to the public

The BBC's Daily Politics debate was a familiar scene: of a political class unable to communicate its plans to the voters

In this election campaign, there hasn’t been much discussion about the health of the UK economy. There has been discussion about the symptoms: low wages, the unfinished business of deficit reduction, and the pain of austerity. The latter two in particular featured heavily on today’s Daily Politics Economy Debate. But there has been little political discussion about why it is that the UK economy has seen such a slow crawl to growth and is falling further behind other countries in the amount it is able to produce.

Yes, it’s the productivity conundrum again. Without pushing up productivity, firms will be unable to pay their workers more, and deficit reduction will stall again, because the requisite tax revenues will not materialise, as shown in research by the SMF. Robert Peston, the BBC’s Economics Editor, got in one question about the link between investment and productivity, but that was about it for the hour. Most of the rest of the debate focussed on how growth is shared, and the minutiae of specific spending and tax promises.

So we had consensus across the board about the ‘brilliance’ of taking the low paid out of income tax, but little on why the economy has struggled to generate growing wages. David Gauke had another go at explaining where the Conservatives plan to get the money for their promises to cut income tax and put extra money into the NHS; but there was little recognition that it is economic growth that will allow the Conservatives to both eliminate borrowing and spend more. Predictably, UKIP’s Patrick O’Flynn attempted to claim that UKIP was the party of small business despite not listening to business on the problem of filling skills gaps and the risks of leaving the EU.

The SNP and Labour got tantalisingly close. The SNP’s Stewart Hosie highlighted the need to grow the economy. Labour’s Chris Leslie talked about low wages leading to collapsing tax revenues, but his “are you getting a fair deal?” question suggested the worry was more about sharing the spoils than generating them.

The manifestos are actually reasonably competitive on how to create a growing economy, so it is surprising that very little of this is being spoken about in the election campaign. In a reversal of many recent elections, parties are competing on house-building, with Labour targeting 200,000 homes a year and the Liberal Democrats offering 300,000. The Liberal Democrats aim to double innovation and research spending; the Conservatives plan to increase funding for “Eight Great Technologies”. All parties are keen on infrastructure spending. There is also competition on how much education spending will be protected and how many apprenticeship places will be created. These are all areas that economists would widely agree that need to be addressed if we are to improve the underlying health of the economy. They are – if you like – the real components of a “long-term economic plan”.

Yet, none of these were discussed in today’s rather insular debate. While the parties seem to know what they need to do, they appear unable to communicate to the electorate what is needed to fix the economy and how they are going to do it.

Nida Broughton is Senior Economist at the Social Market Foundation.

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.