Harriet Harman, Labour's acting leader, has caused a storm with her remarks on welfare. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Harriet Harman's right: Labour has to offer an alternative, not just opposition

Harriet Harman has thrown down a gauntlet. Here's how I'd pick it up, says Stella Creasy. 

Harriet Harman has thrown down the gauntlet– to do more than be angry about George Osborne’s choices. She has a point. The public need more than an analysis of the damage he’s doing – or despair that as we are out of office we cannot define what we think is fair until 2020. To win we have to be a government in waiting, prepared not only to make difficult but also different decisions about Britain’s future. 

As deputy leader I would help us ensure we are not just an opposition, but an alternative. We do not have to wait until the next election to start. It is right to ensure employers pay a proper living wage and to support apprenticeships. It is also right we balance the national books- every penny we pay on debt repayments is money we could invest in public services. But increasing inequality will do nothing to help our economy or our society- making it harder, not easier for people to succeed is a costly mistake this Chancellor fails to recognise.  Currently Osborne plans to cut tax credits for those working hard but in low paid and insecure jobs. Rightly, many worry this will lead to an increase in child poverty. Cutting tax credits when our economic recovery is predicated on consumer spending rather than increasing productivity also risks plunging not only families into debt, but our national finances back into a tailspin. 

Whilst this government has a majority, it does not have the monopoly on the options– the value of the parliamentary process is that by our amendments and our arguments we can show how our alternative reforms would instead deliver fairness and prosperity for all. 

So what shape could our agenda take? Previously, Osborne made big play of closing the loophole exempting tax haven companies and other non-residents from capital gains tax on the sale of residential property. Curiously he left it open for commercial property. Almost nowhere else in the world exempts foreigners from tax on selling real estate. This is not only the fair thing to do, but also brings us in line with the US, Canada, Australia, and the rest of Europe. Ensuring CGT applies to all sales could save the funds needed to protect tax credits as we move to a higher wage economy. This in turn reduces the need for them in the first place.

There are other loopholes well overdue closing. Managers of private equity funds and some hedge funds receive most of their remuneration as "carried interest". This can run to hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds, but for historic reasons it's taxed as a capital gain at 28 per cent rather than as income at 45 per cent. There's a clear case for equalising the treatment so that fund managers pay the same rate of tax as other high earners. 

The budget also increased the amount of tax relief you could claim for renting out a room, whilst cutting housing benefit for under 21s. Under-25s already make up a third of homelessness and there is a real danger these changes could make things even worse. The Government’s own figures suggest this costs little to implement- doubling the threshold for those who take in a tenant on housing benefit could help reduce the welfare bill by saving us money in our overheated private rental sector. So too overpayments within the tax credit system cost us £5.6bn. Using credit referencing before someone applies could save money, debt collection agency fees and heartache for many asked to repay mistakenly paid funds at a later date.

Finally, many focus on inheritance tax, as increasingly it is paid by the middle classes and avoided by the wealthy. Yet last year the National Audit Office identified that the biggest loophole is "business property relief". If you're seriously wealthy, and your wealth is in a trading business, BPR can help you escape inheritance tax altogether. It's supposed to help small businesses, but the use of this exemption has been rising at an astonishing rate – 50% since 2008 and much faster than the value of inheritance tax actually paid. Last year it cost £565m - restricting it to small businesses could save enough to ensure those with larger families were not penalised by tax credit changes.

These are just some examples of how Labour can tell a different story about the choices to be made on tax and benefits –where to save, how to spend and how our choices are fairer and socially just. That’s why it is right the next leader is given support to define the combination of proposals we put forward. But so too, it shows we don’t have to be stuck shouting ‘trap’ when faced with brutal Conservative plans. Opposing legislation without using the potential of public scrutiny misses our chance to use parliament to fight back. By putting forward our ideas and using the coming months to campaign for what we offer- support for those who work hard and protection for the most vulnerable to get Britain on track- we can put Osborne on the spot instead.  Let’s not wait until 2020 to show we are a government in waiting- let's get cracking now. 

 Stella Creasy is standing for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party www.stellacreasy.org.uk

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.