Britain – A Land of Opportunity or Despair?

As the Tory Party conference draws to a close and Party conference season ends, what will we remember about any of them in a few weeks time? Did we get memorable announcements or just the same old politics? Could we have predicted much of it? I’m left feeling slightly confused and irritated – the middle ground of politics is well and truly crowded, with all 3 main parties vying for control, trying to appeal to everyone and only minimal differences showing between them.

I was looking for Labour to be more socialist, the Tories to show their true colours and the Liberals to break away from the constraints of coalition politics and show us what they are made of. And to be fair we got some of that, Labour showed they are the only party with an interest in reducing inequalities and providing opportunity for all, but didn’t go far enough on some of the issues that really matter, such as the railways, environmental policy and the Living Wage. The Liberal Democrats were a bit of a let down, with little substance to show us what difference they would make if they were in government for longer (except ban carrier bags!). And as for the Tories, well I guess they did actually show what they are about – penalising people who are out of work and characterising them as lazy scroungers, supporting big business and sticking to Plan A on austerity because it is clearly working!

The Prime Minister talked about Britain as a Land of Opportunity but is that what we really have under the Coalition Government and is it what we would get with Labour in Government? I have my doubts, there are policies across all 3 main parties and those put forward by the Green Party that would get my support but sadly overall no single party goes far enough.

No one made real commitments to adopt a minimum wage that is a Living Wage – why is that? How are people expected to live on a minimum wage that doesn’t cover living costs?How do we achieve a decent standard of living for all if the basic concept of paying people properly for the work they do cannot be implemented and doesn’t have the backing of all the main parties?

I’m no clearer now on how we are going to tackle energy policy to ensure we have both environmentally sustainable and secure energy supply for years to come. There were Tory commitments to fracking and nuclear power, Labour promises on energy price freezes and some talk of renewables, but overall, no convincing energy policy from any of them.

Housing was a key area of policy discussion, which in itself was pleasing, but again not entirely convincing. Promises were made about building more homes and helping people to buy, but I didn’t come away with the view that politicians have actually really understood why we have a housing crisis and what is needed to solve it. The discussions were often single focused, which really doesn’t help. You can’t solve the housing problem by just talking about housing. You have to consider our Industrial Strategy, our business focus, regeneration, regional policy, infrastructure decisions etc. All will contribute to solving the problem that we are not building enough homes in the right place at the right price. The constant focus on either the development industry or the planning system is not the answer – yes these are part of the problem, but so is our regional policy and industrial strategy, so are Government decisions around infrastructure spend. Until all these matters, and more, are brought together in a proper housing strategy the crisis will only get worse.

A land of opportunity or just muddling through? 

 

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Labour in a race to the top?

Much of the criticism of the Labour Party over the last couple of years in opposition has been centred on their lack of policy and lack of clarity on what would they do differently?

What Ed Miliband delivered at Labour Party Conference was policy, policy, policy. We had clear announcements on a a range of issues including a commitment to freeze energy price for the first 18 months of a Labour government, a programme to build 200,000 houses a year by 2020, a business rate reduction for small business, a commitment to increase the minimum wage and the bedroom tax to be repealed. The focus was very much centred around the cost of living and how Labour will make a difference with the often repeated phrase – Britain can do better than this!

Ed was unashamedly populist with his announcements but also hit some of those socialist buttons that many in the Party were calling for. A great quote from George Eaton in the New Statesman – “If Miliband is a socialist, then so are most of the electorate” summing up his view on the immediate reaction to the Labour leader’s conference speech.

However, many will not be convinced by the rhetoric, there will still be questions from within the Party about renationalising the railways, bringing energy companies back into public ownership and the introduction of a Living Wage. Others will question the level of commitment to the environment and whether or not Labour policy goes far enough – what is their view on fracking, why continue to support nuclear power, how will they create green jobs, what would they do differently?

A race to the bottom is how Ed Miliband termed the Coalition Government’s record but did he do enough to convince people that Labour can do better and would be engaged in a race to the top?