Why is Labour always offering too little, too late?

Announcement or admission: Labour's announcement, as it appeared on Facebook.

Announcement or admission: Labour’s announcement, as it appeared on Facebook.

A future Labour government would cap rent increases, the party has announced – around a year and a half late.

The Coalition government has chosen to keep Housing Benefit down by making it the first payment to be reduced as part of the benefit cap, and Labour’s announcement should rightly be seen as a response to this.

But the benefit cap was announced in the mists of history, back in 2012 or thereabouts, so why has Labour only just got around to telling us its counter-proposal? The rest of us were screaming it from the rooftops at the time.

Coming so late, it seems less that this policy has been announced, and more that it has been admitted.

Perhaps this is the influence of new election advisor David Axelrod, and maybe it signals the start of regular announcements in the run-up to the general election next year. If so, this would go some way towards saving Ed Miliband’s blushes.

Certainly today we were presented with a 10-step ‘cost of living’ contract, stuffed with promises Labour has made to help beleaguered consumers keep prices down – and these are (mostly) good steps.

First is the popular scheme to freeze gas and electricity bills while the energy market is reformed.

Then there’s Labour’s plan to have 200,000 new homes built every year by 2020, relieving the housing shortage and lowering the cost of a new home.

Next comes the rent cap, plus a pledge to help families that rent plan for the future with new, long-term, predictable tenancies.

There’s the pledge to cut income tax with a 10p starting tax rate. This may be seen as an admission that Labour’s decision to end the original 10p tax rate (even though I seem to recall it was intended to be temporary) was a mistake. But isn’t it better to admit our mistakes, put them right, and move on? The plan to restore the 50p top rate has been lambasted by posh Tories and business executives, who say it won’t achieve anything (they would, wouldn’t they?) but is a good symbolic gesture.

Fifth is a pledge to ban zero-hour contracts altogether. This may seem problematic, as the evidence shows that there are working people who benefit from these contracts’ flexibility. The trouble is that unscrupulous firms were using these contracts to exploit workers who deserved better from them. Labour’s attitude – that these firms will have to manage without them if they won’t use them properly – is a bit ‘nannyish’ but makes a strong point.

Then comes Labour’s pledge to “Make work pay”. Some may criticise the use of words that have been tainted by Conservative spin. The Tories want you to believe that they’ll “make work pay” by cutting out-of-work and in-work benefits, but we all know that this won’t make anybody better-off; quite the opposite. Labour’s idea is to boost the minimum wage and encourage firms that are able, to increase their pay rates to the Living Wage, cutting the benefit bill that way.

Seventh is a little-known plan to cut business rates and make banks lend to small businesses (at least, that’s the only interpretation of “reforming the banks” that makes any sense in this context).

There’s a pledge to give working parents 25 hours’ free childcare (presumably this is per week) for kids aged three and four, and one to tackle abuses of immigrant workers by banning recruitment agencies that only hire people from abroad and pushing Europe for stronger controls. This would present problems for the Conservative-run NHS, as the BBC News has just announced that it is recruiting heavily from Portugal!

Finally we have the weakest promise – the job guarantee for the young unemployed, coupled with more apprenticeships. This has been met with opposition from the very people who were expected to welcome it, as it seems nobody outside the Labour front bench believes it has the remotest chance of success.

Unmentioned is Labour’s plan to change the assessment system for sickness and disability benefit ESA, which earned instant toxicity because it sports only cosmetic differences from the current Conservative scheme that has been fatal for thousands. The plan was announced at around the same time as a Labour inquiry into these benefits called for preventative investment that the party leadership is unwilling to countenance, and a group of mostly-disabled people called Spartacus provided a far more enlightening overview of the problems with the benefit, and the steps needed to remedy them, that clashed with what Labour is saying.

More concerning still is the fact that all of these measures are responses to Coalition policies that have harmed people during the course of this Parliament – or situations that the Tories and Tory Democrats have allowed to continue because they support the overall plan.

Where is the inspiration to transform Britain and return prosperity to everybody, rather than limiting it to people who own smart suits and big houses? When can we expect a hint that this is coming?

Unless you are one of the aforementioned people with smart suits and big houses, the Conservatives sidled into government with a plan to diddle you out of as many of your Parliament-supported rights, privileges and benefits as they could possibly fit into a five-year term in office, all the while telling you it was for your own good.

As you can tell from today’s previous Vox Political article, that has gone astonishingly well for them.

Of course, the Tories didn’t announce this plan, because they knew it would turn the electorate away in their millions – the classic example of this in practice is the way Andrew Lansley was forbidden from mentioning his privatisation plan for the National Health Service, as this would be toxic to the Tory election campaign.

But times have changed. People are suffering. They need Labour to offer something more than a promise to rub ointment on their wounds.

They want to see Labour turn the tables on the Tories. And they want to know how that’s to be achieved.

Saying Labour will “transform Britain” won’t work as we’ve all heard about such miraculous transformations before, and they have always benefited the suit-and-house people.

So come on, Ed.

When can we have it?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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18 thoughts on “Why is Labour always offering too little, too late?

    1. Mike Sivier

      The ‘too little, too late’ comment was aimed specifically at the rent cap policy; perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough that I was aware that the other parts of the 10-point plan had been made already.

      Your second point is one that I considered including in the article, as Labour could make a good show of explaining that the evidence indicates these policies are right and the Conservatives are wrong. It’s a shame we haven’t seen that. I did say that the 10-point plan, as far as it goes, is good. Certainly it’s better than anything the Coalition parties are offering.

      What about the lack of inspirational gestures? Do you think that will come in the future?

      1. kittysjones

        I hope the evidence is published.It would most certainly help a lot.

        There are inspirational gestures, but hidden from view because of a tory- complicit media, unfortunately. Even traditionally left leaning tabloids have been more complicit this past 12 months, but then Greenwauld’s arrest and the Snowden files on smashed hard drives is explicit enough evidence of the authoritarian tendency going down.

        I think we need to continue to play a role in at least trying to reach as many as we can with truths.

      2. Mike Sivier

        I wonder what would happen if Labour started doing ‘guerrilla’ policy announcements, like when Cameron was going to put forward some big Tory plan to make rich people fatter, Ed Miliband turned up somewhere and announced a game-changer out of the blue. How would THAT shake things up?

      3. kittysjones

        The problem, Mike, is that this government have not made their policies clear, and have not followed democratic procedures in terms openess, transparency and accountability. The Gagging act is an example of that, but there are many other times when they have simply refused to present details of their planned policy..The regular refusal to publish risk registers and undertake cumulative impact assessments is another indication of a government planning change to our Country in secrecy..

        Mounting successful challenges to reform requires having detailed information regarding that reform.. This is another example the tory authoritarian approach from 2012 – http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/pip-and-the-tory-monologues/

  1. Damien Willey

    Still holding out hope that its all part of some planned issuing of policy over a set timeframe, given that the fixed-term parliament introduced by the coalition has meant Labour have known for ages when the election will be. Hopefully this Axelrod fella will help sort out the timing issue they clearly have though!

  2. bookmanwales

    The problem is still too little too late. The rent cap should have been introduced before working tax credits were introduced and property prices went through the roof.. that would have calmed the market down and maybe prevented some of the banks losses.
    What we are seeing in the housing market is yet another artificial increase in house prices from government interference. This can again only lead to higher rents.
    As for the new “claimant commitment” again something Labour have been extremely quiet on despite the known failure of the pilot study. Mybe their plan is to let the Tories introduce all the harsh measures and hence have an excuse to prolong them under the guise of waiting to reform them.

  3. Jean Casale

    Poker is a family of card games – involving betting and individual play, whereby the winner is determined by the ranks and combinations of their cards, some of which remain hidden until the end of the game. Poker games vary in the number of cards dealt, the number of shared or “community” cards and the number of cards that remain hidden.
    Thus, the long-run expectations of the players are determined by their actions chosen on the basis of probability, psychology and game theory.

  4. anon

    Somehow there needs to be from Labour a pledge or charter that will guarantee equal treatment and respect for human rights on the part of ALL public bodies for ALL citizens, regardless of wealth, disability, or age (and this includes the NHS which increasingly marginalises and neglects those it deems too old or disabled to be economically productive.) With a thorough and effective complaints and compensation procedure.

    It is horrifying how something which a decade ago would have been taken as read, now sounds a revolutionary and extreme demand. I suspect the reason is that over this parliament we have all been downgraded from citizens to slaves/livestock.

  5. JK

    I’m afraid that the Compulsory Job Guarantee probably won’t help many young people. Six months of guaranteed part-time work with a smidgen of training provided by the employer (which in the private sector will probably just be more “work experience” rather than off the job training leading to a qualification) will just be too little to help unemployed youngsters into permanent jobs with a future. Trying to help everybody in the same way spreads the jam too thin and you end up in reality helping next to no one: such schemes inevitably become revolving doors with the same people starting and restarting the same scheme over and over. Goodness knows how dispiriting that must be. It would be better in my opinion to try to help fewer people, much better, less frequently and do a really good job as far as education and training are concerned.

    1. Barry Davies

      It will just be a case of 6 months cheap labour and a never ending supply of new faces, whilst the old ones join the increasing unemployment figures until the next time the government shampoos them.

  6. Jim Campbell

    “This may seem problematic, as the evidence shows that there are working people who benefit from these contracts’ flexibility.”

    I think it’s worth mentioning that there has been a deliberate conflation on the pro-government side of zero-hour contracts and casual contracts. A casual contract certainly DOES offer flexibility, in as much as the worker is able to decline an offer of work if the employer offers it. A worker might have three or four casual contracts and could pick and choose what work to do as they see fit.

    A zero-hour contract, by contrast, requires the worker to be *available* at the employer’s convenience for the hours specified in the contract. Thus, a zero-hour contract can require the worker to be available for a full 37.5hrs a week without actually having to PAY them for any of those hours and precluding the worker from taking on any other commitments.

    You can see why employers LOVE zero-hour contracts: instead of paying full-time employees to potentially do nothing for even small quiet periods during the working week, they can extract a full-time commitment from the worker, summon them to work at short notice and only pay them for the exact numbers of hours they work. There is literally NO flexibility on the worker’s side of this arrangement.

  7. Bryn miller

    Well I never what hypocrisy. Ed wears smart suits ,white shirts with matching ties,and lives in a house worth two and a half million pounds and is on paper a millionaire.
    Got an answer to that one?

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