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article imageOp-Ed: The UK needs a government reboot and Miliband is the man to do it

By Daniel Woods     May 6, 2015 in Politics
London - Much has been made of a ground-shift towards a new era of multi party politics, based on coalitions, compromises and alliances, but the reality still remains that two main parties will dominate this election – the Conservative party and the Labour party
On Thursday I will vote in probably the most significant election in my lifetime. Granted, I'm only 35, so my lifetime is not that long. But this one definitely feels more important than any other, because our country is at a crossroads and the outcome of this election will dramatically affect what type of country we live in, and the quality of life that we may be able to achieve. Your vote on May 7th could matter more than any other in your life, as the consequences of decisions will resonate far into our futures, shaping what sort of life we lead and determining how far or how close the ‘good life’ — a home, family, vocation, security, health and wealth — will be from our reach.
Much has been made of a ground-shift towards a new era of multi party politics, based on coalitions, compromises and alliances, but the reality still remains that two main parties will dominate this election — the Conservative party and the Labour party.
A popular cry from those who claim a position of apathy is that the two parties are the same, that there is not a big enough difference between them to offer voters any real or substantive choice.
But this is not true.
There is a massive difference between the two and what they (in their present forms) offer in terms of values and approach to the role of government — what it should do and what it shouldn't, what it should be and what it shouldn't.
To a large extent this question is determined by views on how an economy should be governed. Market economies are dynamic systems, that can drive innovation, liberty and opportunities. Markets are very effective at accommodating diversity, difference and the wide variety of skills, capabilities and qualities that people can possess. But markets untempered and unfettered, if not balanced by social and ethical considerations can also have very destructive effects.
It is this controversy, how much or how little a government should intervene in the workings of markets, which lies at the heart of what separates the Conservatives and Labour in their present guises. The Conservatives believe the economy works best when government intervention is minimised. Underlying this view is an assumption that unfettered markets have natural tendencies towards balance and equilibrium.
Yet the evidence we have seen over the last 15 years doesn't support this assumption.
Since the 1980's a political consensus has existed through every subsequent government both left and right, that light touch laissez faire regulation and interference in economic affairs, particularly those of the financial sector, was best.
But where has this approach led us?
It has led us to rampant consumer borrowing and debt, and a massive disparity between incomes and prices, between what things cost and how much people earn. This imbalance has been driven by an ever expanding credit industry, an industry that was pioneered with one primary aim in mind — to make banks and those who invest in them a lot of money.
And how was this achieved?
It was achieved by selling us the illusion of prosperity. Credit facilities make us feel richer than we actually are, and then charge us for the privilege. An ingenious way of making money out of people who don’t have any.
By making us feel richer than we really are, by allowing us to buy things that we could not otherwise afford, the expansion of credit has had the double consequence, perhaps intended, perhaps not, of both depressing wages and inflating prices.
It has enabled the conditions to arise whereby a vast majority of incomes are now nowhere near sufficient to cover the basic costs of living - such as accommodation, food, utilities and transport. Without access to credit, many working people simply could not afford these essentials. Unless you have significant wealth passed down through inherited assets, it is highly likely that you will spend the rest of your life dependent on credit, and existing in a form of perpetual debt bondage.
And to add insult to injury, yep, it was the credit industry that caused the financial crash in 2008, saddling taxpayers with the cost of bank bailouts and state sanctioned stimulus packages that were used to prop up an economy that was on life support.
The last decade has pretty clearly shown that when markets are left to their own devices and the profit motive is set free to run wild from wider social and ethical concerns, catastrophic things will happen.
But it is precisely this approach that guides the Conservative philosophy on government — a fallacious belief in the 'natural' workings of a free market, and an 'invisible hand' which moulds economic activity towards equilibrium and greater prosperity for all. In the 21st century it seems strange that what is essentially a superstitious and mystical belief is still given such prominence and authority, especially when there has been such spectacular evidence to the contrary.
Much has been made in the Murdoch press and the tax avoiding, billionaire Lord Rothermere owned Daily Mail, of 'Red' Ed Miliband being a socialist. But for that to be true you would have to pretty drastically change the definition of socialism - Miliband is no socialist. He believes in the power of capitalism and markets, but capitalism and markets kept in check by government as and when necessary. And sometimes that is exactly what is needed, when markets stop serving the greater good, a government that will step in to redress their real and actual tendencies (as opposed to their mythologised natural ones) towards disequilibrium, imbalances and inequality.
Over the last 5 years there have been some truly shocking developments in British life. The rise in foodbank use is something that David Cameron simply has no answer to. When 1 million people have to turn to charities just to eat, in one of the richest countries in the world, it's a pretty clear indication that something is going wrong.
Social mobility, the degree to which people can rise up from lower to higher income groups, is probably the most telling sign of a society that offers fair opportunities and chances. Yet social mobility has gone into an unprecedented reverse over these last 5 years.
House prices and rents have doubled, while incomes and wage growth has flatlined. Household borrowing and personal debt has soared since 2013, and in the same period, the overall stock of household savings has been depleted by half.
We have more people living in poverty despite being in work, a group we now call the 'working poor'. We have the state paying in work benefits that are necessary to top up low wages — in effect, taxpayers subsidising companies' lower labour costs and higher profits.
We have young trained professionals such as lawyers, teachers and nurses, in their twenties and thirties, having to live with their parents because they cannot afford to buy a home of their own, and graduates leaving University owing in excess of £40,000 in debt before they have even started a career.
We have a health service, which if you take note of what the professionals who work in it say rather than the government, is under massive strain because of cuts to front line staff and social care for the elderly. We have a rate of privatisation in healthcare which is hitherto unseen, with over £2 billlion of taxpayers money being put into the pockets of private companies. We have a military, a police force and emergency fire services being drastically cut and scaled back. We have the most vulnerable, sick and disabled losing vital financial support, such as the Independent Living Fund, which enables them to both live and sometimes die with dignity. We have child cancer patients having their benefits cut, leaving parents to rely on foodbanks to survive.
We have had subtle changes to the system of tax credits which have actually increased the overall tax burden on ordinary working families, and wiped out the more highly publicised reductions in traditional, more well known tax instruments and their rates. And at a time when everybody else on the income spectrum has been told that they have to make sacrifices, the Conservative led coalition gave those in the highest income bracket what amounted to a £40,000 a year tax cut.
When it comes to government debt and borrowing, we have had George Osborne borrowing more in 5 years than Gordon Brown did in 12, doubling our national debt from £800 billion to £1.6 trillion. So when David Cameron bellows that Labour are the party of more debt and more borrowing, the truth and reality of the last 5 years does not match up with his claims.
On a personal level, I haven’t had a tough time in these last couple of years. I have been lucky. But I have known people that have. Talented people. Committed people. Dedicated people. Hardworking people. People studying who have been on the brink, couldn't afford to eat. People who have been displaced from their homes and communities, shunted into cramped and sub standard housing conditions. People not just sharing houses or flats anymore, but bedrooms, with sometimes between four and six beds. People who have come to London to pursue their professional dreams, graduates on the verge of giving up, because exploitative internships, that were essential to career progression, didn't pay enough to even cover basic accommodation, travel and living costs.
I have seen with my own eyes how life has become more difficult for honest, talented, hardworking people over the last 5 years, and when I cast my vote I will not be simply voting for myself, but I will also be voting for all of those people I have known, and indeed the many others that I don’t know who have suffered.
Over the last 5 years the Conservatives have gone to work with zeal, creating a society in which power and privilege are defended and sustained, where power and privilege matter more than ability, hard work and merit. The country has reached a point where the economy needs to be made to work for everybody, not just a few at the top. An adjustment needs to take place, a recalibration of the priorities, values and aims that guide our government and the people that are supposed to represent us. We need a government that will make tough and bold decisions that promote and further the interests of the many, and which defend principles of fairness, decency, and opportunity.
This change of direction and priorities will only be sought and implemented by one person — and that person is Ed Miliband.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Ed Miliband, uk general election 2015, Uk labour party, UK politics, Current Affairs
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