Mon, 20 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour must deliver radical change in the first 100 days of government


4 min read

This time next year Britain could hopefully be living through the early days of a Labour government.

In 1997, 1964, and 1945, Labour election wins after long periods of Tory rule sparked jubilant scenes of celebration and hope for what our party would deliver in office. Just remember the images of euphoria from May 1997, the last time voters kicked out a callous, discredited and incompetent Tory government.

Expectations will rightfully be high, irrespective of what is in the manifesto. We will need to act quickly to deliver for the many hard-pressed families forced to rely on food banks due to the low wages and extreme austerity that has characterised nearly 15 years of Tory rule.

A substantial increase in the statutory living wage, bringing the rate up to at least £15 per hour and increasing regularly during a parliamentary term in line with the cost of living, would make serious inroads in tackling in-work poverty. As would ensuring decent pay for nurses, teachers, rail and postal workers, firefighters and other key workers.

Likewise, scrapping the two-child limit on universal credit would immediately lift 250,000 children out of poverty.

Gordon Brown’s summer of 1997 budget, held just over two months after coming to power, introduced a windfall tax on privatised utilities allowing for investment in public services and measures to tackle child poverty, and funding of job creation programmes. In contrast, at the Chancellor’s last autumn statement,  Jeremy Hunt lauded the government’s paltry levels of public investment in the economy, stating they would increase GDP by 0.5 per cent over the coming four years.

To put this in depressing context, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently outlined that 0.5 per cent produces only £7bn of income tax returns to the government but the current public service funding gap stands at £70bn. It is clear a Labour government will need to unveil both an ambitious and fiscally sound package of national renewal.

It can do this by tackling climate change with a transformative Green New Deal, creating a jobs-led economic recovery. It can also fix the housing crisis and boost our building supply chain by unveiling a groundbreaking council house building strategy. Furthermore, it can use its already announced National Wealth Fund to revitalise industrial strategy, research and innovation, and catalyse the rapid growth of British industry.

This declaration of national renewal will be bold but it must also be met with an early substantial injection of funding for cash-starved public services and local authorities. A wealth tax can help plug this gaping hole.

Indeed, Patriotic Millionaires UK have stated that a simple two per cent tax on those with more than £10m could raise a whopping £22bn a year.

There are clearly several options for Labour to revitalise our economy and public services – much of which can be delivered in an early emergency Budget held within 100 days of Labour coming to power.

Beyond economic policy, so much badly thought out legislation has been rushed through the House under successive Tory governments and this will also need to be addressed in the early days of a Labour government.

The cruel and unworkable plan to forcibly deport vulnerable asylum seekers to Rwanda was a case in point just a few weeks ago, when Rishi Sunak bulldozed his pernicious plan through the Commons in defiance of rulings from some of Britain’s most senior judges.

Repealing the Tories’ highly authoritarian Minimum Service Levels Act should be an urgent priority, as should the repealing of the 2016 Trade Union Act, which also sought to severely restrict the rights of workers to take industrial action in defence of jobs, wages and conditions. Both pieces of legislation would not be out of place in a dictatorship. Angela Rayner and Keir Starmer have been explicit that a Labour government will scrap both laws. Delivering this within 100 days is entirely realistic.

Ultimately expectations will be high but they must be met without equivocation. This critical period will set the tone for Labour’s entire first term in office and will be decisive in determining whether we are re-elected. But this is more than rightly retaining the goodwill of the electorate, it’s actually about doing the right thing for our communities. 


Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour MP for Salford and Eccles

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