Sunday, July 26, 2015

Centre ground politics: Citizen at the centre, Mr Corbyn?

An opportunity is available for a new politics in the UK that would advance the cause of the citizen, through a clear focus on citizen themselves, as viewed without the ideological spectacles of conventional party politics. Will Labour's Kendall, Burnham, Cooper or Corbyn manage to lift their heads from accepted wisdom? 

The Tories have set their jib and are teasing Labour to follow on and endorse their poverty-extending austerity policies, which are unhelpful to the promotion of a sustained economic recovery. As Matthew Parris in The Times (Sat 25 July 2015), has it, this is a manifestation of the 'supermarket view of politics' of our day - where voter footfall governs nuances of narrowly similar policies from all parties. Cleverly, through this shared view of what is important, Labour is in thrall to Tory policies which seem primarily designed to discomfort the opposition rather than benefit the nation itself. [See: How did the Tories do that?] Labour follows Chancellor Osborne like a dependent poodle as the Labour leadership crisis now demonstrates. The critter is not rebelling, biting off its lead and morphing into a mistress of its own destiny, but is keeping in close step. Except that Jeremy Corbyn is creating differentiation as he attracts attention with his refreshing straight talking which is panicking the three other leadership contenders - and bringing great ire from Tony Blair.

The return of the dark ages of Old Labour supposedly embodied in Corbyn belies that he has actually said some quite positive things, which any reasonable person might agree with. Such as establish a national investment bank for innovation and high tech investment  [see: Marianna Mazzucato] ; create QE for people instead of for banks; strengthen tax avoidance regulation; shift the tax burden to wealth and companies and off consumption and individuals; re-nationalise the natural monopoly of the railways.  What will be the outcome of Mr Corbyn backing into the limelight? Does he view politics through the old view: the 'dead hand' of the state - or will we get citizen-centred politics, which some of the above seem they might be?

The Universal Credit scheme is taking for ever to transform the benefits system - will it ever work starightforwardly? The Citizen's Income Trust  has proposals for a  better answer, a revenue-neutral Citizen's Income as a right for all. This would bring many benefits such as: reward unpaid carers, enhance the living wage of workers and foster job creation by small and struggling businesses; bring freedom through work/life choices that are pro-family; remove benefit traps and make work pay; enable charitable donations for community-inspired projects; and overall reduce poverty and raise living standards for countless individuals, families and groups.  Any Tory or libertarian should be able to see the individual-enhancing benefit of a Citizen's Income removed from bureaucratic means-testing, but would  Labour actually dare to introduce it and in one bound make real the doubtful 'living wage' of George Osborne? The citizen would be placed firmly at the centre of government policy making through a Citizen's Income as of right. But would Labour dare itself to trust the people this way?

Currently our socio-economic system is heavily biased towards those who own property. It is not every citizen that experiences the wealth-creating effect of property ownership. Renters are forever disadvantaged also-rans, whilst freeholders stack up a 'free lunch' of property wealth brought to them by the society-inspired wealth enabled by everyone, including the renters. No individual can ever create a rise in the value of their own land apart from being a minute part of the creative community that surrounds them.

Taxing land values on a annual basis would, along with a Citizen's Income, correct this lifetime imbalance in fairness.  A simple, revenue-neutral way to introduce it would be to levy a tax on the location value of the land alone (excluding the building value) and allow a reduction in £1 of income tax paid for every £1 land location value tax paid. Houses would become more affordable and wider ownership encouraged, more houses would be built to maximise the income from a given plot of land to pay the levy. The income tax / land value tax swap would avoid a disruptive change in finances for most households. Income-poor property owners could be allowed to defer some of the tax until the sale of the property.  The current favouritism towards property owners would be reversed bringing a new consensus - the promotion of the common good. Debt through mortgage would reduce as prices eased, releasing the income from normal jobs away from payments to bankers into useful goods and services. The evidence of a failed market shown, for example, by the pressures of international buyers on house prices shows that the land monopoly needs to be constrained to function more fairly than now. Land location tax is a major part of that answer.

Encouragement of new local community banks funded by local councils, social enterprises and a national investment bank should proceed apace.  With 7 years between now and the financial crisis it is high time that an alternative to the out-of-scale international banks is needed for local investment.  Small local banks are essential, scaled to fit the needs of small and medium sized firms which are beyond the marketing scope of the current high street banks. This too would be a policy that puts the citizen's needs at centre stage in terms of financial help for their enterprises, instead of as a supplicant at the door of the high rolling bankers only seeking mega-deals. The credit supply is artificially throttled through a lack of suitable local bank outlets. This failed market needs policy encouragement to make it function for the good of all.

Old Labour wanted the state in the centre ground of too many areas of life that are best handled by individuals, families and groups - as has been shown by deregulation. Conservatives see the free market as the answer to all, despite the existence in plain sight of obvious market failures. Recent government promotion of  housing purchase schemes, for example, are clearly counter-productive as they feed the heated house price frenzy thereby blocking off those still unfortunate to be excluded.

Conventional  politics fights over the centre ground. A new politics is needed that firmly puts the citizen at the centre ground.

Posted by Charles Bazlinton, Author: The Free Lunch - Fairness with Fredom which explores this theme of the citizen at the centre.  
The author is promoting the establishment a Local Community Bank which will pass profits to local good causes. 

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