Labour’s re-nationalisation of key infrastructure can put the UK back on the world map

Labour’s recent policy announcement of nationalising part of BT and taxing tech giants in order to provide free fibre broadband to every household in the country has resulted in the usual displeasure from the right wing commentariat, as well as various Tory and Liberal Democrat figures implying it to be some sort of communistic experiment. Considering, though that BT was in public ownership up until 1984, this is a testament to how far the Overton window has shifted rightward as a result of the neoliberal economic orthodoxy.

The good news is that Labour is effectively challenging this at the upcoming election, as it has been doing since 2017. The pledges to nationalise rail, water, Royal Mail and telecommunications will allow for a new era of economic prosperity to be shared by the many, and are necessary to ending the post-Thatcherite consensus that has held so much back.

Firstly, Labour’s policy to bring about free broadband has already been shown to be hugely popular. YouGov’s snap poll has shown that 66% are in favour of this policy and only 22% oppose it. This follows the trend for polling other forms of nationalisation. Having the rail, water, and mail services in public ownership all seem to have more than the majority in favour.

The Tories economic policies of simply more of the status quo are clearly out of touch with a public which is lethargic of more expensive and inefficient services provided by private monopolies and oligopolies. The economic data seems to back up the public’s perceptions. For example, water prices have risen by 40% since privatisation. More than 12,000 jobs have been lost since Royal Mail was sold off by the coalition government, whilst its boss has gained a pay rise of £100,000 to his salary. These issues are inherent to private ownership, especially of natural monopolies such as rail and water, since any sort of competition is highly limited. When profit for the owners and maximisation of shareholder values become the only goals, fairness and a good service for consumers come last. This is evident in the public perception throughout the previous years.

Critics of such policies, and the large scale nationalisation and spending plans that Labour are proposing ignore the widespread need for such investment into our economy. With the case of broadband in particular the UK is in great need of investment and improvement. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics show that Britain ranks 35th out of 37 countries assessed for the proportion of fibre in its broadband. Furthermore, Britain has fallen from 8th to 10th in the EU for levels of connectivity. Whereas South Korea has 97% of its country covered by broadband (number one on the list by the OECD), with a much more active state involvement in developing the infrastructure needed to roll it out, and indeed with implementing it, compared to only 8-10% for the UK.

Labour’s £20 billion investment goes further than this, it will provide broadband for free, which will save ordinary families hundreds of pounds per year, and bringing the many benefits of fast communication through broadband to every household, which is especially lacking in rural regions. Finally, this policy will be paid for by large tech giants, going some way to address the inadequacy of the tax they pay to the UK exchequer, for example Amazon, which paid only £1.7 million in taxes in 2017, despite profits of £72.3 million. This policy is effective on two fronts. The first, allowing for improvements in fibre broadband coverage in the UK. Second, for its cost burden to fall on those large corporations which are yet to pay their fair share of taxes, as opposed to ordinary workers and consumers. 

Trusting corporate interests to deliver essential services has seemed to be a policy that can no longer be relied upon. Labour’s policy to bring these into public ownership is to be encouraged if we hope to build an economy which serves the public’s interest as opposed to private monopolies who have few incentives to change the current arrangements, catering to their ability to profit off such services as opposed to investing into those services for the good of the public.

The Scottish Series: The SNP is an independence party, and on this it should focus

If you regularly watch Prime Ministers Questions you’ll know that the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has become a regular fixture of proceedings. He has become as much the voice of the party as Nicola Sturgeon as he is regularly heard asking questions to the Prime Minister. Blackford has drawn support (or at least sympathy) from many on the opposition benches, being unwavering in his criticism of consecutive Conservative Governments. As a friend of mine recently suggested to me though, he has become slightly “repetitive.”

The SNP’s opposition has begun to hit the same notes, ‘Scotland voted Remain and therefore Brexit is against what we were promised in the 2014 referendum, this gives us the right to another independence referendum,’ to summarise. Of course, this is an essential argument and one that needs to be made. The main goal of the SNP is to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and Scotland having a distinctly different result to England and Wales does renew calls for an independence referendum, even after one was lost not so long ago. However, the SNP has taken this a step further and have begun to look like a distinctly pro-EU party, consistently voting with Remainer MPs and supporting the pro-EU Lib Dems in calls for an early election before Labour supported the motion.

The party edging on this ‘Remainer’ stance may be as a contrast to the Conservative Government, who represents the British system that the SNP seeks to escape from, or as a clearer cut option than Labour, whose stance hasn’t been fully understood by many in the public. This shift from arguing for Scotland’s right to self-determination due to a change in circumstances since 2014, towards becoming viewed as a Remain party, may dampen the SNP’s high election hopes.

SNP supporters aren’t inherently pro-EU, a survey by the National Centre for Social Research estimated that as high as 36% of SNP voters supported Leave in 2014. Ex-SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, gives similar numbers of between 30% to 34%. These numbers don’t even account for pro-independence Scots who voted Remain tactically in the Brexit referendum in the hope of generating the point of difference from England, which was a very real factor in how many Scots voted. Many Scots want out of both unions in order to be ‘fully’ independent.

Another possible thorn in the side of the Scottish National Party is Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader who took her seat from the SNP in 2017. The flagship policy of Swinson’s is to stop Brexit completely, any Scottish voter who is decidedly pro-EU could easily be turned away from the murky waters of the SNP and Labour into the clear waters of the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP have said they will be fighting hard to take Swinson’s seat back from her, to do this they will have to offer something completely different to her and not just be the other Remain option.

20,000 people attended a pro-independence rally in Glasgow last weekend, including SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. This may have been the change of direction needed for the party, as pro-EU rhetoric was toned down and the perceived importance of Scottish independence was back at the forefront. Sturgeon stated that independence was ‘within touching distance’ and that it was time to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and not Boris Johnson’s.

Instead of opposing Brexit completely, the SNP must return focus on the uncertainty surrounding it and the opportunity Scotland has to go a different direction. Scottish voters were promised in 2014 that remaining in the United Kingdom was the safer and more stable option, this was untrue. If this is the direction that the SNP take throughout the campaign they will do as well as predicted, possibly reaching the heights of 2015. However, there is a real chance that Blackford’s broken record at Westminster and the perception of being pro-EU may have turned off much of the electorate from the party, which could leave many Scottish separatists very disappointed when they wake up on Friday the 13th of December.

Canterbury: the gritty electoral battleground in the Tory heartlands

The resignation of Tim Walker – Canterbury’s Liberal Democrat candidate for the 2019 general election – is just the tip of the iceberg of the complex political battle current raging in this historical city in the heart of the garden of England.

Canterbury voted in favour of remaining in the European Union in 2016. Over 60% of Canterbury’s population voted not to leave the EU and both of it’s Universities, including the University of Kent that boasts the moniker of being the UK’s ‘European university’, openly support remaining in the Union.

While this would appear to be an advantage to Rosie Duffield, who has always vocally supported remaining in the Union, her own party’s neutral position over Brexit could cost her votes. While Tim Walker has stepped down in Canterbury, the Liberal Democrats have told Channel 4 that they still plan to run a candidate in Canterbury, potentially leeching support from the Labour MP. They have  chosen an ex-councilor to run called Claire Malcolmson. Vote shares for Canterbury predict the Liberal Democrats to gain 23% of the City’s vote, giving the Conservatives a comfortable lead of 6% on Labour. However, if just 30% of Canterbury’s remain population voted ‘tactically’ – voting irrespective of party line and focusing on a candidate’s Brexit stance – then the scales could be tipped in favour of a Labour win.

However, understanding the difficult position Rosie Duffield is currently in requires context on Canterbury as a constituency, and what makes Canterbury such a difficult city to predict in the 2019 election.

Before 2017, most election polls predicted a comfortable win for the Conservatives, making Canterbury a certain ‘safe’ seat; one that has been held by a Conservative for almost it’s entire 100-year existence. In 2017, the Tory frontman Sir Julian Brazier was looking to shore up his considerable majority in the city – a majority he had held his entire 25-year career as an MP. In 2015, Sir Brazier won by a 42% majority, beating his nearest competitor by over 9000 votes.  

The Tories were confident, given the constituencies location in the heart of Kent, they were further reassured when Brazier’s opponent was announced: an ex-teaching assistant with no prior Parliamentary experience, Rosie Duffield. Duffield’s prior popularity in the Labour Party was scarce. Her political experience was limited to an unsuccessful run for the council in 2015, as well as her work as a political satire writer.

Labour’s gains in the 2017 election surprised pundits across the political spectrum, and Canterbury was no different. With a majority of just 187 votes, Rosie Duffield beat the incumbent Julien Brazier to become Canterbury’s MP. After conceding defeat, Mr Brazier blamed Canterbury’s invigorated student population for the shock win.

On a national scale, the student vote appeared to factor heavily into Labour’s success, with reports estimating that almost 90% of the student population eligible to vote registered in the election, with a further 55% of students backing Jeremy Corbyn’s Party.

Since 2017, Rosie Duffield has cemented her place in Labour Party politics, becoming the Secretary to the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and serving on several Parliamentary committees. In 2018, Duffield demonstrated her commitment to staying in the European Union by being one of 6 frontbench MPs to resist a Labour whip to abstain from voting to remain in the EU single market after Brexit, precipitating her exit from the shadow cabinet.

In late 2019, she made further headlines after a speech on her experiences surviving and overcoming domestic abuse during a hearing on Theresa May’s domestic violence bill – a speech which moved the Commons to tears.

Duffield also took a very vocal stance on antisemitism in the party, admitting to reporters in 2018 that Labour did have a ‘problem’ with antisemitism, leading to condemnation from Canterbury Council’s Labour chairman. Ms Duffield has shored up her meteoric rise in leftwing politics and in just two years has made herself into one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.

But her competition this year will be difficult.

Sir Brazier’s favourite was elected his successor to become Canterbury’s Conservative candidate – a veteran of local politics, Anna Firth. Firth is an ex-barrister, Councilor, and ran for the European Parliament in 2017. The avowed Brexiteer gained local infamy in October when she shared a video with Boris Johnson, promising a new hospital was being created in Canterbury, a hospital that, it was later revealed, did not even appear in the government’s plans. Firth’s highly pro-Brexit stance has led to a deep affinity with Boris Johnson and other hardline Conservative Brexiteers – an affinity which may resonate with voters in the traditional Tory heartlands.

Canterbury will serve as an important litmus test for the 2019 general election, with all of the major frontrunning parties fielding hopeful MPs. Whether Canterbury remain supporters are willing to put party allegiance aside and vote strategically to stop Firth’s election, however, is beyond prediction.

The blues can never be green: why the pausing of UK fracking is an election ploy

After the calling of a general election for December 12th, British politics has taken yet another unpredictable and exciting turn. Already the major political parties have begun to outline their election strategies; from the repetition of Labour’s 2017 strategy that boasts all the optimism of a Manchester United fan’s opinion on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to the Europhilic platform of the Liberal democrats that so nearly distracts from their voting record. 

With headlines dominated for so long by the haze of Brexit that it may now be the national sport of the United Kingdom, one might be forgiven for forgetting the very identities and positions of the mainstream parties outside of the European question. Thus, when the Conservative party announced the “suspension” of fracking operations in the United Kingdom, anyone who has taken an interest in the growing environmentalist movement worldwide would be forgiven for assuming this as the actions of a party that cares about the planet.

Fracking – one of the more contentious methods of extracting shale and natural gas – has received a large degree of public scrutiny in recent years. The potential for geological disruption, resulting in the increased chance of earthquakes and threat posed to local communities, is one of many ecological risks associated with the process, implemented at various sites nationwide. Andrea Leadsom, Business Secretary in the Johnson Government, argued that it was the right move for the Conservative government, who were “following the science… until the science changes”.

Leadsom — who infamously questioned on her first day as Theresa May’s Energy Secretary if climate change was real — seems here to justify the suspension of an environmentally damaging practice; until the point that the facts and circumstances change to allow the government to continue it again sans critique. Here we see the government enacting a temporary suspension of a profitable but ecologically destructive practice, until the science or circumstances change that justify them continuing with the destructive business.

Despite the Orwellian doublespeak of Leadsom, the move is nothing short of part of the election campaign launch of Johnson and the Conservative party. Forgetting for the moment the irony of a campaign centred around the idea of Britain deserving better than the brutal imposition of austerity and political buffoonery masterminded by the Conservatives themselves, Johnson’s political ethos focuses on the notion of “getting things done”. Let us get Brexit done, as the Conservatives cry, and we can focus on getting things done for the police force we have cut, the health service we have dogmatically hollowed, and on resolving the environmental crisis. Suspension of fracking, regardless of its motivations, is in the eyes of the Conservatives at least something they have actually got done in the past years of political weakness and ambiguity.

Indeed, one might be forgiven for forgetting what the political parties of the United Kingdom still stand for in these uncertain to-say-the-least times. The Conservatives can certainly be pointed to as the party of action when it comes to environmental considerations; they cannot be pointed to as the party of environmentalism. This is the party that abolished the department of Energy and Climate Change in 2016; the party that removed subsidisation of renewable energy construction and restricted the ability of renewable energy sources to develop in the United Kingdom; the party that ended the programme of sustainable home development due to a lack of profitability for investors. This is to say nothing of the continued support and subsidisation of Nuclear and non-renewable energy sources; many of which are not only unsustainable, but themselves not profitable. The fact that the Johnson Government has acted to temporarily halt fracking operations in the United Kingdom is simply a drop in the polluted ocean that Conservative policies and ideological profit-focus has helped to create.

This is hardly surprising. It is long documented that free market policies such as those championed by the Conservatives are wholly incompatible with ecological considerations; considerations which require the sacrifice of short term and individual self-interest in order to protect the common long-term good. Such profit-focus is integral to the continued dogmatic adherence to Neoliberalism that runs in the very blood of the Conservative party; an ideology that champions the free pursuit of self-interest for all, giving no consideration to considerations outside of capital and profit. Since the days of Thatcher’s gutting of regional communities, to the willing ignorance to the risks of the most profitable course that led to the Grenfell disaster, the Conservative party have long established themselves as the party that cares only for immediate economic success above any and all else. This perhaps explains why, before the enacting of such an election stunt, the party has been such a champion of fracking; almost a perfect metaphor for the extraction of short-term value with no regard for local communities or long-term sustainability.

It may be worth a modicum of congratulations to the Conservative party. Since Johnson took over as leader of the party and the country, the suspension of fracking is perhaps the one true item that the government can, unlike parliamentary votes and PR visits to hospitals, say that it has achieved success in. Make no mistake, however, the suspension of fracking is in no way motivated by a desire to protect the environment or communities affected by fracking. It is nothing short of a rudimentary and basic election tactic and attempted evidence for its “get things done campaign”; a crumb of success that will be weaponised as a counter argument to the myriad of environmentalist criticisms. When the “Science Changes” in the event the Conservatives win majority in the next election, such a suspension will be quickly and quietly repealed, leading to the next inevitable story of a small community ravaged by fracking disaster. 

As far as Environmentalism is concerned, the Conservative party line is evident; that the planet and the people that rely upon it are an afterthought, until the next chance for Johnson, clad in an ill fitting sports top or hopefully at the top of another zip-wire, to weaponise it for his own party’s success.