David McLoughlin on why losing the Bradford by-election was a surprise and what Labour needs to do.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the disastrous Bradford West by-election result in which Labour’s shocked candidate Imran Hussain was crushed by a 36.59% swing from Labour to Respect that saw George Galloway take the seat with a majority of 10,140 on a turnout of just over 50%.
Firstly because young voters from south Asian backgrounds don’t follow ‘clan leaders’ or family patriarchs anymore. I found that out on the doorstep campaigning for Ken Livingstone in 2008. Some of our election strategists still think the old rules apply. They don’t.
Secondly, George Galloway opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a running sore with Muslim voters and it hasn’t gone away.
Thirdly, young people see no future in the ‘old’ parties because they are proposing almost nothing to tackle youth
unemployment and the housing shortage.
Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:
‘The ONS Regional Trends report, published in June 2009, showed that most of the urban core and 41% of the
district as a whole were among the most deprived in the country, …Bradford has one of the highest unemployment rates in England, with the economic inactivity rates of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups standing at over 50% of the working age population.’
So unemployment is a key problem here.
We can’t tackle unemployment if we remain committed to a policy of endless austerity, because austerity is choking economic growth and just begets more austerity. Labour needs to cut loose from neo-liberalism and stop worrying about the bond markets. The developed economies with the biggest deficits are the US and Japan and both are growing faster than the UK (see the latest OECD forecast).
We have been handcuffed by Alistair Darling’s commitment to cut spending almost as fast as the coalition. We must not make the mistake of matching Osborne cut for cut in 2016-17. Instead we should commit to restoring the tax credit cuts. If Ed Balls wants to pay for that, reducing pension tax relief for higher rate earners to the same rate as for standard rate tax payers would be a start (and a lot of Lib Dems support this).
On the capital budget side: how about a social house building programme, conditional on firms running apprenticeship schemes for the young unemployed? It would kill two birds with one stone: reducing market rents and housing benefit subsidies while improving skills and reducing unemployment.
100,000 homes in year one should be doable, rising to 200,000 in subsequent years. It needs to be a long-term programme that can guarantee jobs for those coming out of apprenticeships. There are five million people nationally on the housing waiting lists. In Hounslow we have 12,000 on the waiting list, of which 6,800 have no hope of ever being housed with current policies.
The government can currently borrow 10 year money at 2.2% that is 1.4% less than current inflation. But it is only borrowing to fund the deficit. It isn’t borrowing for investment. Meanwhile the banks are happy to loan our
money to ‘buy to let landlords’ who have no problem with getting loans because they have the collateral in the flats they already own and there is a shortage of homes to rent.
Young people can’t get on the housing ladder because they can’t raise even a 10% deposit. Switching those loans from the private to the public sector and using them to build houses would make it easier for people to get on the housing ladder as house prices would stabilise and even fall in real terms. I can’t think of a more popular policy for younger voters.
These proposals are hardly bold. The Tory National Government of the 1930s engineered a partial recovery from the
1932 depression by boosting housing investment when resources were lying idle. How come our policy is now more right-wing than that of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain?