There was no recession in the United Kingdom at the time of the last General Election. Yet still we are told that George Osborne is an economic genius as surely as he is the strategic genius who delivered the Conservative non-majority, followed by this year’s local election results.
We have also been told, by every government for 30 years, that we can have full employment or low inflation, but not both. So how come, and not exactly for the first time during that period, we now have desperately high unemployment and desperately high inflation simultaneously? I am reminded of the not unrelated argument, occasionally still trotted out, that minimum wage provision would destroy jobs, making low wages the condition of low unemployment. It always rang more than a little hollow here in the North East, with both the lowest wages and the highest unemployment in the country. Here in County Durham, we had both the lowest wages and the highest unemployment of the lot. I know. Imagine that.
With even the meaningless jibe that Ed Miliband was not as popular as his party now blown out of the water, the time is ripe to insist on the successful combination of full employment with low inflation. A strong financial services sector with a strong food production and manufacturing base, and with the strong democratic accountability of both. A leading role on the world stage with a vital commitment to peace, including a complete absence of weapons of mass destruction. Academic excellence with technical proficiency. Superb and inexpensive public transport with personal freedom and with close-knit rural communities. Visible and effective policing with civil liberty. And very high levels of productivity with the robust protection of workers, consumers, communities and the environment, including powerful workers’ representation at every level of corporate governance.
In a number of other Commonwealth and European countries, these combinations are taken for granted. Or they were until recently, in much happier times. Like a proper rail network, in fact. We need to renationalise the railways, uniquely without compensation in view of the manner of their privatisation, as the basis for a national network of public transport free at the point of use, including the reversal of bus route and rail line closures going back to the 1950s. Those trains need to be run on electricity, produced domestically and not least from our vast reserves of coal, rather than on oil, which has to be imported, and that often from unsavoury and unstable petrostates in the Gulf and elsewhere.
Only public ownership can deliver this. Public ownership is of course British ownership, and thus a safeguard of national sovereignty. It is also a safeguard of the Union in that it creates communities of interest across the several parts of the United Kingdom. Publicly owned concerns often even had, and could have again, the word “British” in their names.
Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas, over to you.