Labour Backbone Needed on Tax Reform

As the LibDems show all the signs of being toast at the next election, it’s easy to take some pleasure from their discomfort as they thrash about trying to put some ‘yellow’ water between themselves and their Coalition partners through vague talk of higher council taxes for larger properties and a crackdown on tax evasion.

But these are limited measures, whose real purpose is to act as a smokescreen. If they were serious, they would be considering the sort of wealth taxes seen in France, Norway and even parts of Switzerland, where taxes are levied on total assets, including property, investments and bank deposits, above a defined threshold. They might also consider a land value tax. Such measures would not only tackle the far greater disparities seen in wealth than in income, but also allow a shift from regressive indirect taxes as well as a more productive use of assets (the ‘use it or lose it’ principle). And while they’re about it, why not restore HMRC staff levels so they can really get to grips with corporate as well as individual tax avoidance and evasion, and do something about the many tax havens controlled by the UK.

But I’m forgetting this a party fully signed up to the austerity agenda and the attack on the welfare state! More interesting will be the extent to which Labour at its party conference next week start to show some backbone on these issues.

Chris Guiton

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Croydon and beyond, Boris Johnson and the Incinerator.

Boris’s objections are set-back for Beddington incinerator

Croydon’s Greens and other groups opposed to the £1 billion Beddington Lane waste incinerator scheme were in celebratory mood last night thanks to help from a most unexpected source: Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson: putting his words into action

The Greater London Authority has submitted a detailed report which found eight significant points under which the plan by waste management giants Viridor, the contractors selected by Sutton’s Liberal Democrat-run Sutton council and Conservative-run Croydon, can not progress under Boris’s London Plan.

Sutton Council issued a statement last night, which did not take much reading between the lines to sense the embarrassment at such weighty objections.

Ransford Stewart, Sutton’s interim executive head of planning and transportation, said: “The Mayor of London has provided a very detailed response to Viridor’s planning application for an Energy Recovery Facility in Beddington.” Ahhh. Still can’t bring themselves to call an incinerator an incinerator.

“It’s important that everyone has the opportunity to have their say on this important and complex proposal,” Stewart said, probably wishing that Boris Johnson hadn’t been one of those who decided to have their say.

“Sutton Council will continue carefully scrutinising the contents of the planning application, seeking expert technical advice where necessary, to ensure there is a sound basis on which to make a planning decision. We will also review all of the comments made by residents and public bodies.

“When this process has been completed, a report will go to the council’s Development Control Committee, who will decide whether permission should be granted, granted conditionally, or refused after considering all of the evidence and the comments received from residents and others.”

This, to paraphrase Churchill, is not even the beginning of the end for the incinerator saga: in all likelihood Viridor will now go away and modify their application in order to try to address the GLA’s objections. With contracts worth £1 billion over the next three decades at stake, they and the local councils who have backed this scheme are not going to let this drift away without some effort.

Yet there is a growing realisation about the health risks of waste incinerators, the contradictions over the use of proposed parkland near Mitcham Common, and increasing acknowledgement that the boroughs in the South West London Waste Partnership will be unable to generate enough waste to feed the incinerator – seeing local authorities from across southern England “export” their crap to this corner of London.

So any additional delays will not assist the incinerator’s cause, and objections from someone as influential as the Mayor of London’s office will be much more difficult to brush aside than those from “mere”, well-meaning action groups of ordinary people concerned about the health of their children and grandchildren.

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The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Poorer

The independent think tank, the Resolution Foundation, has just published a new report, Who Gains from Growth?, which reveals the alarming extent to which living standards for low and middle-income households will tumble by 2020 – even if the economy improves – while the rich get steadily richer. The report makes the case well for tackling the growing polarisation between the richer and poorer halves of the country through better vocational training, subsidised childcare and a living wage. These are all worthwhile objectives.

But as long as capital is free to relocate jobs to countries where wages are lower, the spoils of growth go largely to top earners and the Government favour finance over manufacturing, then these remedies can only have a limited effect.

As Marx pointed out, the production of surplus value underpins capital accumulation, and the immiseration of the working class necessarily follows. With the end of the post-war boom – when wages rose steadily, but which can now be seen as the temporary blip it was always going to be – this process can be witnessed in the steady reduction in the share of GDP going to wages over the last 30 years in the US and Britain as a rising proportion goes to profits. The adoption by Labour  of policy to introduce a more progressive tax system, develop a proper industrial strategy and, who knows, even re-introduce capital controls, would be a significant step in the right direction. Of course, this would require radical decisions, but perhaps we can see the People’s Charter become a rallying call across the movement!

Chris Guiton

A Progresssive Alternative to the EU

The debate on the left about the merits of continued membership of the European Union is often clouded by considerable naivety about the scope to reform the EU from within and shift it in a more progressive direction. The chimera of a ‘Social Europe’, promoted in the 1980s by Jacques Delors, then President of the EU Commission, did much to foster this confusion. But we should be under no illusions about the possibility of changing the EU into an organisation defined by social justice and fairness. The EU is using the financial crisis to intervene ever more decisively in the economies of member states, in favour of monopoly capital and the wealthy and to the detriment of ordinary people.

The recent speech by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, in which he outlined his vision for a federal Europe, with full fiscal and political union to be delivered via a new EU Treaty, is simply the latest step in the forced march towards a near-total loss of national sovereignty over internal economic affairs.

I wonder if part of the problem when discussing these issues in progressive circles rests with the confusion in some people’s minds between a legitimate sense of internationalism and interest in European culture on the one hand and a failure to recognise the capitalist underpinning of the EU on the other; allied with a degree of nervousness about being associated with the reactionary, knee-jerk xenophobia and chauvinism of UKIP and others on the right.

But there are sound, progressive reasons for wanting to leave the EU and reshape our economy on the lines of the People’s Charter. Samir Amin has just written a thoughtful article in Monthy Review, which is a useful contribution to the debate, available at:

http://monthlyreview.org/2012/09/01/implosion-of-the-european-system

And, of course, if you haven’t read it already, do get hold of a copy (now updated) of John Foster’s pamphlet, ‘The European Union: for the Monopolies, against the People’, available from Party HQ, for an excellent discussion of the history of the EU and the implications of continued membership.

Chris Guiton

Tories Continue to Struggle

Who on earth does Cameron thinks he’s kidding with his Cabinet ‘re-shuffle’?! Bourgeois commentators love to read significance into these events which, frankly, are of little or no consequence unless they signal a substantive shift in political direction. But with no change to the austerity drive, the economy in a downward spiral and the ongoing assault on the welfare state this is simply re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Even the bosses are starting to get worried about the lack of life in the economy – witness the recent statements by the CBI and the BCC. This feels like a good opportunity for Labour to raise its game and push for an early election!

Chris Guiton