IN Brighton, in the opposition Labour Party annual conference important policies were given which include a four-day week, getting rid of private schools, scrapping universal credit, renaming DWP as Department of Social Welfare to reflect national aspiration on lines of NHS, abolishing the schools inspectorate, an end to prescription charges, free care for elderly people and free nursery places for toddlers. Policies are aimed to make daily lives of public easier. The Party leadership is ready to increase taxes on rich to pay for these costly welfare measures. In 2017 the Party promised to scrap student fee, start mass social housing programme and renationalize the railways which polled well among swing voters. In addition to undecided voters, Labour is trying to win support of younger voters. Reports show that they are worse off than their parents and grandparents. According to one survey, Millennials are first generation since 1800 who are set to be worse off than their grandparents. The Party is now trying to send a strong message of social welfare to youth, workers, elders and disgruntled Tories. In Conservative Party conference in Manchester the emphasis was on ‘Get Brexit Done: invest in NHS, schools and police”. Among other main attractions was £500m allocation for young entrepreneurs. Historically, the Party is pro-business, keeps taxes low. Johnson has promised to lower the taxes in wake of Brexit which makes the Party popular with businesses, banks, traders and manufacturers, its main source of donations and support.
According to past surveys, the Party has double digit lead over its rivals but the austerity policies of Tory Party are going to undermine it. Young voters are leaving the Party. They are worse off than their parents, not home owners, spending a third of their income on rents, stuck in insecure gig (contract) jobs, young parents are undermined by childcare costs. Reportedly, only 8% of women under 35 would vote Tory. Majority of Tory voters are over 51. Party is ignoring 20% of youth unhappy with its climate policy. Tory party proposals received positive reviews on ending the five-week wait for initial payments, scrap the benefit cap and two-child limit and heinous “rape clause”. The promise to review the sanctions system, ditch the “digital only” approach and hire 5,000 new advisers to help those who struggle with online applications.
The rising levels of poverty in the UK over the past five years, particularly among children (approaching 40%, unmatched since war) and pensioners (£37bn taken out of benefits) are ascribed to austerity policies of ruling Tory party. There is a huge increase in insecure, low-paid work, use of food banks, in homelessness and rough sleeping. Reports show 22% increase in homeless people in 2018 and they get beaten up, everything stolen, especially shoes and IDs. Then there are questions on country’s election process also. Due to first past the post system, smaller parties like Lib Dem and Green Party are left irrelevant in the power corridors. The Electoral Reform Society reported 9.4 million are missing from electoral register, mostly young and renters. Cameron stopped households and colleges registering themselves automatically knowing that majority of young voters may not vote for them so better leave them out. Press reports show lawmakers and cabinet members have been receiving donations and on pay lists of companies during their time in parliament and office. Both parties have given their policies but there is little hope for providing relief at grassroots. Here is why. In 1989, London was deregulated. The rest of the UK saw city growing, making money and improving life styles while it got poorer which has fueled Brexit. It prompted the politicians from both major parties that politics of left and right was over. There was no need to make class policies to help people move from poor to rich. It is not possible anymore. The role of government, judiciary and legislature are controlled by free market or capitalism in western world under the assumption that market knows the best. Political parties and their leaders convinced themselves that there is no alternate to free market and governments have become ineffective. The standoff in UK is failure of three decades of policies which failed to deliver under the trickle down concept.
The free markets, central banks, the governments of the day and even the EU failed to play their role and what little efforts the judiciaries made under system of checks and balances were ignored, not implemented or openly undermined. The (independent) media and powerful lobbies backed by powerful countries mostly protected shareholders at the cost of public systems and state welfare including systematic erosion of constitutional protections of individuals, workers, unions etc, institutions, commissions, watchdogs, civil services and policing. The failure of state institutions and economic system to serve grassroots explains rise of populism, populist leaders in the world including UK, USA, Hungry, India, Italy or Brazil. The populist leaders challenge writ of the state, consider themselves above law and undermine international laws including UN human rights. History shows that world progressed the most between 1946 to 1970 under state institutions and state controlled economic systems, civil services and policing. The state kept a strong control over the private sector. The public welfare agenda of Labour Party given in Brighton conference shows the future direction of democracy and a way forward to end populism. The situation in UK offers many lessons for Pakistan and its leaders to serve its public and avoid pitfalls.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.