I saw Douglas Alexander on the Politics Show trying to defend the indefensible: the Labour Party’s lurch to the right. In doing so he quoted Aneurin Bevan, or should I say misquoted as he reversed Bevan’s original sentence “The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism”. Bevan coined this phrase for his 1949 Labour conference speech.
But perhaps Mr Alexander and other Labour politicians should read the 1959 speech ten years later and following Labour’s defeat in the general election, where Bevan references himself but also goes on to say:
“.. The language of priorities was the religion of Socialism, and there is nothing wrong with that statement either, but you can only get your priorities right if you have the power to put them right… The argument is about power and only about power, because only by the possession of power can you get the priorities correct.”
I could not agree more – only with the full levers of power in the hands of the Scottish Government can we adequately address all our priorities. In the meantime, I for one am content with a Scottish Government who, with limited powers, prioritise free education, free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly and who freeze the council tax to protect hard working families in Scotland.
North Lanarkshire, which still has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country, saw council tax rates soar by 46% under successive Labour administrations. This was tax out of control and an easy hit on rate payers. And yet, the party of Aneurin Bevan has rejected a progressive local income tax!
Aneurin Bevan was addressing a bruised and disappointed Labour Party who had lost the election. The Labour Party was reflecting on that election and trying to get to grips with the reasons that the electorate had rejected them and embraced the Tories. I suspect that the same thoughts and self-analysis has gone on recently at (or not at) John Smith House due to their massive defeat at the hands of the SNP. Although there the similarities end as the “cause” in Bevan’s time was the new found affluence of the electorate:
“I have enough faith in my fellow creatures in Great Britain to believe that when they have got over the delirium of the television, when they realise that their new homes that they have been put into are mortgaged to the hilt, when they realise that the moneylender has been elevated to the highest position in the land, when they realise that the refinements for which they should look are not there, that it is a vulgar society of which no decent person could be proud, when they realise all those things, when the years go by and they see the challenge of modern society not being met by the Tories who can consolidate their political powers only on the basis of national mediocrity, who are unable to exploit the resources of their scientists because they are prevented by the greed of their capitalism from doing so … then we shall lead our people to where they deserve to be led!”
I would suggest that Bevan would never have led the people to means testing – never mind standing shoulder to shoulder with these same Tories in something called “Better together!” So why has Johann Lamont taken the Labour Party down this insidious and divisive route? Why is the Labour Party setting citizen against citizen? The insinuation that a universal benefit is paid for by the poorest in society? The insinuation that a young person in work taking up a Modern Apprenticeship is denying a young person on the dole a job? The insinuation that those benefitting from free tuition are somehow getting something for nothing? I agree with Johann Lamont that we should have an honest debate about the type of society we want. However, you can’t on one hand say everything is on the table and in the same breath say the cost of Trident is a false argument and doesn’t feature in that debate!
Apart from anything else, means testing doesn’t work. Frequently the weakest and neediest miss out. In January this year Citizens’ Advice UK highlighted the level of unclaimed means tested benefits:
“Official figures show that up to £20 billion in means-tested benefits and tax credits go unclaimed every year.* Older people are most likely to be missing out on pension credit and council tax benefit.
As many as 1.6 million pensioners are missing out on an average of £34 a week in pension credit, while up to 2.9million households in all age groups are missing out on an average £14 a week in council tax benefit.*
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
“This huge amount of unclaimed benefit adds up to millions of people missing out on the help they should be getting to make ends meet.”
She said there were many reasons why people don’t claim the money due to them:
“A lot of people simply don’t know about the help that’s out there. Others are put off because the system can seem very daunting. Some think the amount they get will not be worth the trouble. But all too often they are missing out on substantial amounts of extra cash that could make a real difference to their lives.”
This is the worst aspect of means testing. And where will it end? Is the NHS safe from Labour who have questioned free prescriptions? Nye Bevan resigned over this issue:
“I consider the imposition of charges on any part of the health service (an issue) … I could never agree to. If the government impose them my resignation would automatically follow”
Universal benefits are the only proof that we are truly all in this together!