THE ANSWERS AREN’T THAT HARD to provide. What do we want from the economy? We want secure, well paid employment for all our people instead of the “insecure, low-skilled and low-paid jobs, and exploitative employment practices” prevalent under the Tories that the NPF describes. We don’t want an economy where living standards are stagnant for 15 years for the first time since the Napoleonic Wars, as is the case at present.
Why is this all happening? It’s because the Tories are running the show and capitalists are being allowed to do whatever they want to do. We need a Labour government, but it’s got to be a Labour government that makes a real difference.
There’s plenty to do. The NPF talks about “Labour’s vision”. But it doesn’t even mention Jeremy’s ‘Ten Pledges’, on which he was elected as leader, to create a million good quality jobs. Corbyn pledged to invest “£500 billion in infrastructure, manufacturing and new industries backed up by a publicly-owned National Investment Bank... We will invest in the high speed broadband, energy, transport and homes that our country needs.”
Good idea. How do we make it happen? Not by wishing it so, as the NPF seems to think. Labour has to make it happen by planning the economy. Otherwise capitalism will just carry on as it does at present. Planning doesn’t necessarily mean nationalising everything. But public ownership should at least be on the table for discussion as part of the planning process.
There are reckoned to be 5.5 million private sector firms in Britain at present. The vast majority of these are tiny. We don’t need to take them all over. Window cleaners and the like are already utterly dependent on servicing the big firms in their area, who ‘plan’ what the little guys can and can’t do.
But we do need some levers to control the general flow of economic activity. The one policy instrument mentioned by the NPF is a publicly owned National Investment Bank (NIB). There’s no doubt that the private banks have failed to lend the money for investment. Only about 3% of their funds go to UK industry. Yet they have all the money in the world to speculate and gamble - with the catastrophic results we saw in the financial crisis of 2008. The NIB would be a step forward, no doubt about it, but where would it get its money – that’s £500bn - from? It would have to borrow it from the banks, so the NIB would be dependent on them. Since the banks have failed and we had to bail them out at enormous expense, it makes perfect sense to take them over and run them as a public service instead.
Capitalist firms do what they do for profit. That’s why they exist. The NPF talks about working with businesses. Fine, as long as that doesn’t just mean giving them public money to do what they would do anyway. We want a better Britain. The question will be – is the elected government guiding businesses or being guided by them? There must be ownership of some crucial firms as well as the banks if a Labour government is really to control the rest and run the economy in all our interests. What are the crucial firms to be taken over? That is the question the NPF ought to be asking and answering.