Saturday 11th November saw Lincoln Labour Party host the latest in a series of Labour Party Economic Conferences at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln. The day long event was designed as an exploration of a New Economics and a look at options to the current, flawed NeoLiberal economy.
Additionally this was an opportunity to celebrate the 800th Anniversary of The Charter Of The Forest. This is the lesser known companion to Magna Carta, and although largely forgotten is no less important. It outlined the basic economic and sustenance rights of the ‘commons’, the ordinary working people, the many, not the few. It covers the right to food, to fuel, to water, to shelter, to work, and generally to live. Despite this charter only being removed from the statute books in 1971 it has been ignored and broken thousands of times over the last eight centuries. Land has been enclosed, rights eroded, access denied by a minority of wealthy elite who were either given this illegally, or just simply took it.
However, it has been said that Labour, and Socialism, is better looking forward than looking backwards, so what does this have to do with the planning of New Economics? A great deal as it happens...
We live in a society where the minimum wage doesn’t reach the living wage, where increases in housing costs grow faster than the rate of inflation, where private companies have the power to restrict access to fuel and water, and where wages grow more slowly than the cost of living. We may not ‘live off the land’ anymore but basic rights such as clean water, food, heat, light and shelter are being restricted for many, for the benefit of the few.
Outside of welcome coffees and an included lunch (great support for all specialist dietary requirements) the day was made up of three sessions. A morning seminar with fascinating talks from John McDonnell, Peter Linebaugh, and Guy Standing. These gave us a clear insight in to the challenges faced, context for the New Economics vision, and an outline of how things could be changed.
After lunch the conference split in to three groups to look at different areas; renationalising key industries which are vital to all, cooperative and community working in society, and land ownership and taxation. Each breakout group was an open session allowing anyone to have input. Among the issues covered were how wrong it is that businesses profit from the supply of clean water, how different ways of working in a community benefits the whole rather than the individuals, and how land ownership has created wealth without effort. After these breakout groups the whole conference reconvened to share feedback and learn how this conference is looking at designing a potential new ‘charter of the commons’.
It is pretty much a given nowadays that in modern society the opportunity to travel and communicate over a distance is considered a right, it is necessary. We no longer need to dig for clay to make our vessels, or develop our own personal wells and ponds, but we do need to travel and communicate. Therefore renationalising rail and the Royal Mail would return these services to the many. Equally heat, light and water are no longer gathered from the wild and companies making a profit from these is infringing on our rights. Again energy and water should be returned to national ownership. Equally education and health should be protected for all of society and privatisation in these areas should be stopped and rolled back.
It is also worth noting that there is a minority in the UK, landowners, who earn vast wealth while doing no work at all. Having ancestors who were given, or enclosed, common land has grown the family coffers and now they earn large sums on land which may well have belonged to everyone less than two centuries ago. This needs to be addressed, and rebalanced.
It was a fascinating and energising day, well worth it if only for the slightly startling facts and information which was shared. For example, since 1989 private water company shareholders have taken £39B despite cuts to maintenance, repairs and modernisation. Also, when the state owned (and therefore owned by us all) industries were sold in the 80s around 25% of share holders were just normal individuals, today that figure is down to 11% with overseas businesses owning more than half the shares on the stock market, quite a failure.
There are always those who claim that nationalisation doesn’t work and is inefficient. The evidence is quite the contrary. Chinese and French state owned businesses are building our power stations. German and Dutch state owned rail companies make huge profits running our network. And many NHS private contractors hand back difficult but vital services as they cannot make a profit.
There should, and must be a New Economics and this event was a great step in the right direction.