Wednesday 19 August 2015

Yvette Cooper Visits Stoke

Only one of the Labour leadership candidates have strayed into North Staffordshire and, of course, Yvette Cooper's pitch to members in Stoke-on-Trent last Sunday means she'll easily win the contest. The "Stoke effect" is real and has catapulted many a politician and celebrity into the stratosphere - just because I've been waiting on the launch pad for 20 years with no sign of ignition is besides the point.

I'm rambling. Yvette Cooper came and she said some interesting things. For readers who've seen her previously at hustings events, her preamble may sound familiar. The anecdote about the woman a thousand pounds in bedroom tax arrears, and not being able to do a thing about it because we're not in power. Being steeped in labour movement campaigning traditions and marching against Thatcher in the 1980s, not that that prevented her from carrying through her programme. Yvette - rightly - pointed out that swallowing the Tory narrative on the economy and the deficit does their job for them. She also argued for a 21st century vision, asking where the jobs of the future are going to come from, while pledging to double national investment in science, ending the culture of quarterly capitalism, ensuring people are paid at least the living wage, and putting more money into social care so the scandal of low pay there can be ended. Parking tanks on the Tory lawn, she set out a vision of Labour as the party of family. This would involve extending SureStart and providing universal childcare on the Scandinavian model. It's here she took her first swipe at Jeremy, whose disembodied presence lay like a persistent itch, comparing the radicalism of this to that of transferring the running of power stations to men in Whitehall. Lastly, the old principles and power meme got an airing.

The meat to the preamble's gravy resided, as always, in answers-to-questions. Here is a selection, summarised:

Q What would you do about banking reform?
A The improper regulation of banks was a global problem. We would have to look at banking reform, but the net needs to be cast wider: government should be looking at corporate governance and thinking in the longer-term. Yvette also chose this answer to critique Corbynomics, singling out his comments about reopening the coal mines, and the problems that come with consistent quantitative easing - particularly currency depreciation and inflation.

Q The 1980s weren't all bad, a huge number of people joined after being enthused by the Labour Party's turn to the left. How do we turn the new wave of radicalised activists into long-term members and activists?
A We've got to make sure their anger is focused on changing the world. We would be doing them a disservice if we gave them false hope.

Q Should I feel aggrieved that as a long-standing activist who's held all lay positions at branch and constituency level, my vote is valued at three pounds?
A The registered supporters have proven good for getting people signed up, but the debate about its rights and wrongs isn't really for now.

Q What do you say about land banking for tax avoidance purposes?
A There are double standards around benefits and tax collection. We can tackle Tory hypocrisy, and Labour in government will close the loopholes and support a 50p tax rate for those earning in excess of £150,000/year.

Q How does Labour regain its reputation for economic competence?
A We need to make an argument for a mixed economy. This means addressing power, but also helping other types of enterprise - such as co-ops. We also need to talk confidently about public services and attack the notion that they exist to encourage dependency on the state. In fact, they enable people to be independent.

Q If education helps poorer people out of poverty, why saddle young people with huge debt arising from tuition fees?
A Fees generate debt, and it's a bonkers policy. It puts people off going to university, and the present funding arrangements do not work. A graduate tax is fairer. We can't say students shouldn't make a contribution, they should. It also has the virtue of not narrowing entry. But we have to ask where the money is going to come from if HE is made free?

Q How to engage younger people?
A Young people are the hardest hit by Osborne's austerity. There are a number of things the party can do. First, there needs to be a shadow cabinet member with responsibility for young people. Second, youth engagement has to be the property of and led by young members. And lastly we need to focus on the FE colleges as they're bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Q Do you support a rent cap?
A There needs to be much more regulation of private rents. We have to also think about tenancies - the lack of long-term tenancies can and are an acute source of insecurity. But neither regulation or reform will work unless we build more houses - we should be aiming for 300,000 a year.

Winding things up, Yvette talked about having the right values, radical visions, and determination to take them (the Tories) on. She finished by emphasising the need for unity. If we rip ourselves apart after the leadership election, we're not so much as letting ourselves down but the people who need a Labour government.

Though this account probably doesn't convey it, Yvette's performance was stronger than the West Midlands hustings a couple of months back. She didn't come across as slick in that smarmy Blairite way New Labour ministers of old excelled at, but knowledgeable, humorous, relaxed, and warm. But did she need to do what she needed in terms of winning people over? As Stoke and North Staffs tends to be forgotten when it comes to "celebrity" politician visits, her visit would have won some support among the 120 or so present. There were no loaded Corbynite questions as such, though it's worth noting a point about how to win back Scotland went unanswered in the final round of questioning.

In all, it was a competent performance. I was pleased to see more is getting added to a pitch that hasn't really said much until recently, but is this too little too late? We will find out in less than a month's time.


sad man said...

Why does she think students should make a contribution? There are no fees or graduate taxes in Scotland or Germany. The current system is a graduate tax with a cap on the amount you pay, how would moving to a lifetime tax be an improvement?

She didn't answer the rent cap question, dodged to talk about "regulation". I assume this means she doesn't want a rent cap.

So that's students and tenants she isn't interested in helping. Charming.

jim mclean said...

The Scottish system leaves thousands of working class kids deep in debt while middle class and rich kids skip of into the bright debt free middle class future having gained from the Nats total mismanagement of Education and the economy in their bid to subsidise the rich at the cost of the poor. It is a horrendous attack on the WC kids as further education is stripped of funds to pay for the SNP flagship policy. The worst sufferers are single working class mothers who have all but been driven out of the education system. SNP policy is subsidise the middle classes wnd get neets of streets through fake NC courses designed to manipulate the emploment figures. Nobody should use the Scottish situation as an example.

sad man said...

Jim, the article you linked to says:

"The average loans taken out by students from the lowest income families averaged out at £5,610 a year, compared to £4,340 for students from better off homes, said Lucy Blackburn Hunter, a former civil servant who specialises in higher education policy.

Blackburn Hunter said that the cumulative impact of those policies meant that Scottish students doing a typical four year Scottish university course would end up owing more than £20,000, while the poorest faced the heaviest debts.

The average debt per student was £5,020, while the cuts in grant funding would continue for the foreseeable future."

Whilst I think this is unsatisfactory and that students should have full grants, this is still far better than the system in England. English students have to pay fees of £9000 a year and then start paying for their living costs. The maintenance grant for the poorest students is only £3000 and that is being taken away now as well. The English situation has the same negatives as the Scottish one plus the appallingly high fees.

Phil said...

She's talking a fair amount of sense - at this rate I might end up going Cooper/Corbyn. Interesting to see the 50p tax rate commitment - doesn't seem so long since we were being told that was dead and buried. Almost as if the terms of the debate have been shifted to the left...