Having just watched the Newsnight debate between the five contenders for the Labour leadership, I have to confess that I am still not much the wiser. With Jeremy Paxman seemingly more interested in trying to get the candidates to talk about the past (e.g. Iraq, Gordon Brown's leadership) than the future, there was precious little time for the candidates to outline future policy changes. Paxman's attempt to try and get Ed Balls to knife Alistair Darling over his last budget was particularly emblematic of much that is wrong with the way politics is conducted inside the Westminster/media bubble. Then Michael Crick had the audacity to claim that Ed Miliband had underperformed because he had "..failed to put forward the kind of visionary ideas..." that he had outlined at previous hustings. Well of course he failed, Michael, because he wasn't given the opportunity. In fact none of the candidates were.
In a previous blog I outlined five of the top twenty questions that I think need to be addressed in this leadership debate. Only the first of these (why you?) and the last (civil liberties) were really addressed in the Newsnight debate. The issues of housing, inequality and the candidates' own policy priorities were largely ignored. Yet the previous debate hosted by the Fabian Society seemed to be much more policy oriented. As a result it is slowly becoming apparent that there are some distinct differences between the various candidates, but we will only be able to fully appreciate what these are when we find out where each candidate stands on a range of different issues. Many of these critical issues will be in policy areas where the last government was found wanting, both by its supporters and by the electorate as a whole.
6) Clearly electoral reform is one such issue. The media think this is only of relevance to political anoraks, but it is becoming clear that it is central to issues of social justice and inclusion. It also impacts on the way political parties position and differentiate themselves and hence on amount of choice voters are given at elections. This was one of the key policies that was addressed at the Fabian meeting. It now appears that most of the candidates are signed up to electoral reform. Ed Balls is even in favour of a written constitution, which brings me on the the next point.
7) Constitutional reform.
One area where the last government lost trust was over its refusal to grant the people a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. So would a future Labour government grant a referendum on all future EU treaties? This question is even more important given the role that such treaties appear to be playing in forcing the UK government to contract out public services and possibly privatise the Royal Mail.
8) Then there is the euro. Given the current problems in the eurozone it is imperative that we know under what circumstances (if any) each candidate would countenance the UK joining the euro. It is also important that we find out to what extent they each understand the potential economic consequences of doing so. One of the biggest economic consequences of joining the euro would be in the effect it had on the UK financial sector.
9) So would any of the candidates be prepared to reform the banking system to make it more competitive and reduce the risk of another financial collapse? Are they prepared to break up big banks? What other financial measures would they introduce? And how would they prevent the most disadvantaged in society being excluded from access to bank services as banks seek to increasingly make customer pay annual fees for bank accounts?
Of course it is not only our banking system that is prone to excessive executive pay and a disproportionate bonus culture. The same is true of much of British industry.
10) So how would each candidate improve shareholder democracy and Company Law in order to reduce corporate fraud, tax evasion and avoidance, and excessive executive pay and bonuses?
11) How would they regulate takeovers in order to maintain market competition, improve consumer choice and protect British businesses and jobs from unfair competition and commercial predators? There is no doubt that the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft cost Labour many thousands of votes, both around Birmingham and elsewhere.
12) Wealth and Mansion Taxes.
Which candidates would support a Mansion Tax of the type outlined by Vince Cable? Such a tax is far more redistributive than income tax and could generate up to £20bn, as I pointed out a few months ago. That is nearly ten times the amount that inheritance tax currently generates. It is also far more than is currently generated by stamp duty and CGT.
So, twelve down and eight more to go.