In 1929, a general election took place while Britain was in the grip of economic difficulty and unemployment was high. Under the leadership of David Lloyd George, the Liberal Party chose to stand for election under the slogan “We Can Conquer Unemployment.” What Lloyd George proposed was a radical set of economic policies designed to tackle unemployment by stimulating public infrastructure through house building, road construction and expanding the telephone network. These policies were inspired by the social liberal economist, John Maynard Keynes. The Liberal campaign with its focus on tackling social hardship and unemployment was relevant for the times. Today in Britain, we are less than two years away from a general election. Once more like in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, Britain is in the grip of austerity with high levels of unemployment and living standards are under threat. The Liberal Democrats must ensure that they go into the next general election promising to raise living standards on a radical platform distinctive from the Conservatives and Labour.
Despite recent signs of growth in the economy, we are still a long way off an economic recovery. Unemployment remains close to 8% and youth unemployment remains incredibly high. The high levels of unemployment are undermining any attempt at a long lasting recovery. The government desperately needs to stimulate growth in the construction industry as well as getting the banks to lend to small and medium sized businesses. Many people who are in work may not have job security. As many as a million people could be employed on zero hours contracts . These contracts do not give the people on them any guarantee of shifts or work patterns. If living standards are to rise, unemployment needs to decrease as does the use of zero hours contracts.
Some of the most basic standards of living are also decreasing, such as the ability to buy enough food. The rise in the use of food banks comes as many of the poorest people struggle to feed themselves, due to a mixture of welfare changes and low wages. Between April and June of this year over 150,000 people received three days of emergency food . Many people on low and middle incomes are also having their living standards squeezed by high energy prices and the increasing price of using the railways. This is not the mention the real terms fall in wages. Overall, the disposable income of families across the country has seen its biggest drop in 25 years . The fall in living standards will be a central issue at the next general election and Liberal Democrats must fight to raise them.
The current austerity programme in Britain is the central pillar of Osbornomics (the economics and policies of George Osborne). The fall in living standards is being compounded by these policies. Cuts to public spending along with the welfare reforms (such as the bedroom tax) are severely hitting some of the poorest people in our society. Furthermore, George Osborne has summoned the spirit of the old Thatcherite slogan, TINA, there is no alternative. Osborne’s unwillingness to change from Plan A is probably one of the reasons why unemployment remains stubbornly high and why growth is sparse and unevenly distributed across the regions of the UK. Osbornomics has to date failed to deliver a sustained recovery.
In 2015, the Liberal Democrats must stand on a distinct, radical platform like David Lloyd George did in 1929 with “We Can Conquer Unemployment.” Following 1929, Britain had two years of austerity before another election in 1931. The general election of 1931 was the last election to see a decline in living standards. There is a real possibility that in 2015 living standards could be lower than they were in 2010.The 2015 general election will be a living standards election. The Liberal Democrats must not be afraid to distance themselves from Osbornomics, if they are to successfully raise living standards.
The Liberal Democrats in 2015 need a separate set of economic policies from those of Osbornomics. Firstly, the Lib Dems should promote some kind of Keynesian stimulus in-order to build 100,000 more houses every year, including thousands more social homes. Another vital policy to improve living standards is the living wage. The mansion tax of Vince Cable is a progressive tax policy that is very much needed during this time of austerity. Furthermore the Lib Dems must continue to take the poorest workers out of paying income tax; while the 50p tax rate should be reintroduced for the richest earners. In the workplace, workers’ rights must be protected and enhanced through the tradition Liberal commitment of increasing the numbers of co-operatives and mutuals. Also companies should be encouraged to allow more worker representatives onto company boards. Finally, the Lib Dems must stand to repeal the most regressive aspects of the welfare reforms, such as the bedroom tax.
If the Liberal Democrats are to be a credible, independent, progressive party in 2015 they must stand up for raising living standards. The Lib Dems need to ensure that they have a radical distinctive identity from those of Labour and the Conservatives. To endorse Conservative austerity in 2015 would be disastrous for the party and the country. The Lib Dems need a moderate social liberal alternative to Osbornomics. This should be an alternative that promotes better living standards, better wages and that focuses on job creation and job security. As with David Lloyd George in 1929, the Lib Dems must be the voice for more jobs and better living standards in 2015. If the Lib Dems do not stand up for social justice, no one will.