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Three Hopes for 2018

As we enter 2018 there doesn’t seem to be a lot of optimism in the air. The UK economy is predicted to lag behind other high-income countries, we have a mountain to climb with Brexit, and Toby Young has been given a job as a university regulator. In the discussion I had on BBC Newsnight last night on what 2018 has in store, the best scenario the panel could think of is that we tread water - or rather the Conservatives tread water and May makes it through another year. This doesn’t sound like a good outcome to me, nor the millions suffering from defunct policies of austerity and privatisation. At such a crucial time in this country’s history we can’t afford to simply trundle along. Here are my top three hopes for the year - aims CLASS will be pursuing in 2018.

1. We develop a Brexit plan that remembers why people voted to leave. 

There are multiple reasons why Brexit is happening, but most agree that inequality, and in particular regional inequalities, is a big one. Unfortunately, however, the people running the Brexit show seem to have forgotten this. Looking across Brexit discussions and documentation to date there has been very little on this issue. In fact, last year regional inequalities grew, the rich got much richer and the poor poorer. Tackling inequality cannot be an afterthought; it should be the foundation of our Brexit strategy. 

We need to start by asking what type of Brexit would deliver more regional equality, looking in particular at replacing regional investment previously distributed by EU mechanisms, and investing in the training and infrastructure that can create quality skilled jobs outside of the South East and London.

While we know what the focus should be, we also know that a no deal Brexit would be the worst possible outcome for everyday people. Not only would thousands of jobs be at risk, but we could lose the working rights currently guaranteed by our EU membership – rights that guarantee lorry drivers can no longer be required to drive up to 70 hours a week.

Look out for CLASS publications on how to deliver a Brexit that lowers inequality and progressive trade.

2. The end of public spending cuts and a shift to a pro public investment narrative.

This is the same wish I’ve had for seven years, but it still needs saying. Austerity has failed spectacularly as an economic policy, with missed debt targets and the weakest economic recovery on record. The biggest wage squeeze for generations has left millions in troubling levels of debt - not a sustainable way to run an economy. And don’t just take my word for it - plenty of world leading economists feel the same.

The cruelty of the cuts is becoming ever more evident. Dependency on food banks has ballooned, with more than a million parcels handed out in 2017; the NHS is in crisis with hospitals on black alert and short on nurses; the number of rough sleepers in England alone has more than doubled since 2010; an estimated 128,000 children spent Christmas crammed in temporary accommodation (more than any time since the 2007-08 financial crash); child poverty is expected to increase to its highest on record in the next five years, as too is inequality.

It’s simple really - we can’t go on like this. But if we change course now and invest in our public services, and create regional banks that promote investment in physical infrastructure, we will see huge economic dividends. The taxes generated will be able to lower national debt over the longer term. Given technological, demographic and climate change, if we don’t invest now, things are only going to get worse.

CLASS will be working to bolster arguments on public investment and bust myths about the availability of public funds over the coming year.

3. We don’t let them get away with it.

Change can often feel a long way away, but one outcome of failed and socially corrosive austerity and economy policies is that people are already getting angry. Add to this another a year of weak wage growth and a botched Brexit that doesn’t give the NHS more resources and you get a lot of people ready to get more politically involved. The growth of the left movement has been evident in the last year few years, and we need to keep this going in 2018. To do this we need an alternative vision for society and bold policies that can give people hope.

What’s more, we cannot allow our political leaders to get away with not talking about climate change nor employing dog whistle nationalistic rhetoric to further inflame anti-immigration sentiment. We need to stay vigilant to cheap political tricks that divide us, and instead build solidarity in our communities and our workplaces. Join a trade union, protest, sign petitions - whatever you do just don’t let them get away with it.