Monday 17 June 2013

What's missing from the Lib Dem Million Jobs campaign

The Lib Dem Million Jobs campaign is well and truly launched, and my in-box is weighed down by homilies from Vince Cable and Nick Clegg about its importance - putting jobs right at the heart of the Lib Dem effort in the coalition.

It is a brave and powerful campaign, and it is about precisely what the party ought to be campaigning about. Regular readers of this blog (if there are any) may remember that I gargled with David Lloyd George's 1929 slogan 'We Can Conquer Unemployment'.

For all the Lib Dem rhetoric about fairness and civil liberties, the party has to make bold economic claims if they are going to hold together some kind of purpose which will strike a chord with voters.

That's what I said, and - although I doubt very much whether anybody read by blog before coming up with the new campaign - that is what I meant.

There is also a good story to tell.  There is huge effort from the Lib Dem side of the coalition going into making jobs happen, from the apprenticeships to the Green Investment Bank, and it is having an effect.

But there has been some scepticism about the campaign in the Lib Dem blogosphere (I can't believe it: I have reduced myself to using a word like 'blogosphere').  Jonathan Calder quoted my blog about blocking the RBS sell-off until it can be turned into a useful lending infrastructure, as a more distinctively Liberal approach to economics.

Actually, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.  Yet there is something missing here.  Something very important.  It is the missing implication of what people ought to do about it.

By itself, the list of Lib Dem policy successes reads a little like Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technological revolution'; it carries the same dated whiff of naivety.  And of course there is a great deal about grants and clever ideas to encourage companies to take on staff.

These are all worthy and important achievements, but why do they imply that anyone should back the Lib Dems because of them?

Any political party can give out grants and come up with clever ideas to tweak the company tax code.  They can and they do.  Most political parties will claim an interest in rising employment and will stake a claim to any successes going.  Why vote Lib Dem?  What is the public reaction supposed to be to the Million Jobs campaign?

Because if it is public gratitude, then don't hold your breath.  People are not grateful to political parties.  They don't vote for them because they had some clever ideas in the past.  They vote for them because they believe they have the answer to the future, and have the capacity and will to make it happen.

That is the crucial missing element in the campaign.  If we can conquer unemployment, we have to articulate a new approach - that goes beyond the Million Jobs and explains why we uniquely have the answer.  That is what Lloyd George claimed with that slogan in 1929, and - although it was not adopted by the British government - it was adopted by Roosevelt in the USA as the New Deal.

Can the Lib Dems conjure up an approach to economic recovery as fundamental as Keynesian economics?  Perhaps not overnight, but the basic outlines are clear:
  • An asset-based approach to local revitalisation, based on effective local lending, maximising local money flows, plugging the leaks in the local economy with new enterprise, and making local spending go further (see for example my report Ten Steps to Save the Cities.)
  • An approach to recovery that understands we need local institutions, to lend to and to support new enterprises (see for example the first sections of the recent Lib Dem policy document on sustainable jobs).
Labour thinking is veering towards regional banking but they do not yet see the central truth - that every area has the basic resources it needs to recover (at least to begin to recover), if only it had the right institutions to make it possible.


Mark Pack said...

Very well put - as ever!

Francesca E S Montemaggi said...

The problem is that many Lib Dems have bought the mantra of austerity. Maybe Keynes is too counter-intuitive, but all main parties are not 'austerians'. They should look at the EU more closely and the gentle and slow shift away from austerity towards investment. They should go back to being progressive and European. The future of Britain and of Europe depends on having a vision as Europe which includes economic development.