The polls, although tightening with the squeezing of the Liberal Democrat and Brexit party vote share, continue to project a comfortable working majority for Boris Johnson on 12 December.
Labour itself seems resigned to limiting losses of seats in Brexit-voting areas in the Midlands and North, the same areas, as Brexit and Lies that Matter pointed out, which will suffer the most from a bad-Johnson Brexit.
The 2017 Corbyn effect has not materialized this time round. His lamentable failure to lance the anti-semitism boil, and his similar – but different – inability or unwillingness to relate to ‘Middle England’ in a way that his electorally successful predecessors – Attlee, Wilson, and Blair – did in varying ways, continues to dog his party’s prospects.
The actual result on Thursday, of course, cannot be predicted precisely in today’s uncertain political environment.
The young and undecided could still tilt towards Labour on the day.
Local circumstances and issues could intervene and disrupt the national pattern given the vagaries of our current electoral system.
The parties’ respective manifesto commitments, or, rather, lack of substantive ones that can be trusted, could still induce an unexpected decisive and late electoral effect.
Significant electoral shifts, however, invariably follow a wider groundswell of the popular mood. Yet that remains stubbornly stuck in muted cynical mode.
The Conservative’s resurrection of their ‘triple-lock’ commitment not to increase income, national insurance, and VAT rates compares with Labour’s to fund additional expenditure from increased taxes on companies and income-tax payers earning over 80k.
Although clear blue water, accordingly, has opened-up between Labour and Conservative on tax and spending, neither party have articulated a future economic and social vision that engages and resonates with the wider electorate.
It will be tragic if the lies of an entitlement-laden and amoral former Etonian prime minister allows him to win the day because Labour neglected to engage and enthuse Middle England voters, at a time when the intellectual tide has turned in favour of, and national need calls out for, a radical but feasible socialist or social democratic – call it what you will – programme in government.
To deny Johnson a working majority Labour must continue re-orient and its Prioritise its message, but with much more Focus, Consistency and Honesty.
It should mesh its vision and Brexit policy much more clearly, highlighting how a bad-Johnson Brexit will sunder the UK, undermine peace in Northern Ireland (NI), and generate unnecessary economic costs, acting as a deadweight drag or worse on growth and hence the public finances across the UK.
This when the maintenance, let alone the improvement, of public services to an aging population in reality, will require increased borrowing to fund rising real current expenditures and/or higher taxes, which, if not direct, will be of the less transparent stealth variety, difficult to limit in incidence to higher income groups, even when intended. Funding social care is a case in point; honesty on that score is needed.
To be successful, both in electoral and sustainable strategic policy template terms, ‘Goody-bag’ giveaways and unattainable maximalist gestures should to be downplayed. Measures that interlock economic justice and efficiency should instead be prioritised.
Institutional reform to secure demonstrable efficiency in the selection, planning and delivery of infrastructural investment must be integral, and not subsidiary, to the design and operation of fiscal rule reform: greater fiscal latitude for productive public investment must go hand-in-hand with greater demonstrable efficiency in its selection and execution, as set out in Making Public Investment Smart.
Individuals are empowered, in practice, to take control over their future by having pathways to suitable, available, and improved education, housing and job opportunities, forged and opened-up across the country, pushing up productivity and expanding economic opportunity to lower income households.
That, in turn, will depend upon high quality transport, digital, and social infrastructure in housing, education, and, to a degree, cultural services within existing high-productivity cities and areas – the London-Oxford-Cambridge triangle is a case in point – to maximise their potential to generate more growth through the further complementary agglomeration of productive firms and people.
At the same time, coastal and smaller cities and towns, especially in sub-regions located north of a line drawn between the Humber and Wash and in Cornwall, that have borne the brunt of decades of de-industrialisation, losing jobs not replaced by relatively stagnant or declining service sectors – the same areas that tend to the most exposed to the loss of EU Structural Funds – will also rely upon targeted and efficient productive investment in economic and social infrastructure.
Is the answer then, growth-friendly general or ‘place-blind’ policies to improve education, healthcare, infrastructure, and affordable housing?
Or more place-based policies to tackle regional inequality, where subsidies, grants, and public infrastructural investment are targeted to individuals and firms, according to location?
Both, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) researchers in a recent world-wide survey of regional inequality, pointing out that the high cost of housing in high income regions and cities restricts domestic migration, while the rejuvenation of declining areas requires an expanded supply of locally available better paid jobs, supported both by an improved local skills base on the supply side and by rising demand for locally-produced goods and services.
A conclusion echoed in another recent paper on innovation policy, endorsed no less by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s human lodestar: an example of the flow of the intellectual tide mentioned above, but all much more in accord with the Labour manifesto than the Conservative one .
In the UK context, that means partnerships between Whitehall, devolved, and local government to attract and sustain private investment to lagging sub-regions and areas com, where possible linked to university and other sources of expertise that can lead best to the cluster development of productive enterprises, combined with targeted and efficient productive public investment in site preparation, affordable housing, education and skills, and above all in improved connectivity allowing people to access quality employment opportunities within reach of their existing homes.
Reducing the friction of travel Trans-Pennine and within the West Midlands are two of the more obvious examples of productive public infrastructural investment contributing to long-term prosperity.
Another practical example of the potential of public investment to raise productivity and growth in a balanced and equitable way is a sustained increased in investment on affordable housing to a broad steady-state level, meshed with the planned expansion of apprentice and training opportunities targeted to indigenous young people.
Besides its social impacts that should help to mitigate and avoid existing and future labour bottlenecks within the industry, while enhancing human capital and productivity outcomes and making them more balanced in income and spatial distributional terms, thus interlocking economic justice and efficiency in practice.
The costs of providing infrastructural investment should be reduced by directly tackling market failure and rent-capture. Speculation in land largely explains the escalating cost of buying a home, as is increasingly recognized across the political spectrum, most recently by the Conservative-leaning Financial Times journalist,Liam Halligan, in his recent book, ‘Home Truths’. Another example of the current flow of that tide that Labour is not harnessing.
The land root of the current crisis of housing affordability, indeed, must be overcome for real progress to be made in a way that impacts on the majority of those wishing to buy and rent affordable housing, not just those most likely to qualify for social housing.
It is quite likely that a Johnson Conservative Brexit government will pivot towards variations of such measures – at least in early rhetoric before the inevitable capture and perversion of ends and process by the same vested interests that fund the party, choke them.
Labour should occupy that ground during the last week of the campaign.