Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Poor Choice

In today’s FT Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, makes the parallel between the “most successful minority government in modern British history”, and this year’s election.

In 1910 Herbert Asquith, a Liberal, led a minority government with support from a progressive alliance of Irish nationalists and a nascent Labour Party.  The Liberals won 272 seats, the Conservatives 271, and it was thus the Irish Parliamentary Party, with 74 seats and Labour (42) who could balance the powers of the two main parties. There are lots of Scottish connections - Asquith was MP for East Fife, and Labour was led by George Nicoll Barnes, MP for Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown. Nick Pearce notes that this reforming government created the national insurance system that was the basis of the modern welfare state, passed constitutional reforms that established the power of elected MPs over the House of Lords, reformed trade union law and passed an Irish Home Rule Act.

“Some…will seize the crisis of the established party system as an opportunity for realignment…” concludes Nick Pearce.

And that will be a healthy outcome for England as well as for Scotland. Especially for the poor of both countries because they – of all people – are the ones who suffer most from “the established party system.”

That’s what Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland argues: with 820,000 people living in poverty in Scotland in 2012-13 he says that "…we have a major opportunity - with the leaders of the two largest parties at the Scottish Parliament sharing a single objective - to seriously challenge inequality in Scotland."

And Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland lays out what a new Government – one that did not have to toe the Party line – could do: adequate social security benefits, affordable childcare, free school meals – the list is simple and well argued.

We thought that the September 2014 Referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now we have a second chance to make a good choice; a poor choice.

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