Amsterdam

Those who say Labour doesn’t engage enough with our sister parties on the continent and beyond would have been pleasantly surprised by the numbers of high-profile Labour figures who paticipated in the Progressive Governance Conference in Amsterdam on Thursday and Friday. From Chuka Umunna to Stella Creasy, John McTernan, Stewart Wood, Alison McGovern, Roger Liddle, John Denham, Kitty Ussher, Gareth Thomas and others, Labour was conspicuous in its presence among an array of leading politicians and academics exchanging ideas, research results and analysis.

From the various presentations, what was striking were the common trends and challenges facing so many countries as we emerge from the post-2008 economic recession with long-term challenges such as ageing populations, climate change, energy supply, higher levels of debt and growing inequalities. Despite the recession, the richest 1% in our society have got richer. This is both a misallocation of resources which is economically damaging (Thomas Piketty’s research was often quoted on this, not to be confused with the equally interesting work by York academic Kate Pickett on a similar subject!), and a situation which creates great resentment when there is still high unemployment — and when some governments’ response to the need to cut deficits is not to tax the rich or fight tax evasion, but to cut benefits to the poorest in our societies.

The right have a strategy to channel people’s anger. They blame foreigners, migrants, the EU, welfare, Muslims, Jews, the cost of safety regulations… anyone and anything except the banks that triggered the crisis, the multinational companies that avoid taxes by shifting profits to tax havens, or indeed the right-wing governments with myopic policies.

All the more reason for the left to hammer home a different message: that fairness and economic recovery go together. That recovering the amounts lost to tax evasion and avoidance across Europe would in itself eliminate government deficits. That deepening the EU as the world’s largest single market would be a driver of economic growth. That investing in improved energy efficiency cuts costs to households as well as making us less vulnerable to outside suppliers, not to mention cutting climate-changing emissions. That migrants pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits and services. That investment in pre-school education promotes both equality and economic prospects. That our highly interdependent countries have no choice but to work together, and moreover, that doing things together can make us stronger.

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