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Plasters, But No Answers, to the Failure of the British Economy to Meet Basic Needs

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As the public welcomes with relief the end of the party conference season, one thing is already clear: we're in a bidding war in which the two largest parties have - rightly - identified that the public is fed up with the struggle to keep their heads above water.

Whether it's renters wearily facing another forced move and another hike in the rent, or victims of zero-hours contracts nervously cultivating the boss in the hope of getting a decent run of shifts next week, victims of redundancy facing another weary week or applications that don't even get the courtesy of a "no thanks", or the half million people dependent today, in wealthy Britain, on food banks to get enough to eat, it's clear to many millions of British people that our current system isn't working for them.

The parties' responses? Short-term give-aways, quick fixes.

The public understands that our economic system is fundamentally broken, needs massive change. Sixty-seven per cent in a YouGov poll agreed: "Britain's recent problems have exposed fundamental problems with the way our economic system works. The ways in which government, banks and major companies operate will have to change radically before prosperity is likely to return to British families."

Yet what we've got a minor jiggles, short tugs on the levers, not even a swing on the steering wheel of government.

Ed Miliband's tossing down of a 20-month energy price freeze has been countered by George Osborne's fuel tax price freeze, backed up by David Cameron's married couple's tax allowance and free school meals for school children up to age seven.

Both sides are talking about the problem of low pay. Mr Miliband is promising to ask businesses really nicely to pay a living wage instead of the inadequate minimum wage. Mr Cameron is likely today to float plans to increase it, although despite the pleas of Boris Johnson he's highly unlikely to take the sensible, popular step to move to make the minimum wage a living wage - despite the fact that it would save the government billions - more than enough to fund all of his recent promises.

Both sides are keen to stress just how much they feel the people's pain. One side, the blue corner, is keen to suggest that the economy is well on the mend, without leaving "green shoot" hostages to fortune, while Labour is keeping pretty well silent on the whole issue of the overall state of the economy.

What's disappeared is any real consideration of the British economy, and why it is failing so badly to meet the basic needs of many millions of Britons, why high streets are emptying and small business struggling for capital, while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the bankers continue much as before 2007.

And of course what both parties are ignoring is the massive, stunning conclusions of the IPCC report last week: catastrophic climate change looms and we need to quickly change our ways - the scientific debate is over and what we need is policy action.

Mr Miliband is right to identify that the Big Six energy companies are taking huge profits from the pockets of the fuel poor, but his answer is simply a pause in their extractions. What he's failed to identify is what's behind this - the failure of the whole privatisation project.

He's tackled one failed privatisation industry, but what he's ignored our disastrous privatised railway system. He ignored Tory plans to go where even Margaret Thatcher wouldn't in privatising Royal Mail, the handing of the NHS into the untender hands of the corporate bloodsuckers, the reshaping of our school system for the convenience of profiteers. He's offering an aspirin to a patient who needs urgent, massive surgery.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron is frantically stoking the fires of another housing bubble with a speeding up of Help to Buy - with scant thought of what might happen to buyers with 95% mortgages should house prices fall, while Mr Osborne attempts to cut the tax bills of multinational companies, while they offer low pay, insecure jobs and sweep aside small business competitors who can't send their profits to subsidiaries in the Caymans.

What we need to do is clear - we need to make the minimum wage a living wage, bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, building strong local economies centred on small businesses and cooperatives, invest in renewable energy and energy conservation, construct a transport system that gets people affordably, reliably and efficiently between home, work, education and leisure (most often by walking and cycling), support essential public services from libraries to hospitals to social care.

We need to expel from our economy the alphabet soup of profitable but failed companies from G4S to A4E to Atos that have proved they are expert at bidding for government contacts, and lousy at delivering them. We need a publicly owned and publicly run NHS, and railway, and we need a complex ecology of public and private firms, cooperatives and community groups generating our energy, and a host of small farms and market gardens growing much of our food locally.

That's a transformation of the British economy. That's what a plan for the future looks like.

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