David Millband the ‘lost’ Leader of the Labour Party who told us today that Labour is further away from power than at any time in the last 50 years.
As so often happens when I consider the still twitching carcase of the Labour Party I am reminded of an old music hall song. At the moment its “He’s dead but he won’t lie down”.
I listened this morning to the discussion on Radio 4 with the Secretary General of ASLEF. It is clear from what he said that there is a huge denial of some basic facts of political life that have engulfed all Parties over the past 30 years but which threaten to drown Labour for ever.
The most important of these is the concept of the working class. 50 years ago when I first entered politics there were still huge companies based in huge locations employing people whose family was also in that place of work and who lived often in accommodation provided by the employer. Coal, steel shipbuilding, the docks, engineering works etc, etc. Many of the jobs that these people carried out were dirty and dangerous. They invoked a sense of camaraderie and group loyalty. They remembered times when employers were not bound by Acts of Parliament to provide decent working conditions, pay and holidays. In Liverpool dockers rightly remembered the lump. The system whereby men would turn up day after day looking for work for just one day. Any lip to the boss and they could be out of work for a week.
Such employment no longer exists. The concept of ‘working class’ is not largely recognised by an aspirant society which yearns for better things. Whether that is right or wrong is irrelevant, the changes have happened. Those bonds have been rent asunder with the exception of small numbers in the public or quasi-public sectors where that unity of purpose is still extant.
That is the principle reason that a Progressive Alliance, which in my view is desirable, is impossible given the rhetoric of the Labour Party. Their language is the language of the 1950’s their solutions appear to be none-existent. In the face of the Brexit vote they mumble on about the will of the people and supporting Brexit not out of principle but because they will lose what remaining contact there is with the working class who were once the bedrock of their support.
We see that alienation from their base too in Liverpool. In recent weeks we have been venturing out from our strong areas in the South Suburbs into places like Anfield, Kirkdale and Warbreck. Here we see whole communities where nobody appears to have used a brush for years to keep the streets clean. I know that the council has not got the money that it used to have but it has got the money, if spent properly, to keep the streets and entries clean, the bins emptied on time, the street lights working. This is attention to detail and it is detail that matters. People in these areas depend on the council to keep their neighbours clean, safe ad well managed. Their quality of life depends on the council getting the basics of community life right. Instead of that we get government by gimmick.
The mayor of Liverpool’s latest gimmick is giving people a year’s council tax if they dob a neighbour for things like fly tipping or allowing their dog to foul the pavement. That’s very socialist. Dob a neighbour if you live in a Band H Mansion and we’ll give you £3,000 back but if you live in a Band A terrace only a £1,000. But it’s a daft policy anyway. Fly tipping is a criminal activity usually undertaken by organised gangs. Dogs that foul are usually owned by people who don’t give a damn and are aggressive about not giving a damn. So our nice old lady is really going to film a miscreant from their community, report them and then go to court? No I think that is unlikely as much as you do!
So where do we go from here? Well times are hard and the situation facing our Country is desperate. That will involve us all taking decisions that we might otherwise have thought unthinkable. The question that those of us on the centre and progressive ‘left’ must be asking is, “Are there a set of principles and thence policies around which we can converge and jointly campaign on”. At the moment my answer to that is that I cannot see a joining together of political parties such as Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens plus other fringe parties such as The Women’s Equality Party and the NHS Action Party being able to do that.
But we must not let current Party structures get in the way of trying.
The principles that I would put forward are:
- To retain as much as possible our place in Europe even if we cannot have the second referendum that our Party believes in.
- A realisation that the UK will only be string by creating treading, educational, cultural and military alliances with like minded countries.
- Breaking the Power of Westminster and Whitehall to interfere in the lives of every community in England.
- Breaking the power of politicians generally and putting it back into the hands of tenants, residents and communities.
- Strong environment policies which understand the dangers of climate change and seek proactive solutions.
- An NHS which respects the need to stop people becoming ill rather than being incentivised to deal with illness and where good social and medical care in the community is provided wherever possible and desirable.
- An updated economic strategy linked to changed practices in education which will encourage real training and apprenticeships for real jobs.
- An updated employment strategy which tackles the problems of globalisation and the gig economy by supporting worker’s rights.
- An education system which pulls out the talents of each individual and encourages them into a path of lifelong learning which makes them adaptable for fast moving changes in employment and society
- A fair taxation system which rewards enterprise but discourages greed and which provides everyone with the basic necessities of life.
As I’ve just gone on our national policy committee I will have the chance to argue for these. But just imagine if there were no political parties in the UK and we were starting from scratch. Would it be beyond the wit of man for us to come together to establish a Party that would fight for these things? No of course not. What holds us all back are our roots and our heritage and our tribal loyalties.
I can only ask the question. “Given the massive dangers that our country faces is it not possible to come together to find new structures, policies and ways which overcome our disparate histories?”