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Don’t Take the Left for Granted

24th October 2014

Don’t Take the Left for Granted

The John McDonnell Column,
from the November 2014 issue of Labour Briefing

Since Ed Miliband was elected Leader, the Labour left has exercised iron discipline. To defend him from the plotting of the residual Blairites in the Shadow Cabinet, there have been no serious public criticisms of him launched by the left. But at this key stage, when the Party’s election manifesto is being constructed and the direction of our campaign for the next eight months is being finalised, a simple corrective warning from the left to the leadership is needed.

The economic crisis exposed the absolute bankruptcy of the neoliberalism embraced by New Labour under Blair, Brown and Mandelson. Unregulated markets,  profiteering, mass privatisations, top down centralised government and the slavish courtship of the super rich and City of London didn’t just bankrupt the economy. They came close to ideologically bankrupting the Labour Party.

The lessons learned from this economic and political crisis have brought the Labour Party back to the agenda advocated by the left throughout the dark days of New Labour triumphalism. At last Labour has returned to addressing the real issues affecting the lives of the people we seek to represent – to a politics that reflects what people believe a Labour Party should be about.

However, a combination of rearguard Blairite obduracy in the Shadow Cabinet and insecure hesitation from Ed Miliband risks exposing this hoped for return of Real Labour to be mere tokenism. In every policy area Miliband has taken a step in the right direction – but only a small step when a giant leap is needed.

Our people want a decent home and the Party is now committed to a mass construction programme – but house building takes time and in the meantime the only alternative for many families is paying high rents in the private sector. That’s why we need a commitment not just to building more homes – but building council houses with rents people can afford and rent controls in the private sector.

Our people want a decent job with decent wages. Marginal increases in the minimum wage and tax cuts for employers for paying a Living Wage simply subsidise low wage paying employers. That’s why we need the minimum wage replaced with a Living Wage – to start at £10 an hour with no differential for young workers.

Overwhelmingly our people support the principles of the NHS and oppose its privatisation. Andy Burnham has committed Labour to scrapping the Tories’ NHS privatisation legislation – but that won’t be enough to save the NHS from the vultures bleeding it dry right now. That’s why we need a clear commitment to bring back all the NHS services privatised under the Coalition.

Privatisation overall has increasingly been exposed for the rip-off it is. Consistently the policy of bringing rail back into public ownership has secured 80% plus support in opinion polls. Yet Ed Balls has refused to allow Labour to commit to anything more than allowing a public sector bid for individual franchises as they are re-tendered. This is setting up the public sector to fail as privatisers undercut it with loss leaders or foreign government subsidies. Bringing rail back into public ownership would send a signature message to the electorate about Labour’s determination in office.

Iain Duncan Smith’s so called welfare reforms have plunged millions into poverty with cuts in benefits, a grotesquely unfair sanctions regime and the modern form of slavery called workfare. Calum’s List revealed the tragic circumstances in which people have taken their lives when faced with the brutally harsh regime under Atos’
Work Capability Assessments. For fear of provoking the gutter media Labour has promised only reform of the system when the whole system needs scrapping.

Although young people are still staying on in higher education, tuition fees are saddling them with debt for a large part of their lives and many who in the past have studied part time to complete their education or enhance their skills can no longer afford to. Labour fiddling around at the margins of student finance won’t tackle the debt crisis that is hitting our young people. Abolishing tuition fees would be the single most effective signal to this generation that Labour cares about it.

The economic crisis has been used as the excuse for employers to intensify the exploitation of workers with zero-hours contracts, cuts in health and safety and more restrictions on workers’ access to justice at work. There are six million trade union members waiting to hear from Labour whose side the Party is on. Outlawing zero-hours contracts, restoring basic trade union rights and giving workers a say in the decision-making of their companies would give trade union members a real reason for voting for a Labour government.

It’s policies like these that are capable of bringing together the electoral coalition that can win us the next election. It’s the role of the left to force them onto Labour’s agenda both at Conference and in every policy discussion at every level of the Party in the coming weeks and months.

John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee

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