The Challenges for the Labour Right

The Coalition Government is not going to spend the £100bn in a Keynesian move to boost demand and lift the economy out of its current state. No matter how much some shout about it that is simply not going to happen.

The Government is not going to move away from its message of fiscal responsibility and consolidation. Politically, the public agree with them that it is right that the state contracts; they also agree with us in Labour that the cuts are causing unnecessary pain.

The argument for Labour must therefore centre on where and how we would cut, rather than whether we should at all. This also presents a challenge for the Labour Right: How do we respond to our new situation?

An acknowledgment that we did not spend every taxpayer’s pound well when we were in Government would be a good start. It does not mean that we are “surrendering” to the Tories – We are not. We are giving ourselves a chance to win the argument that we must win to return to Government in 2015.

The instincts of the post Crosland reforming tendency in the Labour Party have, pretty much, stayed consistent for the 56 years since the publication of The Future of Socialism. It has been to redistribute the fruits of growth in the economy, not by increasing taxes but by using the power vested in the state to encourage economic expansion. It has also included a recognition that ends are more important than means.

Equally, that is not going to happen. There is little appetite in any of the major parties for the huge stimulus that would be required to drive growth from the centre in the UK economy. If a recovery does come it will not be fuelled by more Government spending.

The recovery will be driven by exports to economies in the ‘New World’ that are rapidly expanding: Brazil, Russia, India and China. This week we have seen the good news that the new Jaguar ‘E’ Type will be built at Jaguar/Land Rover’s Castle Bromwich site in the West Midlands. Land Rover (Now owned by the Indian car giant TATA) continues to invest in its Solihull site. One in six Land Rovers, Range Rovers and Jaguars built last year were shipped to China, where sales grew to 42,000, an increase of more than 60% in a year.

All rather a roundabout way of saying that if a recovery does come before the next election (and there are a few signs that there will be a recovery) then it will not be George Osborne who has made that happen. If he is remembered as a Chancellor it will be as a man who was said to be the greatest political strategist since Machiavelli who turned out to be rather, erm, lacking. If the Tories don’t get an overall majority at the next election they will have failed to win elections for the past 23 years. The blame will rightly be placed on George Osborne after a politically disastrous budget.

That leaves a challenge for the Labour generally and for the Labour Right. Whilst we are in opposition we have an opportunity to undergo intellectual self renewal. A number of important debates need to be had: Why did we fail? Why have we lost people’s trust? How can we regain that trust? How can we win again? How will we use our time when we are next in Government?

The Crosland ‘revisionist tendency’ can be useful to Labour here. We should also be asking how a crisis of 1980s neo liberalism has resulted in a lost of trust and belief in the State. The answer to that, probably, can be seen in the experience of incumbent Governments across Europe – They lost because they were in Government. The Left suffered worst because we have traditionally been advocates of sheltering the most vulnerable from the worst excesses of the market, and failed.

New Labour was so successful because it did away with the shackles that had been placed on us by the Left of the Party. Means were no longer as important as ends. The ends stayed the same, the means changed. Undertaking a revisionist experience of our time in Government as New Labour cannot cease now – We must acknowledge that there were areas where New Labour failed and we must reassess in that context. 1994 era New Labour is as irrelevant to the modern Labour Party as the experience of Labour under Michael Foot in the 1980s.

Social democrats and centrists need to reevaluate the means that we use if we are to achieve the dual ends of economic prosperity and social justice. Again, the ‘revisionist tendency’ can be useful. There will be little or no new money for Labour to borrow or spend. The challenge must therefore be how we can achieve more with Government spending to advance Labour’s values.

This week I attended a discussion with Hopi Sen, the Labour Blogger, and he suggested a change in our thinking. This involves a change in what we mean by ‘universality’, and a recognition that universal benefits are no longer appropriate. We must, instead, move towards a universality which centers on common experiences rather than on a ‘everybody receives the same’ ideal.

For example, Hopi suggested the scrapping of universal child benefit for higher rate tax payers and replacing it with free childcare for under 5 year olds. An example of something that would cost nothing, but would simply redistribute money towards a common experience – Labour values in action at a time of fiscal austerity.

After this discussion I went away and had a look at my membership card. If you look at the back of a Labour Party membership card (I get sent a new one every year: please stop doing that!) it says this:

 “The Labour Party….believes that by the strength of our common endeavor we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realize our true potential and for all of us as a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are placed in the hands of the many no the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties that we owe, and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect”.

Soft financial redistribution is not the only value of the Labour Party. We also pledge ourselves to putting power back into the hands of the people. I see that in two ways: Making Government more accountable and giving people choice in and control over the services that they receive from the State. It means giving people the opportunity to participate in devolved democracy, have political parties which are not in hoc to vested interests and have power taken away from central government and given to local government that is accountable. It also means putting public services in the hands of the people that use those services: the ability to visit any GP that you want to see, to have access to social care provision which befits years spent paying National Insurance and devolving power in the NHS – that would have prevented the Government from making it’s last top down reorganisation.

It also means giving victims of crime rights, giving them the chance to see the progress of their investigation through a single, centralised system and allowing the police to respond to anti social behaviour that can be so destructive to individual lives and communities.

Another value that stands out to me there is that the rights that we enjoy must reflect the duties that we owe. That means making work pay, giving people the opportunity to find a job that is suitable to them, but then imposing a penalty if they fail to take that job. Putting this value into practice means having a sensible and rational conversation about immigration; not just talking about the positives, but also recognising and the effect that it has on communities.

It also means tackling the issue of disconnected individuals who feel that society owes them nothing and that therefore owe nothing to society. Tackling this problem, in the shadow of last years riots in the UK’s cities will be crucial in rebuilding communities which appear to becoming more fragmented and disjointed. Lessons here can also be learnt for Labour here in reengaging with communities after out shock defeat in Bradford West.

This all means that we cannot repackage old thinking and reasoning and present that to the public in the political equivalent of an under heated Asda Basic’s ready meal.

We must be truthful with the public that in choosing Labour it will not be a couple of years of pain followed by years of growth and government spending. If there was a Labour Government now times would be hard. If we win the next election they will be hard, but we should (and will) say how we will make life that bit easier for ordinary man and woman.

The challenge for the Labour Right is that we must have these debates. We may not win them. In fact, we may well end up losing many of them. Having time in opposition to discuss and debate policy openly is on of the small benefits of being in opposition.

There are not many of these opportunities, so we should take advantage of them whilst we can.

The Labour Right must make its voice heard.

My Life As A Gardener

The post on the ‘Labour Left’ Facebook group that preceded this read: “@harrylangford has tweeted 700-800 times in the last 40 days denigrating Labour Left’s “Save the NHS” campaign”. This information was sent to me by an anonymous member of “Labour Left’.

This is a guest post written by Tim Carter, a former Labour Party Press Officer and former Health Service Trade union official who now works mainly in the National Health Service.

Years ago Lesley (a former COHSE official) who I respected and admired took me to one side after a group of older trade union activists had attacked and verbally abused me. I had dared to challenge their viewpoint at a conference. Her words have I hope, helped me during my career. She said:

‘Tim, as we move through life, all we can do is plant seeds, we are gardeners. Hopefully the next generation will like what we have sown, nurture it and continue to look after the garden’ I was confused until she added: ‘You are young. You might not like what we have grown. But it is your garden now. You must decide what you grow. What we have grown may not be what  you want or need. So continue to challenge, ask questions so that you know why we planted what we did. Then you can make decisions on what is needed and be prepared, when you are older, to hand the garden over to the next generation of gardeners.”

This all happened before the internet and mobile phones so the attack didn’t spread beyond a very small group of idiots. But the pain was the same. I was young. I wanted a better life for others (and myself) but all I could see was people fighting pointless battles while my families and friends were struggling to find work, decent housing and in some cases to put food in their children’s mouths. I was angry. No I was furious that the Labour Party and Trade Union movement appeared to be more interested in fighting internal, factional battles than helping me and people like me.

My life changed a lot over the next few years. I was appointed as a fulltime officer of a trade union I loved (COHSE now part of Unison). It was, I thought the best job in the world. I was being paid to help people and in my own (albeit small way) I was helping to tend a lot of gardens.

Then I was sent to work for the Labour Party, that really was the best job in the world….

But enough about me

Looking on the internet, especially Twitter, I see the best and worst of human behaviour. More worryingly I see my beloved Labour Party and some trade unions returning to the bad old days, where the garden was simply a place where the same things grew, because someone said it had to be that way. A place where new thinking and ideas were dealt with by a visit from ‘the brothers’

The NHS debate has been a difficult one for many activists and in particular I have noticed an increasing number of personal attacks on a young Labour Party member Harry Langford for expressing an opinion.

He was simply questioning whether dropping the Bill was the best way forward. He was, looking at the garden from younger eyes, I was reminded of a young me! Only this time the internet and social media ensured that one blogger managed to distort and spread the smears across a far wider audience and now Harry has received a barrage of vile, personal abuse that has been witnessed by those that are closest to him.

Harry is and his generation are the future and we should welcome the fact that he is willing to express an opinion and float new ideas. He should be encouraged and not attacked.

The blogger who started the attacks, either intentionally or unintentionally chose to misrepresent Harry by highlighting three tweets over a period of three months from a selection of 36,000 in order to launch a vicious attack on Harry’s character.

I decided that as an older hand I would step in attempt to stop the bullying, just as Lesley did for me. This Blog is a part of my attempt to stop the bullying and perhaps also set the record straight.

To be honest I don’t care much for those who accuse the Tory Secretary of State of behaving like an Arab dictator for avoiding confrontation in a hospital corridor on a day 40 people were slaughtered in Homs. I don’t care much for people who suggest that unless agree with them you are an enemy of the NHS.

I don’t much care for people who use private forums to make totally false claims that Harry In is being used as a vehicle in order to further a particular political agenda.

I don’t believe that Harry writes as a comment on current affairs to make a personal attack.

I know that Harry often expresses his opinion and people debate with him on that view. I find it refreshing that he debates openly with people of all political colours without becoming abusive

Launching a nasty and unsubstantiated attack on anybody’s character and encouraging others to join in is nothing to do with socialism. It is to do with bullying. It is to do with jealousy and more importantly it could wreck the garden for years to come

Harry has made a regrettable decision to leave Twitter for a period of time whilst the attacks continue. I understand why he had left, but hope that he will return to respond to the allegations that have been made about him.

No matter what your political affiliation or beliefs are we should encourage the gardeners of the future.

So I hope that members of LabourLeft who might read this will stop their attacks… we can all cut and paste and take things out of context…

Perhaps I should ask the Queen to intervene.



NHS Risk Register: Government Loses Appeal.

The Government has lost it’s appeal to the FOI Tribunal on the publication of the NHS “risk register” which documents the risks associated with the Health and Social Care Bill. The risk register, like any risk assessment, includes all outcomes which could happen beyond those with a minuscule likelihood of occurring.

I think that the Government will appeal against this ruling to the High Court – Under s.59 of the Freedom of Information Act the Government could now appeal to the High Court on a point of law. If permission to appeal is granted then the appeal (which would most likely be on multiple grounds) would be heard in the High Court. The final votes on the Health and Social Care Bill take place in around two weeks time. Any potential appeal would therefore push the publication of the risk register beyond that point.

John Healey, the previous Shadow Secretary of State for Health has been pushing for the release of this document in conjunction with Andy Burnham – the publication of the risk register would provide Labour with a significant political asset to attack the Health Bill in the final two weeks before it becomes law.

The Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Una O’Brien told the Tribunal that the publication would be:

“Insidious” because “you would not know what is not being raised” and that you would not know what was being toned down because of fears about how it might be “viewed externally”.

“Out of context I think my own judgement is they would lead to a very distorted and very speculative interpretation of risk.”

The Government has already published it’s impact assessment of the Health and Social Care Bill which can be found here.


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