Tempting as it is to slip into dejection by the prospect of four more years of this appalling Tory administration gifted to us by this ending year, let us opt for optimism for the one to come.
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader inspired all ages and communities to look afresh at Labour – and, for a change, they saw something hopeful. Overnight the manacles of machine politics were shaken off and the members loved it.
Since September, the new leadership team has been on a mission. For sure there is a learning curve to navigate, and the pace has been hectic and not appreciated by all, regrettably mainly in the PLP, but as we end 2015 we can see results. In a few short months, Jeremy and his team have forced government u-turns on tax credits and Saudi contracts. Moreover, Labour is now an avowedly anti-austerity party.
It was a year where international and security issues dominated, ending as it began with terror attacks in Paris. Reeling from the shock, Western governments, including our own, suspended sound judgement.
Without learning the lessons of previous tragic misadventures in the middle east they opted to bomb Syria, without a plan, without any coherent strategy to bring peace to that troubled region.
And it was the year when David Cameron stood on the steps of Number 10 to proclaim he would govern a `one nation’ UK – then promptly set about the poor, the young and trade unions.
Workers, including Unite members, felt the flash of the fierce ideological fire burning in today’s Tories when the Redcar steelworks was allowed to close, despite its place in UK manufacturing and clear market for its products. Spare a thought for the many of those 2000 families who relied on this plant for an income now facing a grim Christmas thanks to this government.
Moving into 2016, indulge me in a few predictions. For sure, the future for UK steel is still very much uncertain but our efforts to drag a deliberately disengaged government into a strategy for securing this core sector will endure.
Clouds gather too over the economy. No matter that George Osborne leaps up and down like a toddler on a sugar rush at the employment figures, the one to watch in all this is the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney. His caution over interest rates gives the game away – this `recovery’ is as real as Rudolph.
We are now the most heavily personally indebted nation in the Western economies. Homelessness is chronic and rising, propelled by cruel benefit changes. Rents now consume the majority of earnings. Any shift in the interest rate dial would spell misery for millions.
The growth in low-paid, insecure jobs will continue as the hollowing out of the labour force seen in the US takes hold here. Witness the huge shift towards self-employment, part-time and precarious working. The Office of National Statistics estimates the number of self-employed to be around five million. What was once an insignificant but important grouping in terms of the wider working population is now a growing mass of workers adrift from rights or security.
Workers will continue to feel the sharp end of Tory austerity and its mammoth project to re-order society. In today’s Britain, the sixth biggest economy in the world, the top tenth of households owns 45 per cent of the wealth. The party of the aristocracy is also dismantling our democracy. From the boundary changes, to the curbing of Freedom of Information access to the cuts to the Short money on which opposition depends, the assault is audacious – and dangerous.
And of course, their nasty anti-trade union bill will inch towards law. Without a friend to its name outside of the Cabinet, this bill has had scorn heaped* upon it by everyone from the police to the personnel professionals. Vince Cable denounced it as needless and ideological, even the FT believes the government is picking a fight it does not have to while the government’s own regulator witheringly noted that it was `not fit for purpose’.
We’ll continue to press ministers to drop their nonsensical objections to workplace balloting. Make no mistake, they are running out of road with this one, especially as such ballots are already used for trade union recognition conducted by the Central Arbitration Committee, a government agency, since the beginning of this century without any concerns or dubiety.
It is fully apparent that the true purpose of this bill is class spite. It is to part working people from the one group formed to defend them and their rights, their unions. The administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have shunned it as law that will worsen the lives of working people, driven through by a party that could attract only 24 per cent of the total electorate in May. It leaves England’s workers isolated, not only the least protected in Europe but also within the British Isles.
But gazing into my crystal ball, 2016 has trouble in store for the Tories. Cameron’s mission to get his restive right wingers to learn to love the EU will crash and burn. Should he fail to defend the social chapter that provides some protections to UK workers, when he appeals to six million trade union members to help him carry the day in the polls, he’ll find we have scores to settle.
Leaving domestic affairs to George Osborne will end in Tory failure too. No amount of hard hat wearing or swaggering about in China by Osborne will ever convince the electorate to vote for him as prime minister, as those booing him at the Star Wars premiere reminded us. Osborne may make it to Tory leader, but he will never be taken to the public’s heart – and he would never win the keys to Number 10 in his own right.
Finally, if I could be granted one festive wish it would be that Jeremy’s leadership is allowed to chart a new direction for our country, unhindered by the hum of disrespectful noises from self-styled blow hards within the PLP. Let them take their thirty pieces of silver as they dance to the tune of the Tory media. But let the rest of us get on with seeking a more just society.
With key elections in Wales, Scotland and across English councils it’s the Tories we must keep in our sights, taking them on as a Labour party united around an exciting, distinctive common agenda.
Let’s not abandon the energy and enthusiasm of his campaign to the summer of 2015. Let’s instead harness it, so as to inspire our movement in 2016 as we drive forward, determined to see off Tory cruelty and win back power for our people.