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Give party members real choice

Don’t let Tories frame debate in leadership contest
Joy Johnson, Unite political department, Friday, June 12th, 2015

On the doorstep I argued that this general election was the most important for decades. This wasn’t hyperbole. I genuinely believed it. And the contents of the Queen’s Speech, the taster of cuts to come from George Osborne as he sets the climate for his emergency budget in July and the in/out European Union (EU) referendum in 2017 confirm that view. This one mattered more than most.

The speech – the first for a Conservative majority government in twenty years – laid out policies that will have the effect of creating even greater inequality in the UK. A recent Guardian editorial said that as there was a general view that the election would have returned another hung Parliament, the Tories’ controversial policies didn’t come under any real scrutiny during the campaign and were easily ‘batted away’.

Lynton Crosby was obviously worth every pound he was paid from the Tory funders’ millions. He kept discipline among the right and the further right that make up today’s Tory benches.

Crosby’s strategic and tactical prowess was a sight to behold. Whenever Ed Miliband came up with anything radical that had the slightest traction Labour was outmanoeuvred instantly.

Abolishing non-dom tax status – talk about stabbing his brother in the back. Bring in the cavalry that is the right wing press at the merest mention of press ownership and – charge. Drive a wedge between the Scots and English voters and damn the consequences for the union.

Crosby and the Tory leadership were aided and abetted by Liam Byrne’s, “there’s no money left” letter. It gave fresh legs to a lie, that the economic crash was Labour’s fault. It became a truth which was endlessly exploited. It might have been less significant had Byrne not kept his seat in the shadow cabinet.

Ed Miliband was the first Labour leader who could chose his own shadow cabinet when elections were abolished. Scant use he made of this new power – they were mostly missing in action when it counted.

I’ve written before that the failure to nail the ridiculous charge that the crash was Labour’s fault was inexplicable. It becomes clearer why it wasn’t rebutted when we hear the leadership candidates disowning the last Labour government’s spending record. They have bought the central Tory argument hook, line and sinker.

This is why MPs have a democratic duty to give party members a choice beyond the four increasingly rightward galloping horsemen of the post-Miliband Labour apocalypse.

And it’s why I’m glad Jon Trickett MP has endorsed Jeremy Corbyn MP to get his name on the ballot.

It’s become a common place for Labour MPs to confess to making a mistake over voting for the war in Iraq. Jeremy Corbyn has never had to make that trek to the confession box over his stop the war position. He was part of the anti-war mainstream. Similarly on the economy, he shares the same space as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, both Nobel Laureate in economics, in the anti-austerity camp.

The rhetoric of the Queen’s speech was of One Nation, economic stability, and supporting aspiration. Just as Labour allowed opponents to frame the notion of ‘economic credibility’ as code for reducing the deficit and making widespread cuts in public spending, we can see ‘aspiration’ being hijacked by the Conservatives.

And that other much abused word – reform – peppered the speech.

Attacks, under the banner of ‘reform’, on trade union and workers’ rights were confirmed. Voting in a ballot for industrial action, there has to be a turnout threshold of 50 per cent in the private and public sectors. In essential ‘public services’ the Tories made the bar even higher with an additional requirement of 40 per cent of those eligible voting “yes” for the proposed action to remain lawful.

A further malicious restriction was also announced with unions requiring members to contract in to pay the political levy. This will certainly mean a cut in the political fund and a reduction in funds for the Labour party. Denuding Labour of funds was one intention; politically neutralising unions was another.

So there are battles to come. Pursuing austerity and letting the Tories frame the debate won’t make Labour winners. That is why the leadership contest needs to be a real debate, not a stampede back to Blairism.


  • This article first appeared in Tribune

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