So as we reflect over #GE2015 and *look forward* to a leadership campaign, I have seen and read much about where we went wrong and what we need to do in the future.
What is becoming clear, is that the reasons we lost are many and varied, and so there will be no one clear tipping point.
And similarly as we move forward we need to listen to many varied voices – there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.
– those that were expected to win but lost (Luke Pollard, Louise Baldock, Rowenna Davis, Jessica Asato and Lee Sherriff to name but 5)
– new-elected MPs who are leading the way forward for Labour
– those that keep winning (that of course is Exeter with Ben Bradshaw)
– the views of grassroots campaigners and activists must be used to burst the Westminster bubble
– the hopes and fears of those we speak to on #LabourDoorstep which needs to be much more than pure voter ID
– those who listened to what we had to offer, but still failed to vote for that vision
– and the views of those that are on the outside looking in are just as valuable to us, as this reflection from SW Green MEP Molly Scott Cato for New Statesman shows. To that I would like to add the voice of the mysterious but perceptive Exeter LibDem blogger @LonWon who has just today returned from 3 years wandering in the wilderness to wonder about Checks and Balances.
During the election campaign I heard someone saying you can’t chose a Party to vote for like a game of Top Trumps…but perhaps that’s what we need to do as we look at the way forward.
We need to look at what we can to to attract a broad church of those on the Left of Centre.
We will hear from the Fabians, Compass and Progress but we mustn’t forget others like SERA and Labour Housing Group
We need to look not left, not right, not “Old” vs “New”, not to the past – the Labour Party now need to look to the future. A progressive alliance putting forward cohesive policies.
Why I am a Socialist…along with my vision of Socialism
I came to the world of politics through my support of single-issue campaigning groups – the likes of CND, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International.
In those early days was was more of an eco-warrior than a politico – helped in that view with my copy of A Blueprint for Survival (The Ecologist ,1972, A Penguin Special ISBN 0 14 052.295.6)
As a student I supported Anti-Nazi League and my first major demonstration was ANL’s “Carnival Against The Nazis” March from Trafalgar Square to a rally in Victoria Park, Hackney in 1978.
I am a proud and commited trade unionist – being a member of the various incarnations of the trade union that represents theatre technicians, first as NATTKE in 1979 and since 1991 has been known as BECTU.
I joined the Labour Party in 1986 as my good friend, Jim Roberts was Labour’s PCC for Blaby, standing against Tory channcellor, Nigel Lawson, in the 1987 General Election.
From then, I have stood as a Labour candidate in local district and county elections – more often than not as a paper candidate, although in 1995 I was elected to Blaby District Council where, with 16 others, Labour formed the largest party and ran the council for 4 years.
So ideologically I would consider myself as on and off the Left – but in reality I am a pragmatic socialist.
My roots are there in Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier but modified for modern times.
I see socialism as a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy – the socialism characterised by Robert Owen and the Rochdale Pioneers and codified by the values and principles of the co-operative movement.
The last Leadership election
Five years ago, both Ed and David visited Exeter on separate occasions – and it was the former that seemed to me the better placed of the two to lead our Party.
I voted for a Labour leader – neither Ed Miliband nor David Miliband as it happens, but someone else. It matters not who that was because Ed Miliband was elected leader.
And that should have been the message from the Party for the intervening years – Ed did not stab his brother in the back, he won the leadership of the Party within the rules of the Party.
I was present at Conference in Manchester in 2010 when Ed was elected and heard both brothers speak – and it was Ed that still impressed me more.
At that 2010 Conference Ed announced his intention to hold a major review of the Party’s policies in the wake of the general election defeat.
That process was formally launched at the 2010 National Policy Forum where Ed said the Labour Party had to recognise the need for change and move “beyond New Labour”. Unveiling 22 policy inquiries, Miliband told the forum, meeting in Gillingham, Kent, that the same old stance would not restore trust in the party.
But in retrospect that process was far too long…it seemed to all intents and purposes that the Labour Party were, for far too long, in a policy vacuum.
The answer to any question seemed to be “let’s wait for the policy review process to be complete”
And probably the policy review process was set up in a way that didn’t really attract grassroots attention – in Exeter, we we too busy talking to residents on the doorstep, and starting to show the citizens of Exeter what Labour could do in local government to have time to fully contribute to the mechanisms of policy review.
So for 4 years of Ed’s leadership we appeared to be in a policy vacuum…
We could reference the Your Britain site for idea and policy development, but did we?
There was the Changing Britain Together document, but too few people knew about it (and actually what was its standing within the Party?).
MPs and their teams had access to a nice thick book on policies…something grassroots activists and local campaigners had NO access to.
Everything seemed to rest on the Labour Party #GE2015 manifesto, so in that respect it was far too little far too late!
And if John Cruddus in his article in today’s Observer is to be believed, many of the winning policies he felt were necessary where left on on the shelf. And amid the piles of policy papers and pamphlets, many of which were never adopted, there were examples of the work of the progressive think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research [@IPPR], on areas policy that we could and should have included within that manifesto, policies with the power to change people’s lives and win an election.
Now that we are faced with majority Tory rule for the next 5 years, we have to ensure that the Labour Party is an effective opposition during that time.
We need to oppose them…but at the same time propose effective alternatives to what they offer.
And we need to do it without allowing ourselves to be a hostage to fortune in the future…no pairing without good reason – and ensuring that any such pairing is effectively communicated.
Much of what I’ve said above can be encapsulated in the history of the Bedroom Tax, and this was brought to mind when Steve Reed in an article for Labour List said:
I lost count of the number of times I was asked to vote on the Bedroom Tax – a regressive measure that certainly needs to go, but how many times do you have to make the same point?” (Rip It Up, 12/05/15)
I’ve long campaigned against the Bedroom Tax…but in truth not for long enough.
Exeter Labour Party organised a couple of briefings on the effects of Iain Duncan Smith’s programme of Welfare Cuts – in one we heard from Steve Barriball (Exeter CAB) and Nora Corkery (Devon Welfare Rights); and at the other, we had a great discussion with Nick Dilworth, a legal specialist with experience of supporting Welfare Rights cases. (Mary O’Hara: The welfare rights adviser on a mission to shame Iain Duncan Smith, Guardian 30/09/14).
I had been following – and interacting – with Nick on twitter (he’s @MyLegalForum) on elements of welfare reform and social justice for some time. And following the briefing came up with much more questioning for him on all aspects of IDS’ changes to the safety net of social security.
But my interest in Bedroom Tax was piqued by a tweet – not from a political source, or even a campaigner. it was the bassist with Mitch Benn, Kirsty Newton, who tweeted:
“I’m so fucking angry at this digusting Government I actually have no words. #BedroomTax #InhumaneBastards”
and 3 minutes later:
“Every single MP should be made to live in social housing on minimum wage for a month before they can enter Parliament #IgnorantAndPrivileged”
I already had some of the answers to respond later that morning…but those 2 tweets started me on a journey to find out much more about the effects of the pernicious Bedrooom Tax on those social housing tenants on Housing Benefit that were under-occupying. I found that it attacked the poor, the vulnerable, the caring, the disabled, the long-term sick and the terminally ill.
I started to challenge those who wilfully or mistakenly misunderstood who it affected – or worse, stood up in Parliament to tell lies (sorry, unparliamentary language there – “terminological inexactitudes”) including David Cameron who far too often used PMQs to promote *myths* about Bedroom Tax.
However, it was difficult to get a clear steer from the party nationally. Neither as a party member, nor as an elected councillor, was I given any briefing material on the Bedroom Tax – or indeed, any other element of Welfare *Reform*.
I was asked to speak at Exeter’s anti-Bedroom Tax rally on 16/03/15 – and I asked for a briefing from the party. I did get one, from Liam Byrne, entitled Labour Bedroom Tax Briefing.
That briefing clearly sets out Labour’s opposition to the Bedroom Tax, and a call for David Cameron to abandon plans to introduce it only weeks later – why did this NEVER come our when this was one of the stated reasons for Johann Lamont’s resignation as Leader of Scottish Labour in the autumn of 2014?
There was so much more we could have done to take on the Bedroom Tax narrative.
There is a housing crisis – there are not enough homes, including social housing, being build. Governments of all hues have contributed to this over many years and Labour must share in the blame.
Alongside this, there as been an unwelcome emphasis on home ownership as the tenure of choice – this has led to the social rental sector being seen as offering a second-class tenure.
This has been reinforced by the Right to Buy initiative which transferred more than 2.5m social homes to home ownership between 1979 and 2012. Many of these (estimated at around 35%) are now being used to house people from local authorities housing lists – but not at social rents, not even at *affordable* rents, but market rents. As a consequence, landlords are becoming the main beneficiaries of Housing Benefit, making profits from LHA and more. So the Housing Benefit bill rises, and will continue rise until more social homes are delivered.
This has never been part of the Bedroom Tax narrative…and there are many other such narratives to be told when attacking the policy:
– Labour NEVER introduced a Bedroom Tax pilot under Malcolm Wicks, something that the Lib Dems and latterly the SNP have often used as a stick to beat us with.
– what Labour DID introduce was a payment incentive to encourage ALL under-occupying tenants (not just those on Housing Benefit) to downsize
– although using a similar Size Criteria, LHA is NOT the Bedroom Tax for the private sector, being focussed on limiting rent payments to private landlords rather than restricting tenants to a certain number of bedrooms
– Tory changes to LHA HAVE made it a de facto Bedroom Tax, as reducing level from 50% to 30% of Broad Rental Market Area, then freezing it and now increasing at 1% or CPI (whichever is lower) have removed link with market rents and making it harder to get larger properties.
– Housing Benefit is not an out-of-work benefit and is being used to subsidise low-paying employers. Latest figures show that 93% of new HB claimants are IN-work
– many social housing providers have now altered their policies so that there is no longer an expectation of a “Home for Life” in the Social Rental Sector, providers now offer Fixed or Flexible tenancies
– it has been claimed by some that Labour has voted FOR Bedroom Tax in House of Commons, but we never successfully countered that claim
– the SNP in particular made reference to the fact that many Labour MPs were missing for a vote on Bedroom Tax on 12/11/13, yet we did little or nothing to dispel this as being due to the atrocious and archaic system of pairing.
– on the other had, the SNP WERE missing for a crucial vote on Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill on 05/09/14
The Bedroom Tax is WRONG…it’s so ill-conceived, a mass of contradictions, full of unintended consequences and it penalises tenants for a weak housing policy. More importantly, there are better alternatives to tackle the problem under-occupation. But there in a nutshell is the problem, the narrative never moved onto these alternatives.
That’s just were we went wrong in one small area of Welfare Room…that we lost track of the narrative.
As we move forward, we mustn’t get caught up in the language and the narrative of the Tory’s.
I believe there was an alternative to austerity but much of Labour’s programme was lost under a charge of Tory-Lite or Blue Labour.
We need to listen and learn from respected commentators such as Danny Blanchflower [@D_Blanchflower] on economic competence and Richard Murphy [@RichardJMurphy] on tax justice
But more importantly, each and every Labour MP must read Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman [@NYTimeskrugman] on The Austerity Delusion where he suggests that the case for cuts was based on a lie.
I wanted to avoid this word, but I couldn’t.
It seems for many its about greed and selfishness – but my aspiration is more than self-centred advancement, I want the word to embrace the aspirations of communities and the everyday needs of those we seek to represent . I aspire to the social justice that must be at the centre of the fair, just, compassionate society I want for the future, and that’s a battle against inequality in all its forms.
Really all I want to say about aspiration is summed up in this blog for Tax Research UK by Richard Murphy – aspiration needs to reference more than just the pursuit of wealth.
The NEXT Leadership election
Already we are reading in the mainstream media [MSM] of the influence the unions on the election of our next Leader.
We know that’s not quite the case.
The new leadership will be decided, not by the Electoral College of the past, but on the system of “One Member, One Vote” [OMOV] introduced by the Collins Report at a Special Conference on 01/03/13 and finally completing a process started by former leader John Smith more than 30 years ago.
According to a New Statesman article of 11/07/13, if OMOV had been in operation in 2010 Ed Miliband would have won a landslide victory. Would that have changed the narrative of Ed stabbing David in the back only with the assistance of the Union’s block votes?
We must explore the notion of electoral reform…and do it meaningfully.
In the rush to power, the Lib Dems wasted an opportunity of a lifetime when they plumped for a 2011 referendum on AV
It may have been published back in 2009 but this New Statesman special 38-page pull-out on Electoral Reform, Vote For Change (featuring an interview by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre with the then Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw) is a useful start.
And for much more information, there’s the Make Seats Match Votes from the Electoral Reform Society, which outlines many differing forms of voting system…so the question, as ever, is which would be best?
Perhaps it’s the Mixed Member Proportional [MMP] system as used in Germany and New Zealand
The Next Steps
When all is said and done, there is often more said than is done.
Exeter Labour Party – due to the foresight of some visionary trade unionists of the past – is very fortunate to have its own building from which to run campaigns. Here were can plan and print to our hearts content
Those same visionaries also endowed us with the Whipton & Pinhoe Labour Club who regularly donate fund to enable us to pay for our own Campaign Organiser.
These 2 facts alone give us the basis of a campaigning organisation.
– Labour Party to abolish regional structure, to get as many Campaign Organisers into as many constituencies as possible. This would be money better spent that on obscene amounts on talent such as David Axelrod.
– the Party model must move away from functional meetings based around agendas and scrutinising the minutes of the last meeting. We must talk about policies that matter.. Note to self – must start up my Politics with A Pint sessions again – conversations (maybe with a focus) as if we were chatting at the pub
– the Party nationally must welcome motions from local Parties…but then act of them. It seems that many such resolutions from us end up in some black hole at Brewers Green, a sort of Room 101 to dump unwelcome interference from others. Please don’t fear us – this is what WE are thinking.
– there are many more meetings than just Labour Party meetings. We need to get out and about in the community – whether it be a community of place (neighbourhood groups), or a community of shared interest (Transition Exeter, energy co-ops, etc).
– truly believe in community organising. And that’s much more than Movement For Change and inspirational talks from Arnie Graf. Here in Exeter, we talk about issues that affect residents as much if not more than voter ID. That information can then lead into local campaigns that in turn lead to people voting Labour.- real campaigning cannot happen in the 6-weeks of a Parliamentary “short campaign”, it cannot happen in months before an election…it needs years and years to develop such a strategy.
There’s more to be discussed but I’ve probably said too much and not done enough.
To repeat the words of Owen Jones, who has added to the incorrectly supposed last words of activist and songwriter, Joe Hill:
Don’t mourn. Organise! And this time, let’s actually mean it.