Most of the UK is probably sick to death of Eastleigh by now.
We all woke up to the news that the Liberal Democrat candidate had narrowly held the seat for his party, with UKIP as the surprise challenger. The Conservatives came an ignominious third and some commentators have tried to get mileage from the fact that Labour came fourth.
The fact of the matter is, Eastleigh is extremely Liberal Democrat. The local council is entirely Lib Dem, if reports on last night’s Question Time are to be believed, and the party held the Parliamentary seat, even against Labour’s landslide of 1997. The headline result is no surprise.
But this election has shaken out a wealth of detail and the Labour leadership should study it well.
All parties agreed that the main national issue on the doorstep was immigration and the influence of Europe – this is why UKIP won so many votes. The British people think an undemocratic European bureaucracy has far too much influence over their lives and Labour now needs to shape its policy with that in mind. The correct way forward is to seek reform of the European institutions, to return power over matters like immigration – among others – to sovereign nations. Labour would do well to start discussing these matters with politicians in other EU countries, in order to seek consensus on a way forward.
Of course immigration into the UK has fallen, according to the latest figures, and the Conservatives have been quick to leap on this as a vindication of their current policies. It’s a bold claim, but not really supported by the evidence. What we’re seeing is an evaporation of interest in a country that is no longer an attractive place to live or work. So the Conservatives are admitting their policies are putting people off the UK. We’ll come back to this later.
The other big issue is a perennial problem for politicians: Honesty. If Labour comes away with anything at all from this by-election it is that the party must keep faith with the electorate. The Liberal Democrat share of the vote fell by more than 14 per cent – in what that party calls it’s own backyard. The blame for this can be fairly put on Nick Clegg, who spent the last week squirming under questioning about allegations against Lord Rennard. Did he know anything about this before? At first he denied any knowledge but when evidence came to light, he had to admit that he did. Is this an honest man? Of course not. As someone mentioned on Question Time, he said he was sorry in his video apology for U-turning on student tuition fees, but his current behaviour shows he isn’t at all.
Of course the honesty deficit in the Conservative Party beggars belief. How many of David Cameron’s election promises have proved to be untrue? Can anybody keep score any more? We’re all aware of the great betrayal of the National Health Service – and you can only hope for the success of opposition to the new regulations his government quietly introduced, to enforce privatisation of health services in England from April this year. That’s next month.
There are many other examples. To choose one that is topical, he promised that the bankers who caused the economic crisis would be made to pay for the disaster they caused. In fact, he is even now fighting to make sure that the European Union does not put a cap on the obscenely bloated bankers’ bonuses, that are still being paid by the UK’s financial organisations to the people who caused the crisis, even when those organisations have been losing billions of pounds per year. His reasoning for this is that these financial experts (and I use the word sarcastically) would probably leave the UK if they weren’t guaranteed these huge bungs all the time. Good riddance, I say. There are plenty of people both willing and able to fill the void and I dare say they would do a better job. Mr Cameron is trying to reward the financial betrayal of Britain. It is interesting to note, getting back to the point on immigration, that he has no problem with letting foreign bankers into our country.
His attitude to the richest in society contrasts brutally with his treatment of the poorest. It seems, if you are rich, you need a tonne of money to motivate you into work; if you are poor, you need to be made poorer, according to his philosophy. That is why the benefits budget is being squeezed so hard that the poor, sick and disabled are actually dying as a result – from lack of food, lack of heat, lack of medical care and lack of hope. Never forget that this man pursues economic policies that kill his own fellow citizens.
Now we hear that his government has been deliberately misusing evidence and statistics to misrepresent the plight of the poor, according to a report by a group of British churches. Evidence has been skewed to put the blame for poverty at the door of the poor themselves.
Honest? Trustworthy? Fit to govern?
Again, there are lessons for Labour. Ed Miliband’s party must realise that the Conservative Party’s attitude to social security – and New Labour’s before it – is completely at odds with public feeling and must be scrapped in its entirety. The social security system needs an overhaul with new values placed at its centre – values of fairness to the claimant, whether they are jobless, sick, disabled, or simply poor. It is the need of the person applying for help that must define what they receive – not a grubby money-grabbing plot. Above all, Labour must accept that any policy that leads to a claimant’s untimely death must be halted at once.
The fact that the Coalition has allowed these deaths to continue – and in fact increased their frequency – should be a matter for criminal proceedings in the future.
The question of how we pay for social security leads us back to the nation’s economy. Labour must come forward with a robust plan for investment in the nation because – if done right – this will pay for itself. Conservatives run down the idea of borrowing to invest, even though this is how Tory entrepreneurs made their own fortunes, but it is the only way forward. The economics of the Coalition can only lead to ruin.
So: Reform of the economy; reform of social security; reform of the health service; reform of our relationship with the European Union; and trustworthiness, to keep its promises. That’s how Labour will win the next election.
Let’s face it; there’s no opposition from the other main parties.
The only way Labour can lose is if it doesn’t see what’s staring it in the face.