Champion of democracy: Ed Miliband told the country he wants Parliament to provide what the people want, signalling that Labour plans to return to the principles of democratic government that have been abandoned by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Hopefully the naysayers among Vox Political‘s readership will have a little more respect for Mr Miliband after today.
He is the first – and so far, the only – leader of a mainstream British political party to have correctly identified the biggest problem facing our democracy at this time:
The fact that people aren’t bothering to vote.
Here’s what he said, in his response to the Queen’s Speech:
“The custom of these debates is to address our opponents across the despatch box in this House, but today on its own that would be inadequate to the challenge we face.
“There is an even bigger opponent to address in this Queen’s Speech debate – the belief among many members of the public that this House cannot achieve anything at all. Any party in it.
“About 10 per cent of people entitled to vote, voted for UKIP in the recent elections. But – as significant – over 60 per cent did not vote at all.
“And whatever side we sit on, we will all have heard it on the doorstep: ‘You’re all the same, you’re in it for yourself, it doesn’t matter who I vote for.’
“Of course, that’s not new, but there is a depth and a scale of disenchantment which we ignore at our peril – disenchantment that goes beyond one party, beyond one government.
“There is no bigger issue for our country and our democracy.
“So, the test for this legislative programme, the last before the general election, is to show that it responds – to the scale of the discontent and the need for answers.
“In this election, we heard concerns about the way the EU works and the need for reform. We heard deep-rooted concerns about immigration and the need to make changes. But I believe there is an even deeper reason for this discontent.
“Fundamentally, too many people in our country feel Britain doesn’t work for them and hasn’t done so for a long time:
“In the jobs they do and whether their hard work is rewarded.
“In the prospects for their children and whether they will lead a better life than their parents, including whether they will be able to afford a home of their own.
“And in the pressures communities face.
“Above all, whether the work and effort people put in is reflected in them sharing fairly in the wealth of this country.
“The Governor of the Bank of England gave a remarkable speech last week saying inequality was now one of the biggest challenges in our country. We should all be judged on how we respond to this question, right as well as left.
“There are measures we support in this Queen’s Speech including tackling modern slavery, an Ombudsman for our Armed Forces and recall.
“But the big question for this Queen’s Speech is whether it just offers more of the same or whether it offers a new direction, so we can genuinely say it works for all and not just a few at the top.”
Yes – exactly. Yes!
Within the last couple of days, I was saying on the Vox Facebook page that Labour needs to recognise the threat posed by UKIP in the context of disenchantment with democracy: With so few people voting, the door is thrown open to loony extremist right-wing parties.
The only solution is for the mainstream parties to ensure they know exactly what the people will support and offer the electorate what we want, rather than what they want to push on us.
With this speech, Mr Miliband has made it clear that he gets it, and that he is listening.
As the only leader who does – and is – this should put him well ahead by next May.
Isn’t it desperately disappointing that, after the British people showed Ed Miliband in no uncertain terms that Labour is still going in the wrong direction, his first response was an appeal for us all to rally in support of his values, whatever they are.
No, Ed, no. It’s time the Labour Party gave up trying to force us to accept something we don’t want. It’s time you gave up being Tory Lite. It’s time – for crying out loud, this isn’t rocket science! – it’s time you gave us all a chance to believe you share our values!
Can you do that – you and your pseudo-socialist friends Ed Balls, and Yvette Cooper, and Tristram Hunt (and the rest)? If not, you need to make way for people who can – before it is too late.
The people’s response to Labour’s offer was written very clearly across ballot papers all over the country on Thursday: Too similar to the Conservatives! We won’t have either! In fact, we’ll support a party that is even more madly right-wing than either of you, just to show that we don’t want you.
And that’s just the response of those who voted. Those who didn’t were making an even plainer message: Why bother, when there isn’t a cigarette paper that can slide between any of you?
Look at this response from Terry Cook on the Vox Political Facebook page: “It [Labour] needs to prove it doesn’t share UKIP or Tory values; simple.”
Now look at the graph at the top of this article, showing that the public has lost faith in Labour every time it has supported reactionary, right-wing, Conservative, neoliberal policies – while announcements of policies that actually help people have restored support to the party.
The people don’t believe Labour should be having anything to do with anti-Socialist schemes. Here’s Alan Weir: “Labour lost my vote. They are no longer a socialist party and do not represent my views.”
He’s one of millions of potential Labour supporters, Ed! Why are you slinging them out wholesale in order to gain a handful of Daily Mail readers (a forlorn hope anyway)?
The evidence suggests increasing numbers of people are rebelling against Conservative control – but the lack of any credible alternative from Labour has left them with nowhere to go. In that sense, Labour may be said to be driving people away from democracy and into slavery in a complete U-turn – away from the principles on which the party was created.
Martin Williams: “He is totally ignoring the electorate because these people only do democracy when it suits them!”
Ros Jesson: “Some Labour people… on BBC’s coverage… their frustration with the leadership was almost palpable.”
Ed’s message highlighted his values of “hard work, fairness and opportunity”. What did people think of that?
“I am sick to death of ‘hard work’ being touted as a value, as if those desperate to find a job were of no value,” commented Pauline Vernon. “The Labour Party is still so determined to occupy the middle ground they are becoming indistinguishable from the Conservatives.”
Paula Wilcock: “Half hearted promises, no believable policies. I want to hear a realistic plan of what they are going to do to get voters like me… to go back to the Labour Party.”
Baz Poulton (who supplied the image), had this to say: “Why not actually stand up for Labour values and ideals instead of just subscribing to the same as the Tories? Labour’s support has been dwindling as they have become more and more right wing… Standing more in line with Labour’s original values sees an obvious climb in support, while their desperation to be more Tory than the Tories is seeing their support suffer.
“It’s obvious why that happens, and what they need to do to get the support of their traditional voters who are turning elsewhere now. Labour’s manifesto reads like the Tory one.”
The worst of it is that, looking at the historical context, this is what Labour wanted– from the New Labour days onward. Look at Owen Jones’ recent Guardian article: “For years the political elite has pursued policies that have left large swaths of Britain gripped by insecurity: five million people trapped on social housing waiting lists; middle-income skilled jobs stripped from the economy; the longest fall in living standards since the Victorian era, in a country where most people in poverty are also in work.”
That was exactly what Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph and Nicholas Ridley planned back in the 1970s, as revealed in The Impact of Thatcherism on Health and Well-Being in Britain: “Their view was that defeat of the movement that had forced Heath’s U-turn would require, not simply the disengagement of the state from industry, but the substantial destruction of Britain’s remaining industrial base. The full employment that had been sustained across most of the post-war period was seen, together with the broader security offered by the welfare state, to be at the root of an unprecedented self-confidence among working-class communities.
“Very large-scale unemployment would end the ‘cycle of rising expectations,’ [and] permit the historic defeat of the trade union movement.”
This is exactly what Owen Jones wrote about on Monday. Nicholas Ridley put these ideas forward in (for example) the Final Report of the Policy Group on the Nationalised Industries in – prepare to be shocked – 1977.
And Labour – in office – did nothing about it. This is part of the reason people don’t trust Labour now.
Let’s go back to Mr Jones: “For years Labour has pursued a strategy of professionalising its politicians: its upper ranks are dominated by privileged technocrats who have spent most of their lives in the Westminster bubble.
“The weakening of trade unions and local government has purged working-class voices from a party founded as the political wing of organised labour: just four per cent of all MPs come from a manual background.
“Special advisers are parachuted into constituencies they have never heard of.
“Policies are decided by focus groups; a language is spoken that is alien to the average punter, full of buzzwords and jargon such as ‘predistribution’ and ‘hard-working people better off’.”
All of these things are wrong. There’s no point in even going into the reasons; any right-thinking person will agree that an MP who has never had a proper job (working as a researcher for another MP doesn’t count) is infinitely less use than one who has had to work for a living.
What is Labour’s reaction to UKIP’s Euro win? “The likes of Ed Balls want to respond to the high tide of Farageism with a firmer immigration-bashing message.” In other words, following UKIP’s right-wing lead.
Owen is correct to say: “This is political suicide”. In fact, for Ed Balls, it should be a sacking offence. He’s got no business coming out with it and has embarrassed Labour and its supporters by doing so.
He is also right to say that Labour must be more strident about its policies. Not only that, these policies must address the problems that have been created by neoliberal Conservatism and reverse the trends. That doesn’t mean using the same tools, as New Labour tried – because when the electorate gets tired of Labour again, the Tories would be able to change everything back and hammer the poor like never before.
No – it means removing those tools altogether. A fresh approach to clean out the rot – and the vigilance required to ensure it does not return.
If Ed Miliband really wants to win next year’s election – and this is by no means certain at the moment – then Labour needs to rediscover the values of the British people.
And that means paying attention when we say what those values are.
It seems the chief executive of a local housing association has taken issue with yr obdt srvt over the Bedroom Tax.
Shane Perkins, of Mid Wales Housing, wrote to the Powys-based County Times after I used that paper to expose an illegal action by the county council’s ruling group, aimed at preventing discussing of a motion for the council to adopt a ‘no-eviction’ policy.
The motion asked the council not to evict tenants who fail to pay their rent because of the Bedroom Tax. Councillors who are also private landlords were forbidden from speaking or voting on the motion as they stand to benefit if social housing tenants are forced to seek accommodation with them as a result of the vindictive policy, and this meant 30 councillors had to leave the chamber.
Members of the ruling group, realising there was a real possibility of the motion being carried, then claimed that any councillors who are social housing tenants should also be barred from taking part – a move that is against the law (to the best of my knowledge). My understanding is that a ‘general dispensation’ allows councillors who are council tenants to take part in debates on, and vote on, matters relating to council housing.
Mr Perkins, writing in the paper’s December 20 edition, suggests that it is almost impossible to establish whether or not a tenant has fallen into rent arrears solely as a consequence of the “pernicious” (his word) Bedroom Tax, and claims that the motion was “a meaningless ‘political’ statement”.
He makes the point that it may be possible to apply the policy where the tenant has never previously been in rent arrears, but this would be unfair on other tenants who are similarly affected now but had fallen into arrears for other reasons in the past. He asks why tenants who struggle to meet their rent payments should not receive a financial subsidy or reward for being a good and conscientious tenant; and also points out that the cumulative effect of other regressive changes to benefits is also likely to affect the rent payments of vulnerable people and, to be consistent, Labour’s motion should encompass them also.
He says all social landlords, including the council, will seek to advise and support tenants who are in financial difficulty, but “in the final analysis, if a tenant fails to pay their rent, the ultimate sanction has got to be eviction.
“To do otherwise would be irresponsible, as ultimately the cost of one tenant not paying their rent is borne by all those tenants that do pay, and spiralling arrears will ultimately affect the viability of the council’s housing, which will serve none of its tenants.”
It would be easy to pick holes in his arguments. The whole point of government policy is to make sure that nobody gets a penny more than the Conservative-led Coalition decides they should have – and this government wants to drive people into poverty – so there will be no rewards for hard work. The Labour Party, and non-political groups, has campaigned ceaselessly to force the government into assessing the cumulative impact of its changes to the benefit system, but the government has refused all such calls, knowing as it does that such research would reveal the monstrous truth about its attack on the poorest in society.
If Mr Perkins is really interested, then he should encourage his own MP to support the call for such an assessment in the debate on the ‘WoW’ Petition, due to take place in the House of Commons in the New Year. I helped write that document, which calls for (among other things) “a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform”. Labour is supporting the motion. I would suggest, therefore, that any criticism of Labour for making a “meaningless ‘political’ statement” is unfounded.
As for the difference between tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax who have never been in arrears before, and those affected by it who have – this should be something a social landlord can track, especially if they are actively seeking to “advise and support” tenants. This support should include examination of a tenants income and outgoings, before and after the Tax was imposed.
The simple fact is that Mr Perkins would move offending tenants into smaller houses if he had any, but he doesn’t. He would not be talking about eviction if he did. He never built them and we must conclude that he never saw the need. Perhaps he believed that the welfare state would continue to support his tenants.
William Beveridge, the architect of that system, in the report that bears his name, said the British government should fight what he called the “giant evils” of society, including Want.
How could Beveridge know that, 70 years later, the British government would be actively increasing Want, wherever it could. That is what the Bedroom Tax, and the benefit cap, and all the other cuts brought in by this spiteful Conservative-led Coalition are about.
These measures are crimes against the citizens of this country – citizens who have paid into the State, generation after generation since the 1940s, believing that it would look after them if the spectre of Want cast its shadow at their door.
Mr Perkins describes the changes as “pernicious”, but if he allows a single tenant to be evicted then he will be a willing accomplice.
That is what he is saying when he tells us he is prepared to use this “final sanction”.
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