Four Cabinet resignations in six months, the latest being the Home Secretary. Government-driven economic stagnation. It’s not surprising that many expected spectacular gains for Labour in May’s local elections.
In fact, despite much of the mainstream media falling for Conservative spin, Labour’s results were impressive, its best since 1971. Our party now holds more council seats than all the other parties put together. Even in Barnet, where Labour apparently suffered from widely publicised allegations of antisemitism, its vote was up from four years ago - and up over 11 points from the Blair years in 2006. In Wandsworth, Labour won the popular vote but got fewer seats than the Tories, a side-effect of the first past the post electoral system. As Londoners are forced to move out of London by house prices and the benefit cap, the home counties are swinging towards Labour. The Tories lost Trafford for the first time in 14 years and here, as elsewhere, newly elected Labour councillors attributed their gains to the efforts of large numbers of Momentum activists.
If these results were translated into a general election, Labour would be the largest party in the House of Commons. That’s progress on last year, but it’s some way from where we want to be, even taking into account the low turnout for local elections and the lack of enthusiasm in many areas for local Labour elites committed to cuts and privatisation. The question remains: how do we move from here to the kind of landslide we need if we are going to put into office a Labour government with undisputed popular authority to carry out its radical programme?
The answer is underlined daily by the crisis not only of the Tories in power but of their rotten policies. Its flagship privatisations are a shambles. For the third time in twelve years, a rail franchise - the east coast mainline - has had to be taken back into public ownership, costing the taxpayer £400 million. Elsewhere, Capita, a company that exists exclusively for the parasitic purpose of taking over government contracts, has been found to have put patients at serious risk during thecervical screening programme, primarily because of its relentless cost-cutting in the search for profits.
Perhaps most damning are Parliament’s Select Committee reports into the collapse of Carillion, which concluded that the directors “stuffed their mouths with gold,” while running up £1bn of debts, largely hidden by dodgy accounting practices, and a £2.7bn pension deficit. Beyond the thousands of jobs lost and the threat of bankruptcy facing unpaid suppliers, there is the government’s own negligent role in continuing to award public service contracts to a company that many saw was appallingly run.
This is not isolated: it’s an indictment of the entire system of unregulated capitalism and its government- licensed takeover of the public sector. Annually the government spends £225 billion on private and voluntary providers - that’s nearly 30% of all public spending. The case, not just for ending privatisation, but for widespread public ownership, is increasingly compelling - and popular.
It’s time to be more radical. If Labour is to move decisively ahead in the polls, it needs to build on the excellent start made in the 2017 general election manifesto and articulate some bold solutions to the escalating crisis in economic and social policy. Existing policy needs development - but we also need to go beyond our traditional themes to offer socialist alternatives on every front, exposing the bankruptcy of Tory policies across the board.
At present our ability to capitalise on these crises feels uneven. One area where Labour is offering a bold alternative, not only to Tory policy but previous New Labour approaches, is immigration policy. While the Tories continue to bluster over the inhumane effects of their ‘hostile environment’ policy on an entire generation of legal migrants, shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has outlined a very different course: the ending of indefinite detention, the closure of detention centres and a commitment to use the money saved to help the victims of slavery, trafficking and domestic violence. The 2017 manifesto proved that Labour is most popular when it is boldest - on public ownership, scrapping tuition fees and ending the marketisation of public services. If we develop and radicalise our policies across the whole spectrum, it could be a game-changer.
Editorial, June 1, 2018