A speech I might give if I was in Jeremy Corbyn’s position …
I want to take this opportunity to clarify what I and the Labour Party I lead stand for in what has become a tumultuous era for us all.
First, I will spell out a set of pledges to which we are already committed. They are, I think, largely uncontentious and very much in line what people think and feel in the wider community.
Second, I will address the obstacles that we are presently facing in communicating our policies to the public and regaining trust. I will not pull my punches.
The Labour Party has signed up to ten pledges in the following key areas:
- Homes for all, new council houses, renters’ rights and rent caps.
- A national education service, quality apprenticeships and universal public child care.
- National bank for investment in infrastructure, manufacturing and new high tech industries.
- Progressive taxation to reduce wealth inequality, and closing the gender pay gap.
- Protection for the environment, action on climate change and a commitment to community-owned renewables.
- End the privatisation of the NHS and reintegrate social care and the mental health serices.
- Rebuild public services, bring the railways and buses back into public ownership.
- Stronger employment rights, end zero hours contracts, and support trade unions.
- Defend the human rights act and protect people from discrimination and pejudice.
- Foreign policy based on peace not war and nuclear power.
We are ready to turn these pledges into specific, costed policies whenever a general election is called. I must add that this is ‘necessarily’ done immediately before an election is called, when all the relevant calculations can be made.
Two things will already be apparent. First, our pledges put us very much at odds with Theresa May’s Tory government. In other words, Labour offers a real alternative. Given the Liberal Democrats’ willingness to sign up to the Tory agenda, it is the only alternative. It is a vision of a society for the non-elite. This would not have been considered radical before Margaret Thatcher. It was she who acted for the elite rather than for all. And each of her successors – let’s be frank, including New Labour’s PMs – neglected too many ordinary citizens to turn things around.
Second, it is a nonsense that in the United Kingdom, one of the richest countries in the world, we can no longer afford to be ‘inclusive’, to accommodate all our citizens. I always say to people who disagree with this: ‘ask who has won and who has lost out since the Thatcher years?’ Academic studies impart the same messages: it is the rich who have prospered, while those on the lowest incomes, on benefits, vulnerable people with disabilities, have been shamelessly penalised. We are turning into a society where those who do not inherit capital from their families are finding it hard to buy a home.
My second theme can be put in the form of a question. If the Labour Party has such an attractive and compelling vision, and so many appealing policies, why is it languishing in the polls?
It is time to be blunt. I will leave aside polling issues, like who is asking (precisely) what questions of whom. It is public knowledge that my unexpected election and re-election as leader of the party upset a number of my parliamentary colleagues. While I have always been for open and vigorous debate within the Labour Party as well as outside it, there have been a number of attempts to undermine and replace me. Naturally, this has involved me being charged with incompetence. If I am honest I do not have the Oxbridge-honed acting skills of Tony Blair; but I value substance over style and theatre. I am what I am. When I was first elected I was level in the polls with the Conservatives. Successive and very personal attacks on my leadership have made it an uphill battle since.
Criticisms of my leadership within the Labour Party would not have gained such currency without the supportive headlines of tabloid, and even so-called serious newpapers. On occasions entirely fictitious stories have made their front pages. The BBC too has been shown by studies at the LSE and elsewere to carefully edit its news to my disadvantage. Why these levels of antagonism?
The short answer is that many of those comprising the richest and most influential elites in our society do not want me as Prime Minister. They are ‘winning’ while too many of our fellow citizens are ‘losing’. And losing here can mean unendurable hopelessness and suffering. So we are back to that vital question of who wins and who loses. I am, and I confess it, a very real threat to those who are content to rob the poor to give to the rich.
I want to mention two other pressing issues. The first is Brexit. I am aware that many Labour MPs, members and supporters voted for Remain and have been upset by my decision to impose a three-line whip to vote for triggering Article 50. I understand their frustrations, and in some cases anger. As you know, Labour Party policy was for ‘Remain and Reform’, and, despite malicious rumours to the contrary, I naturally voted for Remain myself.
I took soundings from my colleagues before we decided not to oppose Brexit. The terms of the EU Referendum were set before I became leader and – in those far off days when everybody assumed that the result would favour Remain – it was universally understood that a simple majority either way would be decisive. In these circumstances it would be wrong to ask for a re-run. Nor, in any case, did we have enough votes in the Commons to either to halt or delay Brexit or to secure positive amendments without Tory rebels, and in the event May bought these rebels off. But we shall continue to oppose ‘hard Brexit’, that is, any deal that allows for a continued redistribution of resources of all sorts from the poor to the rich. We will contest hard Brexit in the Commons and the Lords.
There are other lessons from the vote for Brexit. It could be said that Labour forfeited its Scottish base through complacency and neglect. Early studies are showing, and I think Brexit confirms, that we have similarly lost many of our ‘natural’ supporters in the Midlands and the North. These changes preceded my leadership but it is my responsibility and task to demonstrate that today’s Labour Party has their interests at the heart of its philosophy and policies.
Words are easier to come by than action, and it often seems that we do now inhabit a ‘post-truth’ society. Just listen to President Trump, or read his tweets (ok, let me take this opportunity to apologise personally to Graham Scambler for his and others’ temporary suspensions by the Labour NEC for tweeting that Blairites were ‘Tory-lite’, that is, for threatening to vote for me).
Many of those who once voted Labour have abandoned us for good reason. They HAVE been neglected. BUT NO MORE ON MY WATCH. UKIP and other ‘populist’ groups have taken advantage. I reject all that these groups stand for, but we must understand their appeal. Many people are beyond anger and despair. They are wrong to hold the EU responsible for our ills, for all that its institutions are often undemocratic and in need of ‘reform’. Nor should their ire be directed at immigrants and refugees. Labour under my leadership will open the doors to refugees without qualification or apology. There is a strong economic case also for ‘managed migration’, as Germany has recognised. Labour’s policy on this has also been misrepresented by the media: immigrants are no threat to local jobs to the extent that employers are obliged to recognise and accept the right to decent pay and conditions for ALL employees. We will banish the importation of cheap foreign labour, zero contracts and the exploitation of workers that these stand for.
In a strange way, the constant attacks on me and my leadership are evidence that the Labour Party is changing direction. It will take time, and our trust will have to be earned. It is a journey we have started on. I do not underestimate either the challenges facing me and the members of the Labour Party who support me. We are a mass movement. But I do have confidence that people as voters can filter mass media messages and rally behimd us. Always ask: who wins and who loses policy-by-policy! And you might also check out the capital assets and interests of those who canvass for your vote!