Why we need to shout ‘Post-New Labour’ is the Labour Party for us all

{a pre-release of my submitted article to the Forest Clarion issue #100, as part of my ‘Left Inside’ column}

Putting aside the debate about Ed Milliband’s populist immigration speech (as that deserves a whole article in its own right), the recent performance of Labour is otherwise a welcome shift to the left. While I might be convinced that I have joined a different party to that of the ‘New Labour’ period, it is with regret that the public are not so sure. And this poses our biggest single problem.

Here’s why I think I am in a ‘post-New Labour’ Labour Party.

For activists, one of the mistakes New Labour made was when it stifled inner party democracy. It created a gulf between those who made policy and those who fought to make it and, indeed, campaigned on it and lived by its principles.

Angela Eagle, the new Chair of the National Policy Forum, however, rightly seeks to redress this. She wrote to me stating that she understood “how frustrating it has been for those…with expertise, experience and ideas to engage in a meaningful way with the Party’s policy making process. That is why I’m so committed to changing it. We need to open it up, and give everyone a voice and a stake.”

Send your demands for a Labour Party policy programme more representative of its members’ wishes to PIP@labour.org.uk.

On the other hand, I read from the minutes from the FoD CLP Executive Committee meetings that its pre-occupation with the ownership of its meeting place in Lydney is still taking up precious time. All the while local people endure the most aggressively sustained attack on their livelihoods I for one have ever known. With backdoor taxes like refuse collection charges and parking charges, the danger of our community health services under threat of removal from the NHS, and our very woodlands returning to insecurity, now is the time for Labour to locally step up its game. In the face of an anti-democratic Council, local branches need to re-engage with the issues facing local people. Ownership of the boxing club site and whether local or national Labour hold the title to the site is, frankly, not on their agenda. We need to get it off ours!

Compare this to Andy Burnham and his team who, meanwhile, has done a great deal to expose the gap between Ministers’ rhetoric and what’s really happening in our NHS (read online at www.YourNHS.com) . The Tories are cutting 6,000 nurses, Labour pledges to protect them. One of the good things about the last Labour government was its investment in the NHS, with the net result that waiting-times were drastically cut. Under the Tories it is rising again.

Now that it is threatening the continuance of services of at least one hospital, Labour could do more to distance itself from the debacle of PFI (just one reason why I could never join New Labour), but in the meantime I am pleased with the 5 pledges: 1. Protect NHS founding values; 2. Prevent postcode lotteries; 3. Guard against longer waits; 4. Promote collaboration over competition; 5. Put patients before profits. The antithesis of these characterise the awful Health & Social Care Bill the Tories passed a few months ago. And that is why Labour has promised to repeal the Bill at the earliest opportunity. Only a Labour victory would enable us to do that.

Ed Balls too got it right on petrol duty. This saw the Tories cancel the expected hike the very same day Ed’s article appeared in the national press. “But the price of crude is down.” Argued John Humphreys on BBC Radio’s Today programme. Ed quickly reassured him that it may be down in the last month, but the price isn’t trickling down to the forecourts quick enough. To ordinary people, the price is still way too high, increasing the duty will make matters worse both for households and struggling industry. It might seem a long time ago we paid less than a £1 per litre but recently it got to nearly half that again.

My point is that Labour is at its best when it represents the ordinary lives of working people. The Shadow Cabinet is delivering on this. As long as Ed himself steers clear of pasties, we’re doing alright.

Our task, to all on the left, is to build confidence in this “post-New Labour” Labour so we can halt a Tory stronghold nationally and locally.

There is much to be done. It is up to us to move the national story away from the legacy of Blair and Brown and onto the party that truly reflects ordinary working people. This is the Party with the only viable chance of reversing the health bill, halting the attack on ordinary livelihoods, stopping the sell-off of our Forests and building against the kind of unfettered profiteering  Conservatism is ideologically grounded upon.

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