The Spirit Of 2015?
Many of you will know that for the Labour Party and for Great Britain, 1945 was a pivotal year in our shared history. The shared spirit and united hope for a better world and better country, ‘a Country fit for Kings’ on the backdrop of the loss and pain of the inter-war years was the first time Labour held complete control of the country.
Whatever you think of the 1945 administration, it changed the face of Britain; cities and towns were built from Milton Keynes to Harlow to Corby. Labour rebuilt Britain and the narrative of hope that we could fix the economy, while curing our country of the poverty and squalor of the pre and inter-war years.
This week the party announced something similar, and in a piece in the Guardian we heard about plans for new towns and garden cities; the places we all dream about and aspire to live in. For people living with their parents – with the average person moving out of their parents house at 32 – the pledge to build 200,000 homes a year means a lot. For people in construction, it also means a lot. For those of us whom have called for a massive house building project it represents a step forward.
Just over 65 years ago a great public servant was born from the arms and mind of our very own Nye Bevan. The NHS serves as a beacon of what can be done when needs must. Our last line of defence and our first port of call, with most of the country now born in hospital. We know its not perfect – and I know better than most – but it is a life saver and free at the point of use, so I for one do not want to see it dismantled or privatised.
(Left: Clement Attlee, Right: Nye Bevan)
A beacon of civilization in a dangerous world, a corner-stone in compassion and in the words of Nye, “the NHS will never die as long as there is folk left to fight for it”. That is why the Labour Party Conference was important when Ed Miliband promised to fight for the NHS, save our NHS and stated again about repealing the NHS Act of 2012 creating an integrated NHS.
Okay, so it is not the case that we have had a mass shelling under the blitz or mass deaths from world wars, but recent times have not been great either. We need hope, we need a joint and collective spirit. No more running parts of our country down from MPs diving us over Veils being worn in the NHS or from people in work paying for people to live a ‘life of luxury’ on benefits.
We know this to not be the case for everyday people, I spend more than my fair share of time talking to people on behalf of the Labour party, with comrades in the New Forest, in Southampton, Barnsley or in Portsmouth. Immigration, welfare and scarcity all come up as issues; but let’s think about this for a second. Will stopping certain people from receiving free healthcare (such as a proposal to stop ‘NHS tourism’) really benefit me? The idea of a healthcare system that is free at the point of use was so that it was universal and covered everybody. If half the population has the best of healthcare Britain has to offer and the other half none, it is obvious to see where it goes next. Let’s assume there aren’t ghettos being set up to go because of the policy’s consequences. We will be seeing those worthy enough to receive treatment walking through those not worthy enough; catching viruses, sickness and a loss of community and co-operation, the unity and shared purpose, a shared purpose that this country benefits from hugely.
The battle on welfare results in many questions. Am I the son of working parents whose income often doesn’t add up to outgoings who has tax credits? Or my friend who is unable to work due to disability? Or my work college whom after being laid off in the public sector took 6 months to get into a new job? Or my neighbour… who do they mean when they call people scroungers? If we accept that the welfare budget is ‘too large’, subjective as the statement is, the masses whom decide the next government believe it. The Tories say cut it. So far the cuts and changes to disability benefit have had devastating effects, with the Mirror suggesting that between January 2011 and August 2011 ‘some 8,000 claims ended and a date of death was recorded within six weeks of the claim end’. Society still feels a need to meet basic living standards and show a warm response to the needs of the most vulnerable in society. When most of the welfare budget (excluding pensioners) goes to those in work and not those out of it, we must ask who really would benefit by attacking welfare? It doesn’t seem to be us. Labour’s new favorite jibe at the Tories is that for 36 out of 37 months of Cameron and Clegg’s leadership real wages have fallen with prices rising faster than wages. Isn’t it time to accept that the policies aren’t working?
Labour doesn’t pretend to have a magic wand. However, Ed mentioned, in yet another impressive conference speech (given without notes again) that Labour do offer solutions to the ‘large’ welfare spend and will be tough on spending. Ed Balls stated in his keynote speech that we can’t keep borrowing to fund day-to-day spending.
With 95p in every pound spent on subsidising landlords and only 5p being spent on building more houses it is easy to see why house prices are sky-high and homelessness is rising. It’s easy to see why the budget is growing with rents going up and we don’t ask why! Labour have said they will change this but we can’t do it over night. However, this mass house building pledge will go some way to easing that. Labour first mentioned this during the debate on the welfare cap, with the current £26k level not suitable for some places, such as London. Rental benefit payments essentially subsidises landlords, punishing the claimant for not being able to afford the property. In my mind, this doesn’t seem just.
We also know that there are people who sadly cheat the welfare system, with the Tory changes designed to tackle that. But, at only 0.7% of the budget, I don’t think this is worth what we are losing.
We also have to tackle immigration. However, the party isn’t against them, as we welcome them in this country. Ed slammed the government for their ‘Go home’ vans and the general anti-immigrant vibe now surrounding politics. This is the sort of unity Ralph Miliband might have suggested when he stated “All concepts of politics, of whatever kind, are about conflict─how to contain it, or abolish it.” Labour propose that as well as strengthening the National Minimum Wage to avoid undercutting British workers, that for every worker recruited by a larger firm from outside the EU there would have to be an apprenticeship offered to a local member of society. This has the potential to create over 100,000 apprenticeships, predominantly for British people.
Ed had a few more great policies, including voting at 16 and a freeze on energy bills. But the speech was not just about the policies. It was about Ed too. He has shown he is humble, that he can make jokes at his expense. This shows that he is comfortable with the policy platform, with the party backing and that he has the moral high ground. One questions people usually ask is if he represented the party well. The answer I can imagine is yes, with a few standing ovations and the twitter-sphere reacting well.
The spirit is almost all there. With talk of ‘One Nation’, his speech could have gone many ways, but he is leading to a new type of politics where division isn’t the aim of the game, but instead unity; where a shared goal and motivation can lead to shared gain. To paraphrase Ed Miliband: when the tide rises, it should lift boats and yachts, not leaving the boats behind while yachts float.
He is also talking about issues that matter and effect ordinary people, such as the NHS, which we all rely on at least once in our lives and the cost of living crisis. Policies such as freezing energy bill; the 10p tax rate; reaffirming and strengthening the minimum wage; plus a commitment to get the low pay commission to look into sectors where a higher wage can be paid without causing unemployment. Building houses, cutting or freezing small business rates, all designed to help the life blood of our economy.
Policies announced in the fringes, including publicly owned state competitors to run the rail franchises and capping the cost of credit, were also welcomed, especially for people I know whom like myself have campaigned for the capping of the cost of credit.
In talk reminiscent of his dad Ralph, the famous academic and socialist, stated in ‘Moving On’ that ‘Clearly the support of trade unionists is vital to the cause, but it is not the same as an organic and organisational link with the trade unions’. This is a line one could use to defend Ed’s planned reform to get the party rooted in every community.
I have to personally say, Ed, well done. I know many other members are proud of our leader and our party. Our country can do better than the current government.
Welcome to “The Spirit Of 2015” – we can do better.
Ryan Carter holds various posts in the New Forest Labour Party, Co-Vice Chair of Hampshire and IOW Young Labour and is a member of the on the Apolitical Youth Commission for Police and Crime. At the conference, he spoke for ‘Southampton Sharkstoppers’ – tackling the high cost pay day lending industry.