Across four decades, Labour strategists have tried to conceal the obvious fact that the more you accept your opponents’ policies, the more legitimate you make them and the harder it is to make success against them likely.
The Iraq war was just the topping on a mixed dish of NHS marketisation, PFI, a dash for authoritarianism, support for US global belligerence, the destruction of a viable labour market, the collapse of decent housing and benefits for ordinary people. New Labour ushered in an era of a sick housing market which has caused renting in England to now cost half of tenant’s average take-home pay. 80% if you are 16-24. Younger workers face a life of unstable work, an absence of rights, and targeted hostility to them as a group. No wonder that we are now seeing the fading of adherence to the con-trick that is austerity.
The longer Labour kept repeating the same mistakes, the more remote its chances of election got. Admittedly, union leaders were slow to come around but they had nowhere else to go and once won for it, all else followed. The turning point, without any doubt, was when the Unite EC unexpectedly ditched Andy Burnham and went for Corbyn.
It’s clear that the age of “Look-alike, sound-a-like, think-a-like” politicians is on its way out. Panorama’s coverage was typical. A focus on one out of four candidates. Whatever happened to journalistic balance? In contrast, almost the first words of the new leader were to laud trades unions.
If the task in advance of the general election was to breathe life back into politics, that hurdle had been well and truly leapt over. Fully one-third of Labour’s new members are under 30 years. The Millennium Generation, which came of age during the Iraq war, has finally got its voice in mainstream politics. Within 3 days of the election of a Tory government, 20,000 new members had signed up. The initial surge surpassed even that of 1997, which astounded even then, yet it shows no signs of stopping. 18 long years ago, Labour could have been called the “Anyone But Tories Party” and won. Blair made sure it didn’t last and his legacy has been a labour market characterised by jobs at companies like Sports Direct, best known for keeping its 20,000 staff on zero hours contracts with greater than usual insensitivity. In the face of shareholder concern, it claims not to operate “Dickensian practices” but staff face a “six strikes and you’re sacked” policy of punishment for sickness, excessive talking and toilet breaks. Whilst more than 200,000 people a year are dying prematurely because of social inequalities. The current life-tax on the poor means they die on average seven years sooner than the rich and can expect to become disabled 17 years earlier.
Modern capitalism is voracious. In 1970 shareholders reived 10% of profits, leaving the bulk to go to investment; nowadays shareholders get 70%. Whilst the share of total income received by the top one per cent of Britain has almost doubled from 1980 to about 13% in 2011. In contrast, over 8 million parents and children live below what is needed to cover a minimum household budget, up by more than a third from 5.9 million in 2009.
Given all this, inevitably, much of this report will focus on domestic issues. But in that context, attitudes to the EU are now clearly under review as unions feel internal pressure from increasingly sceptical members. For those of us who have always been critical of the EU, it has been an odd experience. We have striven to bring the issue up the agenda and suddenly, for whatever reason, leading trades unionists have been muttering concern.