Labour Party Leadership Election 2016
HOT’s Sean O’Shea consulted with some local Labour Party members, who are also HOT readers, regarding the coming Labour Party Leadership Election. He agreed to prepare some questions based on this discussion and forward them to the Labour Party Leadership candidates. Any replies received will be published in the HOT Topics, Politics Section. Here are some notes on some of the issues raised.
How can the people speak the truth to power if the majority are not heard?
I recently met with some Labour Party members who are also HOT readers. The group was mixed in gender, age and race and two were young people under the age of eighteen. I asked them what they thought were some of the main issues and structural challenges facing society, and what questions they would like put to the Labour Party Leadership candidates, Jeremy Corbyn MP, the current incumbent, and Owen Smith MP, former shadow pension’s secretary.
During our discussion reference was made to Robert Tressell’s (1870–1911) famous book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. It was felt that what the author described as the capitalist ‘great money trick’ remained a defining feature of our society, and people wondered if his vision of a co-operative commonwealth might ever be achieved.
Reference was also made to the late economist and social reformer William Beveridge’s (1879–1963) list of social ‘scourges’. Contrary to the views of many experts and politicians, participants believed that the problems he cited – including ‘want’, ‘disease’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘squalor’ – still persist in parts of the UK.
Notes on some of the issues raised
Too many people are still living below the poverty line and dependent on food banks – a perception borne out by a report from the Office for National Statistics, stating that 6.5% of the UK population are in ‘persistent poverty’, equivalent to approximately 3.9 million people.
Young people are leaving school without qualifications and unable to read or write, and further education was prohibitively expensive. An alternative learner-centred, non-competitive educational system, available across the lifespan, would be better than, what one young person described as, ‘the current, high stress, status driven, exam factories’.
The housing crisis is causing mass insecurity. There is increasing homelessness, those renting are often living in poor and overcrowded conditions, while those aspiring to own their homes felt debarred from ever getting a mortgage. It was felt that the restoration of an amended version of the historic Rent & Mortgage Interest Restriction Act, (dating from 1915 but repealed by Thatcher in 1989, see link below) would avoid the need for vast investment in social housing and guarantee a lifetime right to a home to every UK citizen and long term resident.
Though it was acknowledged that the nature and prevalence of health problems has changed since the development of the National Health Service, cuts are still having devastating effects in many parts of the service, and mental illness is on the increase with high rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm recorded amongst young people – a perception borne out by recent Mental Health Foundation reports.
People felt that they had little say at their workplaces, and while unemployment statistics record relatively low levels of unemployment, job insecurity and under-employment were endemic with zero hour’s contracts and the erosion of workers’ rights becoming commonplace.
Issues related to inequality, governance and democracy were key concerns, as was the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. But, as one young person put it: “how can the people speak truth to power if the majority are not heard?”.
As parliament no longer reflects either the diversity of society or the democratic will of the majority of the people, urgent change to the electoral system was needed to heal the disconnect between people and parliament and ensure everyone’s voice was heard. This includes extending the vote to sixteen year olds in all parts of the UK. The rallying cry ‘no taxation without representation’, cited by another young person, met with general approval. Participants also thought that decision making should be much more localised.
It was felt that system change was also necessary in other areas, and that the utilities along with the rail services, should be returned to public ownership.
Participants were unanimously in favour of the restoration of the original Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution (for details see my previous article The Labour of History). However there was some scepticism about the prospect of this being unanimously endorsed by conference.
One of the older participants recalled how the post-war Attlee government created the National Health Service against resistance by the medical establishment and with little money in the till. However rather than continue this path of radical social change, the Labour Party had lost sight of its transformative mission, and under Blair settled for building on Thatcher’s neo-liberal legacy promoting big business interests over those of working people. It was felt that power had been achieved at the cost of growing inequality and injustice.
The overall impression of present day politicians was that they are reluctant to acknowledge the need for systemic change, are fearful of upsetting powerful vested interests, and content to settle for modest, ameliorative adjustments focused on symptoms rather than tackling the root causes of social problems.
The possibility of a ‘co-operative commonwealth’ remained an appealing vision, but it was felt that the key question now facing the Labour Party was whether it had the courage and/or capacity to harness the enthusiasm of its newly found mass membership and work collaboratively with all allies to meet this transformative challenge and implement the policies necessary to create an equal, just and democratic society?
I agreed to draft up some questions based on this discussion and ask the Leadership Election candidates what a Labour Party led by them would do to address some of the issues raised.
Note: Click on this link for more information about the Rent & Mortgage Interest Restriction Act 1915.
Also in: SOS« The People’s Manifesto
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