“We must do more to ensure the Labour leadership stands up for our communities by ending its approach of falling in behind the government, & actually putting pressure on for the measures we need, including a strong & maintained lockdown & support for those who can’t work.”Yasmine Dar.
By Yasmine Dar, Labour NEC member
With Britain tragically passing a landmark 100,000 deaths from Covid it is up to us as Labour activists not just to respond to the immediate crisis – supporting and speaking up for our communities and putting pressure on our leadership to put public health first – but to start to think about (and defend) the policy solutions that will be needed in the long term. There is no doubt that many of the answers lie in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos.
Over the past 10 months we have experienced devastation – personal devastations with the loss of loved ones, but also a widening of inequalities that shows no sign of abating. A disproportionate number of deaths amongst our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, amongst our frontline workers; and the loss of jobs and income, with too many excluded from support which mean families do not have enough food to eat and are in danger of losing their homes. A report published in the BMJ on 15 January shows that national policies and processes which largely disadvantage ethnic minorities – including areas such as housing, health and employment – have contributed to increased exposure to and worse outcomes from COVID-19 among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. Moreover, the TUC reported this week that the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers in employment fell by 5.3 percent last year, compared with a 0.2 percent fall among white workers.
In the short term we must do more to ensure that the Labour leadership stands up for our communities by ending its approach of falling in behind the government, and actually putting pressure on for the measures we need, including a strong and maintained lockdown and support for those who can’t work. A Zero-Covid strategy as advocated by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs is the only solution that can save lives and livelihoods.
In the long term we must look to the democratic socialist solutions set out in Labour’s most recent general election manifesto. This means:
- A return to public ownership and an end to outsourcing – it has been horrific to witness the public money wasted in lining the pockets of ineffective, exploitative and expensive private providers through the crony contracts issued by the government.
- Investment and an end to private sector involvement in the National Health Service, where the impact of 10 years of austerity has left the NHS poorly placed to face the immense pressures upon it despite the heroic efforts of health workers.
- A significant rise in the minimum wage, an increase in benefit payments, and a proper pay rise for all public sector workers – in the short term to save lives and livelihoods and in the long term to support economic recovery.
- Investment in infrastructure for the benefit of the many not the few – although our promise of free broadband was ridiculed, many more people can see now how essential and foresighted that popular proposal was.
- Putting climate change and the Green New Deal at the heart of future policy – whilst we now focus on fighting the virus, we mustn’t forget this additional existential threat hurtling down the road.
Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership demonstrated that it is not only possible to change the terms of debate but also to change policy and it would be good to see our current leadership setting the agenda in such a way – even if Keir Starmer stuck to the pledges made only a year ago during the leadership campaign it would be a step forward.
We still have opportunities in the Labour Party to influence this agenda and we should use them. We can pass motions in our CLPs and branches and send them to the relevant shadow cabinet member and policy commission, where our left National Policy Forum members can speak up on key issues. And we must start to get organised for annual conference, and for women’s conference which we know will be held online on the last weekend of June, to defend the policies of 2017 and 2019.
It was a great step forward when, as an NEC, we put in place a democratic policy-making women’s conference that can send motions to annual conference. Now we must use that platform to advocate the policies that can really make a difference for women. This means highlighting the impact of the pandemic on women and calling for Labour to support the radical policies needed to respond. The negative health and economic effects are thought likely to have a more enduring impact on women. Women face greater exposure to the virus than men as they make up the majority of health and social workers; we are bearing the brunt of caring and home-schooling responsibilities; and a larger proportion of women have lost their jobs. Domestic abuse has also increased. All these issues and more must be at the heart of our women’s conference.
And in the months ahead, we must speak up for our communities against the Tories and for democratic socialist solutions.
- Yasmine Dar is one of five Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance candidates elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee. Labour Outlook is pleased to host a weekly column from our Grassroots Voices on the NEC.