“We shouldn’t be dividing our party with people in the leadership lapsing into authoritarian attacks our members, the very people who we need to campaign in every part of the country to put our communities back together again after the crisis.”Jon Trickett MP.
This is based on a speech Jon Trickett MP gave to the Fighting Back in 2021 event on January 23 – you can watch the full event at https://youtu.be/kj9k_ypCuTY
It’s a great privilege to be asked to speak and to join a really very distinguished panel indeed.
So, let me try to give a bigger picture if I can.
First thing to say is this is the second major crisis in the last 13 years.
The first was the banking crisis. And now we’re in the COVID crisis, which is attached to an economic crisis. Now Dominic Cummings used to repeat regularly, so we are told, an old phrase of Churchill which was: you should never waste a crisis.
And they haven’t have they?
The first thing is the bankers caused the 2008 crisis. None of them paid for it. Instead it was working people who paid for crisis. And public services were attacked, and wages held down so on and so forth.
The richest 1000 people in Britain massively increasing their wealth. In fact, there are 33 million working people in this country, and they lost about £430 billion in wages and salaries since 2008, whilst the richest gained £530 billion or so in wealth. A direct pound for pound transfer from working people to the richest, and to the big corporations.
That’s what austerity was, over the last 10 years. And now we’re in the crisis of Covid.
The Tories – the Boris Johnson government – who are, it goes without saying, awful, are succeeding to achieve goals which they would never have dared put before the British people in a general election and are hiding their ideological programme under the so called response to Covid.
Johnson is doing what the Tories always do, even in the midst of a pandemic that threatens our very humanity: building a society which strengthens and enhances the wealth of the billionaires, on the back of low paid key workers – the nurses and doctors, the cleaners and lorry drivers, Tesco shelf stackers and deliveroo drivers.
And they’re attacking democracy.
There is less and less capacity for Parliament under the powers which they’ve given themselves to hold the government to account.
They’re fattening the private sector by directing billions of pounds to a privatised and incompetent test and trace system whilst most of us are left on our own in our communities.
Working people generally, in all their rich diversity, have been hit the hardest. We’ve seen a huge increase in inequality.
Under this Tory government, in the midst of Covid, the richest people look like they have increased their wealth by $845 billion US dollars since the pandemic started.
Yet two in three low paid workers – about 4 million people – are currently being impacted by the lockdown.
[There are] :
- 2.7 million unemployed.
- The furlough cutting people to 80% of already low wages.
- Pay freezes for the public sector apart from the health service.
And far more poor people die, especially those from poorer and ethnic minority communities die from Covid.
All of that is the picture of a society which the Tories are creating, beneath the radar, whilst the BBC and the papers focus on the vaccine and understandably so, but much more is happening.
So, how should labour respond?
Let me first briefly say what we shouldn’t do.
We shouldn’t be dividing our party with people in the leadership lapsing into authoritarian attacks our members, the very people who we need to campaign in every part of the country to put our communities back together again after the crisis.
Expulsion, suspensions, bans on free speech, they should have no part in a movement which is facing a massive crisis in our country.
Remember, the old phrase, a house divided against itself will not stand.
The idea that the job of the opposition at the moment is to focus exclusively on Tory mismanagement and incompetence. It’s a mistake. It’s not a big enough issue.
The times we live in do not require a kind of bloodless, value-free opposition, nor institutional timidity, nor organised abstentionism.
Nor do we need to have a front bench which embraces austerity-lite – the old idea that, well the Tories doing austerity, Labour would do it but not quite so far not so fast.
Labour became an anti-austerity party. And we should not abandon that.
So, there is much more to do to react Covid which would resonate with the country, and it goes well beyond calling out government Tory incompetence.
How would the left react if we were still in the leadership?
We would want to build a politics of hope based on rebuilding the connections between our movement and all those working communities in all their diversity, in every part of our country.
We would have zero COVID strategy.
We would refuse to go down the austerity [lite] line.
We would say that those who are profiting from COVID crisis, the richest and the big corporations, they should pay for the debt which the country is engaging in rather than the workforce.
There should be a wage rise for key workers.
The public services need to be rebuilt and properly funded.
And finally, maybe most importantly, we need to go on from the crisis back to restore full employment as a central target objective of Labour’s economic strategy.
Instead of insipid opposition, we need a socialist alternative, a bold, transformative offer to the British people. I believe it would resonate to show there is a different way out of this crisis and a different way to handle it.