Momentum is moving in our direction - bold policies have popular support
If we have learned anything in recent weeks, it’s that when Labour responds to the campaigns we run and the arguments we make – reflecting people’s real concerns – then it is popular. Just before Labour Party Conference one poll put Labour level with the Tories and the best only four points ahead. Since then, Labour has been six to eleven points ahead.
Making bold policy announcements in the public interest means you make the political weather. In recent weeks the political debate has been dominated by energy policy. The debate isn’t about whether we are being ripped off by the big six, but what to do about the fact that we are.
This space provides trade unions and Class with the opportunity to argue for renationalisation of what is a basic human necessity. The Grangemouth dispute showed how essential pillars of our economy are too important to be run at the whim of greedy billionaires.
These industries, like our rail network and now the Royal Mail, need to be under public ownership, run with proper democratic accountability, for our benefit and not to serve the interests of wealthy shareholders and executives.
The pledge to repeal the bedroom tax at Labour conference reflected the success of our campaigning. It would never have happened without protests in towns and cities across the country and powerful personal testimony in the media, backed up by analysis that showed the failings of the policy.
Seeing the end of the bedroom tax cannot come soon enough. But that is just one plank of this government's assault on our social security system and those who rely on it. Hundreds of thousands of people have had their benefits denied them by sanctions, more than one million disabled people are being hit by Atos assessments and benefit cuts, and families' lives are being turned upside down by the benefit cap.
We still have a long way to go. When Rachel Reeves promises to be "tougher than Tories on benefits", many Labour members and trade unionists wonder why Ed Miliband bothered to replace Liam Byrne.
And Labour’s commitment to scrap the bedroom tax reveals a further challenge for us. The party committed to pay for it through a tax on bankers’ bonuses – ignoring that in all likelihood the bedroom tax will cost more than it saves anyway.
This is because the Labour frontbench remains constrained by Tory spending plans – and the need for cuts to reduce the deficit. Ed Balls said recently they would “govern in a very different way with less money around”. What about a strategy for growth or the fact there’s not less money around? The big corporations’ profit margins are strong after Osborne’s huge corporation tax cuts and the wealth of the super-rich increased by £35 billion last year.
President Hollande in France – elected on a wave of popular anti-austerity sentiment – is failing because he has failed to break out of that narrative, and abandoned his modest policies. In the 1970s, Jim Callaghan found that you cannot marry social justice with IMF-imposed neoliberalism. The clear lesson is that unless you replace the ‘market knows best’ dogma with a framework that puts people first, you will breed disillusion and end up perpetuating the misery you once opposed.
Miliband has started something. Momentum is moving in our direction, because the bold policies we advocate have popular support. People are fed up with being ripped off, seeing their living standards eroded, and watching a grasping elite grabbing more personal wealth.
There is a huge audience for what we have to say, but – just as with the bedroom tax – we need to organise, educate, and mobilise a mass movement that cannot be ignored.