Britain at a crossroads
The 2016 Class Conference title – ‘Britain at a crossroads’ – was chosen to capture the choices the UK faces. The court ruling on Brexit yesterday means that this title has taken on another meaning – the limbo that the UK finds itself in. An early General Election now looms large. Without a clear vision, ideas or a strategy to communicate and popularise these ideas, the left finds itself at an impasse. Today’s gathering of the left – from the leader of the Labour party to key economic thinkers – is an opportunity for us to be honest, bold and hopeful so that we can rise to the challenge that lies ahead.
History shows us that seismic shifts in societies are not always marked by memorable occasions. Sometimes they happen without us noticing. The events of 2016 could, in hindsight, mark a dangerous turning point for the UK. Many feel that we are now likely to witness more division, more market fundamentalism and have less regard for the environment. Looking across a number of economic and societal indicators – from child poverty and the number on zero hour contracts – the future looks bleak. And, of course, there is the great uncertainty of Brexit.
But it would be wrong to paint this year as purely one of gloom. Sizable steps have been taken in the right direction. Take Sports Direct for instance. After a campaign by Unite, great journalism and a public inquiry, the company can no longer get away with the shameful treatment of its staff. The recent court ruling on Uber marks another positive shift away from on an unfettered gig economy. The Panama Papers revealed the scale of tax avoidance and corruption globally, and allowed the public to hold leaders to account. There have also been u-turns on tax credits and academy schools, and Philip Hammond seems poised to heed the left’s advice that now is the time to borrow and invest. While we might not believe that Theresa May means it, the fact she has made inequality and protecting the working class’s interests part of her repertoire is a sign that even the political right accept inequality is a problem. The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party is also a sign that there is real energy in the left.
I had a good cry this week when I watched I, Daniel Blake. The pain and hardship needlessly endured by the main characters are a reminder of why it is so important to oppose welfare cuts. The next day I saw Iain Duncan Smith at the BBC Millbank Studios. I gave him a long hard look, but in doing so I was reminded that I’m a long way from my teenage days when dirty looks were all I had to fight with. People that have broken the bonds between us and have made people’s lives harder are not the right people to run this country. We must wield all we have – our collective intellect and energies – to ensure their power does not persist.
Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about moving to Canada. Justin Trudeau – with his welcoming, vibrant Canada, is an appealing prospect when you’re staring down the barrel of a Tory-led hard Brexit and the risk of more xenophobia. But then I look at my own life and community –that I’m a half Fijian half Pakistani woman married to someone of Turkish origin, with a best mate who is the daughter of a former East End dock worker, or that my mum was recently given a heart by a complete stranger – and I realise that we too exhibit the best that humanity has to offer.
We have something worth fighting for. For that reason the Class Conference cannot be just a talking shop. The left needs to have more than the moral high ground - we need to remind people that we can go beyond rhetoric and actually deliver more equality, better health services, a progressive
Brexit that works for everyday people, and a Britain we can be proud of. Looking at the list of speakers, I can’t think of better bunch of people to show us the way.