Friday 27 June 2008

Gordon Brown has taken Labour to the edge of extinction

I wrote this article for the Guardian's "Comment is Free" website yesterday. It has just gone up. I wrote it before the Henley by-election result which demonstrates even further the potential political wipe out Labour is now facing.

A year ago so many Labour MPs flocked to nominate Gordon Brown as leader that I had no choice but to concede that I couldn't get on the ballot for the Labour leadership.

Now it all looks pretty bleak. Brown is relentlessly leading the Labour party to the edge of extinction and yet again Labour MPs and trade union general secretaries appear at a loss to do anything but follow over the electoral precipice.

In the first month the euphoric reception for Gordon Brown was based firstly upon the fact that he wasn't Tony Blair and secondly that he promised change. In fact in one speech he referred to change at least 20 times.

The reason for the present scale of disillusionment in him and his government particularly among long-standing Labour supporters is that there has been no change. If anything, the policies have gone further right and the New Labour style of manipulative short-term triangulation is still being pursued but with less competence than Blair

It could have all been so different. A leadership election would have ensured a real debate on the future of Labour in government and the future of our country. For over a year I had already been on the campaign trail speaking with Labour supporters and many others in open meetings just to get people talking again.

A leadership contest would have produced this engaging process writ large, drawing people into a real discussion and testing not only the ideas but also the candidates themselves.

Labour members would have been given the chance to decide. The ideas I was promoting would have proved their popularity and 12 months on we would have all been in a different place. Just think what might have been.

British troops would have by now been withdrawn from Iraq and in Afghanistan we would be deploying every skill of conflict resolution learned in Northern Ireland, including the first stages of unconditional roundtable talks with all sides to enable troop withdrawal.

Trident would have been scrapped and arms conversion put in place to transfer skills and resources to socially productive uses.

The green revolution would be well underway with an 80% target on reducing carbon emissions firmly installed in law, feed-in tariffs introduced and a mass programme of alternative energy projects already under construction. The expansion of Heathrow would have been rejected and with rail back in public ownership the largest investment programme in high speed-rail in Europe would be moving from the drawing board to construction.

The fairness revolution would be in train to create a fair and equal society. To address pensioner poverty the first year budget would have increased the basic pension and restored its link with earnings. To achieve a historic target of abolishing child poverty, child benefits would have been increased. The minimum wage would have been lifted to a realistic level, with pay equity legislation introduced to eradicate discrimination against women and others. A fairer taxation policy would have ensured that corporations pay their way and their £100bn a year tax avoidance scams would have been outlawed. Local councils would have been empowered to build half a million new homes this year and to compulsorily purchase a significant number of the 300,000 homes that stand long-term empty to tackle the housing crisis that has seen the number of homeless households double under New Labour.

The freedom revolution would have already seen the restoration of basic civil liberties and trade union rights. ID cards would have been scrapped and detention without charge would be replaced with a normal rule of law relying upon evidence and court decisions. A draft constitution would have been published for debate extending social rights to housing, education, care and a decent environment.

The democracy revolution would have seen the ending of the privatisation of our public services, and the debate engaged on how each public service could be best managed, by those who are elected to represent local communities, those that deliver the services and those that receive them. Members of the House of Lords would be in their final session before abolition, and a new chamber would be elected by proportional representation, as people also voted on a referendum on the European constitution.

The safety revolution would be at it early stage of implementation, transferring the third of prisoners with mental health and drug problems to suitable specialist centres. At the community level, safer neighbourhood teams would no longer just comprise of police officers but would include family support workers, youth workers, play leaders and community development workers to intervene earlier and more effectively to overcome antisocial behaviour, crime, and violence at their roots.

The education revolution would have already abolished tuition fees and restored grants, class sizes would be tumbling towards public school proportions and more teachers were recruited, with teaching talent released from the burden of tests, targets and league table competitions.

The caring revolution would have been extending free childcare to all families with young children and free care for all the elderly. Elderly care standards would be under intense scrutiny and residential homes under democratic control with direct care and family representation.

The political revolution would have produced a Commons chamber where MPs were not just allowed but would be encouraged to vote on principle and personal judgment. Various coalitions on individual issues would become the norm. Democracy would have been restored within the Labour party, enabling members and affiliates once again to determine the policies of the party. Yes the political debate would have been robust and decisions difficult to pre-judge but democracy would be the better for it.

By now, Labour members and supporters would be proud again of being associated with our party and our government. I can't guarantee that this would have won us the next election but at least it would be a government worth fighting for.

This article was first published on on Friday June 27 2008.