Following last Thursday’s referendum, David Cameron resigned, paying a heavy political price for the Tories’ failures and divisions.
Meanwhile, the ongoing attempts to blame Jeremy Corbyn for the result of the referendum are part of an attempt to deflect some of the anger and blame from the Tory government.
Sadly, some have seen it as an opportunity to try to open up another front against Jeremy’s leadership of the Labour Party.
In fact, only a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party, articulating firm opposition to — and a credible alternative to — austerity can relate to voters disillusioned and disenfranchised in an increasingly unequal and insecure country.
When I was campaigning at the last general election many angry people said: “What did the Labour government do for me?” They then went on to vote for Ukip or the SNP.
The euphoria when Tony Blair defeated the Tories soon evaporated as he continued Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies of prioritising the banks and ignoring our manufacturing and working-class communities.
Now, Labour needs a real, radical ambition to reshape our economy if we are to win the hearts and minds of these voters back.
As I have argued repeatedly since the leadership contest, Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour — by continually and consistently opposing the Tories’ austerity agenda — is starting to shift the framework of political debate.
This is the only way to win in a general election and indeed being identified as a stronger opposition has started to be reflected positively electorally.
Since my last Morning Star column, in the Tooting by-election Labour’s candidate Rosena Allin-Khan won with 55.9 per cent of the vote, an 8.7 per cent increase on 2015.
Labour’s vote share in the other two English by-elections since Jeremy became leader rose by 5.9 per cent (to 62.4 per cent) in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough in May and was up by 7.3 per cent (to 62.1 per cent) in Oldham West and Royton in December.
Last year’s leadership debate showed people wanted a strong, principled opposition and Jeremy has channelled that from his leadership campaign through to Labour’s parliamentary tactics, winning U-turns and retreats from the Tories. Such an approach will be needed more than ever if the Tories carry through George Osborne’s economically illiterate proposals for more drastic cuts following the Brexit vote.
To give just one example, the proposed cuts to personal independence payments (PIP) would have left nearly 400,000 disabled people thousands of pounds worse off, so the importance of their defeat cannot be overestimated.
As with the Tory chaos and partial U-turn over tax credits, this did not happen by accident, but rather illustrated why and how Labour is becoming an effective opposition. With more cuts to come, it’s imperative Labour sticks to this approach.
As we move forward to a general election, it’s vital to understand that this clear anti-austerity approach is underpinned by more than what Tony Blair and others dismiss as “protest politics.”
It is based on an alternative economic strategy that can both win for Labour and transform Britain.
It is a credible economic platform based on putting the issue of investment in our economy centre stage.
Nearly all economists now agree that investment is not just the most important factor in economic growth, but outweighs all others put together.
This is why, when Cameron and Osborne took power and slashed the last Labour government’s investment spending, it pushed our economy back into recession.
And still, the Chancellor is consistently not listening to the growing coalition of voices — from the experts at the IMF and OECD to our trade unions — that even before this week were saying government investment is needed to navigate the choppy waters ahead.
Government investment is scheduled to fall in this Parliament as a share of GDP and during the referendum Osborne raised the prospect following a Brexit vote of slashing public spending and increasing taxes in an emergency Budget to tackle a £30 billion “black hole.”
Osborne should resign rather than impose further cuts that would both wreak havoc on the communities that his ideologically driven austerity have already devastated since 2010, and pile on recessionary pressure in the economy.
While in many areas the current Tory austerity is a particularly unfair and brutal novelty, what it rests on in terms of economic policy is not.
For far too long, since Thatcher’s election in 1979, we have seen deep structural problems in our economy. Manufacturing decline has been caused by a lack of investment. We see low productivity, geographical imbalances, the shackling of trade unions and in recent years an ever-increasing growth in insecure working and low pay, as illustrated by the explosion in zero-hours contracts. These have survived successive governments.
The former Labour MP Chris Williamson recently wrote an insightful piece explaining how “the challenges facing Britain today demand a fundamentally different approach to the one being pursued by the present government,” and as John McDonnell has said: “We must aspire to be another great reforming administration.”
Labour’s new economics also makes it clear that investment can be the source of decent work and provide the resources to fund high-quality free public services for all, including an even better, publicly owned NHS and free education.
We didn’t lose the last general election because we were too left-wing but because we didn’t have a coherent economic strategy.
Now, Jeremy and John’s economic plans to rebalance and modernise our economy can both restore Labour’s economic credibility and offer millions of voters the hope of a better future at a time of great disillusionment with the government and distrust in traditional politicians.
But it is not just economics. Jeremy comes over as a regular, nice guy who says what he thinks.
After years of MPs mouthing the platitudes of their spin doctors while living standards have been hit, people have become disillusioned. Jeremy’s straight-talking, honest politics can relate more to these people.
With Jeremy’s approach — of strong opposition to Tory austerity backed up with a credible, coherent alternative that puts investment at its core — not only is victory possible but is needed if there is to a real improvement to the lives of millions of people.
Following the referendum, that is more the case now than ever — we need to unite behind Jeremy to win in 2020.
First published in the Morning Star