Conference this week showed a rejuvenated party outlining an alternative that can both win for Labour and transform Britain, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.
THIS week’s Labour Conference was the best attended, most exciting and most participatory for years. For this alone Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership team deserve great credit.
The highlight of the week for me was Corbyn’s speech. He powerfully explained that neoliberalism and the Tories’ “degraded regime has a tragic monument — the chilling wreckage of Grenfell Tower.
“A horrifying fire in which dozens perished an entirely avoidable human disaster. One which is an indictment not just of decades of failed housing policies and privatisation and the yawning inequality in one of the wealthiest boroughs and cities in the world, it is also a damning indictment of a whole outlook which has contempt for working-class communities.”
He then went on to explain why a decent home is a right for everyone, whatever their income or background and said that “houses should be homes for the many not speculative investments for a few.”
As I argued in this column recently, the housing crisis is not just bad for individuals who can’t get the housing they need, it is an indictment and representation of a broken economic system, where the interests of the 99 per cent determine government policy and millions are left on the scrapheap.
Since the Tories came to power in 2010, homelessness has doubled, 120,000 children don’t have a home to call their own, home ownership has fallen and thousands and thousands of people are living in homes unfit for human habitation.
But in contrast to Theresa May and her media mogul mates, Corbyn meets ordinary people and does understand the scale of the problems millions of Britons face.
That is why Labour announced a housing policy review that will listen to tenants and others across Britain and then propose a radical programme of action.
As part of this, Labour will insist that every home is fit for human habitation, put forward real powers to control rents, tax underdeveloped land held by greedy developers and give the power to compulsorily purchase.
Corbyn is also right to say that as part of this approach we must think again about what are called regeneration schemes, but which are often exercises in social cleansing and forcing through gentrification, putting the interests of private developers first, not people who need homes.
Shamefully in London at the current time, a Labour council in Haringey is pushing forward with such a scheme — the much-hated locally so-called Haringey Development Vehicle — but it is clear from the housing composite passed by Labour Conference and the other announcements this week that such an approach has little support in the labour movement.
The housing crisis is just one example of where long-term policy failure, driven by a clinging commitment to essentially neoliberal ideology, has led to deepening human suffering and problems on a scale that can only be tackled by a transformative approach.
The same also applies to the broken energy system, our not-fit-for-purpose transport and communication networks which hold back our economy, the massive crisis in social care, the prolonged stagnation in wages and unfolding cost-of living-crisis, and many other areas.
People want an approach that is based on putting the interests of the many first and securing a better future, not constantly bowing to the wishes of the 1 per cent who both caused the economic crash and have driven the failing austerity policies since 2010.
The Labour governments from 1997 achieved much to improve the lives of millions — not least in terms of increased funding to the NHS and other public services — but the challenges facing Britain now, and the disastrous effects of Tory austerity, require a more radical approach, leading to transformative change taking place, including to our economy.
Labour’s manifesto, For the Many, released earlier this year — built on through the motions, policy documents, NEC statements and keynote speeches this week — provides just that.
As Corbyn put it, this vision is “not simply to redistribute within a system that isn’t delivering for most people but to transform that system,” setting out “not only how we would protect public services but how we would rebuild and invest in our economy, with a publicly owned engine of sustainable growth, driven by national and regional investment banks, to generate good jobs and prosperity in every region and nation.”
The governments of 1945 (for the better) and 1979 (very much for the worse) transformed Britain and shifted the political consensus.
If Labour gets the chance to implement the policies outlined this week, then such a shift would happen again, and mean a Britain that really was for the many not the few.
What’s more, as Corbyn said, Labour has become a government-in-waiting, with an outstanding shadow cabinet team, “and our message to the country could not be clearer — Labour is ready,” as it is “Labour that is now setting the agenda and winning the arguments for a new common sense about the direction our country should take.”
I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of a Labour government guided by socialist principles and with a credible economic alternative based on investing in our future.
To make this happen, the whole labour movement needs to unite behind Corbyn’s leadership and programme. It is a shame that a tiny majority still seek to undermine Corbyn on key issues, or smear and misrepresent the millions of Corbyn supporters within our movement.
We also need to be clear that the alternative to this is yet more of the same failed austerity and reactionary scapegoating from the Tories.
While May’s speech this week showed she knows the economy isn’t working for the majority, the Tories have no new thinking and no answers to the challenges we face. It’s time for them to go.
First published in the Morning Star