Why did the PM not defend Labour’s record?

If Brown continues to act like Gore, he will lose.

In a guest column for this magazine back in September 2009, Alastair Campbell wrote:

People say they don't like negative campaigning. But there are three planks to any campaign: setting out a forward agenda, defending the record, and attacking your opponents. All are essential. All have to be done with verve and vigour.

Brown has spent this campaign attacking Cameron and Clegg and, to be fair, setting out his "forward agenda" and outlining Labour's policy priorities in a fourth term -- both in the debates and in the party's manifesto.

But where was the defence of "the record"? I waited in vain during last night's final leaders' debate for Brown to come out and list some of Labour's proudest achievements in office: the minimum wage, paid holidays, international aid, lifting British children out of poverty, improving schools and hospitals, peace in Northern Ireland, etc, etc. (Check out the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, which has been doing a quiet audit of the Labour record on a host of policy areas and has some quite positive conclusions.)

Again and again, Cameron banged on about 13 wasted years while Brown stayed silent, as if he agreed with the Tory leader about the Labour record. It's not enough, as Campbell pointed out, only to attack your opponent and make promises about the future -- you have to point out what you've done and how you've helped people.

I notice that Johann Hari, in an excellent piece in today's Independent, echoes my comparison of David "Compassionate Conservative" Cameron with George W Bush circa 1999/2000. In fact, the Bush/Gore, Cameron-Brown analogy is quite disconcerting.

Bush, the overprivileged, nice-but-dim, right-wing millionaire, ran as an outsider on the oxymoronic platform of "compassionate conservatism" against the de facto incumbent, Al Gore, who was much more qualified to be president. Gore, however, had an image problem: professorial, boring, dull, technocratic, aloof, a poor public speaker.

Gore also refused to campaign on the Democrats' eight-year record on office, distancing himself from his popular predecessor Bill Clinton, who played a small and belated role in the 2000 presidential campaign. To see Brown's predecessor and bête-noire, Tony Blair, joining the campaign today, in the final days, makes me realise just how apt the analogy is.

There is one crucial and obvious difference: Gore won more votes but lost the election to Bush. Wouldn't it be sweet if, next Thursday, Cameron wins more votes but -- because of our dysfunctional electoral system -- Brown clings on to office? Such a scenario is becoming less and less likely, but it would be a foolish man who ruled it out . . .

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.