Driven by a wretched and outdated currency
In the workplace many are feeling insecure, as migrant labour is used by unscrupulous employers to p
When the Queen rises to present the tenth speech of "her" Labour government, she will, compared to 1997, be speaking to a radically different country - a country improved out of all proportion. Crime and unemployment are down considerably, while investment in public services and the incomes of many people have increased. However, the war in Iraq, extraordinary demographic shifts, and a palpable insecurity regarding both the environment and terror, have changed the political landscape in a way unimaginable back then.
Yet the government remains locked into a view of the country and the model by which it feels it must govern. Ministers believe that a strategy based in fairness and tolerance offers diminishing returns; that a liberal approach to issues such as crime and migration spells political death, and that the iron law of modern politics dictates that any talk of higher taxes to invest in public services and infrastructure leads inevitably to electoral wipeout.
In the wretched currency of modern politics, we have to triangulate at the expense of the most vulnerable, so as to "prove" our political bona fides to the press - those who have the real power. The science of modern politics is to find ever more precise ways of targeting these tough messages at swing voters in key seats refracted through friends in the media. People outside these tight confines - in the marginalised areas of Dagenham, or the Midlands, or the north-east - do not figure.
In next week's Queen's Speech, we are likely to hear yet more of crackdowns on migrants, asylum-seekers, yobs, benefit recipients and others, all part of a muscular bidding war to define Labour, in some magical way, as the toughest, most trusted party. In tandem, we are sure to hear more about how liberal and weak the Conservatives are. Liberalism is portrayed as a soft creed, unable to navigate through the complexities of the modern world. We might even hear more about the symbols of religious difference - a new currency in political positioning. These are not abstract debates. In my area, the consequence of the debate around the veil has been to embolden the far right and in turn deepen fears across the minority communities.
Parliament's other world
So, instead of change, we should expect more of the same - presented in the language of security. But what we ought to be hearing about are initiatives to address the material causes of insecurity within communities. Insecurity, based around concerns over housing, labour market reform and protection for the most vulnerable, is very real in constituencies such as mine. Its absence from the Westminster debate reinforces the other-worldliness of parliament and creates spaces for more extreme forces to build.
Take a few examples: in the workplace many people feel a heightened sense of insecurity as migrant labour is being used by unscrupulous employers to pull down pay and conditions, often through the use of employment agencies. Yet the state stands by, refusing to protect either group of workers. A skilled builder came to see me the other day to complain that his wage rate had fallen by £2.50 an hour - the result of deregulated labour markets. On another occasion, I came across a Lithuanian contract gang each on £15 a day on a public contract - in London in 2006! The government colludes in this by leading a blocking minority in Brussels to head off regulation of these agencies to maintain this free-market madness. Ministers refuse to embrace "living wage" campaigns or introduce compliance in public contracts to choke off this race to the bottom of an increasingly casualised labour market. This week the government has been resisting effective regulation of working time.
Take the issue of housing - the outstanding issue in my part of east London. Insecure work alongside changing patterns of household debt and rapid house price inflation have removed the prospects of home ownership for many. Private rents rise remorselessly, while access to low-cost social housing is a dream. Next week, we will hear little about housing.
We have come such a long way since 1997. But the government has to spot the changing nature of British politics and the new forms of action required. Our strategy appears to be one where we simply seek to move the political centre of gravity to the right. Yet people are searching for a new social solidarity to help them and their communities to navigate through today's insecurities.
In Sweden, the Social Democrats lost because they allowed themselves to be outflanked to the left by a right-wing party led by a deceptively appealing new leader. We are in danger of allowing that to happen here too, if we don't deal with our voters' material insecurities. Change, not more of the same, is what we need.
Jon Cruddas is MP for Dagenham and a candidate for Labour's deputy leadership