Beyond Westminster, Labour is rebuilding itself as a movement

In constituencies across the country, Labour is turning itself from a declining party of the twentieth century into a vital movement of the 21st.

If you believe the press, Labour has been hobbling toward its conference. So let me put the record straight: we have had a good year building a politics of One Nation, and we are in a strong position to win in 2015. Three years out of a serious defeat, five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers signalled the end of an economic era, Labour under Ed Miliband’s leadership is renewing itself in deep and profound ways. We have an intellectual project - One Nation. We have an organisational project – the party as a movement. We are building the political project – One Nation Labour.

Ed Miliband describes One Nation as a country in which everyone has a stake, where prosperity is fairly shared and we make a common life together. That is the goal of our policy review.

Our immediate task is to deal with the crisis in living standards. Not since the nineteenth century have we experienced a decade in which we are poorer at the end than we were at the beginning. Wages are falling, jobs are chopped and diced and poorly paid, prices go up. Whole regions of the country lack a vibrant private sector. Too much of our economy has been about extracting wealth rather than creating it. Too many corporations have put their shareholders before their customers; worrying about the short-term rather than planning for the long-term. And there are too many sectors underperforming and relying on low skill, low waged jobs. Our tax base has been over-dependent on finance and property. As the economy begins to recover, David Cameron’s government is replacing police and nurses with an army of estate agents.

Labour has a real alternative. Not big increases in day-to-day spending; nor simply copying the Tories salami slicing. Our alternative is reform.

We will begin by dealing with the cost of living crisis and tackling the deficit. We will stop household bills rising so fast. We will cap the cost of payday loans, and work to provide people on low incomes with alternative sources of affordable credit. We will introduce workers on renumeration boards to ensure a fairer distribution of reward. There are no magic answers to rebuilding the British economy. Reforming our economy so that it works for working people will require everyone to play a part. Government alone cannot galvanise the creative energy and ambitions of millions of people.

Our state is over-centralised and unable to build the trust we need to develop the economy. It needs fundamental change. We will push down power and resources to combined authorities so that they can begin the task of renewing their regional economies.

In a time of fiscal constraint we will be guided by three principles of government. First, we will support local people taking on the power and responsibility to shape their services and communities. We will help people to help themselves and each other. Second, we will invest for prevention, in order to avoid the costs of failure. For example, we need to be building homes, not wasting money paying for our failure to do so through a rising housing benefit bill. And third, our policy will prioritise collaboration between the public, private and voluntary sectors to avoid silo thinking, silo services, duplication and waste.

Over the last year, the policy review has been making the One Nation political project a reality. We have organised conferences and scores of debates and round table discussion. We’ve published an ebook and at conference on Sunday we will be launching the new book One Nation: Power, Hope, Community edited by Owen Smith and Rachel Reeves.

Effective policy making has to be part of a larger story and movement that gives it meaning and purpose. In the party there is a growing energy to build a new political movement that creates real change in people’s everyday lives. Politics is alive and thriving, it's just not happening around political parties. In the past we drove people away with our inward looking, controlling political culture. We championed innovation and entrepreneurs in society and business but we neglected to encourage them in our own organisation. But Labour is changing.

We are connecting once again with people. In constituencies across the country, Labour is turning itself from a declining party of the twentieth century into a vital movement of the 21st. We are rediscovering our traditions; those periods in our national history when working people joined together to build a better life for themselves, to win political representation and to secure for themselves a just share of national prosperity. The democracy and greater equality they created have been deeply civilising influences on our country. That is Labour’s heritage and we are now modernising our traditions for the digital age. Iain McNicol is embedding these reforms in our organisation.

During the last year, Arnie Graf has been up and down the country meeting hundreds of people. Hundreds have been trained to organise in local communities. Movement for Change are organising campaigns like the community network Home Sweet Home in Cardiff, working with tenants and landlords to improve housing standards. Parties can no longer simply be vote harvesting machines. To attract people’s active support they need also to be social and cultural movements. When people are reduced to votes and votes become transactions people drift away. The thousands of conversations in people’s living rooms, the meetings, the social media based campaigns, the friendships and solidarities that develop around neighbourhood campaigning are not about jolting the old machine politics back into life. They are about creating a different kind of politics; people winning power and building the self-confidence to create real change.

People organising together to agree a common good gives society the power to stand up to the centralising market and bureaucratic state. We need to achieve a balance of interest in the governing of our institutions, in which no one interest dominates over the others. Our politics is about the renewal and conserving of our common life and it is about a deepening of democracy which gives people more control over their lives. Policy grows out of this position and establishes permanent change.

Those who worry about Ed Miliband's determination to change the relationship between the party and the trade unions need to understand that he is right. The millions of working people who are part of the labour movement are our life blood. Without them we are nothing. But we cannot treat them as if they are the Dead Souls out of Gogol's novel. We need a fundamental change in our relationship with them.

Both the Labour Party and the unions have to face a hard truth about our historic relationship. We stopped talking to one another. We need to rebuild our relationship and that means changing it. Working people have everything to gain from a confident union movement contributing to rebuilding the economy. The country has everything to gain from a Labour Party with deep roots in our cities, town and villages.

In the year ahead, the policy review will be focusing on what really matters to people: work, family and place. Work that is fairly paid to support our families. Family because nothing is more important in life, and the place where we live that gives us a sense of belonging. This is the political centre ground: families, where they live and the work they do. Our answers to the cost of living crisis are part of our longer term goal to build an economy that works for all working people and not just the few at the top. That is the task ahead, a new political economy for One Nation.

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London on 9 July 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jon Cruddas is Labour's policy review coordinator and MP for Dagenham

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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