Far from lurching to the left, Labour continues to modernise

Market failure in tough times should not simply be shrugged off. Our political opponents’ scaremongering is a sign of our strength.

In his last speech to Labour Party conference in 2006 Tony Blair said this:

"10 years ago, I would have described re-linking the basic state pension with earnings as old Labour. By 2012, we aim to do it. 10 years ago, if you'd have asked me to put environmental restrictions on business, I would be horrified. Today, I'm calling for it. I would have baulked at restrictions to advertise junk food to children. Today I say that unless a voluntary code works, we will legislate for it."

He was right then and we are right now. Market failure in tough times should not simply be shrugged off. What’s needed is a hard-headed dose of common sense, not ideology that lets the British people suffer. I’ve not seen many British commentators describing Angela Merkel’s interventions in the economy as 1980s socialism.

The great, late Philip Gould would tell us that the modernisation project is a constantly evolving beast. If we are to 'own the future', we must adapt to the changing concerns and aspirations of the British people. As well as leading opinion and reaching consent, governing is also about listening and taking on the concerns of voters. That is exactly what this week has been about.

'Hard-pressed families' is not just a sound bite - it’s a reality for so many of my constituents in Liverpool West Derby. Prices are outstripping wages, energy prices continue to rise and childcare costs mean that some parents are paying to go to work. David Cameron’s cost of living crisis has come about, as Ed said, because of a race to the bottom. Time and again, David Cameron has shown that he is strong at taking a stand against the weak but is weak when confronted by the powerful vested interests- whether the banks, the energy companies or the Murdoch press.

But under Ed Miliband, Labour has shown this week that we are on the side of hard working families and, crucially, that we will not duck the tough choices to make a better Britain.

Freezing energy prices, lowering tax rates for small businesses, extending universal childcare for three and four-year-olds to 25-hours a week. All diligently costed policies. But we are not surprised at the response from those quarters better off with Cameron’s status quo. That must not detract us.

So while Conservatives peddle the myth that Labour is lurching to the left or going backwards, we should take comfort in the knowledge that this is far from the truth. That it is in fact the case that our political opponents’ scaremongering is a sign of our strength. This week’s conference in Brighton delivered a raft of policies showing how a future Labour government will support hard-pressed families. I know from my conversations with members of the public I met in Brighton and on my way home that people are awake to Labour’s offer. It is now the job of all of us in the Labour Party to take this message out on the doorstep and in our communities.

Delegates walk past a banner outside the Labour Party conference on September 23, 2013 in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

Stephen Twigg is shadow minister for constitutional reform and MP for Liverpool West Derby

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war