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

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era