Liz Kendall speaks at a Labour party hustings. Photo: Getty Images
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I'm not a Tory, and I won't be called one

Different people in the Labour party might disagree about how we beat the Conservatives, but none of us want to become them, says Alison McGovern MP.

‘It’s welfare.’ She said it with such a sneer, I felt my insides turn over.  As I looked over at the Tory MP sat on the Treasury bench, I knew exactly what was happening. That old Tory tune was on repeat: stigmatise getting help, tell a tale that those with success got it on their own, let those with less fall, and then unwind the structures that make life a bit more fair.

We were talking about tax credits in the House of Commons. These ‘credits’ are based on the idea that in time when life costs a lot  more – when you’ve got kids for example – you should pay negative tax on the grounds that otherwise work might not pay very well. It is a simple principle.  Yet there’s clearly many in the Tory ranks that don’t get it. As far as this particular MP was concerned, condemning millions of ordinary families by labelling them as ‘on welfare’ was fair game. Never mind that you can’t get tax credits without also possessing the dignity of employment.  She felt entitled to look down her nose at them, from the height of the Treasury bench.  No such thing as solidarity from there.
Opposing this lot is not just going to be frustrating like the last five years, it’s going to be hard work. But, never whinge. That’s my first rule in politics. Never, ever whinge.
The reason why IPSA are so heinously wrong about MPs’ pay (and why I’ll be donating my payrise to charity) is because there are loads of people in a much worse position than us. To whinge about anything is to ignore this nakedly obvious fact. To complain about my lot is to turn inward and ignore the distress of others.

So it goes against my habit and nature to raise any grievance about the allegations made in my direction during the leadership election. If people want to disagree with me, then great. I am in the debating business, after all.

There is, however, a line.
My comrades and I just fought a gruelling election campaign.  I watched a young volunteer in Wirral refuse again and again to stop campaigning even when it was clear she was unwell. I had to row with her to get her to go home to bed.  Another experienced volunteer would mislead me saying that he was going home (for a rest) then actually stay up half the night to enter data and crunch numbers. He was exhausted, like many in our party, but utterly determined to put his own comfort on the line, day after day after day, for the sake of Labour’s cause and Labour’s values.
Winning for me has always been hard. I have always fought battles it was not certain Labour could win. My friends and comrades in our movement put their own lives and families second in order that I might represent our home town in Wirral in Parliament, and stand up for our principles.

So the notion that I would want a leader of our party who stood for anything other than those principles is abhorrent. That would truly be a betrayal.
I am not a Tory and I won’t be called one.

So, to the deficit. At a recent hustings where I was representing one of the leadership candidates, I was asked why the deficit mattered. Isn’t it just a Tory line? Shouldn’t we just change the narrative, and maybe talk about jobs and growth instead?

My first thought when I heard the question was, ‘interesting, but I can’t see that one is a like for like swap for the other’. After all, I’ve heard Osborne talk about both jobs and growth himself.
And, as I answered, the fact is, if our idea is to tell the public “No, no, the deficit doesn’t matter,” it’s just a free hit for the Tories. They will point across the room and say, “There you go, Labour’s only prescription once again: spend, spend, spend.” Of course the budget deficit matters.  Without dealing with it, we are beholden to our creditors.  Our strength to deal with risks and challenges is diminished. And far better to invest in changing our country, rather than increasing debt repayments.
And if you think sound public finances matter at all, to look away whilst Osborne yet again breaks his own promises on the deficit is not just fail as a potential government, it’s to fail as an opposition.
At the same hustings, one of the others representing a candidate said that their chosen one represented the ‘moral’ choice.
I winced.  Hackles raised, I said we all had our moral reasons for the choice we had made.  In my case, because I know from the lives of those I really care about what it means to have a Labour government or not.

From older loved ones making the hardest of choices, friends whose parents lost their home in 1992, and the many people who were forced to leave the city they loved during my youth because there weren’t enough chances there, these were all wounds that had to be healed.
And in large part, they were.  Not least in instituting a system of the national minimum wage and tax credits that would ensure that Merseyside (and places like it) didn’t any more fall behind as the rest of the economy grew.  

Now our job is to make sure everyone in our country has the chance of a decent, fulfilling life.  And because we believe in solidarity, we don’t just want that for ourselves, but for everybody together.  That’s our moral stance; it’s what I believe, it’s what Liz believes. 

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South.

Photo: Getty
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On the important issues, Louise Casey all too often has little to say

Far from moving the debate on, this new report on integration adds little to the report I commissioned in 2001. 

For 15 years, “numerous government reports on community cohesion and integration have not been implemented with enough force or consistency” concludes Louise Casey’s review of  integration.  The government’s lukewarm response suggests their effort will be as “diluted and muddled” as all the rest.

There’s a deeper reason why governments shy away from the measures that are needed. The report's wealth of data sets out a stark if sometimes contestable picture of a divided society.  But no amount of data can really bring the lives of our fellow citizens to life. As the Brexit vote underlined, this is now a nation divided by class, geography, education, wealth, opportunity and race. Those divisions colour the way we live our lives, the way we see problems in society, the relations we have with others, and our political choices. The report, like many before it, stops short of setting out that reality. It’s easier to pretend that most of us pretty much agree on most things; but just few people don’t agree and they must be the problem. Predictably, much of the early coverage has focussed on the Muslim community and new migrants. If only it were so easy.

According to Casey “in this country, we take poverty, social exclusion, social justice and social mobility seriously” and we do it “across political divides”. Apparently “creating a fair, just society where everyone can prosper and get on” is a cornerstone of British values. Yet for page after page the report chronicles the serial failure of this benign consensus to tackle educational under-performance, and economic and racial disadvantage. If we all agree, how come we haven't done anything about it?

These problems are not certainly easy to solve, but more lip service is paid to tackling them than effort. The practical material issues documented here need addressing, but punches are pulled when hard answers are needed. Given the dramatic impact of mass migration on cohesion, is integration possible while current rates of immigration persist? Can we find the political will to tackle poverty and disadvantage when those who might benefit from the effort are divided against each other by suspicion, race, geography and values? After all, rather than progressive policies producing a cohesive society, social unity is the precondition for the introduction of progressive policies.

We don't actually actually agree on what our “fundamental values” mean in practice. We can all sign up to democracy and the rule of law, but as soon as those are put into practice – see the court case on Article 50 – we are divided. When judges are popularly seen as “enemies of the people” and a vote in an elected parliament as a threat to democracy, in what sense are law and democracy fundamental?

Casey usefully highlights how treating homeless families equally, irrespective of ethnicity and length of residence can create the perception that minorities are being favoured over long standing residents. Our differing views on what is “just” and how “fairness” are defined can tear us apart. Is it fair to favour the newcomer over the indigenous? Is it just to put length of time on the waiting list above housing need? We often don't even acknowledge the legitimacy of other points of view, let alone try to find common ground.

The continual invocation of Britain and British values lends an air of unreality to the report.  Most people in England include British in their identity, but Englishness and English interests are of growing importance. In a worrying development, some areas of England  may be polarising between a white Englishness and an ethnic minority Britishness. Integration won't happen without a shared national story that combines a unifying national identity with the acceptance that we all have more than one identity that matters to us. Ignoring the reality of complex and multiple identities closes off one essential way forward.

None of this means that the criticism of some reactionary and occasionally dangerous ideas and practices in the Muslim community should be ignored and not confronted. But in a country where the established church opposes homosexual relationships and praise for Vladimir Putin's Russia is now mainstream politics it is hard to believe that all our problems can be reduced to the behaviour of a minority of a minority community.

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University