Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

This parliament has already proved that cross-party alliances are the future

Progressive politicians must empower grassroots movements – and accept some loss of power themselves.

Never before has the political culture in Britain felt so angry, bigoted and polarised.

The EU referendum introduced an ugly strain of lies, misinformation and angry, macho politics that squeezed out any room for nuance or complexity and shouted down opponents instead of trying to reason with and persuade them.

But in truth this was on display earlier – through the Tory general election campaign of 2015 which sought to use the prospect of a Labour coalition with the Scottish National Party to scare voters into submission, and a referendum campaign in Scotland that was based on fear.

The Tories have spent seven years trying to shut down challenge – introducing the Lobbying Act, which gagged charities, restricting the right to judicial review, denigrating “experts”, and vilifying senior judges. Recently, a cabinet minister accused a journalist of being “unpatriotic” for asking a basic question.

In recent years, the debate in the Labour Party has become too often angry and closed. In trying to report on it, some journalists have come under sustained personal attack.

On social media, the debate is frequently aggressive, racist and misogynist. A tool that should be a huge force for democratisation has too often been used by the mob to silence challenges and dissent, with little action from social media companies. Straight lies, vicious abuse, widespread use of terms like “slut” and other nastiness is now par for the course.

People seem to have lost the ability to have an argument – however fierce and passionate – within a spirit of tolerance and respect.

We should all be worried about this. The combined effect is to erase the great tradition of debate that allows us to show respect for one another, while reserving the right to vehemently disagree. It shuts people out of the debate and in doing so reduces our ability to hear, to understand and to represent the full breadth of opinion in Britain.

This polarisation, as we have seen in apartheid South Africa, and closer to home in Northern Ireland, can be profoundly dangerous. Across the world we are witnessing the rise of strong man politics, from Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump. Britain must not take this turn.

But there is a clue to a better future in this current parliament. In response to the Queen’s Speech, Stella Creasy formed a cross-party alliance that successfully extended the rights of Northern Irish women. She did so by adopting a politics that is plural in outlook. It is a politics that is nimbler and fleeter of foot than the creaking politics that has been on display in Britain for some time. The future belongs to this approach.

This is particularly essential for Labour. Our core purpose, forgotten in government, was never simply to share wealth but to redistribute power in all its forms. And the future for us, and for Britain, must be to discover again how to share power more widely. Grassroots movements like Citizens UK and Sum of Us, which create platforms for people from all backgrounds to speak and be heard, should be our guide. If we want to form such alliances to achieve change, we will need to leave party allegiances at the door. 

The lesson from 13 years of Labour government is that it is harder to dismantle an energy co-operative with hundreds of members than it is to close a Sure Start built and run by the state. Breadth and common ownership is the only way to create real lasting change.

In order to empower some, we must disempower others. This may be profoundly uncomfortable after decades of a top-down, statist approach in government and running through our political parties. But this is the task of progressives in this parliament, however long it lasts. The recent past has moved at great speed and there is every reason to believe it will again. With the future of our politics and our country up for grabs, we must take a radically new approach to build the plural, tolerant, inclusive country that so many people in this election told us they desperately need.

Labour after all was founded as a broad church, a cocktail of Marxists and Methodists, workers and intellectuals. Mutual respect, mutual cooperation and mutual care was always the essence of Labour’s socialism. We need again to practise what we preach. And to lead the country in doing so, too.

Lisa Nandy is Labour MP for Wigan. Peter Hain is a campaigner, and a former Labour MP and cabinet minister

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.