When Labour was elected in 1997, it was on a wave of euphoria – a landslide victory built on a broad coalition of progressive support. Since that time we have systematically alienated or disappointed large sections of that coalition.
Now is the time to stand back and look objectively at where we are and why we have lost section after section of the coalition that brought us to power.
Undoubtedly, the biggest factor has been Iraq. We came to power promising an “ethical foreign policy”, yet we have sold arms to repressive regimes, started several wars, and have tied ourselves to the most right wing US Administration in living memory. We are now on the brink of renewing Trident, for which we are dependent on the US, and of siting Bush’s missile defence system on British soil. People did not vote Labour to implement the foreign policy of the Republican neocons. The US Democrats have come forward with a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq, we should be building a special relationship with them to implement this plan.
In the health service, we told people there was “24 hours to save the NHS” and true to our manifesto set about dismantling the disastrous internal market. After 20 years of underinvestment, the new money going into the NHS was a breath of fresh air, but we soon started to ignore our own advice and set about rebuilding the NHS internal market, and expanding the PFI schemes that the Tories began.
The results are seen clearly today, NHS budgets eaten up by exorbitant payments to PFI companies, lawyers’ fees, and contract managers. Services are cut, specialist units closed and staff morale damaged by the pay cuts announced this year – while patients still don’t feel they have much input into the service.
In our 1997 manifesto, we promised “all pensioners should share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation”, yet 2 million remain in poverty, and over 20,000 died from cold last year. The basic state pension is now worth less than one-seventh of average male earnings (it was worth one-quarter in 1979), and the Pension Credit is not claimed by nearly 40% of pensioners entitled.
We must immediately restore the earnings link that was broken by the Tories and increase the basic state pension to the Pension Credit level of £119 per week. It is a national disgrace that we have the worst state pension in Europe, and spend just half of the European average on our pensions system.
Of course, the main slogan of our 1997 campaign was ‘Education, education, education’ and there is no doubt that investment has gone in and standards have improved – yet, as in the health service, this New Labour obsession with privatisation and internal markets has wasted vast resources. Trust Schools and Academies reduce community involvement. PFI schemes mean that the school buildings are owned by private companies who charge extortionate fees which exclude local people from using the school as a community resource. A generation of students have come to know the Labour Party for top-up fees, which we expressly ruled out in our 2001 manifesto.
I am standing because we need to change our policies to reconnect with the needs of the British people, and so that we can rebuild the progressive coalition to defeat the Tories at the next election. My key pledges are:
Reducing inequality and poverty
John’s new book, Another World is Possible, a manifesto for 21st Century socialism, is available by going to his campaign website