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Go fourth

John Prescott, Alastair Campbell, Richard Caborn and Glenys Kinnock call for the party and its suppo

EXCLUSIVEIf the polls and pundits are to be believed, within two years or so, David Cameron will be prime minister and the Conservatives back in power.

People should cast their minds back to the mid-Nineties, when the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock held commanding poll leads and won great by-election victories. The same lesson is there for both parties in the subsequent re-election of the Tories in 1992. For the Tories: not to assume that poll leads automatically translate to seats. For Labour: never to give up, never to bow down before fatalism or the self-serving hope of opponents in a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The only real answer to the pollsters' question, "If there were a general election tomorrow, how would you vote?", is: "There isn't one." A lot can happen between now and then.

There is, however, one enormous difference between 1992 and now, and it is this difference to which Labour has to be particularly alert. In that election, and the one which followed in 1997, the big issue was the opposition party, Labour.

Were we fit to govern? Had we changed sufficiently to win back the trust of the people? Had we really thought through the policies, and did the sums add up?

A combination of a highly effective political organisation, and a media that largely followed its strategic lead, ensured that the only party under real intense scrutiny was ours.

Yet now, with the Tories well ahead in the polls, when it comes to real scrutiny, it is as though they didn't really exist.

Labour needs to rediscover the passion that gave us victory in the first place, to defend our record with pride

If most of us were to stop people at random in the street, and ask them to name three things that David Cameron would do as prime minister, it is not an insult to the public to suggest most would struggle to answer.

Likewise, most people would struggle to name more than two or three current members of the shadow cabinet. The people who would run our schools, hospitals, roads, armed forces are virtual unknowns outside the Westminster village.

This is not merely the result of a media bored with the story of Labour in power and keen for a new set of characters to populate the soap opera that passes for media debate on policy. It is also the result of a deliberate Conservative strategy to avoid policy, avoid facing the difficult decisions that politics ultimately requires you to make, and go along with the media game of making Gordon Brown the only story in town, preferably with as negative a slant as can be found.

There is no point in moaning, however. We have to do something about it. Not just the Prime Minister, not just the cabinet or the MPs, this includes anyone who understands that Britain is best served by a fourth-term Labour government, not a return to a Conservative Party scared to bring forward policies of substance because its MPs and members have not changed sufficiently to embrace anything other than the style and froth Mr Cameron is very good at.

That is why we are urging people to sign up to a new campaigning organisation, Go Fourth - Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term - a campaign dedicated to supporting the fight for the re-election of a Labour government and committed to the same principles and values that have won us an unprecedented three consecutive victories.

We passionately believe this party needs to get off the back foot, out of its despondency, and start campaigning on our proud record of government so we can take the fight to the Tories.

It's not going to be easy - we need to work harder than we've ever worked, campaign better than we've ever campaigned and reach out wider than we ever have.

To this end, the campaign's main aims will be to:

Proudly defend the record of the Labour government since 1997;

Actively support the government in promoting policies that will build on our successes;

Encourage greater participation in the Labour Party;

Highlight the damage a Conservative government will do to Britain.

Anyone who supports these four aims, and who believes Britain's best interests will be maintained by a Labour not a Tory government, is welcome to join our Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term. We are looking beyond politicians, or those who are normally active in the political debate, to a wider support. When we launch in six weeks' time, we'll spell out just how we can all come together to take on the Conservatives.

There were those who believed, when Labour lost the 1992 election - having been so far ahead in the polls, only to see that lead erode - that we would never get power again. Five years later, we were elected in a landslide.

Our opponents then pointed out that Labour had never secured two full successive terms in power.

When we won another landslide, some felt it would not be possible to win a third term. Yet, even after all the difficulties raised in the debate over Iraq, Labour did win a third term.

A fourth term, once unthinkable, remains a real prospect. More than that, it is vital to the future of Britain.

The Tory party has had to accept many of the changes Labour has made for the country. But while Britain has changed for the better, we should never forget that the Tories opposed the changes needed to make those improvements. And any analysis of their policy prospectus shows an unchanged party that has little understanding of the role of government in helping people face the challenges of modern life.

"Time for a change" is their only cry. But change to what? That is a question that the Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term will help the country answer.

The change would be to an outmoded, old-fashioned, elitist party determined to take Britain back to the days when the country was run by and for a privileged few, not for the many.

We are proud of what Labour has achieved for Britain. And we are determined to do what we can to stop the country going back to the Conservatives.

Rightly in politics, there is an enormous focus on the party leaders. But the fight cannot be won by them alone. Labour needs to rediscover the passion that gave us victory in the first place, to defend our record with pride, promote our policy agenda with confidence, knowing that we are alone in having thought through policies to meet the great challenges of our time.

Now is the time to get back on the campaign trail. So let's get knocking on the doors, fighting on the web and tackling the Conservatives through the media.

The Tories are still the same old Tories; offering the same quack prescriptions and easy options. We've beaten them three times already, so let's go for a fourth and stop them gaining a victory they have done absolutely nothing to deserve.

So, if you believe in fairness, equality and social justice, it's time to stand up and be counted.

It's time for you to join us in our Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term.

John Prescott is the former deputy prime minister; Alastair Campbell is the former director of communications and strategy for the Prime Minister's Office; Richard Caborn is MP for Sheffield Central; Glenys Kinnock MEP represents Wales in the European Parliament

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Labour: How to save the party

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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 50p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

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What Jeremy Corbyn can learn from Orwell

Corbyn’s ideas may echo George Orwell’s – but they’d need Orwell’s Britain to work. It’s time Corbyn accepted the British as they are today.

All Labour Party leaderships since 1900 have offered themselves as “new”, but Tony Blair’s succession in 1994 triggered a break with the past so ruthless that the Labour leadership virtually declared war on the party. Now it is party members’ turn and they, for now at any rate, think that real Labour is Jeremy.

To Keir Hardie, real Labour had been a trade union lobby expounding Fellowship. To the Webbs, real Labour was “common ownership” by the best means available. Sidney’s Clause Four (adopted 1918) left open what that might be. In the 1920s, the Christian Socialist R H Tawney stitched Equality into the banner, but during the Depression young intellectuals such as Evan Durbin and Hugh Gaitskell designated Planning as Labour’s modern mission. After the Second World War, Clement Attlee followed the miners (and the London Passenger Transport Board) into Nationalisation. Harold Wilson tried to inject Science and Technology into the mix but everything after that was an attempt to move Labour away from state-regulated markets and in the direction of market-regulated states.

What made the recent leadership contest so alarming was how broken was the intellectual tradition. None of the candidates made anything of a long history of thinking about the relationship between socialism and what the people want. Yvette Cooper wanted to go over the numbers; only they were the wrong numbers. Andy Burnham twisted and turned. Liz Kendall based her bid on two words: “Have me.” Only Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have any kind of Labour narrative to tell and, of course, ever the ­rebel, he was not responsible for any of it. His conference address in Brighton was little more than the notes of a street-corner campaigner to a small crowd.

Given the paucity of thinking, and this being an English party for now, it is only a matter of time before George Orwell is brought in to see how Jeremy measures up. In fact, it’s happened already. Rafael Behr in the Guardian and Nick Cohen in the Spectator both see him as the kind of hard-left intellectual Orwell dreaded, while Charles Cooke in the National Review and Jason Cowley in the New Statesman joined unlikely fashion forces to take a side-look at Jeremy’s dreadful dress sense – to Orwell, a sure sign of a socialist. Cooke thought he looked like a “burned-out geography teacher at a third-rate comprehensive”. Cowley thought he looked like a red-brick university sociology lecturer circa 1978. Fair enough. He does. But there is more. Being a middle-class teetotal vegetarian bicycling socialistic feministic atheistic metropolitan anti-racist republican nice guy, with allotment and “squashily pacifist” leanings to match, clearly puts him in the land of the cranks as described by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) – one of “that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat”. And though Corbyn, as “a fully fledged, fully bearded, unabashed socialist” (Huffington Post), might make all true Orwellians twitch, he really made their day when he refused to sing the National Anthem. Orwell cited precisely that (see “The Lion and the Unicorn”, 1941) as an example of the distance between left-wing intellectuals and the people. It seemed that, by standing there, mouth shut, Comrade Corbyn didn’t just cut his wrists, he lay down full length in the coffin and pulled the lid shut.


Trouble is, this line of attack not only misrepresents the Labour leader, it misrepresents Orwell. For the great man was not as unflinchingly straight and true as some people think. It is impossible, for instance, to think of Orwell singing “God Save the King”, because he, too, was one of that “dreary tribe” of London lefties, and even when he joined Labour he remained ever the rebel. As for Corbyn, for a start, he is not badly dressed. He just doesn’t look like Chuka or Tristram. He may look like a threadbare schoolteacher, but Orwell was one twice over. Orwell was never a vegetarian or a teetotaller, but, like Corbyn, neither was he interested in fancy food (or drink), he kept an allotment, drove a motorbike, bicycled, cared about the poor, cared about the environment, loathed the empire, came close to pacifism at one point, and opposed war with Germany well past the time when it was reasonable to do so.

In Orwell’s thinking about socialism, for too long his main reference point was the London Marxist left. Not only did he make speeches in favour of revolutions, he took part in one with a gun in his hand. Orwell was far more interested, as Corbyn has been far more interested, in speaking truth to power than in holding office. His loyalty was to the movement, or at least the idea of the movement, not to MPs or the front bench, which he rarely mentioned. There is nothing in Corbyn’s position that would have shocked Orwell and, should they have met, there’d have been much to talk about: belief in public ownership and non-economic values, confidence in the state’s ability to make life better, progressive taxation, national health, state education, social care, anti-socially useless banking, anti-colonialism and a whole lot of other anti-isms besides. It’s hard to be sure what Orwell’s position would have been on Trident and immigration. Not Corbyn’s, I suspect. He was not as alert to feminism as he might have been but equally, few men try to write novels from a woman’s point of view and all Orwellians recognise that Julia is the dark hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In truth they are both austere types, not in it for themselves and not on anyone else’s expense account either. Corbyn won the leadership because this shone through from the very beginning. He came across as unaffected and straightforward – much as Orwell tried to be in his writing.

Except, as powerfully expressed in these pages by John Gray, Corbyn’s politics were made for another world. What sort of world would he need? First off, he’d need a regulated labour market: regulated by the state in partnership with a labour movement sensitive to what people wanted and experienced in trying to provide it. He would also need capital controls, a manufacturing base capable of building the new investment with Keynesian payback, an efficient and motivated Inland Revenue, a widespread public-service ethos that sees the country as an asset, not a market, and an overwhelming democratic mandate to get things done. In other words, Corbyn needs Orwell’s Britain – not this one – and at the very least, if he can’t have that, he needs the freedom to act that the European Commission forbids.

There’s another problem. Orwell did not trust left-wing intellectuals and spent half his life trying to work out their motivations as a class who spoke for the people, went in search of the people, and praised the people, but did not know them or believe in them. True, Corbyn says he wants to be open and inclusive, but we know he can’t possibly mean it when he says it will be the party, not him or the PLP, that will decide policy, just as we knew it couldn’t possibly be true when he said he’d turn PMQs into the People’s Question Time. Jeremy hasn’t changed his mind in forty years, appears to have great difficulty (unlike Tony Benn) in fusing socialism to national identity or experience (Hardie, Ben Okri and Maya Angelou were bolted on to his Brighton speech) and seems to think that not being happy with what you are given somehow captures the historic essence of socialism (rather than its opposite).

Granted, not thinking outside the ­circle is an inherent fault of the sectarian left but some of our most prominent left-wing journalists have it, too. Working-class support for nationalisation? Good. Right answer! Working-class opposition to benefit scroungers and further mass immigration? Bad. Wrong answer! Would you like to try again? In his essay “In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus” (1947) Orwell reckoned that left-wing intellectuals saw only what they wanted to see. For all their talk of representing the people, they hated the masses. “What they are frightened of is the prevailing opinion within their own group . . . there is always an orthodoxy, a parrot-cry . . .”

The game is hard and he may go down in a welter of knives, yet Corbyn still has time. He may go on making the same speech – on the benefits of apple pie to apple growers – but at some point he will have to drop the wish-list and get on the side of the British people as they are, and live with that, and build into it. Only the nation state can even begin to do the things he wants to do. The quicker he gets that, the quicker we can see if the latest incarnation of new Labour has a future.

Robert Colls is the author of “George Orwell: English Rebel” (Oxford University Press)

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis