Saturday, 17 November 2012

The danger of 'one issue' Party names

After fifty-two years in the Labour Party I am on the verge of leaving. I have been living a lie for years out of tribal loyalty, more worried about what my Auntie Nannie in Harlow and Keith, who I met when we were both Young Socialists in 1960, will say when I tell them I have left the Labour Party. Both have the ability to forgive the Labour leadership everything and I love them both, so what they think of me matters. With the exception of Susan, my wife, others have to take me as I am and I can live with the consequences. You cannot be active in politics or the community if you are going to worry about those who hold you in low regard because of your views / actions.

Politically, I have had more in common with 'Greens' than Labour for decades, in terms of policies. They are certainly to the left of the Labour Party these days, but that hasn't always been the case. As people, they are not as devious as Liberals. If anything, there are quite the opposite. They are probably too honest in an age when people do not want to hear the truth. Nor does calling themselves 'Green' help. Why? Because it creates an image in voters' minds that they are a single issue party.

A Green could well argue that the same is true of the Labour Party. When did the political party calling itself 'Labour' last have the interests of the poor, the vulnerable and dispossessed has a primary aim?  At best, since 1997, the Party has thrown a few breadcrumbs in the direction of those it should care most about, whilst brown-nosing corporate capitalism and caring for themselves first. Of course, there are notable exceptions to my generalisation, but all too few to make it invalid. There are too many Party members like my Auntie Nannie and Keith, and I have been one as well until now, who have accepted arguments as to why we can't abandon nuclear weapons, why we can't take back water, gas, electricity and railways into some form of public ownership, even those are things they believe in.

The sad truth is that 'Labour' has become a political 'brand' that career politicians use to trade their futures. 'We'll look after you now and, afterwards, you'll look after us, right? And so with a nod and a wink, the deal is done. Oh, they are good with the talk, but their actions tell us how they have, systematically, been betraying ordinary folk everywhere. The expenses scandal rumbles on: a few are punished, but most got reselected. I knew Dennis MacShane in his Birmingham days and agreed with much of what he said, but, as my Susan says, 'Something happens to far too many MPs when they enter Parliament. They seem to forget who they were before they got elected'.

The fact that the Tories have been able to run riot with the NHS is because Labour put many of the mechanisms in place to make this possible. To name just a few: they abolished community health councils, they actively embraced Tory  private finance initiative (PFI) programmes and allowed the private sector into the NHS big-time (and if you live in Nottingham, look no further than the QMC if you want to see evidence of this fact). They set up foundation hospitals and so the list goes on, and as for dentistry, that was cast adrift by Labour long ago.

But Labour's biggest failing of all between 1997 and 2010 was not the NHS or supporting American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was housing. In Lenton, we have lived with their failure and continue to pay a heavy price. Poorly regulated private landlords have grown in number, whilst council housing has become poorly funded 'social housing' and housing associations have become all but private in name — as have many national voluntary organisations — who take public money and donations whilst paying their senior managers and chief executives fat pay cheques. Many of these 'voluntary' organisations are anti-trade union and refuse to recognise them, yet still Labour has funded them.

The Tories love to lay the blame for the financial crisis at Labour's door and, in some respects they have an argument, but I am sure if they had been in power, there would have been even fewer 'controls' in place. The Labour leadership failed the Party and our country and we still allow ourselves to be led by these politicians — and these are the people we are expected to trust now.

After fifty-two years in the Labour Party, I write all these things with a heavy heart. There are many I respect in the Party for their commitment and enthusiasm, but loyalty can be misplaced. They are wrestling with problems not of their making and when some try to reason with Party elites, they are treated  with disdain. In Dunkirk and Lenton, the Labour elite running the City Council have little or no trust in local people. They set up their own ward 'forum' with their own staff, when the community-led Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, founded in 1996, could provide the same services and support, but the City Council has to control everything, everywhere, and thinks the occasional act of largesse will blind voters to what is really happening. 

For my part, I do believe there are alternative, viable, solutions to our problems as a nation and it is a time for change. I am going to give the new National Health Action Party (NHAP) a chance. They will not succeed, in the longer term, if they get trapped into being a single issue political party, but having read their aims and constitution, I think they understand this. They don't mention housing directly, but housing and health are inextricably linked. You cannot tackle health as an issue if you ignore housing and that, that, continues to be Labour's big failing. As far as I am concerned there is no place for the private sector in health or housing and where the voluntary sector is involved, then it has to be closely regulated. This will be the message I take to them.

As a local historian I have long believed that, in terms of Britain's 20th century achievements, council housing trumps the founding of the National Health Service. Without the former, the second would have failed a long time ago. And, if we continue the way we are going, what has happened to housing since the 1980s will happen to the NHS over the next 10–20 years, by which time I will almost certainly be dead (I hope to be lucky and still be here at 88, but I'm not banking on it!).

I also think the founders have been clever in giving themselves a 'brand name' which will sound familiar and a logo which voters in the polling booth will instantly recognise and many will identify with. They also talk of 'progressive taxation' and 'social care', so they are well on the way to being more than a narrow, one issue, party. They also talk of getting councillors elected, so there will be a local dimension to NHAP as well. To be credible, they will have to fight as many parliamentary and local council elections as possible and become a party for 'national health action' in the widest sense. For my part this will include the economic 'health' of our country, Nottingham, democracy and so much more.

Well, that's it!

I'll be back in a few days with pics of a wander I had along the Erewash Canal, between Sandiacre and Trowell, last Wednesday.

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