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Unions have united for Labour victory. The party must respond to union concerns

Ed at TUC marchAll the signs are that Labour can form a majority government in 2015. Lord Ashcroft’s larger opinion polls all indicate that the Tories and Lib Dems are going to lose a lot of seats to Labour.

David Cameron seems to agree. This realisation forced him into a large Cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to find more presentable faces for the Tories. This will fail, as the faces aren’t the problem, it’s the policies.

This realisation is also dawning upon establishment forces in the media. We can expect many more of the character assassination attempts against Ed Miliband that we’ve witnessed recently. Our opponents will fight dirty because that is their character.

Clearly, there’s a premium on the unity of our movement to secure Labour’s victory. In these few months before May, we have to concentrate our resources on winning every vote and seat possible.

But, we cannot pretend that all policy debate is resolved. Nor can we avoid continued discussion about the implementation of reforms following Collins’ recommendations being accepted by the Spring Conference.

The decisions of Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) have laid the basis for Labour’s manifesto. This is our electoral offer to the British people. It should be good enough to win in 2015. Yet no one should seriously regard it as a sufficient basis for government until 2020.

After the victory of the Conservatives in the 1951 General Election, there is a famous incident where the new government reduced the anticipated Armed Forces Budget. Churchill pointed out, in Parliament, how this decision of the Tories was in line with the stance of Bevan against the over-inflated military spending plans of the Labour leadership.

Equally, after the 1997 General Election, the Labour government held itself to Tory spending limits for the first period of Parliament. Kenneth Clarke, the Tory Chancellor who proposed these limits previously, said that he wouldn’t have stuck to them after the election.

It is this seam of pragmatism that has allowed the Tories to survive and remain influential. Unfortunately, Labour politicians frequently fail to demonstrate this admirable quality. Instead, they torment themselves about appearing unpatriotic, or against the armed forces. Currently, the inflexible dogma is to appear more responsible about the economy than the Tories.

An incoming Labour government must assess the economic situation much more flexibly than it is able to do in opposition. The dramatic and continuing cuts in living standards of the majority of people in this country require serious action from a Labour government. Sticking to Tory spending targets, which in government the Tories would probably ditch, is one-way that an incoming Labour government could make itself deeply unpopular.

Sticking to Tory spending limits and solving the cost-of-living crisis are contradictory policies. We must ensure that a Labour government resolves this in favour of the latter, not the former.

In 2015 the whole constitution of the Party is to be changed by the introduction of “affiliated supporters” from political levy payers. However we view the decisions of the Spring Conference, there is a challenge for all now to show that Labour is relevant to trade union members.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is intending to offer the chance of becoming an affiliated supporter to every CWU levy payer before the General Election. Such efforts have to be met by the Labour leadership showing a preparedness to respond to trade union concerns. The agreement at the NPF to establish a Commission on the modern workplace is an important step in that direction. The commission will, we hope, lay the basis for a progressive reform of the labour market.

We must move away from systemic insecurity at work. We need workplaces conditioned by respect, equality and rising living standards. This is a challenge which Labour must meet.

This article also appears in the latest issue of Campaign Briefing (No 78) published by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

6 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    “Such efforts [promotion of the LP through the CWU] have to be met by the Labour leadership showing a preparedness to respond to trade union concerns.”

    It’ll take more than a “preparedness to respond” if the millions who have deserted Labour are to be persuaded to return.

    Miliband and his Progress cronies stuck two fingers up to the TU movement at Falkirk.

    And now, having turned their backs on ordinary people, ordinary people are turning their backs on Labour – as the close polling in Scotland demonstrates.

    The only surprising aspect to the strange death of the Labour Party is that a trade union leader like Bill, who voted for the demise of his union within the LP, is now belatedly appealing for second go at reform.

    Too late, mate. You delivered for Miliband/Progress and will probably receive a peerage in return. The rest of us will continue with our march away from the Labour Party.

  2. David Pavett says:

    I struggled to see the point of this piece – apart from telling us how the CWU is responding to Labour’s rule change regarding TU members. I got the feeling that Billy Hayes lives in a different political world to the one I inhabit. He says

    “The decisions of Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) have laid the basis for Labour’s manifesto. This is our electoral offer to the British people. It should be good enough to win in 2015. Yet no one should seriously regard it as a sufficient basis for government until 2020.”

    What does that mean? Good enough to sell to the electorate but not good enough to govern? Is this what he means by the “admirable quality” of “pragmatism”?

    Perhaps it is the same pragmatism that convinced the union leaders to do a deal with Party leaders to accept an austerity programme thereby undermining opposition to austerity at the NPF.

    And I have no idea what meaning can be attached to

    “An incoming Labour government must assess the economic situation much more flexibly than it is able to do in opposition.”

    What is “flexible analysis” and why is it only available to the governing party? Or is this just nonsense?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      My reading of this is that Billy was none too happy with aspects of the policy but reluctantly went along with other unions’ support for it in the interests of party unity in the run-up to the election. It will not do as the basis of what the government actually does however.I suspect most of us will grit our teeth and campaign as best we can for a Labour victory in spite of our disagreement with many aspects of the manifesto including the central thrust of the economic approach. Then we’ll oppose what we didn’t agree with in the first place and didn’t vote for as soon as the election i9s over.

      1. David Pavett says:

        I am sure you are right that Billy H was not happy with aspects of the policy “consensus” at the NPF. But he was not unhappy enough to decline to go along with a deal which removed the possibility of critics of austerity having any impact on policy.

        I think you have confirmed my interpretation that he is saying, in effect, “Labour policy is okay for an election manifesto but not okay for governing”. How would that go down on the doorstep – or is it unwise to say what one honestly thinks when talking to the general public?

        Labour faffed around at Policy Review and policy development for three years doing virtually nothing. It then moved into belated action (of a sort) when it was clear that there would not be time for fully informed debate. By the time it came to decision making at the NPF the “don’t rock the boat” phenomenon had set in. Democratically speaking it is all a bit of a joke, as I am sure you understand in more detail than most.

        Having failed to get the policies favoured by the left (for the most part and on the key issues) when in opposition, do you think that this will become easier when Labour is in government (and when the stakes are higher for the leadership)?

        And I still have absolutely no idea what could be meant by “An incoming Labour government must assess the economic situation much more flexibly than it is able to do in opposition.” I really baulk at this sort of nonsense rhetoric.

        Finally is your disagreement simply with “many aspects” of the NPF documents, and the likely manifesto that will result, or do you think that taken as a whole they point in a direction which is very different from the one that Left Futures argues for? It is it not clear that the differences are fundamental and cover all the major areas of Party policy.

      2. Rod says:

        Jon: “we’ll oppose what we didn’t agree with (…) as soon as the election is over.”

        But by then it will be too late. You will have helped provide a mandate for Miliband and co to enact the policies you “didn’t agree with”.

        You will be ignored just as Blair ignored you.

        Strangely, you’ve been bitten once yet ‘twice shy’ is beyond you.

  3. Robert says:

    Ok the Unions have surrendered to Progress and the boy scout leader who is Miliband sadly we do not need boy Scouts and labour will lose the next election because none of us believe that Ball’s or Miliband have a clue.

    The rest of the labour party are pretty much falling in love with the right wingers of the Progress party and to be honest we may as as well let the Tories carry on.

    I see no reason what so ever to give Miliband the chance he’s hopeless, god almighty if he and Balls and Reeves and Murphy are the future dig up Thatcher.

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