An open letter to Owen Jones, in reply to his article on how Labour should meet the threat from the Green Party
I thought your article in the Guardian today warranted a full reply. We both hail from the North (though in your case from the wrong side of the Pennines!) and we have a reputation for straight-talking I hope you'll appreciate here.
First off, let me declare that I am a fan. I read your last book (The Establishment) and was really impressed by it. After seeing you at everything from London Podemos to the People's Assembly march, I was really enthused about the possibility of a new left coalition, about bringing that same life, energy and hope to British politics.
I also saw you at the Class Conference at the TUC this year. You witnessed, as I did, the anger of ordinary Labour Party members and union comrades directed at the Labour MPs present - which even in the opening session was outspoken and vociferous. Life-long and generational Labour supporters giving voice to their frustration and anger but not at the ConDems - at the real betrayal they feel has been committed against them by the Labour Party.
Miliband's Labour has swung hard right - undeniably running scared of UKIP, chasing the white-van man and the alienated working-class vote. But in doing so they are unashamedly taking for granted their base support - those, like our comrades in the conference, who will vote Labour no matter what and despite everything vote to unseat the hated Tories.
I have been asked many times, as a Green Party member, how I would vote if was I in a Tory marginal rather than in a winnable Green target constituency. In the past, the response would not have even warranted a pause - I would in such circumstance vote Labour. But now - such a question would give rise to serious pause - and the answer would probably be no - I could not in all conscience vote for this Labour party.
Not only do we have the UKIP-lite policy shown in the graphic - we have a Labour party committed to the Tories ideological austerity, the resulting destruction of services and jobs - which will disproportionately affect women.
The education policy takes me back to the rants my dad - a working-class Tory - went on about how teachers were "feckless wasters" who only "worked half the year and that was playing with kids all day". I don't know what he'd think about my ten years as a teacher! Despite the excuse given as 'continuity' and not to make education a political football - we see two naked populist policies with no basis in need or educational benefit.
Remember talking to Russell Brand and his support of the Focus E15 mothers? How many of those brave young women would be left utterly destitute by Labour's Youth Tax?
Labour has wholeheartedly embraced the contributory principle. I think you would agree with me, we don't pay our tax to benefit ourselves - we pay tax to benefit society. The contributory principle is pernicious Thatcherism at its worst - there is no society, and NI is insurance for ME, and I should get the money I paid in.
If you remember the event you hosted at the Class Conference - a light-hearted postprandial debate about five policies that conference would like the Labour Party to adopt. I tweeted at the time - all five proposals were already Green Party policies!
Also cast your mind back to the speech from the indomitable Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCSU. The gist of his speech was that Labour had strayed from their base; members and comrades should still support them BUT not without conditions. He threw his challenge down right there - if Labour didn't change its outlook and direction once in power, if it continued on the Tory austerity train and abandoned their traditional base and the poor, then we should remove our support entirely and work to replace them. Remember the thunderous applause he received?
Blair's new Thatcherism and warmongering pushed me from Labour long ago, but still every new tory-lite policy Miliband's Labour announces seems like a fresh betrayal.
It's high time the base support Labour takes for granted realised that continuing to vote Labour is not in their best interest. It's time for a real change, for the common good.
All the best,