Tosh McDonald, Vice President of rail union ASLEF and member of Doncaster Central CLP, reflects on Labour conference and the role of unions in the Party.
After a week in Manchester at Conference, it’s clear that Labour has moved a long way from the image of cloth caps and clogs. But it’s equally clear from these two years of Tory-dominated coalition government that class and privilege are cherished by those who believe they are born to rule.
Prime Minister David Cameron and his chum, the Baronet of Ballentaylor and Ballelemon George Osborne, are ruthlessly seeking more wealth and privilege for the class they represent at the expense of the class that look to us for both leadership and representation.
I too come from a privileged background, brought up by my grandfather, a miner, born in 1907. He and my grandmother moved south for work in the Yorkshire coalfield and after a serious back injury secured a “green card” job in the railway works in Doncaster, where he stayed until retirement.
The stories told to me were not of kings and queens but of the 1926 General Strike, soup kitchens and the brutality of the state that Cameron’s and Osborne’s forefathers ran. He would also proudly boast about the days after the war when Labour introduced the NHS, the welfare state, nationalised the mines and the railways and built council houses.
All these advances had to be prised out of the grip of the class the Tories represent. They will never understand these privileges I have had, as they add nothing to their obscene wealth.
But would anyone looking in at our conference see the class we represent in the conference hall? I am not sure.
In an attempt to capture the elusive middle England we have moved further and further to the right and lost five million votes since 1997. As other parties have not picked up these votes, it suggests traditional Labour supporters have stayed away. As we saw in Bradford West, these voters do turn out if they are offered what can be seen as traditional Labour policies. Both the Lib Dems and the far right have also had success in pretending to do this.
At Conference we see issues repeatedly being pushed by a string of speakers from the platform and, when it is opened to the floor for a handful of contributions, we have the obligatory quota of prospective parliamentary candidates and always a youth delegate.
I welcome youth delegates, but the ones called look like New Labour MPs, complete with neatly combed hair, suit and tie and usually reading a prepared speech. This does not reflect the society I see out in the real world, where we find as many (if not more) young men and women with brightly coloured hair, piercings and tattoos doing all kinds of jobs.
With the end of the New Labour experiment, we need bold policies that will attract working class people in all their diversity, rather than just the career politicians we have been overrun with under New Labour.
For the first time I can remember, we in the trade unions are looking to get people with our values trained and given support and skills to enable them to represent our class at all levels of local and national government. We must be proud of the link between unions and Party.
For many years it has been clear that union money is the cleanest money in politics and the most reliable, especially since the leadership election. After Lord Sainsbury didn’t get his preferred leader, he stopped his funding to the Party and instead decided to finance the entryist organisation Progress. I never agreed with expelling left wing entryists, so do not want any kind of McCarthyism now – but we must ensure that all selections are open, diverse and free from pressure, so we can give working class voters candidates and policies they can relate to.