Jeremy Corbyn MP assesses the dangers ahead and lessons to be learned
Labour were expectedly trounced in Clacton and just hung on in Heywood, a result which Labour’s head office temporarily claimed was a swing to Labour, as the vote had gone up 1% on 2010. In the analysis that followed, Frank Field asserted, not for the first time, that all that mattered was “concerns” over immigration. A good analysis was given by Owen Jones who pointed out that a party that had lost its ability to articulate the concerns of the vast majority of potential voters was in trouble.
The immigration arguments of UKIP and the Tories are fallacious. The attacks on “benefit scroungers”, asylum seekers and European migrants are nasty. They never take account of the huge benefits of migration in many areas such as the NHS. When confronted by a few UKIPers at a meeting in Stroud with David Drew just before the by-elections, John McDonnell and I asked the rhetorical question of what kind of life and economy Britain would have if there had been no immigration for the past six decades.
The message for Labour to get across is not difficult. The economic crisis of 2008 was brought about by largely unregulated banks. The austerity programme has resulted in massive cuts affecting the wages and benefits of the poorest. For many of those who have lost their jobs in the public sector, where they have found work, they have been on zero-hours and low paid contracts. The Coalition government has presided over a massive restructuring of our society in the image of the 1930s.
While Labour is committed to a big expansion of NHS spending and a very modest rise in the minimum wage, it is not confronting the whole austerity agenda. Those who are victims of the brutality of austerity in the last five years do not see any answers in the statements of Miliband or Balls. To announce to Conference that a Labour government will freeze child benefit is morally wrong, apart from being politically inept.
Labour should approach 2015 as an opportunity to end austerity and raise living standards of the poorest. Getting into the gutter with the xenophobes of UKIP will get us nowhere.
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