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Socialism for the 21st century: Labour transformed

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Labour have pledged to be even more radical in power than the Attlee government of the 1940’s. In September 2016, on the banks of the Mersey and with the world watching, they laid down the policy foundations that could well deliver on that bold promise. In just one year, the new leadership has completely transformed the party’s outlook. And this shift to a more radical set of proposals is as necessary today, as it was seventy years ago.

In 1943, with the war in Europe still raging and many of Britain’s cities in ruins, a debate raged in Parliament and beyond as to the future direction of social policy. ‘The Beveridge Report’ had been published a year earlier and it had identified the “five giant evils” that stood in the way of post war reconstruction: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. It called for a revolution in social policy, no more tinkering around the edges.

The Conservatives, led by Churchill, sought to dampen down expectations and called upon the public not to make excessive demands on government. The country was crippled by debt, almost three times higher as a percentage of GDP than it is today. As a result the Tories proposed to limit the scope of change.

It would be left to Labour, who were swept into power in 1945, to implement the report in full, while the Conservatives voted against the introduction of the National Health Service. In the context of such devastation, sacrifice and economic ruin, Labour’s programme was arguably one of the greatest achievements in human history. It makes a mockery of today’s naysayers, who argue that we can’t afford to give every citizen a decent life.

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In reality Britain could ill afford not to implement Beveridge’s recommendations at the end of the war. How could its streets and houses be rebuilt, or its factories put back to work, without a healthy and educated workforce, free from the squalor and disease previous generations had suffered.

It is a source of deep anger for me, that today all of these incredible social advances are being undone. Despite Britain being the sixth richest nation on the planet, those “five giant evils,” identified by Beveridge, are on their way back. The spectre of homelessness haunts our streets, while council houses lie empty. Child poverty is on the rise and people are relying on food banks to feed their families. Meanwhile the Tories distract the public with tales of refugees destroying our public services, while it is they who wield the wrecking ball.

Last week, John McDonnell spoke of the sense of the optimism his family felt, in the sixties, as they moved into council housing and broke free of the slums. They had imagined they were entering a golden age of continuous social progress. Parents all across the land could expect that their children would go on to lead better lives than their own. Those men and women who had fought so hard during the war, had truly left the world a far better place than the one they had been born into.

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Today though, parents who wave their children off to university, can only look on in horror as they rack up mountains of debt. Our transport infrastructure is crumbling and workers toil away on zero hours contracts, not knowing how much they’ll earn from one week to the next. Meanwhile the super rich avoid their taxes and hoard away the fruits of our labour.

Progress is being strangled and we are drifting back down the path of conflict and intolerance. Meanwhile, those in government move us ever closer to the type of nation our ancestors fought so hard to transform. It is nothing short of a counter-revolution and a betrayal of those who sacrificed so much for our future. Not since 1945 has Britain been in such need of an alternative vision. Thankfully we now have it, in the form of Labours new programme.

I have reflected a lot on the events of the 2016 Labour Party Conference. It was at times a truly inspirational gathering, both inside and outside the walls of the ‘Echo Arena’. Liverpool has long been the scene of mass gatherings. Our streets are accustomed to the pounding of feet, and the mighty Mersey has grown accustomed to demands for social justice and cries of power to the people. Nevertheless the sight of people, young and old, actively engaged in discussions about the type of society they want to create, is food for the soul.

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The scale and scope of Labour’s ambition has taken even me by surprise and it has the potential to transform the lives of millions. Surely now the whole movement can unite behind it. Where Theresa May offers only a race to the bottom, Corbyn’s Labour offers education for all, for life. Not simply to create an army of workers, but to enlighten and unlock the people’s potential.

Labour now promises to end homelessness, child poverty and to restore the NHS to a publicly funded service free at the point of access. It is pledging a decent income for all and the reconstruction of our crumbling infrastructure. Of course the Tories will say we can’t afford it. Don’t they always though? Apparently we can afford tax evasion on an industrial scale and there is always a bottomless purse when it comes to war; but a decent society is too expensive, they say. It’s a lie and at last we have a leadership brave enough to say it.

No longer do we have a party afraid of its own shadow. No more hiding behind polling companies or pandering to the lowest common denominator. On immigration Labour is at last articulating a coherent strategy, that doesn’t accept the victimisation of minorities. No longer are we running scared of the right. Instead we are calling out the politicians and unscrupulous employers, who blame those they exploit for societies ills.

This is at last a vision that can unite a country and inspire the next generation of voters to fight for it. Above all it is a manifesto in the making for a government in waiting. It is as bold as it is ambitious, as uplifting as it is comprehensive. Whisper it no more. This is socialism for the 21st Century.

As we stand once more in the ruins, not of war this time, but the result of a failed economic model, the question is not whether we can afford to implement Labour’s programme, but rather can we afford not to.

11 Comments »

  1. Excellent once again Jeff. These are exciting times. A big change is happening in politics. I really believe people are waking up to the fact that in Corbyn , a new
    era dawns. A true Socialist movement that can bring about a better society for all, not just the chosen few. The fantastic rise in the membership of the Party reflects this desire for change. And despite all the negativity, the purging and the prevention of people voting , Jeremy has a bigger mandate now than a year ago. It is hoped that the PLP will now unite behind their leader , stop the destructive infighting, and focus everything on getting rid of the Tories.
    The media cannot be trusted one iota. The Murdoch’s of this country don’t want a Labour government, neither do big businesses or the establishment. Because they know a Labour government will bring to an end the profit grabbing, cost cutting and tax avoiding way of life that is applauded inside the dome do Capitalism.
    Social media has shown that the ‘ true word’ can be told and heard by all those connected. But we still have to get to those millions who don’t vote, haven’t voted. Those ‘ forgotten’ masses that for one reason or another cant, won’t or choose not to bother when it comes to deciding who leads this country in government.
    Well I hope they have realised what these past years of a Tory government has done to this Country. How the very fabric of our society has been torn asunder.How the gap between rich and poor has grown even wider and how successive cuts under the ‘ false flag ‘ of austerity has plunged millions into a world of despair and hopelessness, with no support, no income, no help. Relying on food banks to survive. People losing their homes, their families and 29% of children are in poverty. And all this in the sixth richest country in the world. ! Surely with this reality, a vote for Labour is the real message of hope.

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  2. Yes I agree with this post. It is clear that the challenge now is to connect with people who haven’t voted at all in the past, or who now are suffering badly from the policies of the Tories (or their families & friends are suffering). And those who in the past voted for Labour but have been persuaded to blame immigrants and refugees for the failures of the Tories’ policies. It is also clear that connections will have to be made by face-to-face canvasing or through building a social movement through community action, because the MSM are solidly against us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The recent showing at Blackpool conference does encourage hope. There is evidence of a shift in the thinking of younger people towards a more participatory democracy and a more collaborative polity. You write with a radical flourish, Jeff, and have a rousing style. I do think that you tend to generalisation and make some hyperbolic and heated comments. Which politician or political commentator has said that “a decent society is too expensive”? Which Tory politicians are “distracting the publi with stories of immigrants wrecking public services?” In your righteous anger you use immoderate language which corresponds quite closely to those whom you want to criticise. This will not win us votes. People don’t like to be hectored, although you do have supporters who don’t mind. I support your intentions and applaud your energy, Jeff. But I sometimes wish you would be less strident in your views, and thereby win wider support amongst the unconvinced.

    I was born in 1938, and remember the war (albeit a child’s perspective on the latter years). My father was a skilled toolmaker involved with engineering the Wellington bomber, so was spared combat duties overseas. He served in the Home Guard. He was a Communist and, like many working-class men, mistrusted Winnie (Churchill). I recall many discussions my father had with other CP workers about post-war Britain (if ever it came!).

    Post-war Britain was austere. Very few people nowadays know the real meaning of austerity, I lived it with my parents and brothers. Our food sustained life, and we weren’t malnourished, but our diet was very restricted, all families with a garden grew their own vegetables to live off. I didn’t eat a biscuit until I was eleven. Sometimes my brother and I shared one pair of shoes because we only had one good pair between us. He only ever had my second hand clothes. We walked the railway tracks with an old pram to pick up coal between the tracks (fallen from the locomotive) to make a fire at home. The men who came home from the war were politically astute, very fit and lean, and used to a life of disciplined work. Most men their age nowadays are used to a much more comfortable and dependent life. They aren’t mentally or physically ready for a revolution. Society in 1945 bears no resemblance to life now. That must be understood.

    Any forward-view of our future has to embrace the global disparities in income and access to basic services. I lived and worked in Africa for 10 years. Young African and Middle Eastern men are coming here, and nothing will hold them back, or their families. No walls, no border controls, no slogans, no right-wing militias. We are going to have to work and live alongside them here in the Northern hemisphere. Resources will have to be shared. That means we must all learn to do with less, at least for the next 50-100 years. That’s the really radical revolution we face. That, I think, is what young people know (I have six children over 30), and what they are preparing for, with relish. They aren’t open to polarising and polarised opinions from politicians of any stripe. That’s why I’m writing this comment. I have much good-will towards you, towards Jeremy Corbyn, and the party. But we must raise our horizons, and think outside our customary boxes. Best wishes, Peter

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feedback. Im afraid I can’t change who I am Peter and I stand by my comments in relation to the narrative on immigrants and
      questions about affordability of left wing programmes, which are so prevalent Im surprised you need evidence. I’m writing a blog about my thoughts and feelings and I’m absolutely clear that I’m not writing for a political science journal. I feel I do justify my points and its up to reader to agree or disagree. I do write with emotion and I’m afraid if I tried to remove the passion and feeling I’d lose my drive to write. My work will appeal to some and not others. Im happy with that. Thanks for reading and commenting Peter

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      • I certainly don’t want you to lose your drive to write, Jeff! On the contrary, I look forward to your blogs a lot, because they do appeal to me, and challenge my point of view. As you point out, a blog is a log of personal experiences (although yours clearly resonates with others’ passion and feelings). I hope by the same token that you aren’t miffed by my critique. I wrote a blog for quite a few years (not a political one) and attracted some critical attention along the way, which I didn’t always enjoy, but which I stood in need of at the time.

        I also comment in the hope that others will read and perhaps be challenged by my perspectives, and my experience, such as it is. I can’t do much on the practical front because I live mainly in France, having retired here in recent years. But Britain is my homeland and what happens there concerns me: my descendants live there, and I may (have to?) return now we have decided as a nation to leave the European Union.

        I think the issue of global migration needs much more attention than it is getting from all parties. Climate change is clearly a huge driver of people-movements, and wars, which are as much driven by global inequality as anything else. Local (national) politics doesn’t give enough attention to this across almost all government portfolios. If the Labour party is going to represent a new way of doing politics, it needs to raise its game internationally and make a stand on this platform: Jeremy, bless him, does this, and knows it is not a popular position to take. I wish others would take the same position and as strongly, or more so. Saving our bacon locally is not enough, and young people (certainly my own kids who have lived abroad and in Africa) know this is true.

        I’d be interested in your own ideas on this if you want to share them, and have any.

        Fraternally and with genuine good wishes in your endeavours.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Peter I am certainly not miffed at your critique. Sorry if I sounded defensive in my response. You are quite right to challenge and we are all better off for having our ideas tested. I am angry and often emotional about these issues and that is clearly reflected in my writing. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, but I suppose I’d say it’s honest.

        On the subject of migration I do have a lot to say on this and this will feature in my next blog. If you dont mind I’ll keep you waiting a little longer for that. 😊

        Thank you for reading, but more importantly for paying such attention to my words. I do appreciate your feedback. Very best wishes Jeff

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