Welcome to Tory Britain:
» where the annual rise in the death rate is the biggest it’s been for half a century;
» where the council house waiting list is at its longest since 1997, yet court evictions in the capital have doubled over five years;
» where the government penalises even the under-sevens by cutting the subsidy for free lunches in small schools;
» where the Housing Bill will drive more people into homelessness, by raising rents, ending secure tenancies and forcing councils to sell off homes;
» where government policy on health and education is driving record numbers out of these professions - not that the Tories care especially, as one of the main goals is the privatisation of these services.
It is now a given that public funding will be dispensed in the most party political manner, comparable to the cronyism of a one-party state. In a blatant bribe, the government is throwing over 80% of an extra £300 million in local authority funding at the wealthy southern Tory-voting shires - not that this will prevent deep cuts in services, as in West Berkshire, now planning to close eight out of nine of its libraries.
On the same basis, the Trade Union Bill will rob the Labour Party of much of its traditional source of funding - contributions from affiliated trade unions. This is the cleanest money in politics compared to the strings-attached corporate donations that the Tory Party depends on.
Up to £10 million a year could be lost to our Party by new proposals to make trade unionists “opt in” to pay the political levy, leaving Labour struggling to compete with the financial firepower of the Tories. Even charities are being targeted by this desperate government: new rules threaten their status if they are critical of the government, which is also leaning on councils not to allow boycotts of oppressive regimes.
None of these problems accumulating in Tory Britain are addressed by the debate over EU membership, particularly on the anti-immigrant, anti-welfare basis that the government has shamefully framed it. This narrow focus underlines that Cameron’s limited renegotiation and the upcoming referendum are primarily aimed at resolving differences in the Conservative Party and heading off the now collapsing support for UKIP, the party that so rattled the Tories a couple of years ago. For many ordinary people, this exercise looks increasingly like an orchestrated distraction from the government’s hasty asset-stripping of every aspect of the public sector.
For Cameron, this is a risky strategy which could make his own position imminently precarious - just as that of his opposite number feels increasingly secure. In a recent Times piece entitled “Why Corbyn may last longer than Cameron”, one commentator quoted an insider’s observation about Labour’s leader that centre-left papers are still unwilling to concede: “Everywhere he goes he gets the most amazing reaction. He gets mobbed. People wait outside halls and want selfies and autographs. And new members are still joining up at a thousand a week. That’s unprecedented.”
Heartening stuff. But, as we know, the enthusiasm with which Jeremy Corbyn is greeted across the labour movement and beyond stands in sharp contrast to the grudging toleration he gets from many of his parliamentary colleagues. Without a programme or a candidate, in the short term most of these see little prospect of reversing Corbyn’s historic win last year. But that does not stop some plotting against him, being obstructive or simply trying to mobilise acolytes in the Party to isolate him from his huge support base.
For Corbyn supporters, now grouping together in Momentum, there is a twofold job to do. Firstly, the right wing’s attempt to isolate the leader must be beaten off in all sections of the Party. Itis vital that Jeremy Corbyn has a supportive NEC and the backing of all levels of the party organisation - at constituency and regional level and amongaffiliates. The left’sconvincing gains in the elections to Young Labour’s National Committee is an excellent start.
Last year’s great win must be translated into a transformation of the Party across the board, to turn it outwards into a campaigning, election-winning organisation.
And this complements the other key task facing us: building a much broader movement that can take the Corbyn agenda out into the country at large, to build on the support among activists and turn it into a majority that can kick the Tories out of power and bring in a radical Labour government, perhaps the first in generations.