Notes from the front – of 5/4/2016

Step up the campaign for Labour

On 5 May there will be elections in London, Scotland, Wales and in English local authorities. The priority for Labour Party members for these next four weeks is to assist the Labour campaign. Everything should be done to maximise Labour’s vote.

Advantage needs to be taken of the current Tory weakness. Since the Budget they have been forced on to the back foot by the Labour leadership.

Jeremy Corbyn used the official launch of Labour’s campaign on 5 April to attack the Tories’ failure to act on the financial corruption organised through British overseas territories and crown dependencies. This followed publication of the ‘Panama Papers’ that have raised questions about these offshore financial centres and the Prime Minister’s father’s role in tax avoidance.

Labour has also stepped up its campaign to defend steel industry and jobs, attacking the Tories for not supporting the maintenance of the industry.

The doubling of Labour’s membership means there are many new members who should be encouraged to get involved in campaign activity. The contact with the electorate is important; it helps identify and then get out the Labour vote.

Canvassing provides activists with useful experience, which can strengthen their contribution in the ongoing struggle within Labour.

Expectations about the results in May need to be realistic. It is not possible to instantly repair the political damage self-inflicted on Labour by years of right wing policies.

The Blair and Brown governments presided over a gigantic collapse in Labour support. Blair took Labour’s share of the vote of 43.2% in 1997, down to 40.7% in 2001 and then to 35.2% in 2005. Under Brown it further fell to 29.0% in 2010.

Between 2010 and 2015 under Ed Milliband Labour’s general election vote share did rise, but only by 1.4%, to 30.4%. Labour’s vote share at local elections did rise to 39% in 2012, but then collapsed back to 2015. Under Milliband there were two years when support rose followed by three years when it went back down. This is not the pattern Labour wants to repeat. The Corbyn leadership is putting forward an entirely different approach, to deliver success in 2020.

Labour’s immediate aim is to secure the best possible results on 5 May and then go on to rebuild its electoral standing with policies that can win the next general election. This is achievable and an excellent start has been made this past seven months. Corbyn has inflicted significant blows on the Tories, which have reduced Tory support in recent opinion polls.

The clear adoption of an economic framework that can deliver growth means it can genuinely pledge people would be better off under Labour. A Labour government would raise state investment, borrowing would be appropriate for capital expenditure, but not for current spending over the economic cycle. The rejection of ‘deficit denial’ restores Labour credibility and abandonment of the Labour right’s austerity economics means it can plan real policies to raise people’s living standards. On this basis the campaign to win in 2020 can progressively build up Labour support.

Immediately after the 5 May election the right wing intend to make wild claims that Corbyn’s Labour is a colossal failure, that Labour needs to restore the ‘successful’ right wing framework that lost it recent general elections and therefore change leader. The Times on 5 April claims Angela Eagle is the favoured candidate to remove Jeremy Corbyn in a post May coup.

The struggle to defend the Corbyn leadership looks set to intensify, so after the elections Labour members will need to step up activity within the party. Efforts by the Labour right to block internal democracy will need to be opposed. Local annual general meetings, delegates to national conference and nominations for Labour’s internal elections ought to reflect the balance of views amongst Labour’s membership.

The priority however for now till 5 May is the Labour election campaign.


Nationalise steel and invest

Britain’s steel industry is currently facing a huge crisis. Plant closures are threatened in Wales and the north of England, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Both Tata and the Tory government are ‘going through the motions’ of looking at alternatives.

Tata ideally wants its production sites in Britain to close, so they cannot in future compete with its main plants elsewhere, but it is under pressure to sell, which it may consider if it can get the right price.

The Tories have found themselves politically exposed because their ‘laissez faire’ economic policy encourages the running down of industry. They would prefer to shift this crisis to after 5 May election, so belatedly want to appear active, despite having no policy to save the industry.

The reason for the crisis is the industry’s private owners have not invested to make their plant internationally competitive. And the government has not stepped in to assume responsibility.

The necessary solution is to raise investment in steel to international levels which, in the absence of private sector willingness, means the state needs to invest. That is most efficiently organised if the plants and their production are taken over by the state.

Labour’s demand for nationalisation if necessary is exactly the correct proposal. John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are putting forward the only viable option.


Huge resistance to French labour law ‘reforms

Strikes and protests have continued across major cities in France as the Socialist government has attempted to impose Thatcher-style labour market ‘reforms’. The protests have united organised workers and students in resisting the attack on labour security, working hours, conditions and pay. Young workers would be among the biggest losers if the proposed changes were adopted.

But it is far from certain the government will be successful. Divisions have opened up inside the ruling Socialists as many deputies feel the pressures of mass mobilisations. 800 amendments have been tabled to the draft legislation. Hardline Prime Minister Valls has already been forced to remove some draft clauses benefiting small business at the expense of the workers.

The protests are set to continue. They are important in order to resist these attacks. They have a further significance in shifting the agenda towards anti-austerity in contrast to the torrent of racism and fake ‘security’ issues which has dominated the recent period.