by Renie Anjeh
Various theories are doing the rounds at the moment about why Labour is not performing as well as it should. On the left of the party, they bemoan the fact that Labour is not nearly as leftwing as they think it should be. On the right of the party, there is much concern about the party’s lack of credibility on the economy. The left-wing Labour Representation Committee would argue that nationalising everything from the energy companies to children’s Christmas presents will deliver a crucial victory in 2015. Progress would think otherwise (and rightly so). But I still think that we have not asked a very important question. Are we really standing up for all working class and middle class people?
During the Mayoral election in 2012, I canvassed a middle aged couple in Ilford who were less than pleased when they saw my ‘vote Labour’ sticker. They worked hard all their lives and played by the rules but they didn’t think that we were on their side. They felt that the odds were stacked against them and that we had no answers. To them, we were completely out of touch with their aspirations and their concerns.
Unfortunately, people like the couple in Ilford have become objects of incomprehension at best, or derision at worst, for too many in our movement. The idea that we should give them as much focus to as we give to the bedroom tax, is an anathema to some on the Left.
Part of the reason why Labour lost power is that we were seen to be a party exclusively for special interest groups such as public sector workers, single parents, immigrants and benefit claimants not a party for the generality of working class and middle class people.
If Labour is serious about victory in 2015, we must break free from that perception and start looking at the world from the vantage point of the couple in Ilford. We need to be in touch with the parent in Gloucester who is looking for a good school for their child, the young professional in Battersea who wants to get on the property ladder, the proud homeowner in Enfield who is angry about antisocial behaviour or the plumber in Peterborough who is anxious about immigration.
We need tell working people that we value them, not just because of the taxes that they pay to the Treasury but because of the contribution that they make to society. We must be the party of aspiration and social mobility, supporting people who just want to get on life. Let’s start with some clear policies to demonstrate that we actually understand these people:
- Top priority for social housing given to local people who work or volunteer and have a good tenancy record alongside those in need;
- A shift in the tax burden away from income and towards wealth;
- No stamp duty on homes worth less than £500,000 and a proportion of new homes should be affordable starter homes reserved for first-time buyers;
- No school catchment areas and an ‘education credit’ for parents with children attending a failing school which they could give to a new state school of their choice if they accept their child;
- New rights for social housing tenants to evict persistently antisocial neighbours and ban them from living within a few miles from their home;
- Return of the Migration Impact Fund and 8,000 new immigration officers funded by a rise in stamp duty for homes worth more than £2m.
I would be very surprised if there were not people in the Labour party who were aghast at these ideas but we need fresh thinking in order to reconnect with those people we have ignored for far too long. If Ed Miliband starts to really connect with these people, he will be Britain’s next Prime Minister.
Have a happy New Year!
Renie Anjeh is a Labour party activist