Get ready for the winter of discontent, 2020/21

by Jonathan Todd

We have reached the mid-point of the longest year. Football’s back, pubs and shops are open, the sun shines. The government are eager for consumers to spend the economy back to health. But our winter of discontent looms.

Only the rich and/or complacent are secure in their incomes. Fear of Covid-19 remains – while not always deadly, especially among the young, it can induce long-term health complications. It is hard to be confident that all children, many out of school since March, will be in class in September.

“Open unemployment,” warns Professor Paul Gregg, “is likely to rise from 4 to 14% without further policy intervention.” Over 4 million on the dole, before the possible economic tsunami of no-deal Brexit.

“Currently the government’s drive to open up as quickly as possible bears a risk of another increase in infections,” fears Professor Devi Sridhar, “similar to what is being experienced in several US states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, and in Iran.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, recently said: “The NEU is of course in favour of all children being back in school, but even with a one-metre rule that will need more teachers and more spaces.” It remains to be seen if the plans announced by Gavin Williamson will deliver upon this.

Ignore these people if you have had enough of experts. The rest of us might conclude:

We need more testing and tracing, with much better data sharing and collaboration with local authorities, to contain the virus. We need more physical and human resources to reopen schools. Without decent public health and education, attempts to build, build, build rest on the shakiest foundations.

Imagine being out of work, stuck at home with Covid-19, kids that cannot go to school, and rising debts. This would be the stuff of a winter of discontent 2020/21.

The 1978/79 vintage, amid widespread strikes, helped to end James Callaghan’s Labour government and bring about prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

“There are times,” reflected Callaghan, “perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.”

This 1978/79 shift brought a redrawing of the boundaries of the state, curbs on unions, and the big bang in the City of London. These leaps into Thatcherism were sustained by an acceptance that the previous model was exhausted – with this brokenness personified by the winter of discontent.

In other words, as Kate Tempest sings, “there are no new beginnings until everybody sees that the old ways need to end.”

The US now grapples with its biggest economic crisis since the 1930s, the largest convulsions over race since the 1960s, and a public health challenge without precedent. The sense that the old ways need to end is profound and will, hopefully, be met by a President Biden.

The hunger for change might be raised to a similar urgency in the UK by a winter of discontent. But our general election is much further away than the US presidential election.

Boris Johnson will think that this gives him time to turn things around. Or, at least, find others to blame. We are at, Jonathan Powell worries, “the beginning of a rolling coup. It starts with the civil service then moves on to the judiciary and the BBC.”

Labour needs to make the buck stop with Johnson. With his bizarre insistence at PMQs that the opposition “emphatically support” the government, the prime minister is not at ease with scrutiny.

His bluster and distraction are the enemy; clarity about how Labour will satisfy the appetite for a better Britain is the goal.

This enemy seeks renewal amid our “culture wars”. When Keir Starmer won’t “defund the police” and will wear a poppy with pride, he is not playing that game – which, invariably, seeks to other Labour and shut us out from the endless patriotic glories of Boris-land.

In fact, Labour are the greatest patriots of all. We want the best possible future for everyone and everywhere in our country. We know that our country deserves better than the longest lockdown and highest Covid-19 death rate in Europe – with further indignities possibly to come in a winter of discontent.

We have before ridden sea-change moods of the kind that condemned Callaghan. In 1945, Labour was the vehicle that allowed the country to turn its back on the deprivations of the 1930s. In 1997, Labour carried a national ambition to move on from the divisions of the 1980s.

We can do so again. By speaking for the whole country – not just the one-rule-for-us-and-another-for-everybody-else elite of Dominic Cummings and Robert Jenrick, or exclusively the working class, the public sector or minority communities, but all people and places that are united in a determination that the old ways need to change.

In benefiting from our most prime ministerial leader since the last Labour prime minister, Labour has satisfied the essential precondition of winning this argument. Now the whole party, and especially Starmer’s frontbench colleagues, need to articulate the journey from our current nadir, potentially on the cusp of a winter of discontent, to national renewal.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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16 Responses to “Get ready for the winter of discontent, 2020/21”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Does labour really think ethnic minorities classify themselves as being minorities as a priority of why they vote?

    The reason labour got(White collar) public sector voters In recent years and most working class voters wasn’t Because labour didn’t hold them in contempt
    It was labours always given public sector workers good pensions and rather than public sector workers thinking they’re good people by voting for the party set up for the working class, it’s a case of civil servants vote to have a good retirement income

    Regarding the sea change of 1979, labour convinced itself when the Tories weren’t that popular in 1981 success was round the corner, but policies that caused them to regain popularity like selling council homes had only just kicked in

    If you think there’s a sea change towards labour
    You didn’t realise their was a sea change towards the Tories and the country with the 2019 red wall result and Brexit
    The Tories won 3 more times after the winter of discontent
    The Tories are ahead in the polls now they’re not going to decrease popularity so unless labour gets mythical non voters , the Tories look like winning 2024 and next years council elections will be a shock too,

  2. Tafia says:

    “is likely to rise from 4 to 14% without further policy intervention.”

    You destroyed your argument in the third paragraph. Since that was said, there have been two further interventions and a major one will be announced by the Chancellor shortly.

    Basically you are referencing rubbish that has been over-taken by events.

    Incidentally, in USA, unemployment has fallen by a third in a month, during what has been their best-ever job creation month and if the IMF, the RCB and the BoE are to be believed, as we come out of this we will experience similar

  3. A.J. says:

    Probably showing a fair degree of foresight with reference to social and economic dislocation come Christmas, if not before. Politically, I’m afraid we’re in a mess – that much was evident before the December election.

  4. Anne says:

    Yes we are in a mess – not just the UK but America as well, and China flexing it’s muscles. Europe looks to be the most stable but then we have turned our backs on stability. It is times like this that leaders become desperate and start to do stupid things making a bad situation worse – yes they have lost the argument big stile. Johnson looks disheveled and his speech erratic- perhaps he needs another holiday – perhaps Greece.
    Keir and shadow cabinet continue to bring sensible and reasoned arguments to the table – without any shadow of a doubt the better team – just a pity we have to wait four years before they are in power.

  5. A.J. says:

    Bad as the modern Conservative Party is, and has been for the past thirty years or more, Labour may be heading for total oblivion. Read Kingsley Amis and his assertion that they lacked credibility by the time Gaitskell was leader. Starmer is scarcely a new Blair, now, is he? And Blair may have won elections but he further divided a party that had already been divided since the 1950s. Johnson isn’t exactly surrounded by talent, but Starmer seems to lack any judgement whatever. Why give Long-Bailey an important brief in the first place? As a sop to Momentum? Long-Bailey imagines that by being a bit of a ladette and making references to Man U. she somehow engineers credibility. Oh dear.
    Watch out for any shift in greater numbers of public sector workers shifting slyly to the right of centre, Covid or no Covid.

  6. John P Reid says:

    New labour was anything but neo liberal and the current Labour Party since corbyn has been more neo liberal

    If labour didn’t realise the sheer scale of the defeat in 2019 it would t realise the implications of the anti semitism and grooming gang inquiries be prepared to get in the door steep every day during future canvassing
    you covered up muslims raping white young ladies and you’re anti Semitic non stop

    In the door as response to the Labour Party just thinking the working class are thick N Racist.

    In October 2018 my local party we were getting abuse on the door that we were anti Semitic and covered up the grooming gangs
    But in the more working class areas it was you’d bankrupt the country
    Or you’re anti patriotic
    Or you’ve betrayed us over brexit in the Dec 3019 election campaign

  7. A.J. says:

    Anyone seriously interested in where we are and how we got there should read Corelli Barnett: ‘The Collapse Of British Power’ and ‘The Audit Of War’. The latter in particular should open a few pairs of eyes when it comes to Attlee’s government.

  8. Tafia says:

    John P Reid – You are right about grooming gangs. I lived in Oldham a few decades ago and know people there still and I know it is a major source of discontent – the way it was hushed up, glossed over and how local police chiefs, social workers etc etc have not been publicly ‘named and shamed’ and disgraced.

    Then I lived on Anglesey/Ynys Mon** – where a foreign culture is one that comes from the other side of the english border a hundred miles away and grooming etc on the industrial scale that happened in England is virtually unknown, other than by sec#x offenders resettled into Wales by te probation Services.

    I now live in Yorkshire – and it was and remains a major major issue with people. Rarely can you go in a pub without it rearing it’s head within 30 minutes. And again, just like Oldham, people are extremely annoyed at what they see as cover-ups to protect the identities of senior police officers, social workers etc etc and the utter refusal to point a finger where it needs pointing – at the south asian muslim community/ This was mass rape of children, carried out on an industrial scale, over a long period of time, with the full knowledge of the very organisations that were supposed to protect what were in the main already vulnerable children.

    And they are furious at some of the punishments handed out. They want to know why all those who have dual nationality have not been deported. The answer they invariably get is they’ve settled, they have families etc etc. What about the victims?

    Anyone who thinks this is going to go away any time soon along the ‘M62 belt’ is deluding themselves totally. People hope Patel succeeds in getting the full unredacted dossier published, names and all, without the continued foot-dragging and hand-wringing by the civil service.

  9. wg says:

    I have been reading the Labour Together report on the 2019 election: rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic would be an understatement.

    Here is a report containing a message of, figuratively, ‘getting closer to the ordinary guy on the street’ and yet its producers are made up of the same blob – think tanks and globalist NGOs (wake up, guys – when most people see the word ‘Open’ in the title of any organisation, that organisation is mentally ditched in the bin alongside those marked ‘Progressive’ – such is the toxicity of the words so glibly thrown around at present)

    One of the most telling lines on nationalising BT:

    “Frightened at the possibility of a Marxist government. Disgusted at Corbyn being a terrorist sympathiser. Most disturbed about plan to nationalise BT as I fear it would allow a Labour government to spy on internet users”

    Real fear and loathing or more Blairite skullduggery – most of us are becoming past caring.

    As Tafia and John P Reid have pointed out – and it is conspicuous by its absence in the report – progressive open border politics have done nothing for the once dependable voters behind the red wall.
    Those firmly entrenched in their safe seats – whether they be councillors or MPs – have seemed totally unaware of the destruction inflicted upon the people in the wards or constituencies that they run.

    Time and demographics are on Labour’s side – I happen to be burdened with the full set of afflictions; old, English, white, working class, heterosexual, and C of E – my demographic is in decline.
    Labour will recover once I and the people around me have died off.

    And that’s what gets to me – the Labour Party was created by my historical demographic; now its survival depends upon us all dying off.


  10. John P Reid says:

    after labour lost the1987 election Neil Kinnock quite rightly in my
    View put the ground for New Labour by aiming for Middleclass votes some of this was based on the Fact many Working Class people had bought their Council homes voted Conservative as they thought they were middle class but based on their Job and Income statistics would consider them Working Class snd Partly Neil Kinnock knew that White Collar public sector pension Workers, Teachers NHS Staff, Council Staff has
    the idea the Working Class has nowhere else to go that Delivered Blair 3 election Victories,
    this Peaked in the 2006 Council elections and 2008 Mayor elections where either the Working class stayed at Home or Voted for the BNP

  11. John P Reid says:

    We need to work out, how do we build bridges with people disagreeing in the party
    I note 2black friends of mine have questioned the expression BAME in the past as they feel that by having charts that reflect how well BAME people doing is misleading as its over emphasises Asian Sikhs and Hindos
    so while I accept there’s sometimes a reason to define people, (mental health for instance peer pressure among different communities (including women is one way of saying there should be special groups interests for different people I was gonna ask Miriam about if there’ is say a woman’s group or a lgbt group, would such a group mean that other groups such as BAME or POC or what ever definition does the party prioritise one more than another and even then does say gay override lesbian, or Asian override black etc.,
    one reason we invited the Chair of young labour at a meeting this year was as Noted at the DAgienham MP hiusitng iNdecmeber, meeting during the election that, Dagenham is very macho working class pro brexit and it feels all others wings are snobs, so are quite happy to criticise anyone not part of their clique as “Snotty nosed”
    where as both Blue labours’ Maurice glasman and Paul embery came to meetings a couple of years ago, went down well, baring in mind- labour has become a very middle class remain party and they’re working class brexiters- obviously i didn’t want to invite people who’d get booed, but after the meetings it occurred to me, everyone in the audience was white working class over 45years old and all accepted Brexit, it was no secret that young labour and momentum locally thought we were nuts, and we didn’t like them much either, so I figured invite young labours chair as it’s a way of building bridges between wings of the party, actually the fact that some of the leadership campaigns have built bridges ,with Kier starmer appealing to both Trotskyites like Zoe williams and Paul Mason a the guardian and Blairites
    and lisa nandy has labour brexiters and transgender rights people, not that there’s no such thing as gay/trans labour brexiters, my best friend is gay and a brexiter with a POC husband
    the snobbery of Romford is referenced ,by how my local momentum Young Labour use insulting words to describe Paul Embery on Twitter ( the epitome of middle class snobs sneering At the working class)

  12. John P Reid says:

    Roll on Paul Embery suing the FBU union
    14 months ago, he spoke at would have been the day we were suppose to leave the EU rally in a personal capacity
    Matt wrack the leader of the FBU union had argued that Paul was breaking the Union rules of sharing A stage with various Conservative party members who were also speaking at that event on the stage at a different time, saying it brought his union into disrespect, although, there were labour MPs like Kate hoey, Graham stringer, communists like the morning star and socialist party and Claire fox, A Marxist, as well as Nigel Farage who had long since left UKIP by that stage
    And was expelled from standing as a fire fighter union rep for 5 years, he’s appealing that decision, rowing with the head of The FBU Matt wrack, Both are labour party members and Paul’s court case is February 2021

    And Couunciullor Rocky Gill a good brexiter who as a Sikh was the first to criticise Emily thornberry a sneer picture of. white van Mans St. George’s flag from his home in Rochester in Kent, During the 2019 EU election ,Andrew Adonis obsesses remained blairite Lord ,Had said if you’re a brexiter don’t vote labour in the mayor election, The Brexit party has got Lord Adonis quote, Used it in their poster with the wrote ’message from the Labour Party
    Just rocky retweeted it in the internet added the words, plain but simple ,And Didn’t say don’t vote labour as it wasn’t in the brexit party poster ,Bit rocky got suspended,

    Not that I think labour are gonna win the next election

  13. JPR says:

    Well said WG

  14. Andrew Williams says:

    Something topical for you.

    A little parallel. The Bulger killers were children themselves and killed one child. Veritable little innocents compared to her.

    Begum was a young adult. She has been willingly complicit in the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of people, including children, including even children that she personally stitched into suicide vests. She has even fund-raised, taken part in discipline shootings and beatings, and actively recruited other Brits.

    If she comes back here, she must be immediately arrested, charged with serious terror offences, and spend the rest of her days rotting in Belmarsh.

    Incidentally, there are three people currently serving very long stretches (12 years+) for terrorist offences committed when they were juveniles. 1 neo-nazi and 2 jihadists.

  15. john P ried says:

    labour seems to actually like hating the working class including Anti white racism directed towards the police.

    I’ve come to the conclusion liberal Middle class London isn’t even listening to the Shires.

    Feeling if you don’t like the result change the electorate .

    I think Labours finished I’ve listened to Ruth Smeeth and Gareth Snell in Stoke and Brendan chilton , Vince Mable and Naushabakhan Khan if Ken medway
    Yvette was playing with opinions trying to get the working class away from ukip And also Planning and trying labour to be M/C party saying if Labour should be a M/C party it wouldn’t work as It was trying to be all things to all people and would just see the Working class on council estates, still be a M/C party.

    Although Naushabakhan Khan has been gender critical upsetting rightly Lily madigan a man on a all women shortlist although, men have won all women’s short lists in the party in the past and attended all women meetings.

    the thing about labour trying to ape the Libdems to get back votes it lost in 2019
    Yes labour did 1m remain voters at the 2019 election but that’s a mistake on their part for them Too thinking labour in the 2017 election stood on a manifesto not too accept the referendum result.

  16. wg says:

    John P Reid

    We are coming back to an inherited problem with the Labour Party; there have always been two camps within Labour – those that wanted Labour as a party of worker representation, and those that put socialism first.

    One of Labour’s past influences, Tony Benn, used to allude to the fact that most working class people have absolutely no interest in a political religion called socialism; they just want somebody fighting for them in Parliament.

    I’m still trying to work out where international socialism differs from globalism.
    They both seem to me to be a dog-eat-dog race to the bottom.
    And if both Labour and Tory Party are for these two strands, how do Labour differ from the Tories?

    If Labour are for throwing working class people to the international socialist/globalist wolves, then those working class people are perfectly entitled to withhold their votes.

    This is just a basic set of questions that go through workers’ minds: why do these questions never enter the minds of the Labour hierarchy?

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