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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Election 2017 - what side are you on?

Election slogans are generally meaningless, but in this election they clearly differentiate the offer. Comrades, left and right, should focus on that.

Today’s Scottish Labour manifesto will set out clearly why Labour is “For the many, not the few’. On workers rights, public services, tax and much else - Labour offers a positive vision of what a different country could look like. In contrast, ‘Strong and stable’ reflects the absence of vision in the Tory manifesto, which seeks to reward the rich and divide communities on age, Brexit, immigration and flags.

From a left perspective, I have to admit a greater irritation with some comrades than normal in this election. A discussion with a friend, who has belonged to an array of fringe left parties, particularly irked me last week. His reaction to the UK Labour manifesto was, ‘I suppose it’s not that bad’.  Really comrade, is that the best you can do?

Reclaiming the railways, Royal Mail, energy and water (in England) into public ownership. A huge investment in public services that will provide a major boost to devolved services devastated by austerity.

As Dave Prentis put it yesterday’s Observer, “Every Labour government in my lifetime – no matter my disagreements with individual leaders or policies – has improved the lives of the majority of the British people and delivered better public services than the ones they inherited.”

Dave also said, “Every Labour government has secured greater rights at work and made our country a fairer place”. It is on that point that I particularly despaired of my friend’s response. This Labour manifesto includes 20 commitments on workers rights that ticks most of the boxes on any trade union shopping list, including:
  •      Employment rights on day one
  •      No more zero hours contracts
  •      Extending collective bargaining and workplace access
  •      Ending the public sector pay cap
  •      Raising the minimum wage to £10
  •      Excessive pay levy

There is much more, as Gregor Gall (A left academic not slow to criticise Labour) highlights. This is a manifesto that would make the workplace a much fairer place and make a real start it tackling the low pay and insecure work culture that is wrecking our economy. Yes comrades, it’s time to get a grip.

Some comrades to my right also irritate me. This is well summed up by Peter Frost’s feature in the Morning Star, who gives us a timely reminder that Jeremy is not the first Labour leader to be vilified, even if this time the establishment has sunk to a new low. Even supposedly pro-Labour sites like Labour List have run several pieces about internal issues post-election. Yes comrades, it’s time you also got a grip. As Peter says, “I know what side I am on. I even know what side Kuenssberg is on. The simple question is what side are you on — and what are you going to do about it?

Labour’s Scottish and UK manifestos are not going back to the 1970’s, a much-maligned decade by the way. Even social democrat’s like Will Hutton concede, “It confronts the way contemporary capitalism is stratifying the labour market into a new mass precariat and conferring enormous rewards at the top, while crucial public services are being starved of resources or compromised by putting the profit motive first.”

Let’s not forget that this snap election was called because the economy is about to get even worse, exacerbated by the Tory approach to Brexit. After eight years of BofE stimulus - the economy is stagnant, real incomes are falling and inequality is rising. The financial markets are disconnected from the real economy and our public services are hanging on by a thread.

So comrades’ left and right, get a grip, the stakes are too high to waste on carping and squabbles. This election is a pivotal struggle for the sort of country we want to live in – it’s time to remember what side you are on.

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