Speech by Michael Dugher to Labour Party members in Oldbury in the West Midlands:
Taking the fight to the Tories – by showing we can beat them
Now I don’t know how many of you read the remarks by Dave Watts in the House of Lords this week.
Dave was MP for St Helens for 18 years. The elected chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Before that, he spent years as a local councillor and was leader of the council. An apprentice engineer and former union shop steward, ‘straight talking, honest politics’ is definitely where Dave is at.
In his maiden speech to the Lords he said:
“My advice to my own party leadership is that they should take less notice of the London-centric, hard-left political class who sit around in their £1million mansions, eating their croissants at breakfast and seeking to lay the foundations for a socialist revolution”.
So it’s great to be out of London. Here in the heart of the Midlands. A long way from Islngton…
It’s good to see that Labour First is officially a ‘croissant free zone’. Unlike no doubt at today’s Fabians society conference in London today, there is not a croissant a brioche or a pain au chocolat in sight.
Today I want to talk about how we take the fight to the Tories by showing we can beat them. And the starting point for that is that we must begin focusing on the Tories, not on ourselves.
No one should be in any doubt that this is the most rotten, callous, incompetent Conservative government that we ever seen. Just look at their record:
Tory record of failure
- Under the Tories we have an NHS in crisis:
- NHS waiting lists have risen by almost one million under David Cameron, it’s harder to see your GP – one in four have to wait more than a week or they can’t get an appointment – and thousands of cancer patients are waiting too long to start their treatment.
- The number of patients waiting longer than 4 hours in hospital A&E departments is up 34 per cent year-on-year.
- The Tories forced through a damaging top-down reorganisation which diverted £3bn from patient care.
- We have junior doctors – not exactly a hotbed of industrial militancy – feeling that things have got so bad, they have to go on strike.
And, whilst we’re having a go at the Tories, let’s start standing up for our record too:
- The last Labour Government’s investment in the NHS meant:
- 89,000 more nurses and 44,000 more doctors.
- Waiting lists had fallen by over half a million and waiting times were at their lowest level since records began.
- We saw the largest ever hospital building programme in history, with 118 new hospitals opened – a further 18 under construction.
- Remember how the Tories said they’d balance the books by 2015? Well the deficit this year is still set to be £73.5 billion.
- They trebled university tuition fees. As a result the typical student will leave university with more than £44,000 in debt – £20,000 more than under the previous system.
- They broke their promise on VAT and put it up to 20 per cent – a move that costs a family with children £450 a year.
- The last Labour Government introduced the 50p rate of tax for those with income over £150,000 to ensure that the better off paid their fair share in reducing the deficit. But at the same time as making ordinary families pay more, the Tories cut the top rate of tax for the richest one per cent of taxpayers. That means someone earning £1 million a year got a tax cut of more than £40,000 a year.
- At the same time, the number of children living in absolute poverty has risen by half a million (between 2009-10 and 2013-14). Under the last Labour Government this number fell by 1.9 million.
- Under the last Labour Government 3,500 new Sure Start centres were opened – one for every community. Under this Government, the number of designated children’s centres has fallen by more than 760 since 2010.
- Under the Tories there are 17,000 fewer police officers – despite David Cameron promising to protect the frontline – with neighbourhood policing becoming a thing of the past. The last Labour Government delivered more than 16,000 police officers and 16,000 Police Community Support Officers.
- Labour introduced Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit in 2003 to help low income working households. But, despite the u-turn we forced from them last year, the Tories are still cutting back this support. According to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, Tory cuts to Universal Credit mean 2.6 million working families will be £1,600 a year worse off on average.
- The last Labour Government brought 1.5 million council houses up to a decent standard, with over 700,000 new kitchens, 525,000 new bathrooms and over a million new central heating systems fitted. And we embarked on the biggest program of council house building for twenty years. Should we have done more in the early years? Absolutely.
- But today with have a crisis in housing. House building is at the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s. Home ownership is down by more than 200,000. Rents are up.
- And of course it’s our people that suffer the most. Under this Government, we have seen the ten most deprived local authority areas lose £782 per households because of the cuts. In contrast, the ten wealthiest areas have lost just £48 per household.
So of course we should be getting after these Tories – it’s what John Spellar calls “a target rich environment”.
Absolutely we should be taking the fight to the Tories and not picking another fight with ourselves.
(Which is why) the decision to open up a divisive debate within the party about the renewal of trident is such an unnecessary distraction.
After weeks of damaging speculation about the reshuffle that drowned out our attacks on the Tories, it then took the leadership 11 days to complete a fairly modest reshuffle of the frontbench team. How many days are we planning to waste having a self-indulgent debate about Trident?
Labour party policy is very, very clear: we are in favour multi-lateral disarmament and the renewal of Trident. Only a few months ago, the Labour Party Conference – still the sovereign policy making body in the Party – considered the issue again.
Not only did Conference overwhelmingly decide against having another divisive debate – let’s remember that the call for a debate on Trident was supported by just 0.16% of the trade union vote and only 7.1% of the CLP vote.
But there was also a vote to endorse a strategy of multilateral disarmament and the renewal of Trident when Conference took the decision to support the Britain in the World policy report from the National Policy Forum.
This came out of the National Policy Forum which we know is a lengthy and considered process that rightly fully involves the trade unions, the socialist societies, regional CLP reps, young people in the party, together with NEC members and shadow ministers.
We make policy in the Party through our democratic structures – not by diktats from the centre. We are a movement and when it comes to making policy we want to involve everyone in that movement.
We don’t make policy simply on the basis of a weekend email sent to a selection of party members where we might just have an up to date email address. We must not shortcut the Party’s democratic structures – to do so is to perform a grave disservice to our members.
I also say this to Jeremy and the party leadership: if you really want to change our policies, pick the issues that matter to people outside the meeting halls, not just to those inside. Pick the issues where we can unite and where we can get back in touch with the public – let’s not split the Party and drive yet another wedge between the Party and the country.
But what are we told instead about Trident?
We are told by Ken Livingstone – who still remains the co-convenor of the Labour policy commission by the way – don’t believe for a single second that he’s not involved, despite the deal he’s apparently done with Emily and Jeremy in a pub in Islington. We’re told by Livingstone that he can cobble together a new defence policy in the next eight to ten weeks in the review.
Now I was involved as a shadow defence minister in a policy review the Party did back in 2010-2011 on defence procurement. One of the people leading that review was Lord West, the highly decorated former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff. Alan West brought decades of experience in defence, he was a former Labour Minister for Security in the last Labour Government, and he is a full Admiral, no less, the equivalent of a four star general.
Now I’m sure Ken Livingstone likes to think that he’s got a chest full of campaign medals.
But we’ve gone from having our defence reviews led by people with four stars – to now where they’re being run by people with the Morning Star.
And there are real dangers here for Labour. For nearly three decades Labour has been committed to multilateral disarmament. We tried unilateralism before. It ended in electoral disaster then. There is no evidence to suggest that it won’t end in disaster again. And running online plebiscites of a selection of party activists won’t change these facts of political life.
(But the truth) is we cannot afford to open this up again. This May Labour faces incredibly important elections.
The idea that we can afford to spend a single day from now to May talking to ourselves about a divisive issue like Trident, rather than talking to the country about what this Tory Government is doing, is frankly barmy.
The elections in May are a huge test for all of us in the Party but they will also provide the biggest indication yet as to whether Labour is heading in the right direction.
We will be able to answer that big question: after last year’s devastating defeat in the general election, are we getting back in touch with the country or are we moving even further away from the public?
We face a major electoral test in every corner of the country.
The London Mayoral election will be extremely important. We have an excellent candidate in Sadiq Khan who is already demonstrating that he understands that for Labour to win, we must have a broad base of appeal and that any winning campaign must have the power to unify. Sadiq is showing:
- that we can stand up for trade union members, but we can support the businesses that employ them;
- that we can fight for people in inner London, but also appeal to the outer London boroughs;
- that we can mobilise the support we need from our traditional base of supporters, whilst winning new support from people who need more persuading to put their trust in Labour;
- that we can come to the aid of those most in need, whilst at the same time having policies to that appeal to those in the middle too.
But whilst London will undoubtedly be the focus, perhaps even the obsession, of the London-based media and even some in the Party, the forthcoming May elections are a much bigger test than that.
We must win in London, but it won’t be good enough just to win in London.
Labour has to hold onto power in Wales and hold the Welsh Government.
We will also see if Jeremy is right in his conviction that his left wing appeal is the key to turning things around in Scotland.
And we have to demonstrate that we are capable under Jeremy’s leadership of winning new support and hundreds of new council seats in England. Any Party that really is on its way back to power nationally does so on the back of winning in local government.
Best way to fight the Tories is to beat them
Look. The best way to fight the Tories is to beat them.
There is that phrase: don’t get angry, get even. In Labour, I sometimes think there are those who are content just to get angry. Well I want us to get angry and get even.
I want Labour to become a party again that the Tories genuinely fear.
The biggest gift that we can give to the Tories is to deliver a Labour Party that is uncompetitive.
We’ve got to show that we can start winning again.
We must pick fights with the Tories, not ourselves.
We must focus on the country, not in on ourselves.
That is how you unite the Party.
Because who pays the price when Labour loses and the Tories are allowed to win?
It’s our people. It’s the people we came into politics to serve.
Every time you see something bad that the Tories are doing, blame the Tories, expose what they’re doing hold them to account. But also say to yourself: that is happening because we lost the election.
Every day spent not making Labour more electable is a wasted day and ultimately it is a betrayal of the people we came into politics to serve.
We’re here in the heart of the Midlands. The heart of where elections are fought and won or lost.
Remember how you felt last May when that result from Nuneaton came in. And we realised the game was up. Remember how bad you felt when it was clear that the Conservatives had won a majority in Parliament.
But remember what it was like to win. In 1997, in 2001, again in 2005. There are people in this room who played a part in those great Labour election victories before then too.
But imagine the look on the faces of George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Theresa May if we could beat them in 2020?
I started with a quote from Dave Watts. Let me end with one too. This one isn’t about croissants.
“It is not the job of the parliamentary Labour party to sit around developing ultra-left-wing policies that make it feel good. It is its job and responsibility to come forward with policies that will help us to win the next general election”.
It’s our job – the people in this room – our MPs, councillors, trade unionists, the party activists – to fight for a Labour Party that can beat the Tories and win for the country once again.