If Jeremy Corbyn is the answer then many baffled New Labourites still wonder what the question is. However, many on the Left assume the last Labour government delivered little for working people. For them Corbyn may be the answer, with ‘a real alternative to the Tories’? But the assumption is wrong and Corbyn isn’t the answer. Labour delivered huge gains, which nail the lie that it was ‘Tory Lite’.
The crash of 2008 changed everything. It was caused by reckless bankers but Labour took the blame because we failed to defend our record from relentless Tory attacks. Prior to the crash, Labour delivered sustained economic growth and low inflation and mortgage rates. We won elections on the ‘Labour Investment vs Tory Cuts’ argument so, in 2007, the Tories pledged to stick to Labour’s spending plans.
Tony Blair was the first prime minister, of any party, to send his children to state schools so his commitment to ‘Education, Education, Education’ was genuine. Labour raised standards enormously and produced record numbers of school leavers with 5+ GCSE passes, helped by the recruitment of 36,000 more teachers and 274,000 more teaching assistants. George Osborne said ‘Labour failed to repair the roof when the sun was shining’. We rebuilt or refurbished around 3,700 schools, and repaired every leaky roof neglected during the Tory years. Labour’s before & after school clubs and free pre-school places were a ‘win-win’ because children got more education and parents had more scope to work, especially lone parents.
Under the Tories, patients festered for months/years waiting for operations. Labour reduced NHS waiting times to average of 18 weeks (the shortest ever) and took over half a million people off of the waiting lists, helped by the recruitment of 85,000 more nurses and 32,000 more doctors. We built (or started building) over 80 new hospitals and renovated every A & E department. More roofs repaired while the sun was shining.
Labour delivered huge gains for working people. The lowest paid saw their incomes greatly increased by the Minimum Wage (Kier Hardie’s legacy) and Tax Credits. We made it law for full time workers to have 20 days paid holiday (plus Bank Holidays), and for part-time workers to have equal pay rates, pension rights, holidays and sick pay. Labour improved maternity leave and introduced paternity leave for fathers.
Children and pensioners benefited greatly under Labour. We lifted 600,000 children out of poverty and built 2,200 Sure Start Centres in the most deprived areas. We lifted a million pensioners out of poverty by targeting assistance to those in most need instead of, as critics suggested, simply spreading limited resources evenly across all pensioners.
Labour devolved more power than any previous government. We created a Scottish Parliament (John Smith’s legacy), a Welsh Assembly and reintroduced London wide government. Labour ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland by delivering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the St Andrews Agreement in 2006. Remember that picture of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness around the same table? Hundreds of lives were saved as a result of sworn enemies running Northern Ireland together in peace.
The Tories assumed they had a permanent majority in the House of Lords but Labour corrected this undemocratic outrage by removing 600 hereditary peers. We can now defeat the Tories in the Lords, and we did over recent Tax Credit cuts.
An internationalist Labour government reduced world poverty by doubling the overseas aid budget and canceling 100% of the debt of the world’s poorest countries. This helped to lift 3 million people out of poverty (each year) and provide education for 40 million children.
It’s time to set the record straight on the last Labour government’s proud record. It wasn’t ‘Tory Lite’. Most achievements were opposed by the Tories, who claimed the investment in public services was ‘wasteful’, the Minimum Wage would ‘cost a million jobs’ and improved rights at work was ‘red tape’.
But it’s not easy to elect a Labour government. Since Universal Suffrage in 1918 only five general elections (out of 26) have delivered a Labour government with a sustainable working majority. Three of those elections produced the last Labour government.
In the last century, the Tories governed Britain for more years then the Communist Party ran the USSR. Our Labour government gave us the longest period of non-Tory rule in over 200 years, but many of its other achievements may have been overlooked by even the most seasoned Labour watchers. Many Corbyn supporters probably don’t know these achievements existed.
We should be proud of a Labour government that did so much to help working people. If we don’t want the last Labour government to become the last Labour government we need to remember its achievements, because how can we expect voters to elect another Labour government if Labour members and supporters aren’t prepared to defend the record of the last one?