Andrew Fisher, former senior policy advisor to Jeremy Corbyn, made this speech to the Labour Hub online event ‘Pushing Forward on Policy’ on Monday
Keir Starmer was elected with ten pledges – remarkably similar to Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. He also called the 2017 manifesto, a “foundational document.”
And given that was the mandate he was elected on, we should hold him to that and hold the leadership accountable if they row back from those commitments.
But as popular as they were – and the polling illustrated taken during the 2019 election campaign shows that – I’m not in favour preserving in aspic the last two manifestos.
Circumstances have changed and we have to go further in some areas.
But the focus for now is not Labour. There is no policy-making conference for a year, and probably no election for another four years.
But there are urgent health, social and economic crises now –and the government is scrambling for policy as it seeks to respond.
So we have to make our arguments relevant and urgent and build campaigns now around the issues that are urgent for working class people.
For example, there are business groups saying the National Minimum Wage shouldn’t rise this year, with even the Resolution Foundation chiming in too. But it must. Now more than ever we need a rise in the National Minimum Wage.
Similarly with Universal Credit, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is arguing that the Government must maintain and extend the £20 increase. We need to go further and end poverty. When Matt Hancock admitted he couldn’t survive on £95 per week Statutory Sick Pay, we should be asking why on earth should anyone else?
Likewise, we need to end ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ and to dismantle the hostile environment – understanding that every person in this country should have full and equal rights – and we’re all weaker when that’s not the case.
In the spring, the government established the ‘Everybody in’ scheme that brought homeless people off the streets and into hostels and hotels. If we could do it in the spring, why not now, as the second wave hits and winter approaches? Two homeless people die on our streets every day in England and Wales.
We also need to urgently raise awareness about the huge and larcenous payments being made to companies with links to Tory MPs and donors – often without open tendering, and that have spectacular failed. As Zarah Sultana said so eloquently in the Commons the other day, it isn’t NHS test and trace, but Serco test and trace.
Labour has expressed clear support for two new policies: Angela Rayner declared that all care workers should be paid at least the real living wage, and Keir Starmer said Labour would ban the practice of ‘firing and rehiring’ workers on worse terms and conditions.
Both are good policies, but where’s the campaigning around them? Where’s the fire? Where’s the urgency?
The Claim the Future project has been talking to experts – not just wonks in think-tanks, but activists, trade unions, even ‘activist lawyers’ fighting evictions and deportations – bringing people together to discuss the policy solutions and the campaigns that we can co-ordinate.
It’s important that we organise together – linking up Labour activists, unions, campaigning organisations and community campaigns.
Take, for example, what Momentum is doing – working with the London Renters Union, Acorn and Living Rent in Scotland to oppose evictions, in solidarity with renters’ unions, campaigning advice, educational materials, and a draft motion for CLPs on a page of resources for activists.
Similarly, Don’t Leave Organise has been working with the Bakers Union and others on the campaign for full sick pay for all workers from day one.
There are lots of things we can be doing now to push forward Labour policy: supporting campaigns and unions in struggle
We must back the Grassroots Voice slate for the NEC – especially important because the NEC has a seat at the table when the next manifesto is being written. We need socialists being elected.
Get organised in your CLP so your next Labour MP is a socialist. Don’t shrug your shoulders if left-wing members tell you they’re leaving, get them involved in something, and convince them to stay on.
I’ve been a member for 24 years, and this is the most organised the left has ever been within the party, and the most engaged the unions have been. Yes, we had a huge setback in December. We’re down but we’re only out if we give up.
I’m not giving up. And neither should you. Politics isn’t a spectator sport, it’s not a leadership fan club. It’s our Labour Party – it belongs to us as members, our unions and our class.
Let’s be constructive, learn from each other and work to find the campaigning opportunities now that will lead to policy changes now.