Nadia Jama, Grassroots Voice candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee, made this speech to the Labour Hub online event ‘Pushing Forward on Policy’ on Monday
I grew up under a Thatcher government on a council estate near Orgreave in Sheffield, the daughter of a Somali steel worker and the grand-daughter of a Liverpool docker – a heritage that would always determine my socialist politics. Growing up at a point in time, when neo-liberalism was taking shape, the Tories were selling off our assets, our means of production. I started my working life during a period of hostile anti-trade union laws. My home city Sheffield is now ranked as the low pay capital of the UK, zero hour contracts are rife, the steel and mining industries have all but disappeared: I’ve lived the effects of Tory decline.
As an NEC candidate, I will fight to ensure as a party we remain committed to developing the radical social agenda that was gained over the last 5 years – because if we are to address the real needs of people, we have to radically develop our last two manifestos. Socialism drips off every page of those manifestos, which is why we must not throw them away, under some pretence that they were unpopular. The circumstances that led to those policies haven’t changed: in fact the pandemic makes this even more important. Here’s just a few:
- The Green Industrial Revolution. The crisis has not gone away: the climate emergency is more critical than ever and we know if December hadn’t have been the Brexit Election, our party would have won on our Green Industrial Revolution policies alone. We also know the next generation of voters will have this at the heart of their vision for the future. This must be the basis of our policies, moving forward. Taking on the big polluters will mean we can’t become beholden to big business or donors.
- On our public ownership commitments, I grew up at a time when those assets belonged to us. Recently I spoke with Chris Saltmarsh who’s part of Labour for a Green New Deal and he was clear, and I totally agree with him, that taking services back into public ownership was not just a nice thing to do because we had a socialist leader, these policies are essential for a Green New Deal. We need to run the economy for people and planet, not for profit – private companies won’t do this – and we also need to expand public ownership. We need more sectors like manufacturing and food, to name a few. Just how crucial some of these were at the start of the pandemic, with food shortages, and contracts going to random companies to build respirators, proves this.
- Our Broadband policy. Look how relevant that became within three months of us being ridiculed – needed for remote home learning for schools and universities. School widening has seen more schools having to send children home due to outbreaks. We’ve now got University Students locked in their accommodation due to Covid spikes that were predicated, and now we are asking for them to be allowed home for Christmas – what an absolute mess. Profit is at the core of every decision made by this government.
- Eradicating foodbanks. My local foodbank had gone from supporting 25 families a week to over a hundred, and that was before the pandemic. During the pandemic, thousands have been left without money for weeks due to Universal Credit claims, because of job losses or people falling through the gaps, and some of these families have never accessed our welfare system before. Across the country thousands of people now know the reality of a welfare system that works against our class with its pernicious punishments.
- Our beloved NHS. Look at how essential the NHS has been during this crisis but also how glaringly obvious the underfunding and under-resourcing our NHS has had over the last ten years. The lack of PPE equipment was a scandal and look at the mess this government has made of Track & Trace, just so they can give deals worth millions to their mates, further back-door privatisation of the NHS, which has resulted in people being unable to get access to tests for themselves or their children.
- Council house building. This has been needed for so long, but look at how private tenants have been treated during the pandemic, threatened with eviction, with the government complicit by withdrawing the eviction ban, despite calls for this to be extended during one of the biggest crises we have faced as a country.
- Three million WASPI women, still being robbed of their pensions. My eldest sister has to continue working until March next year, before she is able to think about retiring, years beyond when she should have been able to. Our commitment to those women is still relevant.
After ten years of austerity, and falling living standards, the coronavirus has highlighted the weaknesses in our economy and our public services.
The current market economy is based on short term planning and inequality. We must defend living standards and public services. To get the economy moving again we must demand public ownership of key utilities and investment in public services, housing, and education to create well-paid, unionised jobs. Change is needed in our economy following the pandemic.
At the heart of any economic measures must be a serious commitment to tackle the climate emergency. We need a socialist Green New Deal to invest in renewable energy, green infrastructure and to provide a just transition by the 2030s, taking on the big polluters and calling for international climate justice.
As a party, and as a country, we can’t go back to business as usual. It’s our job to get this message out – explaining why our socialist policies are so important, now more than ever, after the global pandemic. We can’t have socialism for the rich and austerity for the poor, where the corporations are given handouts while workers suffer declining pay and conditions, and millions lose their jobs. When we put people first, as our last two manifestos did, that benefits everyone in our society.