By KD Tait In the last six weeks the Tories have made more U-turns than in the last six months. The infighting over the European referendum has bitterly divided our rulers. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party means David Cameron can no longer count on Labour MPs supporting his austerity programme.
The watered-down Queen’s speech shows the Tories aren’t confident that many of their preferred policies – opening up schools and the BBC to market forces, scrapping the Human Rights Act – would get through parliament.
But a divided government is still a dangerous one. Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 23 June, it’s certain that the Tories will regroup for a fresh offensive to complete what they started in 2010.
And there’s certainly enough for them to agree on – and us to resist. Plans to charge migrant workers for healthcare, raise university tuition fees, hand schools over to private control, and new police powers to monitor “domestic extremism” are just some of the attacks lined up in the Queen’s Speech.
The Tories are fighting like rats in a sack. The recent victories should give campaigners confidence that the government is not invincible. But governments don’t just fall; they need to be pushed – hard.
That’s where Labour comes in. The election of Corbyn means a break from the failed strategy of promoting Tory-lite austerity and pandering to racism. John McDonnell and Corbyn have said it means the party will now stand shoulder to shoulder with workers on strike.
The Labour leader is more popular than ever amongst the party’s nearly half million strong membership. Despite the sabotage organised by right wing Labour MPs, the party did well in the recent elections.
That’s a good base to start rolling out the policies – nationalisation of the energy, rail and mail, a national education service, reversing privatisation in the NHS – that secured Corbyn’s victory in the leadership contest.
John McDonnell’s State of the Economy conference on 21 May was a step foward. It’s refreshing that the new leadership announces policies to an audience of party members and activists rather than to press conferences full of Murdoch’s hacks.
These kinds of debates to discuss party policy should be rolled out nationally. Corbyn, McDonnell and supportive MPs should tour the country and speak to as many grassroots members as possible.
If they did, they would find overwhelming support for their leadership, but they would also be forced to confront the fact that there is growing disquiet among party members.
Where is the campaign against local government cuts that McDonnell promised? Why are Labour councils still permitted to cut jobs and close services, overriding the wishes of residents – not to mention their local parties? Why has nationalisation, one of Corbyn’s most popular demands, disappeared off the agenda?
The practice of electing Conference delegates months in advance means much of the new membership will not be entitled to stand as delegates – despite being among the most active and enthusiastic supporters of the party. There is a danger that this will be the second conference since Corbyn’s election that does not reflect the views held by the members.
When the first tranche of policies have been formulated there should be a special conference to debate, amend and agree them. It should bind the PLP and the Shadow Cabinet to advocate and campaign for them.
But the glacial process of shifting the party’s official policy should not set the pace for struggling for change. The party as a whole, not just Corbyn, McDonnell or Diane Abbott, needs to identify itself with groups of workers fighting back, like the doctors and teachers.
In its policy and in its practice the Labour Party needs to make it clear that the days of Blair and Brown are over; that it is now a party of the working class, for the working class, fighting for its historic goals including “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.