UK General Election - First Round to the Tories
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
So week one of the British General Election campaign ended, with round one to the Tories. That Cameron was able to launch his right hook over Labour’s plans to increase National Insurance, almost beggars belief. The rise would amount to on average an extra £15 per new employee for the likes of Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer. David Cameron and his cohort or high street retailers have managed in one short week to hoist a lightweight agenda on the Westminster media caravan, desperate to see Gordon Brown bloodied.
There is no point in complaining that this pillow fight detracts from the desperate economic plight of millions of ordinary people, that it detracts from the fundamental issue; namely that successive British Governments have allowed racketeering in the financial services industry for nearly thirty years. There is no point in complaining that the wealthy and privileged have been allowed to become a cartel – safe in the knowledge that they will no longer be challenged or taxed even by a Labour Government.
There is no point in complaining unless of course Gordon Brown and his team change tack – and use the next three weeks to stand up for ordinary people against vested interests, really mean it, and offer concrete policies to protect the most vulnerable from the horrors that are about to come our way.
What we need to see is the Labour Party fighting back red in tooth and claw – if it can remember how to do so. To offer Labour voters, lapsed Labour voters and the huge number of undecided the prospect of cuts “going deeper than under Margaret Thatcher”, makes for the shortest suicide note in history.
So let’s break from the consensus, and get real. If cuts have to be made, let them fall on Trident and the vast military overspend that has us committed to unwinnable foreign wars. Let’s triangulate on David Cameron’s promise to restrict public sector salaries and put a cap on the grand larcerny being committed by tax avoiders and company chiefs who have plundered and sold off some of the country’s best assets, while stuffing their pockets. Instead of pussy footing around, Alistair Darling, needs to show that he is serious about ending the casino culture in the City, halting the asset stripping takeovers that have seen great British companies, such as Cadburys fed to the vultures. Labour should be trumpeting the European recovery plan, of which Gordon Brown was an architect. But Labour should lead the way still further. For ‘globalisation’, read greedy men in the City and Wall Street pushing billions around the World at the touch of the button. We cannot afford to bail them out again, and now they must take the strain. Let’s hear Alistair Darling spell out what constitutes a ‘bonus’. A bonus, as we all know is not an automatic right – it is discretionary, based on performance. And if globalised banking has failed us, we must look to the Left to stop the ceaseless flow of money and people to the cheapest production platforms. That means restricting the flow of cheap labour, and protecting key industries, as well as investing in the specialities that will create wealth for people in the future.
And in breaking from the consensus, let us hear it for people at work, for the trade unions. For too long they have been treated as fair-weather friends, suitable only for taking cash hand -outs from. If Labour is to be serious about re-building our manufacturing base from its collapsed state, it has to do it with the trade unions. Instead of fighting on Tory ground, let’s see Gordon Brown travel to Redcar, to announce the re-opening of the steel plant – in the national interest.
The Prime Minister can of course take great credit in borrowing from both the public purse and John Meynard Keynes, by spending our way out of likely depression. We know what the Tories would have done – and despite George Osborne’s apparent conversion to maintaining spending for a year, what they will do.
It is not enough to mount a campaign whose express intention is to deny the Tories an overall majority by being their pale shadow. And while in Six months time, the Blair/Brown years may – extraordinary as it seems – be seen as golden years of plenty, there is of course a great deal that Labour has done, not least for the NHS, which deserves trumpeting from the roof-tops.
And in the next few weeks, let’s see more of the Labour Party that voters actually quite like, and not just in terms of the policies that show the party is on the side of the ordinary man and woman – what used to be described as the working class. We need to see and hear from new faces, more women, more original thinkers and older street fighters. It would be good to see real people take to the stage and get out on the stump. As it would be good to see far less of the likes of Peter Mandelson and his ilk – not least because they have pulled Labour in the wrong direction and helped shred millions of Labour votes and loyalties over the past decade, but because voters really don’t like them very much. Surely, there a touch of realism that Gordon Brown would understand.
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