The storm has blown away the last of the summer. Winter is on its way. And for Britain’s poorest families, forced by a soaring cost of living and the government’s austerity onslaught to choose between heating and eating, it promises to be a winter of discontent.
George Osborne may be cheering the country’s return to growth, but the hundreds of thousands forced to rely on food banks – some unable even to afford to cook the food they’ve been given – there is little to cheer. Austerity wrecked the economy, stifling the recovery Britain desperately needed three years ago, but worst of all, it wrecked lives.
For three years, we waited for Ed Miliband to find his voice, hoping Labour might rediscover the meaning of opposition. For three years we saw our hopes dashed as Labour signed up to match Conservative spending plans, abstained on workfare and retreated on the universality of the welfare state.
Hats off to Miliband now for finally coming up with some decent policies.
Repealing the poisonous bedroom tax is a vital first step to redressing some of the deep iniquities of a heartless Tory Britain. And given the exorbitant price hikes from four of the Big Six energy companies in recent weeks, Miliband’s call to temporarily freeze prices was both prescient and necessary.
But Labour’s moves, quite apart from being too late, have been too little.
We need a party that will not just call for energy companies to play a bit fairer, tinkering around the edges of a problem that began with privatisation, but will campaign to bring them back into public ownership.
Labour has bought too fully into the myth that the market automatically equals a better deal for consumers. Letting natural monopolies like utilities and the railways fall into private hands only means rocketing prices where businesses are run for ever increasing profits, but customers are unable to relocate to the competition because it doesn’t exist. Bringing these industries back into public ownership would be progressive, but also popular.
We need a party that will put workers first, rather than the interests of big business.
Labour, like the Tories, is too tied to the City. It refuses to contemplate introducing a tiny tax on financial transactions that would constrain the kinds of risky trades that caused the economic crisis while making banks pay for the cost of it. And it offers little to rein back the government’s continual corporate tax cuts as the Tories attempt to turn Britain into a tax haven. Miliband’s offer of a voluntary living wage is all very fluffy and lovely. But how many big multinational companies will voluntarily stop exploiting people?
We need a party that will stand by trade unions, not cut them adrift as they face yet another damaging setback for workers’ rights at Grangemouth.
We need a socialist party, a party that will fight as vigorously to defend the rights of the oppressed as the Tories do to defend the pockets of the privileged.
Labour used to be these things, but no more. And politics abhors a vacuum.
When Ken Loach put out an appeal in March to found a new party to the left of Labour, over 10,000 people signed up to the Left Unity initiative and 100 local groups were established across the country.
In one month, Left Unity will become Britain’s newest political party.
Whether it flies or falters is up to you. So if you want to see a genuine alternative to austerity, if you want to help build a vibrant party of the left that will stand up for the NHS, the welfare state, and the environment, and stand opposed to racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism and all other forms of prejudice, then join us at our founding conference on November 30.
If Labour won’t fight for the poor, the shivering and the hungry in this winter of discontent, Left Unity will.
This article was originally written for The Huffington Post