Tony Blair says Labour need not move a millimetre from New Labour or face electoral suicide. He may be right…but Jonny Roberts doesn’t think so.
Ed Miliband is right to lash out at New Labour’s laissez faire attitude to the worker. As I read Polly Toynbee’s excellent book on working on the minimum wage, ‘Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain’, the shocking poverty and the impossible lock it holds on people’s lives is painful to consider, worse still that Labour didn’t make it an awful lot better between its publication in 2003 and their electoral demise three months ago. It gets worse than that; the recession and its aftermath, under the small-state austerian Con-Dem regime, has and will throw countless more into unemployment praying on a misguided and unlikely dream of rapid private sector growth and investment alongside a new era of volunteerism that will not be forthcoming.
The National Minimum Wage is, to me, one of Labour’s greatest achievements ranking alongside the National Health Service, National Insurance, gay rights, women’s rights and introduction of Sure Start. It is not, however, sufficient. We must challenge society with images of the poverty that face people on the minimum wage in Britain – many will be stunned. When the Evening Standard highlighted the desperate poverty in parts of London just a stones throw away from the high-rolling City, Londoners, from all classes, donated over £1million to causes to improve the lot of the desperate, people who count the pennies to see if they can afford a loaf of bread. Labour’s task must be two-fold and it must be radical.
Firstly Labour must agree not to push for a living wage but to firmly pledge to increase the National Minimum Wage to a Living Wage of £7.60. It must give the Mayor of London freedom to implement a London Weighting top-up to the NMW of up to 10% more. Small businesses and microbusinesses (many of which are illegal currently) should be encouraged and, where necessary supported (via access to free business start-up advice, a new low rate corporation tax and government-backed loans), to allow their owners (whom the co-operative route should be suggested) to fend for themselves financially whilst providing additional choice and services for their communities. That’s the easy part – the policy.
Secondly Labour must convince the public that it is their turn, that only they can make Britain fairer, only they can save Britain’s class divide growing as it did under Thatcher. The way to do this is take a leaf out of the Evening Standard’s book. Jump on board with the Standard’s campaign highlighting the poverty in London and emphasis the Living Wage as the only long-term answer. Get the local papers across the land to realise this is quick-win, big-selling journalism they can latch onto for their community and get Labour councillors, MPs and candidates writing in explaining the Living Wage is the answer. Use Labour’s party political broadcasts to show the people living in destitution and explain the Living Wage is the answer, blast these broadcasts across the internet via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. Use billboards with shocking statistics to tell the tale. Labour must be aggressive on fairness.
It will be written off by some and attacked vociforiously by the right-wing media but so will any Labour policy, so we may as well fight for our lives and the lives of so millions earning less than enough to live or working too many hours to call their existence a life as many of us in comfier surroundings would ever know it.