Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is a Labour and Cooperative peer and shadow minister of communities, housing and local government. He is also a Lewisham councillor.
‘May you live in interesting times’ as the phrase says. Well few would dispute the fact that we have, ever since the exit poll on the night of the 2015 General Election which pointed to our worst fears – that for the first time since 1992 we would elect a majority Tory government in the UK.
Who could have predicted that less than two years later David Cameron who delivered that victory for the Conservatives would not only no longer be prime minister but would had left parliament completely and his key lieutenant George Osborne was also moving onto pastures new as editor of the Evening Standard.
Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, the rise of the right and the crisis on Europe’s centre left, the election of President Macron in France. It feels as if unpredictable has become the new norm.
The Labour party here in the UK has a mountain to climb with all the polls predicting a Tory landslide win on 8 June at the General Election that Teresa May and her team were insisting was not going to happen right up until the moment she stepped up to the rostrum in Downing Street to announce it.
The Labour party manifesto published today and leaked last week has policies which resonate with the public and offer alternative solutions to the problems facing the country. Our problem appears to be doubts about our ability to deliver them on election to office.
However, when in office the Labour party has proved time and time again to have a steely determination to address the challenges of the day, to carry through policies that have benefitted the country– ‘For the many – not the few’, as our campaign slogan says.
In 1945 the people turned to Clement Attlee to win the peace after nearly six years of war in Europe came to an end. The new government set about tackling the problems of want, disease, idleness, ignorance and squalor with the bringing in of the welfare state: the creation of the National Health Service, job creation programmes, the provision of pensions that equated to a living income, and the introduction of secondary education as of right for the first time.
In 1964 the people turned to Harold Wilson, whose government set about transforming the country again, delivering social reforms in the areas of divorce, abortion, gay relationships, women’s and racial equality, equal pay, rights for disabled people, the abolition of capital punishment – things that needed to happen. Wilson’s government also delivered opportunities for social advancement by introducing programmes of social housebuilding, dealing with scourge of rouge landlords epitomised by Peter Rachman, and establishing the Open University and the new polytechnics. Labour built a new Britain – a country fit for purpose.
In 1997 Tony Blair took up the challenge, set out the issues to be addressed and made bold reforms which have again changed our country for the better. The minimum wage, increased spending on health, education, sure start, welfare benefits which were redistributive, contributing to the halving of the number of children living in absolute poverty and reducing the level of pensioner poverty by over 75 per cent in real terms.
Other reforms included the return of city-wide government to London, devolution for Scotland and Wales and peace in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday agreement. By equalising the age of consent, lifting the ban on gay people serving in the armed forces and introducing civil partnerships Labour continued the reforms started in the 1960s.
It is clear that the best reforms are those that are well grounded and which your opponents do not seek to reverse when they return to office.
Up and down the whole of the country Labour candidates and supporters are seeking to get their message across. I want Labour to win on the 8 June 2017. Throughout its proud 117 year history, Labour has been the greatest vehicle for social change and improvement for ordinary men and women that this country has ever seen.
Nye Bevan told us ‘there are behind us millions and millions of ordinary men and women who are expecting us to do our duty’ and ‘we were not born with liberty we had to win it.’
That is our task today, the goal has not changed, and the message is the same, though the carrier of the message and the means of delivery has.
If we do not win on June 8, I fear for the direction our country could be taken in – becoming a less tolerant place, as we have seen worrying glimpses of since the Brexit vote last year. In those circumstances we will have an equally important duty to provide the effective opposition the country will need. The government will also need a strong opposition, because your best decisions in government are made when you are effectively challenged and as Sir Francis Pym warned Mrs Thatcher prior to her 1983 landslide election victory: landslides don’t on the whole produce successful governments.
Constituencies need effective local advocates that understand the communities they seek to represent. Advocates who will speak up for their constituents needs in parliament and challenge the vested interests of the rich and powerful. Who will offer a different perspective to help solve the pressing issues of the day, rather than just accept that things cannot be done differently. Who will champion the underprivileged and those without a voice who have not been given the chance and never will in a government that looks to legacy of Mrs Thatcher to solve the challenges of today.
I just do not see or accept that a Conservative will ever truly be able to champion the case of the millions of ordinary people who need Labour MPs either in government or opposition to do their duty.
That is our task and we have three weeks left to do it.