UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Labour must re-connect with its core support

Steve Warwick takes stock of Labour's prospects following UNISON NDC and Saturday's Labour Party National Policy Forum.

Having attended the UNISON National Conference in Manchester last week and heard some delegates criticize the almost total lack of response to the attacks on public services from the coalition government, it was noticeable that these were not only from the usual suspects - many were Labour Party members and even one regional Labour Link Chair!

After all it was only in 2006 that the deal on pensions was done with a Labour Government who described it at the time as affordable and sustainable. The party are now acting as if that agreement never took place, and prefer to attack unions taking action on the 30th of June instead of defending the agreement they made just five years ago.

This leaves us in a situation when it could be asked where the Labour Party stands on many issues and having attended the National Policy Forum in Wrexham on the way home from Manchester the reasons for this become obvious.

The tactics are not to come up with any policies too early, it was argued we have done this before and the Tories have discredited them long before any General Election has taken place. This leaves party members in a position that when they knock on doors for support as happened in the recent local council elections in England and criticize the Coalition Government they can offer no alternative policies.

It is tough to get support when asked what will Labour do? The only answer is we will tell you when we have decided, hardly the best strategy to gain support which will need to be built up in the run up to the next general election.

The real frustrating thing is as at the forum that when the discussion is about the real issues such as the economy there is little focus on the reality of the situation.

For example it was mentioned at the Economy Workshop that a TV report that day had told the story of how workers were living on porridge because of the cuts to their living standards and the recent price increases in food and other commodities.

The concerns of the delegates though not specifically about this issue were more about whether the oats for the porridge were organically or sustainably grown rather than the fact the people were reduced to eating porridge because of their circumstances. The words poverty, vulnerable or low pay were not used once during the discussion.

It would seem that the Labour Party has a real opportunity to define what it stands for, it needs to move away from the middle class image and re connect with its once core supporters, as the recent election results in Scotland indicate. The defence of the most vulnerable in society is now, and always will be a noble cause, however there seems to be more concern by the party leadership that this will be seen as protecting the work-shy than a social duty.

Labour needs now to become the champion for the victims of the cuts who are not all working class by a long way. Unfortunately it is clear this will not happen if it doesn’t look good in the media. Most of the advances in this country in history have happened despite the media, and Labour in Wales have proved it that a more traditional manifesto can be attractive to the electorate once it has been established what the priorities are.

I still believe we would be better served by a Labour Government. However in recent times opportunities to make a real difference to society as a whole have been squandered and we will have to work hard to make sure we have a Labour Party that our members can support with policies that matter to people.

Steve Warwick