Theresa May's pitch to working class voters is laughable, argues Lindsey German
The Tories are pitching today to be seen as the party of workers' rights. This and the fake promises on council housing are backhanded compliments to Jeremy Corbyn, whose manifesto is proving popular. Anyone taken in by this should remember a few things:
- The Tories have repeatedly launched attacks on the main organisations defending workers' rights, the trade unions, precisely to make it harder for them to do their job.
- The Tories insist on a 1% pay cap on public sector workers like nurses and lecturers.
- The Tories have presided over an economy where the minimum wage has become the benchmark for wages in many industries.
- The Tories have been very relaxed about the growth of zero-hours and other insecure jobs.
- The Tories have made it much harder for workers to seek justice, by raising the cost of going to employment tribunals, a process now beyond the reach of many.
- The Tories resist any industry regulation which might improve workers' rights.
- The Tories have behaved so badly towards NHS workers that we have seen strikes from junior doctors and now probably nurses.
- The Tories have allowed employers to implement their 'national living wage' by cutting pay in other areas such as overtime, which has left some workers actually worse off as a result.
- The Tories are saying they will improve protections for workers in the gig economy but are refusing to put any of this into their manifesto.
- The Tories are offering unpaid leave for carers - hardly generous - because they do not want to spend money on social care.
In the battle of ideas, Labour is winning the arguments
The election has definitely changed for the better since the leak of Labour's manifesto in the middle of last week. The very clear policies put forward and the commitment to renationalisation, decent spending on all our public services and fighting for decent working conditions are all vote winners. A poll published shortly afterwards underlined this fact, and the opinion polls published over the weekend show a rise in Labour support - albeit still well behind the Tories who are still benefiting from their consolidation of the right-wing vote and from the lack of serious scrutiny of their policies, or lack of them. On Sunday, two polls showed 32% for Labour, which if repeated on election today would give him a higher share of the vote that Ed Miliband in 2015 or Gordon Brown in 2010 (and not massively behind the 35% for Tony Blair after the Iraq war in 2005).
These polls were I think carried out before the manifesto leaks and I would be surprised if these figures are affected negatively by it. More importantly, the manifesto has forced at least some discussion even by those hostile to Corbyn about the solutions he proposes - solutions which, as the Guardian's Larry Elliott says, look much more sensible than carrying on with the collapsed neoliberal agenda. The Labour leadership has been much more serious about these ideas than its opponents. Theresa May has as far as I can see not met a single person who has not been hand picked to have an audience with her, and her only contribution to policy has been to pretend that she is adopting Labour ones - like the pledge to build council houses with no extra money provided and which would be sold off after 15 years.
Labour has also been right not to play this as all about Brexit. The issue is important but people will vote, correctly, on a range of domestic issues and will not necessarily have it uppermost in their minds. A Financial Times article showed that in particular there isn't a 48% vote of those who voted remain in the referendum - slightly under half of those who did so appear to have accepted the vote. This in part explains the apparent failure of the Lib Dems to make any impact this election, since they have gambled such a lot on making continued remain campaigning so central.
Reports from friends canvassing and campaigning in marginals is positive enough. Right wing and media stories of the unpopularity of Corbyn on the doorstep are exaggerated, to say the least. But there are lots of people who don't trust politicians, or who for various reasons say they are not going to vote. This is a situation the Tories love because they want working class voters to either follow them blindly or stay at home. Part of the battle for hearts and minds is to convince people to use their votes. The much bigger battle, of course, is what you do when you win their votes. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and countless Labour councils, have much to answer for.
The roll of shame
It seems almost incontrovertible that Labour would be further ahead in the polls if they had not been embroiled in internal fighting aimed at weakening the twice democratically elected leader with an enormous mandate. I never thought the vocal critics in the PLP would shut up just because there was an election on. They really would rather see the Tories win than Corbyn. It's worth just recalling who these people are. In recent weeks those publicly attacking Jeremy - and some even saying that they would not vote for him in parliament as prime minister - include John Woodcock, Ben Bradshaw, Jess Philips, Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, Carwyn Jones, Stephen Kinnock and Wes Streeting. But pride of place should go to the party's deputy leader Tom Watson, who has been bigging up talk of a Tory landslide. What a sad apology for any kind of leader Watson is - his office funded by Max Mosley, his delight in publicly opposing Corbyn all too palpable, his manoeuvring and backstabbing on public display. He refused to stand for re-election when Owen Smith challenged Corbyn last year. Perhaps he will have the decency to do so sometime soon. The result would be very interesting.
There has never been such a wave of public attacks on an elected Labour leader. It can only be seen as sabotage of his election chances. In the course of doing so, they are also saying they are pressed to consign working class people to five more years of rabid Tory rule. While they will rush to apportion blame to the left in the event of Labour losing, any objective view would be that their pig-headed behaviour will be a major contribution. Whatever happens, there has to be some accounting for the appalling behaviour of the right. The left both in and outside the party has backed Labour leaders with whom they disagreed profoundly because they didn't want a Tory government. The right has always been prepared to do anything to defeat the left, including splitting the party if they think it will benefit them.
I have to confess, I was a little bit disappointed with the first interview by Emily Thornberry on the Marr programme yesterday because I thought it was too defensive on international issues. But she more than made up for it with her delicious skewering of Sir Michael Fallon, May's favourite attack dog, at the end of the programme. Challenged by Marr about Jeremy Corbyn's supposed IRA sympathies (over a period when the British government and its agents were in long-running talks with the same) she asked Fallon where he was on a date in 2007. Turns out it was at a reception in Syria celebrating the victory of Assad in elections where he got 99% of the vote. That's the same Assad that the same Fallon said only two weeks ago he'd be happy to launch a military attack on - while holding Donald Trump's hand, of course. Cue red face Fallon, gobsmacked Marr and Emily looking like the cat with the cream. Nice.
The magic formula
Just before we leave Fallon, he stated again on Marr that he would spend another £1bn on the armed forces in the next five years. Asked where the money should come from, he replied that it would come from economic growth. This is at a time when most commentators think the economy is running into trouble and won't be growing. I suggest that John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and all the others keep that answer in their back pocket. Or will they be treated differently by the BBC? Surely not.
Where's the other Jeremy?
The scandal of underfunding IT systems in the NHS has come to light following the very serious cyber attacks on a large number of hospitals. Money has been taken from projected infrastructure spending to pay for day to day running costs. And proper protection against such attacks has been cut as too expensive. I haven't seen or heard much from Jeremy Hunt or indeed Theresa May on this. Could it be because this does rather draw attention to that huge black hole which is opening up where decent public services should be?
Congratulations to the RCN nurses for their support for action over pay and their decision to ballot on strikes. The other health unions should get behind them and join in any action. Nurses going to food banks is the reality of this unjust public sector pay policy and they have to break it. The doctors had massive support last year, but the government refused to listen. We cannot let that happen again.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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