How Labour can make the case for a fairer economy and a fairer society
The dust has barely settled on two by-elections yet David Cameron is wriggling awkwardly once again. This time, it is over a series of televised leaders’ debates, in the run-up to the General Election, the prospect of which left the prime minister in various contortions as he sought to avoid agreeing to the plan put forward by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky. The huge interest in the proposal for three more debates, however, should not distract from the plain truths we learnt last week in Clacton and in Heywood and Middleton. Firstly, the Tories were annihilated in the Essex seat, which had they had taken with a majority of more than 12,000 in 2010.And, in Lancashire, they saw their vote collapse, underlining just how far they are from securing the majority they crave.
What both these results tell us is that the public distrusts a Conservative Party that is divided, inward-looking and out of touch with the concerns on cost-of-living and the NHS that occupy the minds of most people.
Yet it was only a couple of weeks previously that David Cameron had stood in the conference hall in Birmingham making his bid for five more years in government. Barely had the applause died down, however, than his flagship pledge to increase the personal allowance had fallen apart as neither he, nor any of his ministers or advisors, were able to explain how they would pay for £7.2bn of giveaways. In fact, the Prime Minister is condemned by his own words. It was in 2008 that he said: “real tax cuts are funded, real tax cuts you show how you are going to pay for them. Where you have unfunded tax cuts they are a tax con”.
Exactly. What a contrast to Labour, which has explained how its £2.5bn a year NHS Time to Care fund will be paid for by asking those living in houses worth over £2m to pay more tax, a co-ordinated crackdown against tax avoidance, and asking the tobacco companies to contribute towards the costs they impose on the NHS.
But, although the Tories are in trouble over their desperate, back-of-a-fag-packet policies, there is still a lot more work to be done to get Labour into government.
I enjoyed my stint campaigning in Clacton – where I met a friendly and enthusiastic band of volunteers – but UKIP cannot be ignored. As Ed Miliband said at the weekend, people in some parts of the country have turned to UKIP because they feel left behind by our economy and sceptical about the claims made by the three main political parties. It is only by listening to these people’s concerns that we will bring them to Labour. On jobs, on low pay, and on immigration, voters have lots of questions and our party can and will address them.
The last of these issues is, of course, an immense one but Labour will continue to set out how it will make the system work better: with stronger border controls, laws to stop the exploitation that has undermined the wages of local workers and reforms to ensure those who come here speak English and earn the right to any benefit entitlements.
And Labour – the party which fought for and introduced the national minimum wage in 1999 in the face of Tory protests – will raise it to £8 per hour, significantly closer to average earnings, as well as truly ending the abuse of zero-hours contracts.
So if you have concerns on the way our economy and our borders operate, then we understand you. David Cameron infamously insulted UKIP voters as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” but I will listen and make the case for Labour values and Labour votes across Essex rather than smearing people.
The lessons of Clacton and of Heywood and Middleton are to avoid making pie-in-the-sky promises of the like we have heard from the Tories. Instead my party and I will work hard and campaign honestly for Labour's vision for a fairer economy and a fairer society.
Peter Edwards is Labour PPC for Maldon