At its conference on 22-26 September Labour has the chance to galvanise its new and enthused activist layer into becoming a serious force against the Tories, their disastrous policies for working-class people pushed through over eight years.
To do that Labour needs to overhaul its democracy and commit itself to a radical programme. Top of the kind of political shift Labour needs to make is on Brexit.
With over 100 motions submitted by local Labour parties, it is likely that t full debate on Brexit and the demand for another referendum or “People’s Vote” will be aired at the conference.
Potentially a majority of delegates, including delegates from unions, will be able to win a commitment to a referendum vote on the final deal.
Brexit is therefore likely to dominate the headlines generated by Labour conference, but it must also be fairly debated.
Labour should and can commit to stopping Brexit and hand in hand with that defending free movement and migrants rights.
Policy on migration is another key debate. Unfortunately in the build up to conference, Labour’s leadership seems to have shifted sharply to the right on the issue migration.
While Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott is right to criticise the Tories for attempting to control immigration based on an arbitrary figure, Labour’s alternative is hardly much better. Abbot’s announcement talks repeatedly about having a “fair” and “managed” migration system and prioritising skilled migrants. Attacks on the Tories for not being able to stick to a figure and implying that Labour will in fact be tougher does nothing but concede ground to the right.
Abbott also focused on Labour doing more to prevent “illegal immigration” confirming that 500 extra border guards are planned. Labour will also make sure that foreign nationals who serve prisons sentences in the UK are more quickly deported — “from prison to the airport” they say.
The announcement comes at the time when hostility to migration is on the rise.
A survey by ICM says that 40% of British people believe “multiculturalism” has undermined British culture and that migrants fails to integrate. This goes hand in hand with believing the politicians repeatedly lie about migration. 85% of people believe it is managed badly. 50% of respondents said they would like to see immigration reduced in the case of low-skilled workers.
While the majority of people were still in favour of some levels of migration, believing that it benefits the economy these trends reflect increasing pessimism about the direction of an increasingly diverse society. The attitudes are more hostile to migrants in smaller towns and in rural areas. Whereas in cities attitudes are generally more positive despite their being greater pressure on public services.
It is good that delegates at Labour conference will be able to vote to commit to Labour to shutting down detention centres — such a move would be a much needed antidote to the leadership’s rhetoric — but Labour members need to push for more.
Labour is playing a dangerous game by conceding to anti-migrant attitudes rather than challenging them. A radical and campaigning Labour Party would be commit to restore cuts in the NHS, to drive private health care out of the NHS, restore funding cuts in local government, build millions of council homes and a completely overhaul of the welfare system. These things should be at forefront of what it does.
Working-class people are desperate for change, they need Labour to fight for these things. The release of a new metric to measure poverty suggests that under the New Labour governments child poverty did not go down and shows 14 million people, including 4.5 million children and 60% of disabled people, are living in poverty.
Apart from isolated campaign days, the campaigning ambitions of the Corbyn Labour Party have so differed very little from those under Blair; they have mostly been exercises in getting the vote out. Labour delegates have the opportunity to shape the future of the party and challenge some of the weaker aspects of the Corbyn leadership, they take that opportunity.
A genuinely transformative Labour Party could reverse the appalling poverty statistics, while defending migrants, and stopping the economic and social disaster of Brexit.