This was an amazing weekend in Leeds North West.
We began with a packed Otley Labour Rooms on Friday evening listening to Ian Lavery MP speaking with real passion on the 30th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike [with some great backing acts – from Red Grass and Gary Kaye – and moving speeches from Mark Metcalfe of the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign and one of our own members, Maureen Berlin].
Then, on Saturday, two packed out audiences with the truly inspirational Owen Jones – in Otley and at the Rosebowl – were attended by well over 400 people.
What Owen and Ian had in common was a sense of urgency – the 2015 election matters as few have in recent history. The crisis in our society – and the threat to the social order from a continuing LibDem/Tory Coalition – means that victory for Labour in 2015 is absolutely necessary. Both, too, stressed the need to organise – from the grass roots up – and emphasised the importance of the Trade Unions, as a great democratic movement, to our society and to the struggle for fairness and change.
We are publishing a [non-official] text of Owen’s speech below. That speech is far from a simple endorsement of Labour – but it chimes with much of what Labour nationally is now saying.
And it is an endorsement of our candidate – Alex Sobel – in Owen’s words ‘an independent-minded voice’ and a man of conviction and principle.
At the Otley meeting, Alex pointed out how far Labour is moving in the direction Owen flagged.
Leeds NW Labour party have made strong contributions to the internal debate – on e.g. a comprehensive plan for the future of the NHS, which was the subject of our motion to Conference this year.
Alex is personally committed to many of the policies Owen highlighted – including:
Rail nationalisation – including strong campaigning against the re-privatisation of the East Coast service.
Repeal of the Bedroom Tax – where he has taken a clear public stand.
And reversal of the Coalition’s direction of travel on the NHS – as was apparent this year when he joined the People’s March as it passed through Leeds NW.
He reminded us that it was the struggle against University fees which first politicised him. He remains an advocate of free education – at all levels.
If you want to help Alex in his campaign, sign up here
Owen’s overall message was an inspiring call to organise, campaign, spread a message of hope and optimism – and above all, unite on the left.
We publish below notes on his speech for the sake of those who could not be there.
Owen Jones in Otley [NB not a released text, Owen spoke without notes. This is based on notes taken during his speech]
He began by reminding us what the stakes are and what we’re up against. The next election will be difficult. We’ll be up against a media which will demonise anyone who steps out of line.
He has known Alex Sobel for many years. He sees him as an ‘independent-minded voice’, someone who has spoken out forcefully on issues like public ownership and the bedroom tax and public ownership. He is a man of conviction and principle, prepared to go against the Party line. He’s the sort of Labour MP we need in 2015.
Because the situation is dreadful.
The wealth of the top 1000 has doubled over the last 5 years, whilst working people have seen the longest fall in wages since Disraeli was Prime Minister in the 1860s.
Over 1 million people have been driven into poverty wages – with women over-represented in this group
Since the ‘Cameron/Clegg love-in’ in-work poverty, the number of those who ‘earn poverty day after day’ has grown.
One million are reliant on foodbanks, 300,000 of those children – and this in the 6th richest country in the world
1 million families depend every month on legal loan sharks, who circle like vultures – and who’ve seen a 32% jump in profits in the last year on the back of these great opportunities for exploiting suffering.
The army of those on zero-hours contracts recalls the bad old days of dockers turning up in the hope of work which was never guaranteed. The equivalent now is the 6 a.m. text – which may or may not come.
– These are people with no basic workers’ rights – no sick leave, no pensions, no holiday or maternity pay.
The army of the self-employed – not a generation of Alan Sugars in the making – but people who have seen a 20% drop in their pay packets – and again, no rights, no pensions.
5 million trapped on social housing waiting lists – denied affordable homes.
– in London, the richest city in one of the riches countries EVER, one in four young people grow up in overcrowded homes.
This is the society which is being built.
And the response of this LibDem/Tory Coalition? The Bedroom tax – one of the cruellest taxes since World War II
– a tax which punishes the poor for the failure to build social housing.
This is a society, a social order which is bankrupt, which doesn’t work, which is rigged in favour of a very small group at the top.
It produces anger, and justifiable anger. But that anger is being cleverly redirected away from the powerful – and against each other.
This is the true politics of envy.
Get the struggling to envy each other.
– Don’t be angry with the boss, be angry with the nurse next door with a pension.
– Can’t get a house or a job, don’t be angry with the powerful – envy the immigrant.
It’s the old politics of divide and rule.
You’re being robbed, so the ‘less-deserving’ should be robbed more.
Whereas the real question is – why is EVERYONE being robbed?
So how do we get change?
Not by joining the biggest political party of all – the ‘Yelling at the TV party’. This doesn’t confront real injustices.
To get change the burning flame of anger and demand for justice has to be joined to the hope for a better world.
The anger is there. It is that hope which is missing. It is that hope which we have to give.
That’s what the Labour Party was set up to do – at the end of the nineteenth century – to give that hope, to represent workers.
When Keir Hardie its first MP arrived for the first time at Westminster in working men’s clothes, he was asked whether he’d ‘come to work on the roof’. He replied ‘no, on the floor’.
Workers now on the whole don’t work down the mines, in steel, or old industrial jobs – but in supermarkets and call centres.
They still need a voice.
We need to speak out against the attacks on the TU movement and attempts to demonise it.
The Trade Union movement is still the biggest democratic movement in the country – representing people like the careworkers, nurses, the people who keep the country going.
The Labour party is attacked for being funded by the TU movement. But it is no shame to be bankrolled by a movement and people like these.
The shame is the Tories – bankrolled by hedge funds, loan sharks and oligarchs.
What should we all be doing?
Go out and make the case. Politics is about giving hope.
In the future people will look back in disbelief on our society – at people working for less than the living wage, at bad employers being subsidised by the tax payer.
The living wage should be the basic minimum.
We should not just control and regulate rents, but also lift the cap on councils, to allow them to build social housing again – and in the process to create jobs.
We should learn from Germany – where the state is ready to intervene and create jobs – in the new industries producing renewable energy.
We should start talking about the refusal of those at the top to pay their taxes, not about the ‘benefits scrounger’ – about those who employ an army of accountants, seconded to the Treasury, then returning to show their clients how to avoid taxes.
We should make the case for genuine progressive taxes on income and wealth – which have rarely been so necessary as now.
We should bring back public ownership – of energy and rail. The railways now have 5 x more subsidy in private ownership that British rail ever had in public ownership. And still we have the most expensive railways for fare-payers on the face of the earth.
The railways are already costing us, the public. Instead of subsidy – we should bring back the franchises into public ownership as they fall in.
We should address the costs of childcare – people are spending a quarter to half their income on childcare – in Sweden that is capped at 4%. We need a universal childcare system.
Workers rights have been rolled back – and that rolling back started because Trade Union rights were weakened. We need to restore TU rights, and abolish Victorian practices – like Zero Hours’ Contracts.
None of this is extreme – it is merely common sense – and people are aware of that.
It is about hope – not kicking your neighbour.
The anger and disillusionment of people is being exploited by those ‘enterprising charlatans’ UKIP
Who claim to be anti-establishment
– yet who are led by a privately educated, white, male, who worked in the City as a commodities’ trader
– who are bankrolled by an ex-Tory millionaire
– whose one MP [and likely next one] worked in the City
Did the Polish fruit-picker plunge us into financial disaster – or the bankers, tax-dodgers and poverty-paying bosses?
We must confront the powerful.
What gives me hope? When the media are against us?
Our history – change has never come because the goodwill and generosity of the powerful. It has come because people have organised, from the ground up , as a movement.
The great history of the TUs, Chartists, Suffragettes, those who have fought sexism and homophobia, those who fought for the Welfare State, against the Poll Tax, UK Uncut, the anti-Bedroom Tax movement – all these inspire us.
Progress was won because people fought, our ancestors fought and won.
Don’t let a government which did not even win an election strip us of what they fought for.
We stand on the shoulders of giants – we need to emulate them.
So Go Out – We Can Win, We Can Change Society. Commit to do something – now.
When people look back on this unequal and unjust moment – they will ask – what did WE do to change that?
What will be your answer?
Have the courage of our ancestors.
Get rid of this government, of austerity. Build a society which works for all people, not just for a few at the top.
During questions Owen made some of the following points
We need to nail the Tories’ biggest lie – that spending on public services was what caused the financial crisis. Take it on, Dismantle it.
Young people don’t see politics as relevant to them. They are savvy and well-informed. But they see politicians doing things that hit them – raising tuition fees, cutting EMAs. In 2010 they voted in droves for the LibDems who promised to abolish tuition fees. That was their first taste of democracy. Then the LibDems betrayed them. One of the worst things the LDs have done is to destroy the faith of the young in politics.
On Trident – we should discard it and use the money for public services
On the state and public ownership – many on the right are happy to see the state propping up banks and private profit. So why shouldn’t the state take back the railways? But that should not be on the old model. Democratic public ownership, involving workers and public.
On public ownership in general – as far as the public are concerned, the argument has been won – the failure of free market dogma is self-evident. The privatised railways are eating up public money, as are the privatised public services.
On the future of liberal democracy – he stressed that this was always threatened from above by the powerful. Economic blackmail was used against those who stepped outside of the narrow agendas set by the powerful. He saw the social media as an important new challenge to the dominance of the powerful – our opportunity to build movements from below.
His vision – is of a society run in the interests of working people, built on the needs and aspirations of the many. We need to start from where we are now, where people are now. But like the Right-wingers in the 1970s – we should be using the crisis to shift the window of argument – resisting the ‘There is no alternative argument’ by making our views and analysis the ‘Common sense’ that they are.
On Unity of the Left – this is an urgent need. We must link people up. The People’s Assembly is important in doing this.
On the NHS – he welcomed Labour’s commitment to repeal the Act, but we need to draw a thick line under New Labour’s privatisation. ‘Reform’ must mean really responsive, democratic services – NOT dismantling and cutting.
The NHS is the antithesis of everything in which the Tories believe. Its very existence is in defiance of what they are. It puts people, their aspirations and needs, before profit.
His final messages.
Labour and the Labour leadership are moving on key issues – like e.g. today on tax avoidance – and that’s thanks to pressure from below.
We are in a crisis situation which demands radical answers – answers which are now mainstream – demands for renationalisation, for living wage, for house building.
The extremists are those who have brought society to the state it is now in.
We are the real moderates.
The message is organise, have hope and give hope, be optimistic. The wind is in our direction.