Friday, 4 November 2011

An open letter to Ed Miliband

Dear Ed,

I was there on 27th September when you addressed the Labour Party conference and the nation. And, believe it or not, I take the unfashionable view that you did a good job. There were parts I fundamentally disagreed with, but the vision you began to set out instilled within me a feeling which I haven't associated with Labour for a depressingly long time: hope.

Of course, words and deeds are two entirely different things. Especially in politics.

In your leader's speech this year, you said, "In every generation, there comes a moment when we need to change the way we do things". You are right. Now, perhaps more than ever in recent history, the old system has shown itself to be catastrophically unworkable and deeply unjust. If ever there was a need for new ideas, new approaches, new ways of doing things, it is now. In your speech, you painted yourself and our mutual party as being the vehicles of this desperately needed change. But are they? To be true to your promise, you must do as well as say. Will you?

Will you join the hundreds of thousands of people the world over and fully support the implementation of a Robin Hood Tax, a tiny charge on financial transactions that could raise £20 billion in the UK alone? It goes some way to making the bankers pay for the crisis they caused, but for which blameless citizens are now being made to suffer. The money raised from this tax could not just save countless hospitals, schools and libraries, it could build more of them. David Cameron, despite a growing number of G20 nations getting behind the idea, still opposes it. Will you set yourself apart from this out-of-touch Tory?

Will you support the protesters camping outside St Paul's (and elsewhere in the country) as they fight for a world without poverty and inequality? I don't expect you to get out a tent and go and join them, carrying with you a placard decrying the evils of capitalism (though, by all means, be my guest to do so). But at least say, "The Labour Party supports the right to protest. And we also support the movement for fairness, equality and peace". Will you be on the side of the many, not the few? The 99% vs the 1?

Will you criticise the shameful way in which the BBC has systematically targeted "benefit cheats"? Will you point out, as @suey2y did on her blog (which I implore you to read), that we already have one of the toughest welfare systems in the economically developed world? Will you bring up the fact that tax evasion costs the Treasury 15 times more than benefit fraud? The right-wing press and the BBC may wish to smear innocent people, lie and distort the facts, but do you? Instead of bowing down to the tabloids, why not do the dignified thing and be true to your principles? It is better, is it not, to make public opinion rather than follow it?

Will you read this excellent piece by Deborah Orr and accept that Britain is facing a crisis in education? Rightly, you have already apologised for a lot of Labour's mistakes. But will you accept that we also got this wrong? And will you vehemently oppose Michael Gove's toxic agenda?

Will you join the plethora of economists (not to mention the New York Times) in rejecting George Osborne's disastrous plan for the economy? Ed Balls is right to say that the UK economy is flat-lining, with just 0.5% of growth in the last quarter. But will your party provide the alternative? Will you state fact and say: cutting and austerity do not work? Will you instead call for growth stimuli, investment in infrastructure and a radical re-haul of the financial system as a whole?

Will you say the criminalisation of squatting is wrong? Your shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter, condemned the government's targeting of those with "severe mental health or addiction problems". But with so many people homeless in the UK and so many houses abandoned or not in use, will you go further? And will you take a leaf out of your predecessor's book, Clement Attlee, whose post-war government built over 4,000,000 new council houses at a time when the country's deficit and economic situation were both far more precarious than they are now?

Will you say it was wrong of the United States to cut its crucial funding to UNESCO simply because they gave Palestine full membership? I applaud the fact that your shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, said Labour were willing to support Palestine's bid for statehood. But will you remain loyal to this promise? Will you and the Labour Party stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with your Palestinian counterparts?

Will you say that increasing military aggressiveness towards Iran is a wrong move on the political stage? I was elated when you said Iraq was a mistake, but you will learn from it? You and other politicians wear your poppies, but will you be true to what they represent - the futility and horror of warfare, which we should always, always avoid?

Will you support the millions of teachers, health professionals and public servants as they exercise their fundamental right to withdraw their labour in protest at the Tory-led government's unfair pension reforms? You have constantly said that strikes should be a last resort, and I totally agree. But when the government still insists on imposing these changes, with only a few concessions, will you at last accept that public sector workers have no other options? Will you be true to the Labour Party's founding values and support ordinary working people as they stand up to the rich and powerful elite?

I clapped your speech on 27th September. In fact, I even joined in with the rest of the hall and gave you a standing ovation. You took the first integral steps to lay out the foundations of a vision - a vision for change, a vision for equality. It was far, far from perfect, but it was a start. For it to mean anything though, you have to stick to it. The opportunities to make the Labour Party a force for good, and to change the society we live in, are staring you in the face. Now is the time to be bold, and grab them. But the question I am asking is - will you?