I should admit right at the outset that I have a bit of a rose-tinted view of Tony Benn. My views on the great man have been flavoured less on the 80s firebrand and more on elder statesman, diarist
and conscience of the party. After retiring as MP so as to concentrate more time to politics, he is now leading a call for “ordinary people” to revolt against “the most savage spending cuts since the 1930’s. It is easy to dismiss Tony Benn as a figure of a bygone era, a rabid left-wing politician that has no place in the post-ideological political age. But that is to do him, and his campaign, a huge disservice.
The proposed spending cuts have the potential to destroy livelihoods. Although the coalition remain steadfast that “we are all in this together” the reality will be very different. Increases in VAT, an £11billion cut in the welfare budget and 25% reductions across government departments will all hit the most vulnerable the hardest. It is not millionaire business leaders or bankers that will feel the pain but single mothers, the disabled and their carers. And it is not just service users that will be affected. Internal Treasury documents estimate 1.3million public and private sector job losses over the course of this parliament, all piling more pressure onto whatever services remain.
Policies that have such a negative impact on so many people’s lives must be resisted. Organising communities, holding public meetings and taking to the streets should be embraced by the left, with local Labour parties sitting at the heart of these protests. But protest alone is not enough, if you believe the coalition government, and huge swathes of the media, there is simply no alternative to cuts. The responsibility of all those vying for the Labour leadership is to prove this statement untrue by articulating a viable alternative.
We cannot allow ourselves to get into a situation where as a party we accept the premise of cuts but then argue against them on a one-by-one basis. It does not sound credible and will just further shrink the publics trust in politicians, with Labour as the principal leader. Instead we need to deliver a positive message for change – an alternative and fairer way of doing business. For me Ed Miliband is currently the one best articulating this. Slower deficit reduction, more onus on progressive taxation and support for small business are all key platforms of an alternative economic plan and these, along with a campaign for the living wage, are the central themes of Ed’s campaign. I urge you all to support him.
In the meantime however rather than looking inwards, local Labour parties need to be taking the fight to the government – this means getting on-board the ‘Bennite Revolt’. Whilst our potential leaders slug it out, we need to organise within our communities and deliver our future leader (whoever that maybe) a vibrant grassroots movement willing to fight for an alternative to the vile campaign of cuts being proposed by this government.