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“THE principle that there should be an open selection of candidates for Labour at every election is vital. And it is not too late for a democratic choice in the coming contest.”
Film director Ken Loach doesn’t mince his words when we meet to discuss Labour’s prospects on the eve of its conference this week.
“We urgently need MPs who believe in and fight for the great transformative programme Labour now has.”
Not that Loach, whose 2013 film Spirit of ’45 has gained iconic status on the left for reminding us of our power to change the world, is pessimistic about Labour’s chances.
He’s clear that Labour is the only party in Britain alive to the scale of the crisis we face and prepared to do something about it.
“Labour is the only party looking at the fundamental reconstruction of the economy,” he says.
“And that takes on added urgency because we’re now looking at the existential question of the survival of the planet as we know it.
“We have to reorder our economy to make it sustainable, deliver the Green New Deal, build an integrated public transport system — not just renationalising rail but buses as well.
“We have to shift freight from the roads to the railways and we need to rebuild local transport — in every major city you see people driving into work from the suburbs, there’s no need for it.”
The Lib Dems might waffle about a “green capitalism,” but Loach is clear that the capitalist system stands in the way of serious action on climate change.
“As we approach the climate disaster the fundamental contradictions become apparent,” he says. “It’s like the bones of an old ship being revealed as the tide goes out.
“The struggle between capital and labour is irreconcilable. The demands of capital are now destroying us. It has to devour natural resources to grow, it has to keep expanding, it’s how capitalism works — it can’t reach equilibrium.
“It has to attack labour costs, it has to increase profit margins, and as pressure begins to mount against that the conflict becomes more intense.
“That’s why the press and the broadcasters are committed to derailing the programme Labour is putting forward to restrict the power of capital.
“We can’t underestimate the effect of the hostile propaganda. The BBC is rarely so blatant — day after day, interview after interview, undermining Labour because they know Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell mean business. That Establishment fear is, I hope, justified. It should be an opportunity to promote the Morning Star.
“We have to get better at dealing with the media. And the focus has to be our social programme. That we will restore public services, end outsourcing and privatisation, rescue huge areas of the country, whole communities, abandoned by Thatcher, Blair and Brown.
“We need to highlight that we will invest in these areas, but that doesn’t mean we will rely on big business to invest in them — because then you get the agency work, the bogus self-employment, the zero-hours contracts.
“So we want direct investment, public investment. When Nye Bevan was responsible for housing in 1945 he employed direct labour. He commissioned the most imaginative architects, they planned whole communities, not just the housing but the transport and the services.
“We should do the same with Labour’s council housebuilding programme, refuse to subcontract it to the construction companies with their record of blacklisting but go back to Bevan, to directly employed labour.
“In The Spirit of ’45 you meet the father who built the council houses then got one himself — that sense of a stake in the project we’re building, that you are a contributor to and a beneficiary of the work we’re doing, is surely the heart of socialism.
“So we have the policies, and we must demand the media pay attention. Every interview every MP gives should begin with these issues, housing, public services, investment in the regions.
“We should make sure Jeremy is clearly visible, as people won’t vote for someone they don’t know. People who meet him recognise his warmth and human engagement, we need to see that.”
It’s that question that leads Loach to call for open selection of MPs. “We’ve got a good programme but people don’t hear about it. Do you hear Labour MPs on the BBC talking about the NHS or housing? Rarely.”
Instead there’s a constant fixation on areas of disagreement such as Brexit. Even Labour’s support for a second referendum has not appeased the Remain lobby, which continues to push for the referendum result to be reversed.
“We should defend what I think is Jeremy’s correct position on Brexit, that we should negotiate a better deal and put it to the people.
“Those who wish to Leave will have a viable option to Leave and those who want to Remain can have that choice too,” he argues. But no matter what position Corbyn takes, the attacks keep coming.
“The right wing of the Labour Party is the biggest threat we face. These are the inheritors of Ramsay MacDonald, Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley, Blair and Brown. The right, embodied by Tom Watson, aims to destroy the socialist programme.
“In the party there is the leadership and a core of socialists backing it. Then you have a huge membership which is very supportive of and excited by the socialist programme. And in the middle you have this layer of right-wing MPs doing all they can to frustrate it.
“It’s not personal, it’s about the policies, but every time Jeremy makes a statement you see someone come out and say the opposite. It’s cynical. It’s calculated. And the media love that disagreement. They offer the interview and the MP uses the platform to undermine the leadership, they do a dance and they each understand the steps.”
One of the most bitter and divisive lines of attack has been over allegations that Labour is institutionally anti-semitic, allegations that have resulted in suspensions and expulsions of members many on the left believe are innocent.
“Where there is evidence of anti-semitism that has been properly scrutinised, that has been looked at in a proper, open hearing, if someone is found guilty, then appropriate sanctions should be taken,” Loach says.
“But this campaign has not been about that. We know from YouGov that Tory supporters are more likely to hold anti-semitic views than Labour supporters, but there is no mass demand for investigations into their party.
“We have allowed individuals like Margaret Hodge to indulge in revolting foul-mouthed abuse of the leader. I don’t know any Labour Party member who was not disgusted by that, yet she is allowed to continue to stand as a Labour MP.
“On the other side you have an MP like Chris Williamson, where the evidence was heard and it was considered that he should remain in the party. Then Lord Falconer went on the Today programme to demand the decision be overturned. He’s a lawyer! There had been due process. How dare he attack the decision? And then it was overturned because of political pressure!
“I’d like to hear more people speak out about that. At the Durham Miners Gala the biggest cheer from the march past the County Hotel was for solidarity with Chris.
“You can’t just speak about solidarity, you need to act on it. You don’t abandon your comrades. Everybody knows Chris is not an anti-semite. And if you pass on defending him for some tactical advantage, we are all losers. It’s a slippery slope.”
That’s why Loach insists on the democratisation of the party, ensuring MPs are accountable to their local parties and not given free rein to undermine the socialist programme and pick off Corbyn supporters. “The right inside Labour are the biggest obstacle to a Labour government.”
But he still sees grounds for optimism?
“When people know what Labour is going to do, very few oppose it. Who’s against investing in our communities? Rebuilding our NHS? Who’s opposed to ending poverty, homelessness and the need for foodbanks?
“We need to keep hammering away at those issues, and focus on the fact that only Labour will do anything about them — the Lib Dems are just Tories with a different hat on.
“They are complicit in austerity, the bedroom tax, all of it. They implemented a programme of conscious cruelty.
“There are rays of hope, some of the young MPs coming forward — Laura Pidcock, Laura Smith, Dan Carden and others — we’re seeing a new generation, MPs who stand on principle and will fight to deliver a socialist programme.
“Despite the attacks there is a huge sense of hope and optimism that this time we’ll get there.”
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