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Opinion Is it worth voting Labour? 

From more austerity to perpetual war, the party will not fight our battles or defend our most vulnerable, argues EMMA DENT COAD

ON MARCH 25 I spoke at a debate organised by Kensal and Kilburn Better, alongside Kevin Courtney former NEU general secretary, and journalist and aspiring MP Paul Mason. Melissa Benn was chair and there was a large and engaged audience of about 100 people.

My opening speech dealt with the subject of the debate, “Is it worth voting Labour?” I discussed the pyramid of power, with us lot at the bottom, summary below.

1. The prospects of our young people are all narrowing. If they want to improve their prospects they are likely to end up in debt, possibly with a job that in real terms has lost its value so they may never be able to pay it off, but be destined for low-paid jobs and the struggles that entails. 

Meanwhile, our friends and neighbours who are black and minority ethnic will continue to be disadvantaged in life, their skills and potential always being overanalysed and studied, and disbelieved. People living with physical and mental health struggles, people whose daily lives require huge courage and tenacity, are being targeted by a government minister who seems to think they just need to get a grip.

What will Labour do? 

They have nuked the role of shadow minister for mental health, suspended or demoted five black women MPs, refused to tackle the racism underlined in the leaked anti-semitism and Forde reports, will continue the punitive Tory attacks on vulnerable people needing financial support to help with basic daily needs.  

2. Their lives of our young people are being judged by those who are likely to have had free uni/access to training/ better levels of pay/free or affordable childcare/ better choice in housing they could afford — or are simply born into money. 

It horrifies me that as just one example, nurses today face tuition debt while their rate of pay is so low that some are forced to use foodbanks — and are humiliated and in tears. This happened recently at one of our foodbanks. 

3. Meanwhile the political class — not all, but many of them — and the top civil servants who serve them (while they should surely be serving the “civis,” the people, us) judge them inadequate or incompetent or lazy. They think by cutting public spending a miracle of “efficiency” will take place and this will magically make zero difference to the service being provided. 

During my 18 years on Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council and 30 months in Parliament, I’ve made a habit of line-by-line analysis of specific Budget lines. And guess what? If they stopped wasting money on failed strategies, pet projects and dodgy investments, there would be funds available to tackle the big issues we see, which they surely see as little issues. I’ve proved this in my book One Kensington which demonstrates that if the council hadn’t supported failing minority interest projects they could have eradicated poverty in North Kensington altogether. They chose not to.

What will Labour do? 

Continue with five more years of austerity while “growth” occurs as if by magic alongside the continued and deliberate destitution of millions of people. A so-called fiscal policy designed to keep low-income families in their place at the bottom of the heap.

4. The Tory government is mobilising against all but their own inner circle who have profited from 14 years of “trickle-up” economy. Their weapons are class division, race division, stoking religious distrust between groups who previously treated each other with respect, and manipulating the media, which they own as well as the media owning them. 

They use the media to create an environment of fear, following this with a push to restrict the democracy we are supposed to be so proud of.

And what will Labour do? 

Continue to call peace marches “hate marches” and do their best to shut them down in the so-called “interest of public safety.” 

5. At the top of the pyramid of power are the multinationals whose tentacles are invading our everyday lives through algorithms, data control, CCTV with facial recognition. Last week we were shocked to hear that workers at the London Clinic had tried to access the medical records of you-know-who, while the medical records of every single person in the UK are being sold to a worldwide intelligence and surveillance company. 

Our precious NHS GP services among others are being condensed into tidy packages to be sold off to US equity companies, sucking yet more money out of our pockets and sending it overseas while providing a diminishing service. And people with chronic illness and multiple conditions will be left to languish in a defunded NHS whose buildings have been left to decline under past PFI arrangements. 

Huge chunks of territory are being auctioned off to create “city states” with their own laws and regulations, as single economic zones and freeports. So much for “sovereignty”! 

Freeports and special economic zones will be given 10 years of tax exemption to tempt them in. If they fail the public purse we  will have to bail them out, just as we have for privatised utilities and transport, such as energy, water, trains. 

What will Labour do? 

Follow the Tory plan for the economy! Labour’s leader has been enthusiastically visiting freeports, calling them “ports,” so no-one will know.

What is happening under the Tory government is a shrinking of our areas of influence, controlling the forums where we have space to speak out and change opinion, narrowing the field of activity in the name of “public safety” or “order” or “mob rule” and even in the name of “liberty” — an elaborate game of doublethink we must all be aware of. 

6. While both Tory and Labour leadership pit communities against each other to distract from their failures … their lobbyists, donors and corporate sponsors play war games with our money. 

And at the top of the pyramid, some might say, and I’m sure there’s plenty of different views of this, are those who sell us “security,” or more like perpetual war, to keep the military industrial complex ticking over, eating our money, killing our most vulnerable, sending working men and women from all sides to kill each other, while those in “power” debate the ethics or otherwise in comfort. 

Labour is part of the institution. Labour will not fight our battles or defend our most vulnerable. Labour will not ensure our young people have a better future. They will stamp on ambition, ignore vulnerable communities, pit them against each other, refuse to care for or fund our pensioners. They have dehumanised and disrespected the party membership and crushed democracy.

They are on the wrong side of history in the most appalling abuses of human rights, war crimes and basic humanity with “unconditional” support for a state that may well be found to be committing genocide in plain sight. They have lost all moral authority. They have lied. They have lost our confidence and trust. 

After 40 years membership of a party, far from perfect but on the side of ordinary people, it pains me to say it, but Labour does not deserve our votes. 

Language matters

AFTER A round of speeches and some good questions from the audience, a three-minute exchange between one audience member and Mason changed the atmosphere from one of courteous disagreement into something else entirely.

The audience member raised the issue of Israel lobby donations to various Labour MPs, including many frontbenchers, and to the party itself, all of which are on public record. Somehow this triggered Mason, who had until then engaged calmly with the issues, into a full-on tirade, misquoting her and accusing her of anti-semitism. 

What she had done was expressed anti-zionist views. Following the exoneration of Prof David Miller, anti-zionism is now a protected characteristic.

This blew up on Twitter/X overnight.

Language is important. When I took the Jewish Labour Movement’s anti-semitism training this was underlined. Conflating the Israeli state with Judaism or with “all Jews” is the precise definition of anti-semitism. 

The question from the audience member was precise and did not conflate the two. In the current febrile atmosphere, where the Israeli state is refuting the United Nations vote for an immediate ceasefire, it is our responsibility to point the finger at the perpetrators of genocide. 

The Israeli state has embraced a particular political ideology, an ideology that we will never conflate with the Jewish faith. We know where the perpetuation of zionism through settler colonialism has led, we see its endgame now in Gaza. 

I and many others refuse to be bullied into silence.

Emma Dent Coad has been a councillor on Kensington and Chelsea Council since 2006 and was Labour MP for Kensington 2017-19. She is standing as an independent in the upcoming general election.

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