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Party Conferences The nasty party’s mask comes off

Whoever is the Conservatives’ prime minister, austerity and privatisation will continue, public services will continue to be decimated, living standards will continue to fall, writes RICHARD BURGON – arguing that we need to secure a Labour government to remove a system that is rigged against the many

2017 saw easily the best Labour Party conference I’ve ever attended with more people, more participation, more politics and more positivity than at any conference I can remember.

And there was a great mix of people — young people, older people and people from all backgrounds and all areas of Britain.

And The World Transformed festival was almost like an Edinburgh Fringe of culture, discussion and fun to complement the greatest Labour conference in decades.  

The contrast with the Conservative Party conference couldn’t have been greater. The term “car-crash” is over-used by political commentators but “car-crash” and this year’s Conservative Party conference go together like “horse and carriage,” “fish and chips” or “cannon and ball.” Or like the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

But the main problem with the Conservative Party Conference wasn’t that the Prime Minister’s speech ended up like an excruciating scene from Peep Show or The Office. The main problem was the Conservative Party’s mask of decency slipping on a number of occasions and a complete lack of policy, vision and hope.

The ethos and agenda of the Conservative Party is no laughing matter. And that was very clearly revealed in the Foreign Secretary’s statement to an audience in a conference meeting that there’s big profits to be made in Libya if you just “clear the dead bodies away.”

I believe that the Foreign Secretary’s statement wasn’t a “gaffe” as some have called it — it was a window into the worldview of top Tories.

His recitation of a colonial song while in Burma and his callous call to “clear the dead bodies away” in a bomb-blasted Libya that his government helped to make more dangerous, more unsafe and more unstable are true to born-to-rule Bullingdon-boy type.

People like Boris Johnson believe that they have a right to rule. And that right to rule, in their view, isn’t restricted to these shores.
It was reported in the press that “a senior Downing Street source said it was a matter for Johnson as to whether he apologised” but “we did not feel it was an appropriate choice of words.”

This gutless, amoral response from the heart of the Conservative government makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pious declaration: “never allow the left to say they have a monopoly on compassion.”

The truth is, we can’t trust the Conservatives to do the right thing in terms of Britain’s role in the world — and the Prime Minister’s fawning over a president who threatens to “totally destroy” an entire country, her politically motivated refusal to do what even her Conservative predecessors did and commit to the principle of a world free from nuclear weapons and the Foreign Secretary’s reference to the corpses his government’s disastrous intervention helped to create in Libya as barriers to business and profit are further proof of this.

Less crass but also worthy of comment for the mindset it betrays was Conservative MP Rebecca Prow’s cringe-worthy gag at the expense of inner city communities that Labour MPs like myself are proud to represent.

In her speech not long before the Prime Minister took to the soon-to-start-collapsing stage, she said: “I’m not sure Labour MPs have a constituency with any soil in it.”

But perhaps the most telling statement of the conference was that from the Prime Minister herself, who told a reception of Conservative members and supporters that “Jeremy Corbyn has changed the political consensus.”  

Much has been made of the idea that in response to Corbyn and socialist Labour’s huge advance in the battle of ideas, the Conservative government has “stolen” Labour’s policies.

If only. Rather than adopting Labour’s policies, the Conservative government has — in pure desperation — produced pale imitations of Labour’s policies in an attempt to dupe a public that is more fed up to the back teeth with them with each day that passes.

The Conservatives promised a “revolution” in relation to university tuition fees. And it was a complete revolution in the literal sense of the phrase — a full 360 degree turn from a policy of tuition fees of £9,250 per year to a policy of tuition fees of £9,250 per year. In contrast, a Labour government will abolish tuition fees and guarantee free college education.

Similarly, the Conservatives’ much trumpeted housing policy announcement amounts to 5,000 homes for social rent per year — that amounts to little more than a dozen homes per local authority area per year.

In the general election, Labour pledged to be building 100,000 truly affordable homes per year by 2020 — with half of them to be council houses.

And does anyone trust the Conservative Party to take on the big six energy companies?

Labour activists and supporters — and voters in general — were left feeling impressed and enthused by Labour’s conference.

Labour’s positive vision of a real living wage, investment in our NHS, affordable homes to rent and buy, free education, workers’ rights and building a modern economy that works for working people and their families is increasingly capturing the imagination of the public.
In contrast, Conservative members and supporters must — at best — feel demoralised by their car-crash conference, which was devoid of ideas, purpose and hope and devoid of the answers to the big questions facing working people and their families in austerity Britain.

The papers and commentariat may focus on Theresa May’s political future — or the lack of it. But the departure of May is not enough.

Whoever is the Conservatives’ prime minister, austerity and privatisation will continue, public services will continue to be decimated, living standards will continue to fall and economic over-dependence on the service and finance sectors rather than modern, green manufacturing jobs will continue.

The task of our movement is not just the removal of a prime minister or even just the removal of a government. The task of our movement is to secure a Labour government which will remove a system that is rigged against working people and families and replace it with an economy run in the interests of — and by — the many, not the few.      

Richard Burgon is shadow Lord Chancellor and shadow Secretary of State for Justice.


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