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A united Labour Party is the best way to oust these cruel Tories

Calls to embrace austerity economics and return to the failed foreign policy of the past should not be heeded if we’re to get rid of the Conservative government that’s harming our communities, says RICHARD BURGON

THE wheels have really started to fall off the Conservative government in the 10 days since I last wrote my Morning Star column. 

Calamity after Conservative calamity brings home just what difficulty the Tories’ Thatcherite administration is in.

Last Thursday, the Tories suffered their 10th parliamentary defeat on Brexit. So commonplace have government defeats become that many hardly bat an eyelid. Government defeats are the new norm. 

The Prime Minister is increasingly trapped by the hard-line European Research Group of Conservative MPs, who seem to be at the forefront of her mind much more than the public good. 

But it is not just on Brexit that the Conservatives’ failures are ever clearer. 

New figures showed the slowest economic growth since 2012 at a measly 1.4 per cent. And the bad news keeps coming. 

Honda announced it will close its Swindon plant with the loss of thousands of jobs, following on from earlier bad news from Nissan. 

Over the weekend — also on Business, Energy and Industrial Secretary Greg Clark’s watch — British airline Flybmi ceased operating, partly blaming the current lack of certainty on Brexit. People across the country are rightly worried about these darkening economic clouds. 

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson then chose to put the country’s economic position further at risk with his bizarre attention-seeking threat of sending a military ship to the Pacific. The result of this pathetic political posturing was that Chancellor Philip Hammond’s trade visit to Beijing was cancelled.  

We have also seen Department for Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd confirm what so many of us knew already — that foodbank use has increased due to the government’s universal credit roll-out, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling struggling to defend his farcical collapsed shipless Seaborne Freight contract and my opposite number, Justice Secretary David Gauke, dealing with the collapse of private probation company Working Links in the latest chapter of failure of our all too Americanised justice system.  

So, with the government increasingly on the ropes, it was incredibly disappointing to see a splinter from the Labour Party with some members of Parliament leaving. 

I’m sorry to see anybody choose to leave the Parliamentary Labour Party. Any split is sad news and can only make it more likely that the Conservatives stay in office, hurting the people up and down the country that MPs see in constituency advice sessions in their communities week in, week out. 

No one strand within the coalition of socialists, trade unionists and social democrats that the Labour Party has always been — and should always be — has a monopoly on wisdom or all the answers. 

Harold Wilson was correct when he said that a political party, like a bird, needs two wings to fly and the Labour Party leadership is always willing to listen, as John McDonnell has passionately emphasised in recent days. 

And the party absolutely needs to listen — and act swiftly — in relation to anti-semitism. One anti-semite in our party is one anti-semite too many. And the party needs to listen to those like Luciana Berger who have been subject to wholly unacceptable racism or abuse. 

The Labour Party always needs new ideas and perspectives. It was new ideas and perspectives that helped us a gain three million votes and the biggest swing to Labour since 1945 at the last general election. 

Anything that can help build on that package of policies to get even more support, votes and seats at the next general election is very welcome. 

But those ideas must be about building on the new direction the party has moved in to win new support, not turning back on those popular polices. 

The idea of a so-called CNP — Chuka’s New Party — has been mooted around Westminster for a long time. 

While not yet a fully fledged party — and oddly registered as a private company — Chuka’s Coalition has little to offer apart from a rejection of Labour’s successful ideas for a country that works for the many not the few that have proved so popular. 

Launching his new political vehicle, Umunna declared that millions are crying out for a new policies distinct from those of the Labour Party. 

But Mike Gapes — no Robin Cook — still celebrates the Iraq war and cosies up to the Saudi regime with its horrendous human rights record. 

Chris Leslie is still deeply uncomfortable with Labour’s anti-austerity approach to the economy. Angela Smith opposes the popular, GMB-backed policy of bringing water back into public ownership and has got off to a shameful start by describing black and minority ethnic people as “having a funny tint.” 

Chuka’s Coalition is not even seeking to be a new pole of social democracy but, with its alliance with Conservatives who have voted for Tory cut after cut, it is a blatant attempt to create a “national government.” 

When that was last done in peacetime, it was used as an excuse for deep cuts and attacks on working-class communities. 

For that reason, Ramsay McDonald’s name continues to ring through the labour movement for all the wrong reasons.

Chuka’s Coalition is clearly designed to prevent an anti-austerity Labour government even coming to power. It will fail.

On so many key issues, it seems that the Independent Group will not really be on the centre left or liberal left or very much in tune with public opinion in 2019. 

Calls to embrace austerity economics and return to the failed foreign policy of the past should not be heeded. 

On Monday’s Newsnight, Leslie made it clear that Chuka’s Coalition has been formed because the “fundamental issue is that the Labour Party has become obsessed with a quite narrow, outdated ideology.” 

Leslie means socialism or, as he described it in his speech at the Independent Group’s launch, seeing the world as being divided into “oppressors and the oppressed,” which he assures the world isn’t the case any more. 

Millions being held back while they see a tiny minority doing well out of this rotten system may beg to differ. 

These MPs claim to speak for the country but they have no mandate to continue to sit in Parliament on the basis of this new political formation. 

People in their area voted for them to serve them as Labour MPs on a Labour manifesto. They should have the courage of their convictions, do the right thing and stop blocking people in their areas from having the right to choose whether or not they give permission for their MPs to embark on this new enterprise with a different label and on a wholly different political basis. 

What the country needs isn’t Chuka’s Coalition reheating ideas from the turn of the century which are now not in tune with our changed times. Nor does the country need a national government with Tories and Liberal Democrats. 

What’s needed is a Labour government, which is the only vehicle that can defeat the Tories and deliver radical change. 

And that’s what we’ll keep on fighting for. I know that Parliamentary Labour Party colleagues — whether Bennites, Crosslandites or Healeyites — will do the same. 

Even in the dark days of the aftermath of the decision to launch war on Iraq many stayed in the Labour Party, knowing it was the best vehicle to defeat the Tories. 

No-one should do anything which makes more likely the survival of this Conservative government. Our unity across the party with the single-minded focus on ousting this cruel Tory government is the best way of delivering for the communities we all came into politics to serve. 

Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary and MP for Leeds East. This column appears fortnightly.


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