The Tories intend going on and on. Labour needs a radical alternative

David Cameron has announced he plans to continue in power until 2020

Share
Fact File
  • 600% Increase in number of people relying on food banks since 2010

Could you take another seven years of this government? If Cameron’s ambition is realised, we are less than a third of the way into his premiership. It’s not quite a riff on Margaret Thatcher’s chilling threat to go “on and on”, but he has stated his intention to remain at Number 10 until 2020. That is – incidentally – the year austerity has (so far) been extended to, after Osborne’s commitment to eradicate the deficit by 2015 was trashed following his well-executed strategy of seeking and destroying anything resembling growth and demand in the economy.

Just think of all the proud achievements they’ve notched up in just 32 months: a six-fold increase in people relying on food banks; the first attempt to deliberately slash the real income of the poor – whether in or out of work – since 1931; a shameless campaign to turn neighbour against neighbour, ranging from the working poor and the unemployed to private and public sector workers; laying the foundations for privatisating the NHS, without a pretence at a mandate; slashing or stripping benefits from sick and disabled people, hundreds of whom subsequently died; and the longest fall in living standards for nearly a century. Yet we stand on the verge of our first triple-dip recession; we remain in the most protracted economic crisis on record; and borrowing continues to surge. And all this in a coalition: Tory wets gave Thatcher more hassle than the Lib Dems give Cameron.

Intolerable

Seven more years of baying Tory MPs waving their order papers in delight at yet another chunk being hacked off the welfare state would be utterly intolerable. A few months ago I met a young woman with a toddler in Hackney, kicked out of her home after benefit cuts and living in sheltered accommodation: welcome to 21st century Britain. All of us who are aware of the injustices being inflicted have a responsibility to fight back, however we can; yelling obscenities at the television won’t really cut it. The futures of millions are at stake, and Cameron’s cabal will hope that their policies will be fundamentally irreversible, just as came to pass with Thatcherism. But given the only realistic way of evicting the Tories is a Labour victory, those horrified by Cameron’s Britain need to start putting pressure on the Labour leadership to offer something that is clearly different.

Some still regard the prospects of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister as – frankly – absurd. Midterm poll leads are meaningless, they argue: Neil Kinnock enjoyed them too, after all, and the electorate gave him a kicking twice. Dan Hodges, a blogger at The Telegraph and a supposedly in-house “lefty” with a brief to attack the left at all costs, last week wrote that “a Conservative win in 2015 isn’t only possible: right now, it’s the most likely outcome.” Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov, also penned a fictional account written in 2016 about how Cameron turned it all around and won an absolute majority: by promising an EU referendum; pursuing a vicious campaign over welfare, backed up with a media onslaught on “scroungers”; turning a general election into another vote on Gordon Brown’s economic legacy; and by a Lib Dem rout benefiting the Tories.

But there’s much to suggest we will avoid a 1980s replay. The Tories have been in decline for two generations: no election win since 1955 has given them a higher share of the vote than the time before. That’s also the last time a governing party increased its share of the vote after a full term. The year 2010 was their election to lose, and they lost it. The anti-Tory vote is not split as it was in the 1980s after a large chunk of the Labour right  set up the SDP. Indeed, the other potential major party of protest against the Tories is now welded to them. Boundary changes that would, above all, have benefited the Tories are dead. Ukip’s polling surge will subside by election day, but will still undoubtedly cost Cameron seats. Research for the Fabian Society last year found that Lib Dem defectors to Labour would be enough to win without depending on Tory voters. Labour’s biggest threat is not widespread defections to the Tories, but rather the failure of its own uninspired voters to come out and vote.

Expose the lies

This is not to be complacent. Labour must come under pressure, not only to defend the interests of millions of people, but in order to stave off the Tory threat too. The Conservatives – under the guidance of cynical spinner Lyndon Crosby – want to use the so-called “welfare wedge”: that is, to paint Labour as the party of the scroungers. Research published by the TUC last week showed that myths about benefits are endemic, but that the more educated people are about welfare, the less supportive they are of cuts. Trade unions will soon launch a new campaign to expose these lies and distortions: it must also give voice to the real working poor and unemployed being battered by cuts to combat the “scrounger” caricature. This will help defuse the Tory attack and force Labour to defend those suffering with more vigour. We will reduce welfare spending, Labour must be forced to say, by stopping the welfare state subsidising greedy landlords and employers.

Labour must be forced to offer policies that give people hope and something to vote for. An emergency programme for real, secure work – reversing the destruction of full-time work – must be at its heart, founded on a massive council house-building scheme (which would reduce the amount spent on housing benefit) and an industrial strategy, particularly pushing renewable energy jobs. The party’s opposition to austerity is hobbled by its own commitment to cuts: it must come under pressure to hike taxes on the wealthy, as well as clamp down on tax avoidance, not least by supporting the General Anti-Tax Avoidance Principle Bill drawn up by crusading chartered accountant Richard Murphy.

A Tory government at a time of economic crisis is a national tragedy. The damage inflicted on people and communities has already been profound, and – in truth – there is far more suffering to come before Parliament is dissolved in May 2015. But Cameron’s hopes of another term must be destroyed. Don’t just sit back and wait for it to happen: it’s up to all of us to demand an opposition worthy of the name.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star