Phil Wilson: Big Society? My party has a prior claim

We must not let the Tories hijack what should be ours
  • @PhilWilsonMP

The Labour Party was founded by the organised working class a century ago. Today, many see themselves as middle class and only 15 per cent of private sector employees are in a union. If this does not tell you times have changed, nothing will. Labour's ambition is to improve the lot of working people, so a growing middle class is something to celebrate. Our movement has achieved much. Even so, we should not be surprised if people accept the baton we offer and then move on. It is not they who need to keep up with us, it us who need to keep up with them, because if they do not take the baton from Labour they will take it from someone else. That is why there is still much to do, especially in an age of austerity.

If the communities we represent are to continue to support Labour, we must live in their image and not expect them to live in ours. We must look to ourselves and build a Labour movement which reaches out beyond party and trade union to employee and entrepreneur, to the innovator and young unemployed, from all walks of life from Sedgefield to Stevenage.

I live in a former coal-mining community. All the pits have closed, the old certainties gone. The collieries of Co Durham once fed the Industrial Revolution. Today a new industrial revolution, global in origin, has arrived were once the pit wheel stood. Those who feel left behind search for identity. A minority find it in the colour of their skin and the BNP can stalk the land. To those who have moved on, they may take for granted all that Labour has done for them, but now they feel squeezed and the Tories are intent on taking it all away again. This is the world of fractured labour.

Communities do not stand still; neither can public services. Labour is the custodian of reform and we must not let the Conservatives hijack what should be ours. The Conservatives do their deeds behind the disguise of the Big Society. For Labour, the Big Society is not a disguise, it is the way we walk, the way we talk. It is what we practised for generations, especially in the coal-mining communities of County Durham. The Big Society is ours and I want to see us get it back.

All of this is our challenge. We need a new Labour movement, built in the knowledge, with aspiration at our core, we achieve more together than alone. The new movement would embrace change, not comfort blanket politics where the thought of movement becomes more important than movement itself. To echo the words of Mick McGahey, the former Vice-President of the NUM, "if we are not a movement, we are a monument". Movements move, they do not stand still.

Phil Wilson is MP for Sedgefield. His pamphlet, 'All The Pits Have Closed', will be published today