Labour can earn the right to wear the word ‘patriotism’ by protecting people’s jobs and livelihoods, argues Adam Harrison
I feel troubled. In recent years in the Labour party we have been treated to an endless string of demands to appear ‘credible on the economy’, to ‘give voice to Englishness’, to ‘appear patriotic’.
As ever, welcome to the 2010s, when politics is about thinking you can make a cake without thinking about what ingredients go into a cake. Instead, in politics today you actually think the cake itself is the sole ingredient and if you talk about it enough then it might appear all fresh on the table, election-winning icing on top. (Though watch out for Boris Johnson having it and eating it).
On the calls to be seen to be patriotic, do we have to approach talking about our own country in this way? Surely if we start from what we would like to do in service of our country, showing people why we would like to run things and how we think we can improve the United Kingdom, then it will more naturally occur that the voters assume we actually rather like our own country and are therefore ‘patriotic’. The ingredients will go in and the cake will be made.
We were here before in the first parliament of this decade with the Labour party leadership’s convenient assumption that the country had ‘moved left’ on the economy. As the general election neared, this turned into an unseemly headlong rush towards the end of the credibility rainbow.
If you just do what you think people want to hear, people will despise you and ignore you. So it is too with the thankfully more irregular call for establishing Englishness as a strand of Labour politics, and the very regular calls for ‘a debate’ about immigration, because immigration tops the polls.
In both of these cases, out in the country we have decided to stick together as Great Britain so people want to know what you want to do as the British government. Scots are interested in this too. I am pretty much nothing but English and very happy with this fact. I am conscious that my own sense of Englishness has grown since the 1990s, as it has for others, but I am still interested mostly in knowing what political parties want to do for Great Britain.
And Northern Ireland. At a time like this, the official opposition needs to be taking the Tories to task for setting up a Brexit that will only stoke problems there. Talk about Northern Ireland and you will be seen to care, and thereby the result might be that people assume you care about the country. That you are ‘patriotic’, if you want to be sure of the right to wear that word.
This weekend we learn that Conservatives are giving up on people being able to own their own home. Do you not live in the real world? This is what most people want. The core of what we should do on housing is to give people stability, security and affordability, through permanent tenancies at social rent alongside enough housing to be bought affordably. The nasty scrape of home-owning Tories pulling the property ladder up behind them should outrage those of us who want wealth spread around instead of having renters endlessly handing their hard-earned cash over to private landlords charging sky-high rents.
And all the while Theresa May’s, and no one else’s, version of Brexit rumbles ominously on. I go back to a point I have already made: the Conservative party has abandoned the economy as its main selling point. It has chosen to place immigration control above protecting jobs and livelihoods, risking our lives out in the economic cold. Perhaps the public will prefer this, but for now can we please have a Labour party that puts jobs and the economy first, and is seen to put jobs and the economy first. We need a constant stream of questions and concern about our industries, our companies, our innovation and technology, and the public needs to hear that this is our prime worry. Mix these things together and you will be bubbling over with ‘credibility’, not just longing forlornly at the pictures in the cookbook.
But, remember, the secret ingredient is not ‘Tories are evil’ but ‘Tories are wrong’. The former just leaves a bad taste in the mouth and puts people off. With the latter, they might just choose you to serve the dinner.
Adam Harrison is a councillor in the London borough of Camden. He tweets at @AdamDKHarrison
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