The Tories have lost their mandate for their assault on public services, a hard Brexit and the divisive politics they pursue
‘Politics is not a game’. As Theresa May soundbites go it certainly looks to have a better shelf life than ‘strong and stable’ and it is as resonant today as ever. Not just because our prime minister did treat politics as a game – she gambled with our country’s future and she lost – but because nearly 100 people (and potentially many more) are dead in a fire in a tower block run by the state. Their families are suffering a heartbreak from which I know they will never recover.
Rich people live in tall buildings. Plenty of them do. So why are these buildings safe and not Grenfell house? Here in London, there are tall buildings all around us. But which ones are most likely to be unsafe? Those where people on low incomes live.
Just try getting a fire door fixed if your council has chosen not to prioritise your housing maintenance but instead to give already wealthy people a council tax cut. That is the reality: a Tory council handing money back to the richest residents, while Labour councillors are desperate to help and Labour councils are having to deal with the worst of the cuts.
People are disregarded because they have less money, less influence, less power. Put the state in the hands of politicians who are wilfully negligent to the fortunes of those unlike themselves and these are the disasters that ensue.
This horrific episode in the history of social housing scars us all. And to me, it reeks of the worst of Britain.
It is painfully evident that a group of people that should have been listened to were not. Hear the residents who have spoken out already and the anger is clear. The Tories are blind to the lives of anyone but themselves.
So as much as I understand the need to pick over the election result, we must also focus on the Tories and what they are doing to our country. The facts speak for themselves. Child poverty up by 400,000 since 2010 and set to rise by a further 1.2 million by 2022. Pensioner poverty up by 100,000. Rough sleeping up by 133 per cent. And millions of people having to face the fact that if they fall and break a limb there may not be an ambulance there to come and pick them up.
If it makes you angry, if Grenfell makes you angry, that is good. The burning frustration and the hot tears of anger are what should drive us on. And they did drive us on in this election. Away from the swing-o-meters, the slogans and the soundbites, the story of my election was of people angry at what this government have done and fearful of what they have planned. The Labour party came together and fought a campaign based on our values. Not for any individual, but for the idea that we all matter and nobody should be left out. People voted Labour and because of them the Tories have been stopped in their tracks. No grammar schools. No dementia tax. No fox hunting.
But no Labour government either. The government may be weakened but May still clings to power in Downing Street. So how do we respond? Yes there is thinking to do after the election, but our eyes must also be on the present. With a weak and unstable government at a critical point in our country’s history, there are three things that I believe we must do now.
First, fight for public services. The all-out assault the Tories have launched on the state since 2010 has gone far enough. The cuts to schools that they have planned in their manifesto must be fought. Our NHS workers have suffered real terms pay cuts year after year and it is time that they got a decent pay rise. And unless we want to see a return to the child poverty of the Margaret Thatcher years, we must fight for restoring the value of tax credits, family allowances and affordable childcare. A Tory government with no majority is one that can be fought on every vote, every piece of legislation and every budget. That is where our focus should be now.
Second, Brexit. Despite insisting that a larger mandate was necessary to confirm her vision of Brexit, May has decided that she can ignore the election result and commence the talks with her plans unaltered. This must not stand. But we must be clear about what we are fighting for. There is no option which is ‘just like the single market but not the single market’. We are either in or out. I am clear that we should be in. Leaving means damaging our economy, undermining our businesses and reducing the funding available for our public services. The best anti-austerity policy in Britain today is remaining in the single market. The time for the courage of our convictions is now or it is not at all. The government has no mandate for their vision of Brexit. The party has finally given in to the anti-Europe mania that had obsessed the insular hard-right sect that it has harboured for too long. Their weakness should give us strength. It is time to remind these Tory eurosceptics that their opinions are not the only ones that count.
Finally, we must bring our country together. Whether it is extremist violence aimed at dividing our country or opportunist politicians sowing discord for party political reasons, the forces that are dividing our country must be resisted. We have been badly served by a government that has put party interest over national interest time and time again. That has stirred up division and resentment. Between unionists and nationalists. ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’. Young and old. Those born in this country and those who have come here to work, learn and live. Our country must come back together, those people who are being left out must be heard, and we must be the people to make it happen. Because we are the party who believe people should be listened to, because we know that politics is not a game.
Alison McGovern MP is chair of Progress. She tweets at @Alison_McGovern
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