Scrap anti-union laws

Labour’s Employment Green Paper contains a list of pledges that, if turned into law would open thousands of workplaces to unionisation drives. I want to make that law a reality in the first year of a Labour government.

I want to see union organisers given access to every workplace by law; a fair pay agreement negotiated in every sector of industry; full employments rights for every worker from day one of the job; an end to zero hours contracts, bogus self employment and fire-and-rehire.

But decades of experience as a trade union rep tell me this will not be easy. The UK’s entire business model has been constructed around insecure work, unequal pay, and stagnating real wages. As an NUJ activist in the late 1990s I saw Labour’s Employment Relations Act watered down by corporate pressure.

That’s why, in addition to strong trade union representation in parliament, we need to get ready for a workers’ rights campaign led by Labour and the unions in every town and city. On day one of a Labour government there should be a Labour-led call to organise the unorganised, to claim the new rights and living wages our manifesto will promise them.

If we want a government as transformative as Attlee’s in 1945, we can’t keep trade union laws designed by Thatcher and Truss. We need to scrap the Tory anti-union laws.

And wherever Labour is holds power – from councils to city regions to the new national industrial strategy we’ve pledged – I want to see unions recognised as statutory social partners.

In the meantime, as health and education workers join posties, telecoms workers and railway workers resisting pay cuts, I will stand with them.

Redistribute Wealth

The cost of living crisis has tested the Tory economic model to destruction – driving families into fuel and food poverty, hiking the cost of rents and mortgages while cutting real wages.

Now, in an act of madness, Liz Truss has punched a £72 billion hole in Britain’s finances. Her new chancellor Jeremy Hunt is coming for big public spending cuts just to plug the gap.

So this is an emergency. There’s already pressure on Labour to rein in its spending plans.

In a period of turmoil, with Putin using energy prices to destabilise our democracy and the Tories in chaos, Labour will certainly need to stabilise government finances.

So, on top of the proposals Labour has already announced, I want to see us produce draft legislation to close tax loopholes worth £157 billion a year, in order to spend the extra money on revolutionising health, social care, local councils, defence and the green transition.

We need, on principle, to start taxing wealth as well as incomes, and adopt the steeply progressive tax principles of the successful post-war Labour governments.

We need to promote redistribution through every channel: rising real wages, universal basic services, making the essentials like transport and social care cheap or free; reform welfare and the tax system to create the beginnings of a basic income scheme; and invest massively in social mobility, through skills, education and training – with targeted support for the poorest towns and communities.

To do this, there’s no avoiding it: the share of wages in the economy will have to rise and the share of profits will have to fall. To reduce Britain’s reliance on foreign investors, who can pull the plug on any government they don’t like, we need to stop exporting wealth and start investing in the wellbeing of our communities.

We need to reform the everyday economy to make work for those who work in care, retail, construction and maintainance secure, rewarding and productive – not simply because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the only way to boost growth.

And we need to remove the special interests, cronies and lobbying companies from the machinery of government, at council, regional and national level.

With the Tories plunging communities into fear and hoplesness, we don’t just need to win an election. Like the Attlee government of 1945, we need to establish a new consensus: for an economic model that puts people and planet before the interests of speculative finance and the fossil-fuel lobby.

That’s why we need to win big – so that whatever crawls out of the wreckage of the current Tory party can never again inflict the misery and hopelessness on working class people.

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Strong on defence

Russia’s attack on Ukraine signals a new period of global conflict – in which totalitarian regimes like Russia and China are trying to break up the system of treaties and laws that have kept order since 1945. They don’t just dislike our democratic way of life: they want to destroy it.

I’ve been in the forefront in building solidarity with Ukraine in the UK – I was in Kyiv until 36 hours before the bombs dropped, making links with unions and human rights groups there. We should go on supporting arms, aid and training for Ukraine for as long as its people want to resist Putin, and we should boost our own defence output to do so.

In a dangerous world like ours, we need strong alliances. That’s why I opposed Brexit, and want the closest possible economic and security links with Europe.

And it’s why I pushed for Labour to declare its commitment to NATO “unshakeable”, and to make our commitment to the nuclear deterrent “non-negotiable”. As more of our European left and socialist partners join NATO I have campaigned for the reform of the alliance, prioritising democracy, human security and human rights.

The Tories are failing us on defence. Look at Afghanistan – the possibility of collapse not even mentioned in the risk assessment they published before our troops had to scramble to rescue those facing Taliban repression. Look at the billions they’ve wasted on failed procurement schemes. But done right, defence spending can boost growth and security at the same time.

I want a Labour government to match Tory the defence spending promise – of 3% of GDP by 2030 – but to rapidly overhaul procurement, which is squandering billions through lack of transparency and oversight. We need to buy and build as much as possible here in the UK, expanding both defence production and research capacity as part of Labour’s new industrial strategy.

That means more capacity in the basic industries we need as a country to survive. And centralised investment in energy – so that we don’t leave it to the private sector to decide when the new nuclear, wave and grid capacity gets built.

I want to see the UK’s armed forces deeply embedded in the society they defend – and to look more like the communities they come from. Those changes are already under way in the armed forces, and Labour should accelerate them.

One of the ways we can do this is to enshrine the rights of veterans and service families to first class public services into law. Another is to expand the reserves system, so that every community has a visible, active relationship to the men and women defending us.

Our party has a long and legitimate tradition of pacifism – but in the 1930s, at the crucial moment when Hitler threatened our existence, the working class demanded anti-fascism, not pacifism – and Labour led the way. Sadly, that’s what we have to do again. We need to face down Russia’s threats with a strong deterrent force, but always with an eye on the rules-based global peace we must construct once the dictators are overthrown.

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Defend democracy

Twelve years of Tory rule, on top of decades of free-market chaos, have severely weakened our democracy. We’ve got government departments run by crony appointees, the electoral commission weakened, the media awash with right-wing disinformation. As a journalist I’ve had a ringside seat for where real power lies: in the private clubs, on the billionaires’ yachts, in the networks of public-school educated elite, and the biased media.

On top of this, political corruption and organised crime are undermining the rule of law. And Vladimir Putin is meddling in our electoral system.

So with democracy, it’s time to use it or lose it. We need a radical devolution of power to towns, cities, regions, nations and neighbourhoods. There should be no decision about us without us.

We need a written constitution that – without changing the fundamental balance between the monarchy and parliament, formalises the mechanisms of governance and makes all decision-making transparent.

I want to see an elected House of Lords, strong regional governments with German-style industrial planning powers, and the trade unions recognised in law as the official social partners with business and government. I want to see maximum devolution for Scotland and Wales, and strong regional devolution for England. I accept the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to independence if they want it – but the UK government debt fiasco shows the danger: countries that cannot pay their way can instantly lose their sovereignty to faceless bond dealers.

On the first day of a Labour government I want to see all the cronies appointed by the Tories – to the BBC, the National Trust etc – dismissed, along with the “non-executive directors” they’ve placed in government departments. The bizarre arrangements that allow corporate CEOs to direct how public money is spent should be scrapped: public service should be done by neutral public servants only.

With the far-right advancing in many parts of the developed world, using well-funded media operations to destabilise democracy, the labour movement has to lead a counter-offensive from the grassroots up. Our unions, parties and community groups need to offer fascism’s target audience a radical alternative and a narrative of hope.

We need to educate our activists and voters about the toxic mixture of white supremacy, homophobia and violent misogyny that is driving people towards the international far right – and take the fight for democratic values into our communities.

I’ve been an active anti-fascist since the age of 17 – standing shoulder to shoulder with communities targeted by the far right. But the scale of the threat means we also need tough legal restrictions – against incitement to genocide and racial violence, and against the international funding streams that promote hate. Above all we need to be proud of our anti-fascist history and bring the ethos that defeated Mosley, Hitler and the BNP into today’s movement.

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Fair, Green Growth

Labour has pledged to spend £28 billion a year for a decade – taking the carbon out of our electricity system by 2030 – with an £8bn sovereign wealth fund and a statutory industrial council to make it happen. Done right, that could trigger the smart, green reindustrialisation of Britain.

But we need to build capacity, skills and knowhow at local and regional levels to do it, and commit a future Labour government to a binding carbon budget, using state-led investment and state ownership to promote wind, solar, wave and nuclear. Only that way can we achieve zero net carbon for the whole economy in the 2030s.

I want Labour to go further than its current commitment to an energy windfall tax. We should nationalise the energy retailers as proposed by the TUC and take a golden share in the North Sea oil and gas majors, in order to impose temporary controls on wholesale prices, not simply enriching the producers with public money.

To achieve a carbon free electricity system we need to nationalise the National Grid, and reconfigure it as a network that takes renewable-generated electricity from homes, small solar sites, nuclear – at small scale and large – and a renewed onshore wind sector.

At the same time we’ll need more state investment in flood defences, water conservation, and fire and rescue services to cope with the extreme weather events associated with climate change.

I support the proposal for a fossil-fuel non-proliferation treaty, moving the emphasis of transition plans away from sole reliance on market mechanisms and towards legally binding commitments. Only this will ensure justice on a global scale – because there is no market solution to the climate crisis. And the transition has to have social justice built into it unconditionally. We need to turn the “just transition” from a phrase to a reality.

The first pre-requisite for all this is money: borrowing to invest, taxing the rich, stopping up the loopholes, and taxing wealth – not just incomes. The second is skills – we’ll need massive investment to train the workers who will build this new economy, and I want to see that money classed as investment by the Treasury, enabling the government to borrow to make it happen.

Only a Labour-led government can address that challenge at all levels – from investment, to skills and innovation, through to the redesign of our towns and cities around green transport and energy infrastructures – and by launching local campaigns to maintain jobs and investment as carbon-heavy industries have to change.

Only a Labour government, with trade unions as recognised social partners, will look after the workforces and communities facing the biggest upheaval – across the whole UK.

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Crime is a Class Issue

Crime is a working class issue. From nuisance and anti-social behaviour, through to low prosecution rates for rape and domestic violence, and the long-term failure to combat organised crime and corporate corruption – failures in the criminal justice system are eroding the quality of life in our communities, and even belief in a democratic system.

And the poorest suffer the most: twice as likely to suffer violence, or be burgled, three times more likely to be robbed; six times as likely to be a victim of domestic violence, according to Public Health England. According to the public health expert Michael Marmot: “Anti-social behaviour undermines social cohesion and community function and increases community dissatisfaction and feeling unsafe in the community, all of which undermine health”.

I want the police to become crimefighters – not crime administrators. I want the criminal justice system to become an engine of rehabilitation and social justice. That means more police officers, more probation staff, more prison staff and a fully resourced courts system.

It means removing the pressure on police forces to deal with problems that other services are too stretched to handle – like homelessness, addiction and mental health problems. A strong welfare state, with resilient communities, public services we can rely on can free police resources to prevent and prosecute crime.

A combination of cuts, staff shortages, and routine racism have undermined morale and leadership in too many of our police forces. There can be zero tolerance for the kind of racism and misogyny revealed in recent investigations. I want to see swift and transparent justice for the victims where policing goes wrong. And more powers for police and crime commissioners to demand change.

I was proud to stand alongside protesters on the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020 – just as I played a leading role in justice campaigns for victims of police racism in the 1990s. I want to see the Spycops enquiry speeded up, so that the full story of politicised policing and misconduct can be revealed – and to make sure it never happens again.

Fighting crime effectively means more national co-ordination. Alongside our local police forces I want to see the National Crime Agency beefed up into an FBI-style body whose main purpose is to convict the organised fraudsters, the major drug gangs, the people traffickers and the corrupt businesses that launder their money, and the money of the super-rich. That agency, together with the Serious Fraud Office, should have independent powers to pro-actively investigate allegations of corruption among politicians, too.

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Revitalise the NHS

Labour conference adopted policy of renationalising the NHS – taking back into public ownership and control all the services handed to the private sector by the Tories. I want to see that in the next manifesto. But it can only be the start.

As an ageing society, we’ll have to spend a bigger percentage of our GDP on health and social care – and inevitably the right will begin to attack the very ethos of free public healthcare.

That’s why we need to go beyond “Defend the NHS”: we have to revitalise it, to protect its core values of universal, free healthcare at the point of need for the next century.

We need a modernised health service focused on promoting health and wellbeing for all. So that health and social are workers can move from crisis management to the kind of 21st century system they dream of running.

That means more money across the board: for primary care; for more staff; to provide universal access to elderly social care, with a workforce on the wages they deserve; and access to mental health services for all who need them.

It means setting mandatory public health targets – not just for local authorities but for industry sectors – and building in the Marmot indicators (on child mortality, wellbeing, decent housing etc) into all aspects of government policy.

Twenty years ago, Gordon Brown ordered a major upgrade to health spending – but the pointless marketisation of the NHS, plus massive failures of NHS IT – squandered the opportunities outlined in the Wanless Report. This time we have to do it right.

That’s why I want to make free universal healthcare, social care, dentistry and mental health services the top priority for Labour.

And there’s no avoiding this: we will need a strongly redistributive tax system to pay for it. And we’ll need to put people in control of their own health data, not predatory corporations.

The NHS could become an engine of redistribution – if we have the courage to tax wealth, global monopolies and big corporations to pay for it.

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