For years, I resisted the urge to join the Labour Party. Why? It’s not that I wasn’t interested in politics and campaigning. In my pushchair, I was wheeled between demonstrations against Yugoslavian war atrocities and Legalise Cannabis events. As a member of CND and Amnesty, I’ve protested against the Iraq war, weapons manufacturers and NATO. I have the bruises – from hastily-erected police barriers and hastily-brandished batons – to prove it.
However, for a long time, I thought that party politics was a vehicle for furthering the interests of the self-seeking and the ideologically void. This is simplistic and unproductive.
Progressive movements are at their best when they work together; no campaign operates in isolation. It is no coincidence that the people I meet in Tower Hamlets fighting against further education cuts are often the same ones campaigning in Brighton against nuclear weapons. I joined the Labour Party to bring together my interests in building a better society.
Generally, I am proud of the Labour record. Yet sometimes I wonder: what has Labour done for us?
On education, Labour’s re-introduction of grants for students with household incomes of up to £50,000 and the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has made it possible for record numbers of students to take advantage of higher education. It is true that the government has introduced university top-up fees, but this has helped to refloat universities hard-hit by the Tories’ lack of funding.
But what has Labour done about jobs and working conditions? The government has brought in new rights for workers; this includes part-time work, so students who work are now entitled to the same rights in pay and conditions, including pro-rata holidays and sick pay, as full-time workers.
What has the government done to tackle climate change? The UK is the first country in the world to have committed itself to legally binding targets for reducing CO2 emissions. Renewable energy has doubled in the last five years. More than five million UK households have received help with insulation.
Yes, but what’s Labour ever done for women and the LGBT communities? The government has doubled maternity pay and brought in free childcare for three- and four-year-olds. New legislation is helping to increase the number of women in public life. Labour introduced civil partnerships, scrapped the homophobic Tory Section 28, which outlawed ‘the promotion’ of homosexuality and brought in the Gender Recognition Act.
What has the government done for healthcare? Funding for the NHS has increased significantly with 80,000 more nurses and 35,000 more doctors employed; waiting times have decreased. Government initiatives have put the focus on preventive medicine; 82% of councils now offer free swimming to the over 60s and many do so for the under 16s too.
Labour may not have ‘saved the world’, but the government’s timely response to the global recession has been praised by leaders across the world. More than £5 billion in targeted investment is supporting those who have lost their jobs, and the Young Person’s Guarantee promises a job, internship or work placement for all 18-24 year-olds who have been unemployed for six months or more.
Locally, the three Labour MPs who work for you have done a great deal. The University of Sussex is in Brighton Pavilion constituency, so for many of us, our MP is David Lepper who will be standing down at the general election. The Labour candidate for the seat is Nancy Platts, a local campaigner with a background in trade unionism and women’s rights, having worked for both TSSA, a railway trades union, and the Fawcett Society, which fights for gender equality. Last year she did much for the successful campaign to give the South Downs National Park status. More recently, Nancy has been tirelessly working to save Preston Circus fire station.
But my interest in politics goes beyond Labour, and that’s why I went along to the Tory candidate’s Q&A session on 27 January here at Sussex.
Having read much about David Cameron’s shiny new candidates, I was interested to hear Charlotte Vere say that she was not a typical Tory – before she informed us of her background in financial services – not that atypical for a Tory. When pressed on her lack of detail about the Conservative Party’s proposed policy to give tax breaks to married couples, she could only reply ‘whatever’. Perhaps that lack of concern reflects her attitude towards many of us who might become her constituents, if she were to be elected. After all, Ms Vere spoke of the need to remove work-related legislation in order, supposedly, to free up businesses to create more jobs.
Could this mean repealing the laws that Labour has introduced to support hard-working people: the minimum wage, which raised pay for more than two million people when it was introduced in 1999 and the increased protection against unfair dismissal?
Incidentally, the article in last week’s Badger, ‘Vote for Charlotte, not charlatans’ was wrong to report that the Tory candidate supports the popular local campaign to Save Preston Circus fire station. On the contrary, Charlotte Vere said that she would support the decision to close it down. She also managed to get herself into a muddle, saying this was a decision for the local council, when it is for the Fire Service. A typical Tory? She wants to take away your essential services and your rights at work, and she shows little understanding of local matters.
As for the other candidates, the Greens’ policies are wonderfully well-meaning but vague and inconclusive. Much of what they advocate is already being done or in the pipeline, for example, free social care for the elderly would be available under Labour’s National Care Service. And the Liberal Democrats’ policies seem to change with the weather. One minute they’re agitating for an extra 1p in the pound tax, the next, saying they would slash taxation. Don’t waste your vote.
Vote Nancy Platts for an independent-minded MP with strong local links and a proven background in successful campaigning.