We need a vision of a better future

It’s traditional on election night for politicians to spin the results. 

“Our retention of Dunny-on-the-Wold, albeit with a reduced majority, shows that everyone thinks we’re doing a fantastic job and we’ll win the next election!” says one politician.  “But,” replies his opponent, “you’ve lost two seats in Birmingham Nicepart, which shows we’ll win the next election and the one after that!”  I can see why parties send people out to big-up their results, but I’m not sure we learn anything useful. 

So it was refreshing to see several outgoing Tory council leaders blame their losses on the swamp of sleaze their party leader is dragging them through.  Politics is crying out for more honesty.

Congratulations to every councillor who won, whatever your party.  Being a councillor is hard work and underappreciated.  Commiserations to all those who lost.  Thank you for standing – putting yourself forward takes courage.  Without contested elections, there would be no democracy. 

In case you’ve missed it, Labour did solidly in Tyne & Wear.  Press reports that Labour was in danger of losing Sunderland proved to be hype.  Sunderland’s Labour council have done some sterling work – and should be rightly proud of being a Real Living Wage employer.  That extra £40 a week in low paid workers’ pockets is vital.  And reducing poverty saves our public services money in the long run. 

Labour remains solidly in control of South Tyneside, even with some new Greens elected.  No net change in North Tyneside.  Newcastle and Gateshead haven’t elected a Conservative for 30 years.  These are strong results, considering a decade of budget cuts from central government.  Councils are strong-armed into putting up council tax or else cut core functions like children’s services to dangerous levels.    

Trying to predict the next General Election from Thursday’s results is like predicting next year’s weather.  Yet the commentary is surprisingly uniform.  Journalists across the political specturm all have a similar take.  Labour is largely where it was in 2018, and Mr Johnson has gone from electoral asset to electoral millstone. 

One reason Labour hasn’t surged nationally is that Britain’s political discourse is mired in reality TV politics.  Wallpapergate, Partygate, Tractor-porn-gate.  I’m waiting for a scandal to emerge about a large external door in Parliament, then we can have Gategate. 

These are serious matters.  The PM lying to Parliament would be a resigning matter if there was any honour involved.  But it’s detracting from running the country.  Labour proposed a Windfall tax to help with energy bills.  But how much serious analysis has it had in the news?  We rarely get more than a soundbite.  That cascades into conversations at dinner tables and pubs, where people are better informed about the PM’s birthday cake than his economic policies.  

In my election acceptance speech three years ago, I spoke about chaos.  The chaos of a private rented sector where people can be kicked out of their home at a month’s notice.  The chaotic housing market where our young people can’t afford to live where they grew up.  The chaotic transport system where passengers don’t know if the bus will turn up.  The chaos small business owners face, who don’t know if corporations will pay their bills.  The chaotic funding system for our charities and voluntary sector who don’t know what income they will have from year to year.  The chaos working people face, living from week to week, not knowing if they can pay their bills while their debts mount. 

Some people say the Johnson government is chaotic and incompetent.  But if their objective is making the rich richer, they are extremely competent.  Chaos works in Mr Johnson’s favour.  Perhaps Sir Keir should label him Captain Chaos. 

To cut through requires a plan to deal with the root cause of the chaos: a dog-eat-dog ideology and an economic system that that prioritises the interests of the ultra-rich at the expense of the working people who produce the wealth. 

People want to be shown there’s a way out.  In a world of galloping poverty, climate breakdown, and global instability, they want some hope.  So yes, call out corrupt politicians.  But more importantly, we need a vision of a better future. 

*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 9 May 22