The Labour Party has been one of the greatest forces for good our country has ever known. But today it is in crisis. Fractured and fractious, Labour stands on the sidelines, while a cruel right wing government runs roughshod over people’s lives.
This isn’t how it should be. As socialists, we have a bold vision of the future. A future founded on equality, dignity, peace and prosperity. But today, our party is ineffectual, directionless, and in danger of ceasing to exist altogether. What an indictment of the Labour movement. We are letting down the people our party exists to serve, the people who most desperately need a Labour government.
To change that, we need clear leadership. This isn’t about just one individual. No one person is bigger than our movement. But it is about being able to lead a team, to act collectively as a principled, effective, outspoken opposition to the Tories, and to be seen as a party that’s preparing credibly for government.
That’s why I’m backing Owen Smith to be the leader of the Labour Party. Owen’s a socialist, he’s passionate about his politics, and he is furious at what the Tories are doing to our country. He’s got a strong track record of taking the fight to the Tories. He led Labour’s successful campaigns that forced them to U-turn on cuts to tax credits and personal independence payments for disabled people. As our frontbench spokesperson on the Health and Social Care Bill, he was the first to call the Tories out on their plans for NHS privatisation.
Owen is anti-austerity, but he knows it’s not enough to be against something – you’ve got to be for something too. And he believes passionately in equality, prosperity and fairness. That’s why he has said we should rewrite Clause 4 of our party’s constitution, to make equality explicitly our fundamental and guiding purpose.
Of course, if that was just a slogan, that wouldn’t be enough. But Owen has a plan for the future of our country. His plans for fair funding, fair taxes and fairness at work show how he’d go about achieving greater equality.
So Owen has set out his manifesto for fairness in the workplace, with commitments to a modern Equal Pay Act, a real Living Wage for every adult, the establishment of Wages Councils in the retail, hospitality and care sectors, which are characterised by high levels of female employment and low pay, the reinstatement of trade union rights, and an end to fees to take cases to an Employment Tribunal.
He has set out his case for investment in our public services, with a commitment to a 4% annual uplift in NHS budgets, to bring us back to the level of at least the European average, funded by tax increases for the wealthiest and cuts to corporation tax, and to end tax breaks for private schools and reinvest the hundreds of millions of pounds saved in Sure Start.
And because all these promises are founded on the need for a strong and growing economy, with the proceeds of growth being equitably shared, he’s announced a British New Deal – a £200 billion stimulus package, funded by government borrowing, for investment in both physical and social infrastructure. That means funding for our education and care systems, alongside a major boost for transport, housing, manufacturing, and investment in the jobs of the future.
These are bold, socialist, Labour programmes, and I’m proud that Owen has made these brave yet wholly achievable commitments. But there’s no denying that the task of delivering them has been made far more challenging by the UK’s imminent exit from the European Union. For Labour, an outward-facing, internationalist, party, turning our backs on our European neighbours is a deeply troubling prospect. Owen fought hard for us to remain in the EU, and he was dismayed that, in calling for the immediate activation of Article 50, Jeremy Corbyn effectively handed over a blank cheque to the Tory government. A blank cheque to negotiate away our workers’ rights, our consumer rights, our environmental protections, our global influence, the thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment that have come from our EU membership.
Owen won’t just stand by and let that happen. The decisions on the exit negotiations will affect not just us today, but crucially, will be felt most acutely by our children and grandchildren. That’s why he’s said that we must be all over the government as the exit deal’s negotiated, holding May, Fox, Davis and Johnson to account. And it’s why he’s said that the deal that’s eventually on offer must ultimately be put back to the British people for their final say, by way of a general election or second referendum.
Taking the fight to the Tories, as Owen has done and continues to do, has never been more important. And it underlines why we need him as our leader. For just when Labour is most needed, today we find our party at its least effective. In the local elections and in the elections in Wales and Scotland in May, and in the EU referendum, we saw Labour voters deserting us. A Mori poll last week has shown more Labour voters are satisfied with Theresa May than with Jeremy Corbyn. We are at 26% on present polling, and if we continue on the trajectory we’re currently on, we’d be down to just a 22% vote share at the time of the next general election.
We can’t allow that to happen. But we know it reflects the voters’ view that we’re not competent, and too divided to be trusted with government. There’s a desperate need to unite and heal our party, bringing together different opinions, and ensuring that members, trade unionists and MPs from all parts of the party come together. Owen’s credibility with his parliamentary colleagues (80% of whom are supporting him) means he can lead a team that can be a strong opposition to the Tories in parliament. And he’s also keen to harness the power of our growing movement, and the hundreds of thousands of members who want to make a difference.
Owen recognises that members of our party, young and old, longstanding and recent joiners, are in the Labour party for the same reason he is: to improve things for their community. He recognises that our principles and values are what bind us and give strength to our movement. But he also knows that we can never build the country we want if we can’t gain power. It’s no use just being a party of protest – that won’t improve the lives of one single family in this country.
That’s why we need a leader now with a track record of strong opposition to the Tories, with bold new ideas, a plan for the future, the ability to build a team to put that plan into action and get back on the road to government, and with strong, deep-rooted Labour values. Owen Smith has those qualities. His strength of character is shining through as the leadership campaign progresses. He is ready, eager, and needed to do the job. That’s why I’m backing him to be our next Labour leader.
Kate Green is the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, was Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities until her resignation in June 2016, and is the Co-Chair of Owen Smith’s Labour leadership campaign.
@owensmith2016 @OwenSmith_MP @KateGreenSU