If The Labour Party Didn’t Exist, Would We Invent It? The Case for Radical Labour

Stella Creasy – MP for Walthamstow.

Speech to Fabian society conference Saturday 16th January 2016

If the Labour Party didn’t exist today- would we invent it? There is no legal requirement to maintain us. Unless we can answer that are we wasting each others time? Like two bald men fighting over a comb?

However your meetings may sometimes feel, political parties do not exist for the sake of it. They are the practical expression of our hopes for a different world.

And in a democracy they are successful when they are a vision many – not the few- can get behind.

Choice between principle or power is no choice at all. Whether a party of power or party of protest- we won’t change the world unless we are a party of purpose.

Yet too much now rests on being united by what we are not – mainly not being the Tories, sometimes not the nationalists, and God forbid the liberals.

That does not make us the alternative government in waiting. It doesn’t even really make us the opposition. It just makes us ‘not them’.

Mocking those who voted for others only reinforces this problem. Share all the facebook statuses and memes you want- it doesn’t speak to who WE are or why anyone should care.

And this from the party of Keir Hardie’s sunshine of socialism, Nye Bevans vision of the NHS, Harold Wilsons white heat of technology.

But the truth is when you take away what we all agree on – wanting Labour to be in Downing Street- there are now divisions real and profound.

But here’s the good news. Difference can be healthy and constructive. Faced head on they can help us answer the question of what, why and how we succeed again in making a difference.

And whatever the papers or the twittersphere say, the real divisions are not of left and right, of blair vs corbyn. They are of radicalism vs conservativism.

The tension between wanting to protect what we see as precious, and our ambition to provoke change in the world to come. Of creating a new vision of Britain, or trying restore times long gone.

To have a clash of ideas – not a clash of individuals- we all need more than a rest period from twitter.

To separate divisions over purpose – so we cannot be in the same political party- and divisions over process – arguments over how to get to our shared destination.

Because public services, economic models, legislation are all processes to secure our purpose, not an end in themselves. And uncertainty about what we stand for and why is our Achilles heel with the British public.

Throughout the last parliament we didn’t reach a consensus on what our economic position should be until it was too late.

Our last manifesto had no un-funded spending commitments. Yet people still trusted the Tories more with their money. That’s the party that made £25 billion worth of unfunded spending commitments. And then accused us of economic incompetence.

Recognising the electorate chose that is not easy. They did so because the Tories had a purpose. They made everything about reducing the deficit and making the ‘hard choices’ – the long term economic plan- it required.

Our purpose is to secure the best out of each of us for the benefit of all of us. To be the difference between only some prospering, and all of us being able to contribute to and profit from our shared success. To achieve more together than we do alone.

What does that mean? Somewhere in my constituency is a kid who could cure cancer. It’s a belief that gets me out of bed, tackling my inbox and putting up with the 3am calls about bin collections. The chance to help give him or her their route to success is a job I relish – because imagine how much better all our will be if they do it.

We ARE more than ‘not Tories’. Yes, we know markets alone fall short in breaking down these barriers. We are Labour because we put our faith in people instead. In being able to work together to tackle the inequalities holding us all back.

And it’s the ambition Hardie, Attlee, Wilson, Blair and Jeremy share.

But there ARE different ways of making change happen.

I am an unashamed radical. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines of globalisation, trying just to shield the public from damage.

I don’t want to prop up failing institutions, because they are better than nothing.

No. I want to provoke change for the better and as quickly as possible, knowing it is hard to live with as it happens. I make the call that we can’t stop progress. Instead we must shape it so it rips through those barriers that hold people back.

That when someone invented a sat nav, the days of the cabby were numbered long before uber appeared. The radical way forward is to find new ways of supporting those affected to diversify and thrive, not to write them – or innovation- off.

To find new ways- because fifty years ago this was a nation dying of infectious diseases, so we needed hospitals ready to take those with TB. Now we’re a nation divided by long term conditions –to keep people well, not just wait until they are sick, of course the NHS has to change.

When people are developing complications in untreated diabetes but hospital beds are blocked with social care patients we cannot stand still.

To find new ways –thirty years ago the cold war defined foreign affairs. But now suicide bombs and youtube videos do. Those who plan deaths in Britain from a base 50,000 miles away. The plight of the Yazidi women and the conduct of the Saudi government dominate our facebook timelines. Our fight for human rights and peace cannot stop at our borders.

To find new ways- twenty years ago the best we could do in helping young people with business ideas was young enterprise. In the 21st century with people like Jamal Edwards around, that just doesn’t cut it. So instead of arguing about tuition fees for just 50% of kids, lets aim higher.

Lets ensure every 18 year old has the capital they need to get on – whether to study, start a business or learn a craft.

But here’s the thing. I could be mistaken. So I want people to show me evidence of what works and why- and what didn’t.

You think I’m wrong? Great! Work with me, and together we’ll come up with something sharper. Refined. Possible. Credible. And yes radical.

We need not to ignore these differences, or punish them, but face them head on- and in doing so jointly come up with something better.

Because when I hear people say that we’ve now reached a consensus on our economic position – I think, have we? When did that happen? I know I have a lot of questions and concerns to raise and I bet you do too.

No one has the preserve on being right- not the fabians, progress, not the Coop, not momentum. Not even Owen. But if we choose to work together in this way, we can bring out the best in each other.

Its easier said than done – to admit you might be wrong. That the world might be changing and its hard to keep up. An open mind isn’t easy –no one likes a clever clogs.

But radical or conservative, don’t be comfortable with the henry ford model of political parties- you can have any view as long as it’s mine- rather than able to engage with the world in which the people we represent live. A public still unsure what our purpose is, let alone how we would achieve it- but thankfully still wanting to know.

So lets not waste our time or theirs. Lets disagree and debate and then decide what we are for. To act on the purpose of Labour. For getting the best out of each of us for the benefit of all of us. For deeds not just words.

Because its when we choose to work this way.

That’s how we become a party not just worth voting for, or even campaigning for.

That’s how we become worth inventing in the first place.

And that really is worth the fight.

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