Jan Royall reflects on the state of UK politics and the work to be done to meet public concerns
Today sees the formal return of the House of Lords, following the Party conference season.
Many Labour colleagues have been campaigning throughout the summer, both for a ‘No’ vote in Scotland and with PPCs in our target parliamentary seats. But our primary focus is now turning back to holding the Coalition government to account and addressing the issues – direct and otherwise – that affect the lives of people in our country. Of the 29 weeks until the general election, around 21 will be legislative. And we will attempt to make bad legislation better, listening and responding to NGOs and charities that are far too often derided by Ministers for speaking out on behalf of those they serve.
Last year, Professor Anthony King wrote in The Financial Times:"Ministers often behave as though announcing a new policy or putting legislation on the statute book were an end in itself". Perhaps the jam tomorrow conference announcements from the Tories and LibDems were designed to make people feel better about the insecurity and pain they now face as a result of Coalition policies?
Prime Minister Cameron majored on unfunded tax cuts in six years' time, but did not mention the tax breaks he has already given to the wealthy few. He also repeated unmet promises about GP opening times. Deputy Clegg meanwhile had the audacity to blame Labour for the global financial crisis at the same time as taking no responsibility for the pain inflicted on individuals and communities by the choices the LibDems have made during the past four years, including low wages and zero hour contracts, food banks and the bedroom tax, and the widespread closure of Sure Start centres and women's refuges. Not forgetting of course, their handwringing complicity in helping the Tories set in train the wholesale marketisation of our NHS.
(At the weekend, I returned from Western Australia, where my daughter recently had a baby. All of the community and hospital midwives were British, a small example – from some of the first hand conversations I had – of the flight of undervalued, underpaid NHS staff.)
Last Thursday’s parliamentary by-elections were further proof that some in our country think they are not being listened to. They are fed up with an economy that doesn't work for them and our system of politics. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour is responding to this. We want greater involvement in politics and support votes at 16. Following the intense engagement in politics that the Scottish referendum inspired, we want a Constitutional Convention to help change how power is distributed across the UK (and yes, including the role of the Lords). We also see ample opportunity in the Wales Bill, currently going through Parliament, to make it easier for young people and the vulnerable to play their part in our democracy – in the face of the government’s rush towards a system of individual voter registration.
Change is afoot in our country, and people want a vision of politics rooted in reality. They want honesty and empathy from politicians, and with it the promise of hope and way out of darkened times – not the exploitation of fears, genuine and otherwise. They want a politics based on listening and dialogue, not hectoring and point scoring. They want to be part of the decision-making process not inactive recipients. They want greater powers closer to home not the Whitehall knows best system that continues to cap all our aspirations. And only Labour can deliver this.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets @LabourRoyall
Published 13th October 2014