Shortly before the Richmond Park by-election last year – in which the Labour Party secured a share of the vote smaller than its membership in the constituency – I interviewed to be the pro-jobs, pro-growth, pro-Heathrow candidate to take on Zac Goldsmith. I didn’t expect to get selected, let alone elected, but I wanted to make a point to the Labour Party about what, and for whom, it should be standing.
As soon as I walked into the NEC interview room, I knew I was doomed due to the political skew of the panel. Nevertheless, I decided to make my case with as much passion as I could muster. No other candidate from any party was advocating that we should support Heathrow expansion for the sake of the jobs it would bring for the local community and the nation, I said. And that included the so-called “party of organised labour” I was seeking to represent. When I asked for feedback as to why I hadn’t made the next stage, I was told, quite remarkably, that the panel had felt I was too focused on workers…
Even in more benign economic times, in a seat with such industrial prescience, this would be a worrying attitude to be on the receiving end of. To think that the Labour Party would rather imitate the Lib Dem and NIMBY line about noise pollution and overcrowded roads was galling enough. To think that it would seek to do so in spite of the very real job opportunities offered to thousands workers from across the country as a result of Heathrow expansion was utterly stupefying. Perhaps such a virtuous stand was worthwhile in the end, however, as the Labour Party stormed home with a lost deposit.
Forgive my acidic opprobrium for a minute because this really matters. In the context of so many things, the Labour Party needs to return to its founding purpose and become once again the party of jobs, jobs and jobs. Consider the impact of Brexit, of ongoing austerity, of the skills shortage, of diminishing workers’ rights and, most important of all, the impact of automation on our economy and you will begin to see that we will all soon have to face the biggest jobs crisis in our nation’s history.
Earlier this week, the news greeted us that one Chinese firm had halved its costs (that basically means staff) by employing robots. This phenomenon, akin to a second industrial revolution far greater in impact than the first, will soon begin to take hold in Britain, too. Meanwhile, unless something dramatic changes, the British people will continue to vote for a Conservative party that holds their jobs and, crucially, their workers’ rights in a very dim light indeed.
The Labour Party should be well-placed to fill this void. Why, then, do we appear silent on jobs? In fairness, we are silent on most issues of national importance these days, for we seem to have long since given up on communicating our messages with any discipline. But this great political chasm – the looming menace to millions of Britons – should present our party with a massive political opportunity.
The next Labour manifesto should have a new deal for British workers at its beginning, middle and end. It should override all other concerns. In so doing, it will explicitly address our weakness on the economy and move the Labour Party out of its nostalgic trance and into territory where it is urgently leading the British people towards the future. I very much doubt that, under the current leadership, this will happen. Yet if those at the head of the Labour Party were looking for a soundbite to sell Labour’s next policy they could do worse than update an old Blairite mantra…
And so if anyone asked us the three priorities for the next Labour government, we would tell them: “Jobs, Jobs and Jobs.”