And so comes to an end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. There have been cheers and gloating by some, and there is sorrow for what might have been from others, but as we witness the last vestiges of the Tories’ decade of ideological austerity crumble amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we can all see that it is the end of an era in more than one sense.
Whatever side you come down on as far as Corbyn is concerned, there can be no debate about the change in the way the Labour Party responded to those brutal and brutish austerity policies; from Rachel Reeves’ appalling “we will be tougher than the Tories on benefits cuts” line during Ed Miliband’s tenure as leader to John McDonnell’s proposal to dismantle austerity and reverse cuts across the board.
It will be interesting to see how the party responds to the aftermath of this crisis under a new leader. With Rachel Reeves tipped as a successor to McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor, it is a concerning time for those of us who have witnessed first-hand the evil, ravaging power of the Conservatives’ quest to cut and punish. If Labour again chases the Tories’ tails on reducing the sure-to-be-hugely increased deficit by cuts to public services and benefits, it will amount to nothing less than a betrayal of this country; a betrayal of those essential workers who have been so readily and heartily applauded during this crisis.
It would be naïve to think a politician cannot change their worldview on command if it means a shadow cabinet position, but having been used to Corbyn, it would be new.
Those of us in Worcestershire are familiar with the struggles of public services under the governance of the Conservative Party. The Worcestershire Royal and the Alexandra Hospital, for example, are under constant pressure and their staff have had a never-ending war of attrition waged on their morale due to the cuts and staff shortages imposed on them by central government.
But what you will also hear on the doors from some current and former NHS workers, especially canvassing for the Labour Party as I often do, is that the Royal’s problem is the PFI contract that it was built on. The 30-year contract to which the Worcestershire Royal is subject, where the NHS does not own the hospital but pays through the nose to use it, is a Faustian pact, and an example of what happens when a Labour government, which we had at the time and which did many good things, adopts Tory ‘common sense’ policies.
The Rt. Hon Keir Starmer and co. must not go back to the past in search of the future. Austerity is over in the mind of the public. It no longer makes sense to them, and why would it? When we come through the worst of this crisis, and the siren voices start to proselytise the need to reduce public spending, it will take strength and solid argument to stand against them. I expect a QC to provide both.
Mr Starmer: you will not be thanked by anyone if you don’t find that strength or those arguments. We’re all counting on you.