The playful exchange of tweets this week between Nick Clegg and Ed Balls may have shown a thawing of personal relations between the two, but we must be under no illusion that this represented any kind of moves towards a new coalition after the next election. That would be both unnecessary and damaging for the Labour Party and, crucially, for politics itself, which is struggling to respond to the wave of public anger and mistrust.
Here in Redcar there is a sense of hurt and bewilderment with politics that it’s easy to understand. Feeling angry and let-down by Labour in 2010, when the steelworks closed temporarily, people locally turned to the Lib Dems in hurt and frustration. The Lib Dems offered glib promises and soothing reassurances, disseminated through a truck-load of leaflets. A long-standing Labour seat fell with the biggest swing in the country.
And how did the Lib Dems return the trust of local people who had turned to them in anger and disillusionment? By turning their back on them and wholeheartedly signing up to a Tory austerity programme that has devastated the area.
By bringing in the bedroom tax, hitting nearly 2000 people in the constituency. By voting to privatise Royal Mail, contributing to the loss of the delivery office in South Bank and the potential loss of the crown office in Redcar. By whole-heartedly supporting George Osborne’s economic vandalism, leading to cuts of over £51million to our local authority services here, hundreds of job losses and soaring long-term unemployment, particularly for young people and for women. By slashing support for the disabled, by allowing bills to soar and by creating a devastating reliance on foodbanks – with over two-thousand people here seeking help to eat last year. This is not what the people of Redcar voted for.
So it is no wonder that people throw their hands up in despair. They thought they were voting for positive change – they got a Tory. They feel more let down and disaffected than ever. Many are coming back to us. ‘I’m so sorry – I really regret it now’, ‘I was angry – we all were’, ‘never again’. These are some of the things people say to me who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 here.
But that is not enough. We cannot just be a receptacle for people’s anger and sense of betrayal by the Lib Dems. We must offer a positive difference. We have to show people that we will be a government that works for them and puts them first – that what they are going through doesn’t have to be like this, and, while we didn’t get everything right, Labour is the only party that will genuinely stand up for working people.
Otherwise, if political values are to be like the colour of Cardiff City’s football shirt – changeable on the whim of those at the top – how do we try and convince people that the club, or the party, cares about them and values their support?
People I speak to want Labour to be bold. They want to know that we stand for something and that there is a real and significant difference between the parties. I believe there is, and I spend a lot of time on the doorstep talking people through those differences.
Labour are in the lead and should look to grow stronger. Not reach out to a small and dwindling group who say one thing and do another, and who have damaged the integrity of politics. Not apologise for our lead, looking as though we lack confidence and belief in ourselves.
We should have the confidence to put our vision forward to the public with a true sense of our values and a bold manifesto, and have faith in the British public to make a judgement. Tactical politicking and the hedging of bets disrespects the public’s ability to make a judgement, turns people off politics further and undermines the real value of the party system.
Whatever the thawing of personal relations in Westminster, I will be fighting tooth and nail on the streets of Redcar to give people the respect and the difference they deserve. And believe me, the last thing they want from Labour is a pre-election deal over power sharing with Nick Clegg.
Anna Turley is the Labour and Co-op PPC for Redcar