We became spectators while New Labour dominated our party. Now we are back.

26th June, 2012 4:15 pm

Unite’s Conference confirmed our new Political strategy today. An open and honest debate by delegates passed an open and honest strategy aimed at reconnecting our membership with politics and the Labour Party.

This matters because our 1.5 million members, mainly in the private sector, are a good reflection of working people – the very four million working class voters lost by Labour between 1997 and 2010 – who began to feel that Labour wasn’t on their side.

They will be those who applauded the minimum wage and increased NHS expenditure, but were appalled at the Iraq war and privatisation, and deeply frustrated that over 13 years the chance to change unfair trade union laws was squandered. They felt that politicians were all the same.

We became disengaged – spectators while New Labour dominated our party.

Now we are back.

It was music to our ears when Ed Miliband spoke about the crisis of working class representation, when he talked about reconnecting with working people, when he talks positively about trade unions, when he recognises the errors of the past. He has made it clear that he wants to put the New Labour years behind us, to embrace a new and more radical approach.

We will be working hard to win the battle of ideas – in these momentous times, we need radical, alternative policies. The 2015 election will be more like 1945 than 1997, and we need the policies that reflect this.

Growth not austerity is Unite policy and the policy of the Eds. But we have yet to fully win the argument with the public, and we have not yet fleshed out in detail what it means.

To move this along, Unite with other unions has established a new trade union based think tank (Centre for Labour and Social Studies, CLaSS) which will act both to develop alternative ideas and policies for our movement, and, crucially, to popularise them.

Together, we are creating a new, progressive common sense that will be the essential backdrop to future victory, underpinned by a new economy with a fair framework for working people.

Winning a progressive majority and winning the battle for the future direction of our party go hand in hand. This right wing coalition government and the New Labour remnants represent a conservatism that harms British people.  It must be left behind.

Our passion is winning for working people, bringing them back to Labour. While Unite is pioneering new methods to interact with our members on politics, including interactive texting and intensive phone banking, our task will be easier if we are presenting a convincing and radical programme.

Effective, modern member to member communication and campaigning can make a real difference.  I am proud that Unite was in touch with thousands of members in London during the recent campaign, and that on polling day, 200 Unite members were still pressing the case for Ken.

Our political strategy sits the centre of Unite’s work because we know that if we succeed, we will have made giant strides towards reconnecting Labour with working people.

The grounds are shifting in Labour.  A more progressive party, more democratic and closer to working class aspirations is beginning to emerge under Ed’s leadership.

We will be unashamedly working to accelerate these changes because only a changed party can be convincing.  Only a changed party can win.

Steve Hart is Unite’s Director of Politics. This post forms part of our coverage of Unite Conference 2012.

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • AnotherOldBoy

    “It was music to our ears when Ed Miliband spoke about the crisis of working class representation, when he talked about reconnecting with working people, when he talks positively about trade unions, when he recognises the errors of the past.”

    Quite: he who pays the piper calls the tune.

    • Dave Postles

       ‘Quite: he who pays the piper calls the tune.’
      Would that be the Con. Cruddas who is apparently under investigation by Scotland Yard?

  • AlanGiles

    “The grounds are shifting in Labour. ”

    We can but hope, but what with Mandelson coming out of the woodwork last week and the threatend “re-engagement” by Blair (and for which he has employed a highly paid new press secretary), I don’t think we can be too sanguine yet.

    Better call a taxi (but make sure Byers isn’t driving!)

  • John Dore

    We became spectators while New Labour dominated our party. Now we are back. 

    The full title should be: “We became spectators while New Labour dominated our party. Now we are back to make Labour totally un electable once again.”

    • Imonckton


  • Charlie “Unite Member” X

    You were probably also spectators when union membership fell from 7.8m workers in 1997 to under 6.5m in 2009. 

    “Now we’re back”? 

    It’s that kind of short-sighted, navel gazing language that turns the country off…

    • treborc

       Turns the country off what?  navel gazing.

  • Great post. Good to see reason and passion united in an argument that supports the aspirations of ordinary people.

  • johnp Reid

    New labour didn’t dominate your party It everyone’s party, When the Gasistkellites saw labour being infiltrated by Bennites in the 70’s did they say we saw our (the giastkellites)party being dominated by trots, come Kinnock taking on militant in 1986 did they say , “Now we’re back”

    • AlanGiles

      You seem to think the only people who should be prominent in the Labour Party are the right wing Mr Reid. You airily dismiss everybody else as “trots” (sic) and hard line left wingers. I am surprised you are so censorious, surely as a party secretary you should welcome all shades of opinion, not just your mates on the right. I suspect Havering will be a very lonely spot for anyone who doesn’t share your views.

      • johnp Reid

        that’s why when I organised Ken’s campaign in 2008 we got 1000 more voted than in either 2004 or 2012 ,and when I stood for councillor I had A 16% swing towards me,

        • AlanGiles

          “when I stood for councillor I had A 16% swing towards me,”

          Duke Ellington wrote “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Aint got That Swing”, but 16% swing or no, did you win?

          • treborc

             Nope he did not, but he had a 16% swing.

        • Havering member

          John you were not the key organiser in the 2008 election and your swing was not down to you. It was down to having Eamonn mahon the local man as our candidate in the area. And in the 2008 elections the labour vote vote decreased in terms of swings and jumped dramatically in the 2012 one when us activits actually organised it all. If your going to blow your own trumpet and take all the credit for an election 1. Make sure we do better in the election and 2. Actually do the work in it and dont take credit from the people who actually did

    • Daniel Speight

      So John P Reid, when Kinnock said “Now we’ve got our party back.” in 2010, who was he talking about?

      He wasn’t talking about Militant was he? Could it have been those hidden faces behind Progress? Maybe even Mandelson, and David Miliband, and Blair? What do you think, and please no mention of Wilson otherwise I will know you’ve lost it.

      • johnp Reid

        Kinnock didn’t say that someoen sasid it to kinnock he agreed, but as pointed out that len Mckluskey feels the ousting of Progress is getting his party back to the mid 80’s as also pointe dout by Luke akehurst he doens’t want labbur to swing further to the right, like Kinnock (akehurst beign both A kinnock and ed milibnad supporter), but saying we’ve got our party bakc doens’t mean that Kinnock wanted laoub rto go back to the union days of the 70’s anymore than by defedning progress that Ed miliband wants to continue Blairism and that the attacks on Progress aren’t differnet to the way the Gaistkellites were undermind in the 70’s when the Bennites infultrated 

        • johnp Reid

          Also Mandelson was Kinnocks protege and When mandelson failed to make it to the NEC in 1997 the Kinnocks were the biggest defenders,
          Whats wilson got to do with anything When He won the feb 74 election with 11.3 million votes that was less than when Callaghan lost in 1979 or kinnock in 1992 ,the fact was the Tories increased their vote from 10.5 million in 1974 to average of 13.5 million during their 18 years in power.

          • treborc

             Progress history books are a bit different.

            Lord Kinnock has hailed Ed Miliband’s “magnificent” first speech as
            Labour leader, telling activists: “We’ve got our party back.”

          • johnp Reid

            A bloke said to Kinnock we’ve got our party back and Kinnock agreed.

          • Daniel Speight

            To be more exact John, Kinnock quoted the ‘bloke’ in a speech.

            Former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock told a packed Tribune Rally at Manchester Town Hall how he was sitting in the conference hall listening to the new leader’s speech when a trade union activist tapped him  on the shoulder. “Neil”, he smiled. “We’ve got our party back.”

          • Daniel Speight

            Whats wilson got to do with anything

            Nothing really John, it’s just that you usually throw him into your answer.

          • johnp Reid

            getting the paty back from the blairites doens’t mena the sort of withc hunts of the past that those trying to smear progress by saying they’re a party within a party like Militant ,when reall ythey’re a magazine. I don’t even know if the bloke who said to Kinnock we’ve got our party bakc was a trade unionist, as for new laobur beign over Yes, but htat does’nt mean that Mandelson and campbell havne’t got something to offer,

          • AlanGiles

            They are MORE THAN a magazine though are they not?.

            I’d steer clear of that argument, Mr reid. As you are so fond of quoting history you will no doubt know that many supporters of “Militant” climed it was “just” a magazine.

            Why are Progress so reluctant to answer questions put to them, and why are Progress supporters like yourself so unwilling to address what I haves aid before: It is not so much the fact that it is a right-wing organisation that bothers me but the fact that many of it’s leading figures cannot be trusted with claiming expenses properly. If they cannot be trusted on such matters, why should they be trusted on anything else?

            Until Progress answers the questions, they can expect them to being kept to the fore till they do.

        • Daniel Speight

          As usual John P Reid you have lost me. So Kinnock agreed with the trade unionist who said the dirty words. You say he didn’t want Labour to go back to the seventies which knowing Kinnock’s history is pretty obvious.

          But who did Kinnock agree we had got the party back from? Whom John? Who was it Kinnock thought had been in control of the party and had now lost that control. Could it have possibly been ‘New Labour’? Does that mean he was glad to see the back of Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell, Powell and so on? I don’t know John, you tell me?

          And please this was 2010 not the 1970s.

  • “Growth not austerity is Unite policy”

    Growth isn’t the opposite of austerity – spending is.

    “Our passion is winning for working people”

    Brilliant – but how do you define ‘working people’?  I work in middle management and earn a decent living (not rich, not poor, but well above average). Is there a place for me too?  If someone earns above average income, or heavily above the average, and have achieved it by ‘working’, are they still ‘working people’? 

    The Unite strategy is to make Labour the political wing of trade unions, that’s fine to a point, I just want to make sure your vision for it is inclusive of all people, regardless of their background or income.

    • Daniel Speight

      Jonathan do you really see no link between austerity and growth?

      In your vision of an all inclusive party should it also defend the interests of the land-owning aristocracy, or possibly tax avoiding commodity traders? It’s just I want to hear your view on how inclusive is all inclusive.

      In an earlier thread you said you had no loyalty to an ideology or even a party. Your only loyalty was to the country. When I asked you what you meant by ‘country’ you never answered. I would still love to know Jonathan.

      • 1) The link isn’t the issue.  My point was about whether austerity is the economic opposite of growth, and it’s not. Spending is.  Austerity is a policy, growth is an aspiration.

        2) Personally I think we should stick up for every law-abiding citiizen in the country.  The vast majority are decent, hard-working people and I think that whilst each will have different needs, we can’t claim to be the party of the people if we are only the party of some people.  Some in the Party are always seeking to pitch people against each other, and make enemies out of decent people just because they have a bit more money or have a different viewpoint.  I find it ridiculous and thoroughly mean-spirited.  It is possible to stick up for the poor, give the middle class a break and say ‘good on you’ to those who have made money.  We don’t have to hate people, but sadly some seem to revel in their hatred.

        3)  I didn’t see your comment.  What I mean by ‘country’ is the United Kingdom and it’s constituent countries and principalities, and those that reside within it.  Not sure if I can explain ‘country’ better but happy to do a dictionary search if required!

        • AlanGiles

          Jon: All parties claim to want to represent all sections of society – Blair and Mandy did more than most labour leaders to ensure they were comfortable with the “filthy rich” (Mandy’s word, not mine), by becoming two of them, but the perception of a lot of Labour voters was that in being so anxious to mollify Conservative voters Blair had Mrs Thatcher round at No 10 for tea and crumpets the first day he was in his new office, he was more focused on them and their problems rather than the poorest in society.

          The Tories would claim to want to represent all sections of society, but when Cameron even upsets Daily Mail readers by threatening to withdraw housing benefit from under 25s, and advising the under 25s to return to their “childhood rooms” it seems clear he is not even representing his own supporters!. Indeed, you don’t have to be an inverted snob to think that about the only working class people who would support what nadine Dofrries described as “arrogant posh boys” would be latter day Alf garnett types wqith a strong streak of masochism.

          Like shopping centres, each party, while it tries to attract passing trade, knows it has a core supporters, and is best advise to concentrate on that section rather than waste time and money chasing customers who will only come in to browse, or not at all.

          • I think if our core vote was big enough to win elections by themselves, we wouldn’t have spent the majority of the 20th century being in opposition.

            The vast majority of people in the country are fairly ideologically neutral.  Many core voters are so because of family tradition (‘my Dad would turn in his grave if I didn’t vote X’ being a common doorstep comment) rather than a firm set of political principles, or vote a certain way because everyone else in their community does so (‘there’s no point voting anything other than X round here’ is also a common doorstep phrase), but there is a significant central pool of floating voters all parties need to win over.

            But there’s also a moral side – I see nothing moral in being ‘for’ a certain group of decent people and ‘against’ another.

            I just don’t see why we can’t be nice to everyone!  I’ll never be someone who is defined by which kind of people they hate. 

          • AlanGiles

            You don’t have to be against, Jon, just not so over-anxious to please as Mandy and Blair were with the very rich (or so-called  celebrities and pop singers). Whatever wing of whatever party you belong to, you should have a set of basic principles which are non-negotiable.  Cameron is pandering to the right-wing of his party with his latest pontificating on welfare (Blair and Brown did the same thing to Mail and Sun readers).

            I don’t want to be a Job’s comforter but frankly, if Ed doesn’t soon  make clear where he stands on a number of issues (the Twigg and Byrne apparent volte-face being two recent examples) I can see us being out of power for quite a bit of the first part of the 21st century, too. I don’t think playing “Hamlet” will endure him or us to the voters floating or otherwise.

        • Daniel Speight

          Thanks Jonathan.

          1/ Tory austerity means low, no or negative growth, so your argument seems nit-picking to say the least.

          2/ Every law-abiding citizen should be represented by the Labour Party. It’s all things to all people again. The working man has very little in common with the Duke of Westminster. They may be both law-abiding but as a recent Panorama showed the Duke is getting millions from the EU in grants for ‘not damaging land’. The EU would like to put a cap on these grants of a quarter of a million but the Torys are against that as they represent the large land-owners. How can the Labour Party represent both the Duke and that working man? This is the extreme example of course, but Labour’s very history is to help the low paid, not the high paid. Hate doesn’t have to come into it.

          3/ And so to loyalty to one’s country.

          What I mean by ‘country’ is the United Kingdom and it’s constituent
          countries and principalities, and those that reside within it.

          It’s a funny old question in a way. I’m glad you include the people who reside within it. That makes it not so blind a patriotism anyway. But it could mean more you see.

          For me in the folk memory that the British people have inherited. It probably goes back to the stone age. It means that we feel the equal of any other man, even when that other man may have just invaded us and claimed the right to rule us. That whether we are Briton, Celt, Saxon, or Norman, we are equal. It’s the folk memory of Wat Tyler, Jack Straw of John Ball which says you can’t take that feeling away from us. It’s cutting off a king’s head to make the point. It’s forming unions to protect the working man and it’s electing Keir Hardie to Parliament. It’s holding out against Nazi Germany when all looked lost.

          Can you see loyalty might be to an idea of what it means to be British. It’s that sense of fair play. I even think that’s why we make lousy communist. We see the apparatchik system as basically unfair.

          • 1) Fair point – it was nit picking
            2) Well you are using an extreme example.  My understanding is that the Royal Family does not (cannot?) vote anyway to ensure neutrality.  I think my issue is that Labour people will say they want people from poor backgrounds to have the chance to get to the top, but the second they do we kind of turn on them.  Instead of saying ‘well done’ we say ‘give us your money in taxes you rich bastard’.  I think the general tone tends to be to ignore the enormous effort the vast majority of wealthy people have put into making their lives a success – the relentless hardwork over countless years.  There is a disrespect there that just sticks in my throat.  I, of course, believe passionately in wanting more opportunities for the poorest and the lowest paid who themselves work hard – but I think it’s possible to do that by being inspired by those that have made it, not by doing them down.

            3)  Well I am something of a flag-waving patriot, but not a blind one.  The fairness thing is right, but people have different interpretations as to what it means.  For me, we’re a tiny island that has achieved so much in the world – and I’m proud of that.  As well as you’re quite correct list, we are also a country where you can come here and make a go of it, that if you work hard it is possible to achieve something extraordinary.  It is like the American Dream except we don’t make a big song and dance of it.  I do sometimes think all of that comes under threat from the cradle-to-grave nanny state mentality that some have.  We have, I think, lost a little ‘get up and go’ as a nation, and prefer to blame others for our failures instead of getting up, dusting yourself off and giving it another go.  We have started whinging quite a lot about how hard done by we are (when most countries will kill to have an NHS, welfare and education system as advanced as ours), and I’d like to see some more of that stiff upper lip that got us through many far more difficult times.

          • Daniel Speight

            It is like the American Dream except we don’t make a big song and dance of it.  I do sometimes think all of that comes under threat from the cradle-to-grave nanny state mentality that some have.  We have, I think, lost a little ‘get up and go’ as a nation, and prefer to blame others for our failures instead of getting up, dusting yourself off and giving it another go.  We have started hinging quite a lot about how hard done by we are (when most countries will kill to have an NHS, welfare and education system as advanced as ours), and I’d like to see some more of that stiff upper lip that got us through many far more difficult times.

            This really is quite awful. Sounds more like an American Republican politician, Jeffrey Archer or Nigel Farage. Not knowing where to even begin I will accept defeat, say nothing and let it go.

          • ah yes, the old ‘He’s a Tory’ stuff. 

            Take a breather and if you want to come back and explain why you think I’m wrong, instead of just saying I’m ‘like Jeffrey Archer’,  feel free.

          • Daniel Speight

            No I think I will just accept defeat. I can see no possible good out of trying to understand quite where your politics lie.

            This isn’t even right wing Labour. Third way doesn’t sum it up. This is a very old way. It has more to do with Moral Re-Armament than Labour. It’s so far away from the historical roots of the Labour Party and the labour movement that I feel my hope in the future of the Labour Party draining away.

          • Dave Postles

            There is no ‘American Dream’.  It’s a plutocracy like over here.  It is becoming a self-perpetuating plutocracy – a rich oligarchy. It is developing that way even more so because government has been captured by that plutocracy.   

    • Dave Postles

       It’s necessary to have priorities, especially now.  Middle-class people have sufficient social, cultural, economic and political capital to be more resilient than poorer people.  At this conjuncture, the priority must surely be those people who are most exposed and at risk.

  • Dave Postles

    RBS/NatWest mess up. Barclays fined for manipulating LIBOR and Euribor.  When will this banking malfeasance and nonfeasance end?

    • treborc

      It does make you wonder how the hell they were allowed to have free run.

  • Dave Postles
    • treborc

      The second coming.

    • AlanGiles

      FRom the cited article:

      ” I was forced out because of the events of the previous September, so in one way I didn’t want to go but I felt that I had to.”

      So now, like disgruntled “Progress” members and hangers-on he is claiming victimhood.

      I sometimes wonder if he really believes some of the stuff he comes out with himself. Really he should have stood down after losing managing to lose nealy 100 seats in the 2005 general election, thanks to his Iraq adventures.

      Nobody could have forced him ou had he been determinded to stay, but I susp[ect, rather like Branson when he sold of his Virgin music empire, he could see the writing was on the wall and didn’t want the embarrassment of leading the party to defeat at the next election (which I think would have happened anyway, regardless of Brown, Mrs Duffy and all the rest of it).

      If the country is subjected to his rehabilitation and his camp blather again, it will be interesting to see the opinion polls when the general publiic have seen the old entertainer is back. Personally I think support will either stay stable or go down, I don’t think it will rocket like his remaining fans believe it will. He is now the Gerald Ratner of politics.

      Like heavyweight boxers, old Prime Ministers don’t come back – he should just fade away.

  • Ma Rathfelder

    Why exactly did the union become disengaged spectators? Unless we know that it might happen again


LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends