Earlier this month I made my debut on the BBC’s Question Time and I have been told that one political confrontation stood out. It came towards the end when Liz Truss claimed that the Conservative Party were now the party of the working class. David Dimbleby had to literally hold me back; I didn’t know whether to laugh hysterically or cry out loud in indignation. Naturally, I called out the justice secretary on her outrageous comments.
But it got me thinking about the experience for the working class and middle classes in today’s Britain. It’s a fact that living standards have fallen dramatically and the IFS have issued warnings that Philip Hammond’s Budget simply perpetuated years of lost earning’s growth that will affect the wages of the average worker up to 2022.
Rents have sky-rocketed to ridiculous levels, with my constituents, in the worst cases, spending 70 per cent of their wages on rent alone, whilst drivers on modest incomes – who need their car to get to and from work – continue to face misery at the petrol pump. In Brent, we have two very busy foodbanks and several soup and bread kitchens. This 19th century scenario is the sad reality for the working class in 21st century Britain.
And to compound the struggle, this government has been cutting services, such as money for pupils, access to justice and policing. This means that when you are being discriminated against at work, you will be less likely to be able to take your employer to court. Tribunal cases have plummeted by 70 per cent. To the government this number represents success, but to me, these are hard-working people who have had the rug pulled from underneath them when it comes to getting proper recompense for their grievances. These are the signs of a government destroying the working conditions and protections of those who need it most.
One wonders whether government ministers still hold surgeries, they seem so out of touch on too many issues. Nearly one million people are on zero hours contracts which means, from month to month, they are in a panic to know if they can pay their rent on time or at all. However, the fact that the Conservatives feel they have the nerve to utter those words about representing working people is a Labour problem. The Conservatives are way too cocky and their brazen arrogance is clearly inspired by a couple of chapters from the Trump playbook of mistruths.
This government is openly deceiving the general public by claiming to be something they’re so clearly not. Whether you call it “alt-facts” or “fake news”, if such untruths are peddled often enough, people soon start to believe it may be true. Us knowing it is not true is not enough. We, the Labour Party, have to be the vanguard for what is true and demonstrate this as often as we can.
The Labour Party was born out of the working classes. It was Labour that stood up for the workers and the small businesses that have been so cruelly undermined, just look at the unfairness in the recent Budget! Equally as important are the trade unions, yet the Conservatives have tried to force the trade union bill through parliament to silence and, ultimately, destroy trade unions.
Why would they want to destroy the trade unions unless they wanted to also destroy the voice of the working class and important workers’ rights? How about the workers’ rights bill? The Tories wouldn’t allow a discussion in parliament of a bill which sought to protect the rights of the working class after Brexit. Features like working 48 hour weeks, holiday pay and maternity and paternity rights are all at risk due to us leaving the EU. The government appear to be running roughshod over them.
The Labour Party is, and always has been the party of the working class, and throughout our history in power we have championed the working man and woman in establishing great working class systems, from the NHS to the minimum wage, and all equality legislation, tenets that have now become the fibre that gives our country its unity, fairness and strength. We defended SME businesses, created through a movement of working class men women and trade unions, all with a common goal of helping the many and not just the few.
In recent years, the Tory PR machine has been in full swing. Wages for the majority of people have continued to fall in real terms, whilst those at the top have seen their salaries soar. Living conditions in the UK are now at their lowest levels for 60 years, with hundreds of thousands of families relying on food parcels just to get by. Our hospitals are in crisis, hate crime has rocketed and homelessness has doubled. This isn’t a government that is working let alone representing the working class.
Labour must be proud of our record in government. We have always saved the NHS and preserved the safety net, and we have always enabled people to work and build better lives. We know the cost and the value of key services and we must reinforce our strong message that only we can build a strong and fairer country, by putting the needs of the many first in creating secure jobs, generating more affordable social housing and preserving the working conditions that give people fairness. We will end exploitative zero hours contracts, put workers’ rights and living standards back on top of the agenda and end the state of emergency demoralising our health service.
My message to Theresa May is this: you may have delivered a caring speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, but it is clear that it was nothing more than rhetoric and spin. You spoke about those “just about managing” but this government, under your stewardship, is just about managing to govern. The few it governs for are certainly not the working class who always end up in the same old “jam” under the Tories.
Dawn Butler is MP for Brent Central.