The last two years have been tough for London. We’ve had terrorist attacks on our city, the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, the continuing chaos of Brexit, government austerity ravaging our police and youth services, and a resulting rise in violent crime.
For many, the future doesn’t look any easier. Families are struggling to make ends meet. On average, Londoners are still earning nearly 8% less than they were before the global financial crisis a decade ago. Public services are at breaking point. Our celebrated multiculturalism and diversity are under attack – not just here in London but around the world. And now Theresa May’s chaotic and damaging handling of Brexit means jobs and growth are at serious risk.
Many of these challenges are extremely complex and have been decades in the making. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. In London, we have shown over the last two years that real progress, while hard-fought, is possible. From City Hall building more social homes last year than ever before, to freezing TfL fares and introducing the new Hopper bus fare. And from tackling London’s toxic air pollution, to reducing the number of people sleeping rough in London last year for the first time in almost a decade.
I want to be honest – some of these enormous challenges in our capital will never be solved from City Hall alone. Many will simply be impossible to meet without a new Labour government that genuinely cares about creating a better, fairer, more just country. That’s why at no time in recent memory has it been so important to get Labour back in power in Westminster.
I want to send a clear message to all Labour members and parliamentarians to remember that we can only win a general election by focusing all our efforts on fighting the Conservative Party. That means uniting as a movement to beat the Tories and dismissing any talk of a split.
I understand why people are frustrated – we’ve been in opposition for eight years and it’s a hard slog working every day while we watch our country slide backwards under a Conservative government. But a split must not happen because millions of people in our country desperately need a Labour government.
The truth is that any potential splitters are ignoring the warnings of history. For it was the ‘gang of four’ who led the breakaway from Labour in 1981 to form the SDP who contributed to the Tories three more election victories for Margaret Thatcher and another 16 years of Conservative rule.
We must learn from our shared history because making the same mistake now would not only split the Left and all but guarantee many more years of Conservative rule, but could potentially open the door to a dangerous and extreme Conservative Prime Minister, like Jacob Rees-Mogg or one of his supporters, coming to power. At a time when even supposedly moderate Conservatives, including Sajid Javid, are saying that they would scrap workers rights and consumer protections after Brexit, you can only imagine the damage an even more extreme Prime Minster would cause.
We all know that the Tories have been good at ensuring party discipline when it’s needed to cling to power. It’s now time our party took a leaf out of their book. The Tory tribal survival instinct contrasts with Labour’s internal tribalism, which, unfortunately, can lead to us focusing inwards when the real mission is to get the message out to the British people about why the country so desperately needs a Labour government.
Instead of wasting any time talking about a split, let’s use this Labour conference to say loud and clear that our Labour movement will not only remain united, but resolute in our commitment to beating the Tories. Only we can make our country a fairer, more equal and more just place for everyone.
Sadiq Khan is mayor of London.