As the conference recess comes to an end, I have one question for you: did you see that poll? The final score, the match day news, the on-the-whistle report found that Keir Starmer’s conference speech did better with a panel of the public than Boris Johnson’s. Maybe I am an incurable pollyanna, but I say that is a success for the conference season and shows Labour heading on a journey of change as parliament returns next week.
But, like I said at the Labour to Win rally in Brighton, if we aren’t careful, being ‘Twitter cynical’ in politics is going to do us in. Because cynicism can feed defeat. Let me explain. The Tories are telling people we can’t win. They are saying there is no alternative in a country they say is as inherently conservative as England, and as divided as the United Kingdom.
The past year has shown it: their culture wars and their cynical attitude towards our progressive values is the real difference between us, and we must always guard against Tory cynicism and their disbelief about the progressive nature of our United Kingdom and its people. But I see the true nature of our country all the time in our sport and culture.
The facts show we are not as divided as our opponents claim. 76% agree that England’s diversity is important or very important to making them proud of being English. What’s that, if not 1-0 to Gareth Southgate and Hope Powell versus Boris Johnson’s confected culture war?
England is an increasingly diverse place. The 1.2 million who identified as having mixed ethnicity in 2011 is expected to have grown rapidly when the latest census results are published next year, partly due to more people identifying and partly due to more mixed couples. Support for same-sex marriage among the British public is over 73%. That is an astounding tribute to the progressive heart of the British people when you think that the Tories relied on Labour votes to get the legislation through the Commons because the majority of their MPs refused to accept that love is love as recently as 2013.
And it isn’t just who we are, but how we live. When asked if they want more time off to care for their children, 70% of dads said yes. One way or another, Britain is becoming a more progressive country. A more multicultural country. A country in which men want to care, and women take power, and in which all kinds of women, Black women and trans women, disabled women and Asian women take leadership. A country which shows that the far right – as my good friend councillor Arooj Shah, leader of Oldham says – will not win.
So despite everything, the reason I have not given up on us getting a Labour government, despite all the cynicism in the world, despite everyone telling me throughout the last six years that we were done for, is that there are people out there who want to vote progressive. They are people who want a Prime Minister who takes the job seriously and focuses on more than confected culture wars. They want a Chancellor of the Exchequer who thinks more about tackling child poverty than his own swimming pool. Frankly, they want a culture and sport minister who doesn’t just pontificate on the libraries her own party shut down, but actually makes real changes to undo the harm of 11 years of Tory incompetence and cuts.
There was one time in British politics when David Cameron tried to claim the progressive mantel. The Tory party is a very different beast now. More and more, they play to the hard right, hellbent on protecting the divisions in our society. Given that, who speaks for all those people who recognise that diversity makes us not weak, but strong? Who speaks for people who believe that the best education is the birth right of everyone, not just the rich? Who speaks for people who believe that social care reform isn’t just if your kids can inherit the value of your house, but if care workers can actually get paid – today – commensurate with the skill level of the job they do?
It’s Labour. We have an opportunity to provide the progressive leadership that our country truly deserves. We cannot let cynicism get in our way.