Jim O’Neill is back, and takes on Peterborough, Labour’s policymaking process, and the McGarry case.
The, to many, surprising victory of Labour in the Peterborough by-election has shown that once we put our real message to the people, they will respond. Given that the previous Labour MP was in jail for lying to the police and Peterborough had majority Brexit support, Farage’s new front was heavy odds-on favourite to win. So why did we hold the seat, given the media attempts to damage our candidate?
The key goes back two years. The manifesto prepared for May’s disastrous election was the most socialist in many years and allowed Labour not only to massively increase our membership, but also attracted many, especially young, people to vote for us. The greatest influence on that manifesto was the National Policy Forum, a body elected from ordinary members of our party, who produced policies for the many, not the few. This might seem to be a shibboleth for the party but it encapsulates everything Labour members have believed since 1900.
These policies were placed before the people of Peterborough and they responded by setting aside the single issue politics of the European elections and sent an MP to Parliament who would oppose austerity and the divisive politics of Theresa May and her successors. Despite all the views expressed by the so-called knowledgeable commentators, the people of Peterborough rejected the politics of division and embraced the politics of hope.
So, what message does this have for Scotland? Despite Richard Leonard’s continual raising of key people’s issues in FMQs and Nichola Sturgeon’s inability to respond to these, the Scottish media have continued to focus on a party who have brought devastation to Scottish people through their austerity and benefit policies, and on a single issue party who have made a mess of both our education and health services and sent benefit powers back to England when they should be using them to mitigate the impact of the Tories.
Clearly we have to take our message directly to the people, as they did in Peterborough. In two years we face another election to Holyrood. The Scottish Policy Forum, largely elected from the membership, are working towards the policies that we will put before the people of Scotland. In this first phase we are talking not only to party members, but also to our trade union comrades and others in the community. In September, we will firm up our policies and then put them before our constituency parties.
But when the manifesto is finalised we must then get the policies to each and every elector in Scotland. I am convinced that the manifesto that will emerge will hit a nerve with Scots and that we will continue the recovery under Richard that the people of Scotland deserve.
And what of the other main story of the week? No not the “national conversation on independence” promised by an under pressure SNP but the jailing of Natalie McGarry. This is not a nationalist issue. There are bad people in all walks of life. The question is should she have been jailed or should she have received a community sentence.
In this case, we have a well paid person who not only defrauded her own party but denied desperately needed funds to a food bank. And her fraud was solely for her own and her husband’s benefit. I normally tend towards leniency but in this case a custodial sentence is entirely appropriate, given the people she defrauded and her use of the money, especially when she was a well-paid person. So, sorry Natalie, but if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.