Speakers’ Corner – Things Can Only Get Better

Things Can Only Get Better, a song by D: Ream, was used by New Labour as their anthem for their 1997 UK general election campaign.  It captured the optimism of the time, a change in direction after 18 years of Conservative Government.  Like many, I was excited about the prospect of a Labour Government that ‘things might get better’.  I was intrigued by Tony Blair; he was charismatic, attractive, young, and dynamic and had a vision for a just society that I believed in.  Admittedly, he was faux Scots, educated at the exclusive fee-paying Fettes College, far removed from the working classes that the Labour Party was created to represent.  But he was surrounded by able politicians, particularly the dour and earnest Scot, Gordon Brown, his Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Labour was going to invest in the NHS, introduce liberal social policies and, most notably would, finally grant devolution with no clauses to thwart the will of the Scottish people. 

            And things did get better, but much didn’t.  Labour failed for three main reasons:

  1. The Labour government embarked on a light touch of financial regulation.  Too frightened of vested interests, like supporting the privatisation agenda and keeping relations with the owners of right-wing media, the need for radical reform was put on the back burner.  Instead of raising government debt for investments in schools and hospitals, they funded these initiatives through private investment, termed the Private Finance Initiative.  The policy proved expensive and crippling, only making money for city institutions and leaving government institutions saddled with recurring debt that they are still paying off.  All these policies came to haunt the UK economy in the financial crash of 2008.
  2. Labour needed to deliver the radical agenda they were elected on.  However, fundamental reform of our constitution faltered.  They failed to deal with the inequity of the House of Lords and watered down meaningful devolution for the Scots and the Welsh.  These policy disappointments only stoked popular support for the end of the union and independence.  Finally, they should have embraced proportional representation, which would have ensured that future UK governments had to compromise and would end the tribalism that categorised Westminster politics.  Worse still, they alienated vast swathes of their 1997 supporters, like the Scots, who realised ‘things weren’t getting better’.
  3. Some might have forgiven the first two points had it not been for the Iraq war and aligning the UK with American interests.  No weapons of mass destruction were found, and the West’s intervention in the region has been a disaster.

And why am I reliving this history?  Because we are on the cusp of the same political changes.  Undoubtedly, the Tories are finished, discredited, divided and extremely poor at governing.  Brexit has proved to be a horrendous disaster, as was predicted.  They deserve to be routed.  There was a Prime Minister in waiting in 1997, but in 2024, I’m not so sure.

Keir Starmer is not Tony Blair.  Starmer is boring and looks like a bank manager, and his pitch seems to be that ‘I won’t change much of the current government’s policies, but I’ll be a better manager’.  And that won’t do.  He appears to be risk-averse, riddled with self-doubt, frightened of the vested interests of the media dominated by the right, and seems to have no principles or guiding tenets. And as evidence, I have detailed some of his U-turns:

  • He has ruled out the re-nationalisation of the water, electricity, gas, or nuclear companies, despite standing on a manifesto in 2019 that proposed that utilities should once again come under state control.  It’s popular with voters.  The imminent collapse of Thames Water illustrates the desperate situation that privatisation has created.
  • Starmer was adamant that there would be no privatisation in the NHS to now endorsing Wes Streeting’s private sector policies for the NHS.
  • Starmer refuses to offer his opinion of the many disputes and strikes that have besieged the UK over the last couple of years.   So, for the leadership of the Labour Party– a movement born out of the solidarity of working people, he won’t back the nurses or doctors in their claims for a just settlement.
  • He was for free movement and a second referendum, and you’ve already guessed, now he’s against it!
  • He won’t consider a change in his European policy despite the failure of Brexit.
  • Supported a policy of free Tuition fees in England, as we have had in Scotland for over ten years – but now, surprise, he’s against it.
  • Was in favour of £28 billion a year on green investment – now not so sure.
  • Now not prepared to raise the income tax on the top earners.
  • No plans for the reform of the House Lords in the first five years of a Labour government.
  • No plans for proportional representation for Westminster.
  • Believed in rent controls – now – not in favour of rent controls in England.

Of course, politicians must be allowed to change and amend policies.  It’s democracy.  But you must have a vision, core beliefs, guiding principles and a legislative change agenda to improve a broken country.  I don’t have faith that Labour has changed itself.  It’s a conservative organisation; establishment Labour politicians are not committed to change.  They seem tied to a section of red wall voters in England that prevents Brexit from being discussed honestly.

      And they won’t change – things will never get better under Labour. That’s why I’m committed to an independent Scotland – I’m positive things would finally get better if power resided at Holyrood.

#Tonyblair #Iraqwar #FreeMovement #SNP