This Thursday, New Yorkers elected somebody called Bill de Blasio as their Mayor, and there are some very interesting things about the campaign he ran.
It’s interesting actually, and I say this as an aside, that he is married to a black woman and he has mixed race children. Some of you may say what’s interesting about that? As late as 1967 it was illegal in almost all the US southern states, to have a mixed race marriage. So the fact he could do it and run for mayor is interesting.
But the really important point about Bill de Blasio’s election was the platform on which he ran. He talked about more affordable housing. He talked about rent control. He talked about opposition to New York’s version of stop-and-search. Stop-and-frisk, they call it there. He was the only Mayoral candidate who took on stop-and-frisk and talked about the disproportionate effect on BME young people. Even the black candidate in the Democratic primary chose to side with the police on stop-and-search because, just as here, it’s very popular with the police, very popular with a lot of people, but Bill de Blasio took it on.
But finally, and perhaps this is the most important thing, he attacked the growing inequality in New York city. He talked about how it was a tale of two cities. He talked about how there were hundreds or thousands of billionaires but over 40 per cent of people in poverty. But he also said he was going to put up taxes. Put up taxes on the wealthy to spend on education and pre-school childcare.
And do you know, Bill de Blasio won by a landslide. A landslide. He is the first Democratic Mayor in New York city for 20 years. So what does that tell us? He wasn’t the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate but he smashed her in the primary.
And he was coming in American terms from a left-of-centre position and yet he won in every single demographic in New York. Amongst the middle-class, white, hispanic, blacks, LGBT, he won in every single demographic by a landslide. He got 70% of the vote.
And what that tells us, despite what the Democratic Party establishment, what the Labour Party establishment would say, people want a different message. They can see the savagery and unfairness of austerity. They can see the savagery and unfairness of the growing divide between rich and poor. And I think, obviously New York is different and London is different and so on, but I think people want to hear a different message on austerity if people have the courage and the boldness to put it forward.
The other thing that it’s important to say about austerity, although we all know it really, you know, the Tories say ‘we’re having to implement this austerity because of the financial crash, because of Labour mismanagement, because, because, because’. They’re implementing austerity because they’ve long wanted to slash the welfare state. They have long wanted to smash the achievements of the 1945 Labour government. They’re not doing it, when it comes down to it, because they have to, they’re doing it because they want to.
When you sit on our side of the chamber and see the serried ranks of the 2010 intake, these are the children of Thatcher sitting there. They despise the welfare state. Whether it’s the NHS, whether it’s social housing, whether it’s welfare, they despite it. And they’re not making a few cuts which they might reverse when things get better, they are taking down the welfare state, taking down the NHS, taking down our benefits system as far as they’re concerned, for all time. And that is why it’s so important to fight this austerity.
It’s not something that will last but a government. If it’s not opposed, we will see the achievements of 1945, the health service, the welfare state, the benefits system, social housing, we will see them removed and not come back for our children and our grandchildren.
So the Tories want austerity. I was in Parliament in 2010 for George Osborne’s first budget and he announced this budget full of cuts in the public sector and the Tories were ecstatic.The Tories sat there and looked ecstatic. The Lib Dems I might say looked like someone had shot their dog because they understood what Osborne was saying. The Tories don’t have to do it, they want to do it.
And the other thing to say and again we all know it really, those people in the labour movement who claim there is no alternative to austerity, who say we’ve got to be sensible, we’ve got to offer these cuts, they are precisely the people in society who are not suffering from these cuts and austerity.
Who is suffering from austerity in Hackney? Women workers, black and minority ethnic workers, the working-class Unite members. The people…there’s never any questions… you see these people stand up, a Labour Party MP or Labour Party spin doctor who says ‘no we’ve got to accept a measure of austerity’, you will know that these are not the people who in their lives or in their families, are feeling the effects of austerity. So, we have to fight austerity.
We have to reach out to working men and women – because women are predominantly suffering under the cuts in the public sector. We need to reach out and keep our MPs on the right side of this issue. We need to raise this issue in our CLPs and at the NEC and I can see an NEC member sitting here. We need to raise the issue in whatever corner of the labour movement we find ourselves.
And just a word about fighting austerity in London. Jeremy has talked about the importance of rent controls and a big social housing programme. Many of you will have no memory of an era in the 1950s when a Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, could boast about how many houses he was going to build. Of course because it was assumed that any government, not just Labour or Tory, any government, would want to build houses for its people.
It’s come to something now when Harold Macmillan in the 1950s could boast about the hundreds of thousands of houses, of council houses, a Tory boast about that, that the leadership of the Labour Party is frightened to talk about building social housing – hundreds of thousand of social housing, we must turn that debate around, but there are other things that as a party in London, in our programme for the Mayoral election we can do to fight austerity.
We need to look at the issue of fares, you know for many people, working people and younger people, it’s a huge cost for them and Labour needs to be looking at cutting fares.
And we need to be looking at the implementation of the living wage, not just in people that are employed directly, by the GLA, but everyone who gets a contract from the GLA ought to be paid the living wage. It’s called – it was one of the policies implemented when Ken was leader of the GLC – it was called ‘contract compliance’ and I think it’s due for a revival.
We’re here because we want Labour to win in 2015, but I tell you we will not win in 2015 unless we examine out course down which we’re going. But Jeremy talked about the limitations of our pledge on energy.
We will not win in 2015 by moving to the right on immigration and I always say this but I think it’s important to keep saying it. Immigrants do not cause low wages, weakened unions and liberalised labour markets and predatory employers cause low wages but we will not win in 2015 above all unless we offer an alternative to austerity.
That is what ordinary people want. It’s no good telling them there is no alternative. Across the Atlantic in New York, ordinary people decided for themselves. Whatever the Democratic establishment said, we want an alternative, we want a leader in our city that will talk about equality, that will talk about the super-rich, that is prepared to tax the super-rich.
Ed Miliband went the right way on Syria, with a little nudge. We need to give him more than a little nudge on austerity.
Not only is offering an alternative on austerity the right thing but it is the only way we will win outright the election in 2015.