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The Rochester by-election ended as expected with the sitting MP Mark Reckless re-elected, albeit on a lesser vote than he had won previously as a Tory. The newspapers, not surprisingly, called it a triumph for Ukip.
In the course of the campaign Reckless got himself into an odd debate about why, when or how any non-British resident could be deported from the country under a Ukip regime — and he seemed eventually to concede that some Polish plumbers would be allowed to remain here for a bit longer.
The other news from the campaign was the dismissal of my parliamentary neighbour Emily Thornberry following a tweet that she sent, which degenerated into a ludicrous debate about the displaying of flags, personalities and people who drive white vans.
Sadly, none of this encouraged a serious debate about poverty, opportunities and aspirations in Britain.
News that did not make the front pages of the Mail and the Express by Monday was that the weekend opinion polls had shown Labour support increase to 34 per cent, giving it a small lead over the Tories.
I sometimes wonder if we’re not in the midst of a coalition conspiracy to avoid discussion of issues that matter to the majority of people, but instead, reduce everything narrowly into false patriotism, minority-bashing and personalities.
On Monday there was a four-hour strike of National Health Service workers in protest at the pay freeze and privatisation of services, and the transfer of jobs from the NHS to the private sector, with the same people delivering services to the same NHS patients, but on lower wages and considerably worse working conditions.
The NHS is Britain’s most popular institution and service.
Both Ukip and the Tories are committed to dismantling it.
Yesterday, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) held a very effective lobby in support of the universal postal service, which is now under threat following the part privatisation of Royal Mail, as a result of which the stratospherically overpaid CEO of Royal Mail is on £6 million a year.
The CWU is campaigning to defend members’ jobs and positions and a requirement to have an equally priced delivery to every address in the whole country.
Also yesterday construction union Ucatt was lobbying on safety and building sites and blacklisting, while the Public and Commercial Services Union was lobbying to try to prevent the privatisation of the Highways Agency.
All these union campaigns are in defence of people’s jobs and conditions, and all are a benefit to our community as a whole.
The nearer we get to an election it is important to look at these issues as being the most important and not allow the anti-politics party Ukip to gain the upper hand.
I took the opportunity to read through the Ukip website, and aside from the rather odd disclaimer that the 2010 manifesto is no longer applicable, with Nigel Farage claiming he didn’t put it together, its policies do need serious challenging.
For example, Ukip wants to leave the EU but wishes to remain in the European free trade area and European economic area if the principle of the free movement of labour in those two agreements was removed.
It says there should be a large increase in the personal tax allowance, the abolition of inheritance tax, the reduction of tax for people at the top end of the scale and all this without any analysis of the cost of these tax cuts, or of the much greater inequality this would create in Britain, which would surely surpass any of the negative impact of George Osborne’s past four years.
It would abolish the Departments of Energy, and of Culture, Media and Sport. Ukip would reduce the Barnett spending formula under which central government finance is allocated to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, accelerating the disintegration of the UK.
Being generally anti-education, the party would remove the aspiration of half of school leavers to go to university and remove tuition fees for certain subjects related to industry’s needs but maintain the £9,000 annual fees for all other students.
It’s a relief to know that it supports free schools providing they uphold British values, suggesting that existing schools may apply for grammar school status and select according to ability and aptitude.
Ukip does not answer the interesting question of what would happen if every secondary school were to become a grammar.
Ukip has a great deal to say on the military covenant and insists that any ex-soldier would be guaranteed a job in the police, prison or immigration service, and priority for a council house. Its NHS policy appears to amount to ending car-parking charges, as well as ensuring that all migrants, before being allowed to pass a very high test for entry into Britain, have private health insurance. Interestingly, it opposes PFIs, so there is a silver lining.
As we well know, Ukip is highly opposed to foreign aid, does not believe in climate change and supports shale gas extraction, as well as nuclear and other forms of carbon-intensive energy generation. For agriculture, it will leave the Common Agricultural
Policy and allow the British Parliament to vote on GM foods.
Its housing policy consists of protecting the green belt, allowing planning permission to be overturned by local referendums, yet says nothing about homelessness and the private rented sector or the building of council housing.
The significant nasties in Ukip’s manifesto would result in the worst working conditions in the private sector and generally, a deeply discriminating and intolerant society.
In a sense Ukip is the anti-politics party and Farage is presented as the friendly man down the road in a pub.
Its murky relationship with Britain First and support from former BNP activists shows where it is really coming from.
Across Europe there has been a frightening rise in the far-right, with openly fascist parties campaigning in a number of countries, but interestingly, where left parties have taken them on and opposed the European austerity packages, they have grown spectacularly in support, thus Podemos in Spain is now, according to polls, the most popular party in the country.
In Greece, which has been the laboratory of monetarism and austerity in Europe, Golden Dawn is now losing support as Syriza not only gains support, but has also shifted the political debate into providing a left alternative.
In short, people have realised that xenophobia and brutality towards minorities do not improve health services, build schools or homes or get anyone a job.
It just becomes an ever nastier downward spiral of intolerance and discrimination.
We know what the Tories want to achieve and it’s very clear that Ukip is even worse than them and are successfully pulling the Tories further right with every passing day.
The biggest issues facing people in Britain are lowering of wages, worsening of working conditions and the enormous cuts in public services.
Lack of housing leads to homelessness and a forced reliance on the insecurity and dangers of the private rented sector.
It’s up to Labour to ensure that, as we approach the 2015 election, there is a real choice and we’re not going to be repeating the Tory attacks on welfare. Labour should pledge a policy of building sufficient council houses and bring in very strict control of the private rented sector including the cost of renting itself.
Tomorrow, there will be a private member’s Bill to prevent revenge evictions by landlords who terminate the tenancy of anyone who complains about their physical conditions to the environmental health service.
This important measure will dramatically improve conditions in the private rented sector and give greater security to all tenants.
Last week the Tories didn’t show up to oppose another private member’s Bill to end privatisation within the National Health Service.
While it is unlikely that either of these Bills will become law before the general election, it is nevertheless important to recognise that politics can mobilise people when the political system is seen to be delivering for their needs.
Failure to articulate the aspirations of ordinary people plays into the hands of Ukip and its anti-politics xenophobia.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
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