We’re Showing How Socialists in Regional Government Can Deliver for the Working Class

July 10, 2022

This summer we’ll see Tory leadership hopefuls vying to outcompete each other in a neo-Thatcherite race to garner votes from their faithful. The risk is Labour sits back: “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.”

Wrong. If the labour movement abandons the field of ideas to the Tory competitors, we’re giving them a free run.

Yes, stay out of their squabbles. But this summer the people of Britain are facing a cost-of-living crisis.

Families will struggle to pay for a holiday. Fuel prices are through the roof. Real wages are through the floor.

Working people are being forced into industrial struggle just to protect the pallid status quo the past decade of austerity has left us with. And large sections of our population are already disaffected. This summer, we could see discontent spiral into the blind alley of rioting.

While the Tories up the ante on blaming the victims of austerity, Labour must look like a government in waiting. A real government that can offer real hope to the very real problems people see in their daily lives.

Otherwise some will fall for the same old Tory trick: “We’ve changed! Take us back! We’ve got rid of that awful Mr Johnson. You can trust us with the economy. Sure, there’ll be some harsh medicine, but we’re all in it together.” Served up with a healthy dose of culture wars.

The antidote is a national programme that works for workers.

Ending profiteering and stabilising energy prices by bringing utilities into public ownership.

Giving all those key workers who kept our country running through the pandemic an immediate cost of living pay rise.

Outlaw fire and rehire and other abusive employment practices. And let’s redefine “affordable” housing — 80 per cent of local market price is not affordable to young families starting out. There’s nothing wrong with the words “council” and “housing.”

And challenge the racism head-on: relocating people to Rwanda or keeping them in detention camps is immoral.

And we back it up by pointing to the evidence of what socialists in local, regional and Welsh governments have done.

I’ve been mayor for three years. We set up a brand new combined authority from scratch. On my first day, we didn’t even have marker pens for the whiteboards.

I declared a climate emergency. Our Green New Deal is now operational — to fund low-carbon manufacturing with local firms, restore peat bogs to increase biodiversity, and help public-sector buildings generate renewable energy.

We’ve invested in Battleship Wharf in Blyth and the Swan Hunter shipyard site for offshore wind — I’m looking forward to the day we see engineers back at work there.

We’ve boosted our offshore industry. We’ve created jobs in digital firms. In battery technology. In manufacturing modular buildings for high-tech facilities that don’t use fossil fuels. This is the green industrial revolution in action.

We’re working with the NHS to insource manufacturing jobs in their supply chain, reducing energy and reversing profiteering. Our culture and creative fund supports freelancers in arts and culture.

Kids are getting a hands-on climate education, measuring biodiversity at primary school, working on real engineering challenges at secondary, and sixth-formers working with computer game developers on climate change games.

Our Spacehive crowdfunder directly empowers communities to choose their own projects. We’ve funded community gardens in Newcastle, beekeeping on the Meadow Well and beach wheelchairs at Cullercoats.

We’re building community-led housing and social housing on brownfield sites. And we have a clawback in place so developers who make large profits have to pay it back, so we can make more homes affordable. But we still need the law changing to make council housing viable again.

The Tories cut the Union Learn project. We’ve restored it and made it stronger — because unionised workplaces are more productive, safer, and have lower staff turnover. Labour politicians must never shy away from standing with our sisters and brothers in the trade unions.

Our skills programme leaves no-one behind. Individual coaching and support for people with autism, or neurodiversity, and young people who’ve had a tough start in life, and adults with complex needs around mental illness and substance abuse.

In our first year, despite the pandemic, 28,800 people enrolled in adult skills courses, boosting their earning potential. The number of working-age adults without qualifications has fallen from 7.1 per cent to 6 per cent in just one year!

We’re tackling the real wrecking ball that crushes people’s futures: runaway finance capital. It’s a small start, but we’re working with co-ops and socially trading organisations like charities, with our £15 million Access to Finance fund — recycling money in our region. And there’s much more in the pipeline.

Government set us a 30-year target of 10,000 jobs. By now, we should have a pipeline of 1,000 new jobs.

The reality is 4,586 new jobs and another 2,700 jobs saved by our investment through the pandemic. That’s 13 years progress in three years.

Creating good jobs generates wealth. For every £1 I spend, the Treasury recoups over £3 in payroll taxes alone.

Then there’s the economic benefits of having people earning a good living rather than living in poverty and insecurity. The notion that leaving industrial strategy to the free market is somehow good value for money is nonsense.

Our Good Work Pledge underpins all these jobs. It guarantees mental health support at work. An end to all exploitative contract practices. Trade union recognition. In-work progression to turn a job into a career. And the Real Living Wage — £20 a week more than the minimum wage, and much more for under-25s.

That firms can pay someone less based on their age is a naked injustice. Employers covering 40,000 workers have now signed up to our Good Work Pledge.

What’s the driving force for this success?

Collaboration. Co-design. Working with the people on the front line, who do the work in our society.

I work closely with our trade unions. And I stand with workers when they need solidarity.

The Durham Miners’ Gala — the Big Meeting — is about solidarity.

The banners. The traditions. The speeches. And I’m sure a few beers.

It’s about recharging the batteries of the labour movement for the next phase of the struggle to build a better world.