Panny Antoniou evaluates how the next Labour Government can ensure that policy changes are long-lasting, rather than being reversed by future administrations.
Our history post-1945 is filled with Labour Governments who were able to achieve transformational change during their time in government for those lucky enough to experience it.
However, during the times we are not in government, those changes are undone by cuts, austerity and ideological privatisation of our basic goods, services, and utilities. The Blair Government opened thousands of Sure Start centres, helping provide millions of children with the best possible start in life and pulling a million kids out of poverty. But successive Tory Governments have cut Sure Start and a generation of children have grown up without getting a fair shot at progress. The Attlee Government founded our NHS and ensured that everyone had enough food on the table after World War II but now, after the spectre of Thatcherism and 12 years of chaotic Conservative Governments, our NHS is on its knees, and people are relying on food banks to eat.
So how does Labour lock in change when we are not in power and ensure the progress which we have made as a country is not rolled back in the name of shareholders and profit? What is publicly owned can always be privatised again; we see it with our water, railways, gas, mail, and electricity. Once essential parts of the British state, now crumbling in private hands in the never-ending pursuit of higher profit margins. How do we prevent this and how do we as socialists build a future which is fair for all and cannot simply be dismantled by the next Conservative Government?
The solution may be much simpler than we think. Public ownership by the state can always be challenged by a Conservative Government and an agenda of cuts and austerity will always find its way into government somehow. In order to prevent this and lock in the changes we make, it is essential that we look to our sister party, the Cooperative Party. Lisa Nandy outlined some of these ideas when speaking about community models of ownership and a community ‘right to buy’ for community assets. Such a rule would prevent those vital community assets being moved back into private hands following a change in council administration as they would be owned by the people who use them. One amazing example of this is in Highgate, Camden where I was fortunate enough to stand as a candidate. Through the hard work of our Labour Team, we were able to get the money to purchase Mortimer Terrace Nature Reserve and ensure it remained in community hands with the council transferring the land over to residents to guarantee that a change in council leadership would not mean a change in status for this community owned asset.
We could do the same with other community assets. Labour have already committed to renationalising the railways and putting our vital transport links into public hands but why not look at models of community or cooperative ownership? Making the British public shareholders in our railways and the British Government as custodians would ensure that services are run for the public benefit and with public funds but cannot simply be sold off by the next Conservative Government.
This kind of ambition and vision by the next Labour Government should be essential. It would ensure that the United Kingdom’s services function properly in perpetuity – rather than just when the Labour Party is in government.
Panny Antoniou is the International/Outreach Officer of the Young Fabians and represents the Young Fabians on the Young European Socialists Bureau. He tweets at @panny_antoniou.
Cover image from Takver, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.