Chris came to deliver his Democracy Roadshow speech to us at a packed Frome Town FC on Saturday afternoon, 3rd November 2018. Below is a summary of his quick-fire fifty minute speech – we’ll be posting YouTube footage of the whole talk here soon. In the meantime read on for Chris Williamson’s Big Political Ideas…
Here we are, standing with Chris in a tweet he posted after his talk.
‘Democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world.’ Tony Benn, MP.
‘In order to democratise society we need to democratise the Labour Party.’ Tony Benn, MP
‘The Labour Party is not the PLP (they are 0.04% of the membership). No MP would be in the House were it not for grassroots members.’ Chris Willliamson, MP
‘If the party had listened to its members we would have had no Iraq war, no PFI in our NHS, we would have council houses, and electricity, gas, water and railways in public ownership.’ Chris Williamson, MP
‘We should listen to our members more.’ Ed Milliband, MP
‘In the Westminster bubble MPs become very detached and distant and odd…’ Chris Williamson, MP.
Chris’s Big Democratic Ideas:
Democratise the Labour Party.
Do this by empowering members, listening to members, making their voices heard. Elect lots of local councillors instead of appointing hundreds of faceless, unaccountable party bureaucrats. Infact, Chris suggests getting rid of regional offices. He used to take issue with local government bureaucrats who talked about ‘their departments’, he continues, ‘These departments belong to the public. It’s not YOUR department. Your position is to serve the electorate.’ Chris would like to see members electing council members in each borough. He’s got no time for the ‘vote for us and we’ll manage austerity better than the Tories…’ take on the current situation. ‘We need municipal socialism. One hundred years ago progress was made in local government. The current system is over-centralised. We need more democracy locally. We need progressive, commonsense programmes. Currently local government finance is not fit for purpose.’
‘Ask wealthier people to pay more Council Tax.’
Eric Pickles gets a mention for his 2011 Localism Act. Chris would use this to bring about Council Tax reform. His suggestion is really not that radical at all – the wealthiest should pay most! Individual councils should be able to lower council tax for the least well off. Low income families could be given substantial discounts. If we made these small changes Labour in local government could get off its knees, it could be opening libraries instead of shutting them, social care and children’s services could be run in line with best practice. All of us would benefit.
‘Get rid of Regional Offices…’
As part of democratising the Labour Party Chris suggests getting rid of Regional Offices, ‘if we got rid of them we wouldn’t miss them.’ Instead, he suggests, we could promote political education at the grass roots level. We could have a series of excellent speakers visiting local CLP’s talking about a wide range of subjects. We could make CLP meetings more dynamic and engaging, less dull. Less discussion of potholes and street lamps, instead a much more dynamic process of engagement across the country. We would have a better educated electorate who felt empowered to make decisions about what happens in their local areas. We know best what works for our local area, what the pressing needs are.
On Open Selection:
‘Even the Chairman of the allotment in Jeremy’s constituency gets voted in each year…’ Chris Williamson.
Chris is a big fan of open selection. The Unions at conference this year were less taken with the idea. But that doesn’t deter him. Chris feels that good MP’s with a good rapport with their members have nothing to fear from re-selection, that in reality very few MP’s would be re-selected. But we should never forget that MP’s are ‘representatives of the Labour Party’ – due to the hard work of our activists and that every MP should be ready to view their CLP members as an integral part of their team – the eyes and ears of what is happening on the ground locally. They should be respectful of the members commitment and input. This is not necessarily the case at the moment and MP’s who lose sight of their duty to their members should not expect a ‘job for life’.
Democratise the party to democratise society…
‘Politics has ceded way too much power to corporate interests.’ For example, the exemption of corporations from the Freedom of Information Act, which has shielded Capita, G4S and others from public scrutiny. Chris also mentions inventor James Dyson, a Brexit cheerleader, who has relocated his multi-million pound business off shore to avoid any of the damage Brexit might do to him personally.
Chris would like to see:
- A National Investment Bank
- Worker’s Co-Operatives
- Shares for workers.
- Bring back utilities and privatised interests back into public ownership, including gas, water, electricity, Royal Mail.
- Council houses rebuilt
- Tax oligarchs and super rich
- Scrap tuition fees.
- Simplify tax rules and restore HMRC to workable levels of staffing.
- Clamp down on tax evasion – ‘which takes place on an industrial scale.’
Chris sees this as the redressing of a neo-liberal race to the bottom, that began with Thatcher and her deeply flawed ‘there is no such thing as society’ ideology.
He would like to see the restoration of a ‘bottom-up’ approach, similar to the pre-1945 era, when electricity and gas were provided locally.
Whatever happened to the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
In 1960’s Britain we were told to ‘get ready for the leisure generation.’ The thinking was that automation would translate directly into free time for the many. Sadly, of course, this hasn’t proved to be the case. Chris talks about a population ‘living fulfilled lives, with decent public services and free education for life. There are a lot of bullshit jobs out there. And there is no justification for poverty.’ Pension age is a matter of political will. After the war in 1945 the debt to GDP ratio was over 250%. We basically borrowed to fund the founding of the NHS, build hundreds of thousands of council houses and provide schools and social services that were first class. In the 1970’s – which everyone now says were awful – inequality was at its lowest rate in the country. In spite of what Margaret Thatcher invited us to believe we are NOT a household budget. That’s not how it works. In 1945 the government borrowed to put people back to work, which in turn fed into the economy. That’s commonsense democracy in action. Young people had HOPE. Buying their own home was a real possibility – not an impossible dream. Now we have people sleeping in doorways and families feeding their children from food banks.
‘We’ve de-regulated private landlords. We penalise local authorities for building housing. Housing associations were forced to ‘borrow’ their shortfalls from the market. The were told that Housing Benefit would always cover the cost of higher rent. Then the benefit caps were introduced – which no longer cover the rent. It is a housing scandal. The MSM are totally silent on this issue. Labour would build low cost alternatives to the private rental sector. The benefit cap has directly caused homelessness and poverty for millions of poorer families and their children.’
Jeremy Corbyn and Ethical Foreign Policy.
‘Jeremy Corbyn is the best Labour leader since Keir Hardie. He believes in an ethical foreign policy. Under Corbyn we will not be selling arms to Saudi Arabia or Israel. We have a Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament, Fabian Hamilton, MP, who will be representing us at Nato and the United Nations. Chris believes that ‘we can sell peace to the world.’ Imagine what a difference that could make. There are far too many Labour MP’s flogging weapons around the world.’
On Universal Basic Income:
John McDonnell is bringing in pilot schemes for this.
It will liberate people from chasing zero hours contracts.
There would be no stigmatising of people – Universal Credit would be scrapped.
We would be giving families the support they need.
We would be investing in schools.
We’ll close Academies and abolish Public Schools.
Frome and Local Democracy:
In Frome the local Conservative MP has a majority of 22,000. But 21,000 people didn’t vote! We’ve got to do more to get poorer people to engage. We need to do politics WITH people, not TO people. Things are changing. It’s time for an end to the ‘first past the post’ electoral system.
Chris sums up and leaves us all with plenty to ponder and a spring in our step. He says that party officials told him that non-voters would never vote, then points to the results of the last election:
Young people are voting in ever-increasing numbers – and they are overwhelmingly voting Labour.
2 Million non-voters voted in the last election
Chris ends with another Tony Benn quote:
‘You see there are two flames burning in the human heart all the time. The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world.’
We are changing the course of history, he tells us, from the bottom up. The future belongs to us. Another world is possible.
Chris, if anyone can make it happen, it’s you and a Labour government lead by Jeremy Corbyn. We can’t wait. Change can’t come soon enough.