Labour should be more aspirational – about closing the huge inequality gap (The Guardian)

There is no question that Labour suffered a massive defeat on 7 May, but within that defeat there are some factors that have not yet been acknowledged. Labour gained votes across England and the aggregate vote was up by around 1m since 2010. We obviously lost heavily in Scotland, but the wider picture requires more nuanced thought.

The Labour result was not uniform across the country. London in particular moved heavily towards us, and the gains and losses of English marginals were patchy, with some very strong gains, particularly where a seat had been formerly held by the Lib Dems, and much smaller majorities where the seat had been gained at the expense of the Conservatives. But sadly, we lost too many key seats to the Conservatives.

There was much in the Labour campaign that was very positive, including the emphasis on scrapping the bedroom tax and employment tribunal fees, restoring higher rates of taxation, action on the living wage, repealing the Health and Social Care Act, freezing energy prices, and abolishing non-dom status.

However, one of the problems was that for all of the good things in the manifesto, the fundamental economic message was that an incoming Labour government accepted the level of debt that Britain has is a problem, and that the deficit would have to be cleared within one parliament – continuing austerity.

Since education and health are “protected”, the cuts would therefore fall sharply in other areas of expenditure, particularly in local government, and on welfare.

Any examination of the effect on local government of the cuts shows that it has been devastating over the past five years. While Labour would undoubtedly have altered the funding formula to not discriminate so heavily against the poorest areas of the country, there were still going to be big cuts affecting adult social care, social services and many other vital services.

Disillusionment with politicians was reflected in the votes for Ukip, who at one level were playing to a racist agenda, but also harvested a general cynicism about politics. Besides that, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is very much at the centre of orthodox economic thinking and establishment politics.

At the other end of the scale, the Green party achieved more than 1 million votes, and even in marginal constituencies, which Labour desperately needed to win, there were still enough people who voted Green knowing full well the implications of this in our first past the post system. We have to win those people back.

The anger felt by many at the election of a Tory government is very obvious, with immediate demonstrations in London, Cardiff, Bristol and elsewhere, and a huge turnout predicted for the anti-austerity march in London on 20 June.

The Tories have rapidly set about destroying council housing by selling off and enforcing the sale of high-value property; further reducing the role of local government in education by promoting more academies and free schools; as well as launching an immediate cut of £12bn in the welfare budget, though the details have yet to be announced. It is very clear what Britain will look like in five years’ time.

In addition, many Tory MPs seem to think we should spend at least 2% of our gross national income, if not more, on defence, as per the Nato requirement, and also spend £100bn replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.

In the debate about the future direction of the Labour party, there has been much talk about “aspirations” and how we relate to those, and also about how we were not seen to be sufficiently business-friendly in the election.

The reason I am standing in the Labour leadership election is because I believe we should be more aspirational about closing the huge inequality gap in Britain, ensuring everyone is decently housed, and that the minimum wage rises to become a fair living wage.

The party was founded over a century ago to bring about greater social justice in society. There has also long been a peace tradition within Labour, much of which was suppressed, if not forced to disappear, under New Labour. I want Labour to represent that peace movement again.

It’s time to rediscover the community basis of the Labour party, as we need to fight back against the very damaging things this government is planning to do to the most vulnerable in society. There’s never been a more important time to rebuild a Labour party for that purpose.