Colne Valley Correspondence….Letters to Voters and Non-Voters.

This week: LABOUR

This is one of a series of letters to people living in the Colne Valley Constituency, covering Holmfirth and the Holme Valley, Meltham, Golcar, Slaithwaite, Marsden, Linthwaite, Milnsbridge, Crosland Moor…and lots more places in between. I’m standing as the candidate for Yorkshire First and I want to speak to a wide range of people across this varied and vibrant constituency. I’m writing to people who have different voting intentions, ranging across the spectrum. You can see the ones already done on my website, here: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk and look under ‘current news’

Today I’m turning to Labour.

April 22nd 2015

Dear Labour supporter

This is the fifth in my series of letters and by far the most difficult. Why? Well, obviously – I was a prominent member of the Labour Party up to last year and share many of your values and aspirations. I don’t want to rake over the specific reasons why I stood down as a councillor and subsequently left Labour other than to say that it was a combination of personal factors and issues relating to Kirklees Labour Group plus the failure of Labour nationally to inspire with any kind of radical vision.

Many of my friends in the Labour Party share some of those political concerns but argue that Labour is the only realistic alternative to Cameron and the Tories. I don’t buy that argument I’m afraid. Neither do large numbers of traditional Labour voters in Scotland and neither do thousands of young people who are switching to the Greens across the UK. Labour is going into the election promising further government cuts, ‘austerity-lite’ and the renewal of Trident. This isn’t what many grassroots Labour supporters want and they feel powerless to do anything about it, other than grit their teeth. Labour has an excellent candidate in Jane East whose instincts are radical and progressive on many things. But at the end of the day, if she is elected as a Labour MP, she will have to do what the whips tell her and vote for weapons of mass destruction and for further cuts. Yes, there’s always scope for minor rebellions, as Jason McCartney has shown, but when the chips are down party loyalty will be demanded on the really big issues. We are the only political organisation that supports the ‘Bell Principles’ which include rejection of a party whip system. We are a network of activists, more like ‘Podemos’ in Spain than a conventional hierarchical party.

Labour in Scotland faces the prospect of virtual annihilation. This isn’t simply because of a surge of nationalism represented by the SNP. It’s as much down to people becoming disillusioned by the complacent, tribalist machine politics that became a hallmark of Scottish Labour. And it isn’t that different south of the border. Labour politicians in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire are accepting top-down ‘devolution’ which will give unaccountable combined authorities huge powers. It’s even worse here in West Yorkshire than in Greater Manchester, with Labour town hall bosses refusing even to have directly-elected mayors. The only party that is making a strong stand for democracy is Yorkshire First, a political newcomer with no councillors or MPs but a lot of enthusiasm and growing popular support. Like the SNP, our focus isn’t simply on constitutional issues (we are for ‘devo-max all round’ by the way, not independence). We care passionately about social justice and recognise the high levels of poverty that blight our region. A strong, democratically-elected regional assembly would be able to invest in the economy and start creating the jobs that Yorkshire desperately needs. This was John Prescott’s vision over a decade ago and it is every bit as relevant now as it was then. What a pity that today’s Labour leadership has set its face against any kind of democratic devolution in England.

We aren’t parochial in our politics. Like other progressive regionalists across Europe, we are internationalist in our outlook and want to see the EU reformed – not abandoned. We have applied to join the European Free Alliance of Greens and regionalists and want to play an active part in European politics. We recognise that some issues need to be dealt with on a national level – like the NHS and defence. Other issues are best done on a pan-Northern basis with regional assemblies working together, on issues like rail and strategic roads. We support the European concept of ‘subsidiarity’ which is about devolving power to the lowest level that is appropriate. So in some cases we want to see power devolved to the neighbourhood level, with energised and well-resourced local town/parish councils that can really address very local issues.

One of the main reasons that made me decide to stand for parliament as Yorkshire First candidate was the large number of working class people I was meeting who said they’d never vote Labour again and were thinking of voting UKIP. They weren’t bigots or racists- just typically decent people whose loyalty to Labour had withered on the vine. They were looking for an alternative that combined what they would regard as traditional ‘Labour’ values of decency and social justice with real concern for their communities. Yorkshire First offers them that, just as the SNP does in Scotland and Plaid Cymru offers in Wales. We’ve a very long way to go and this election is only a very early step on that road. But getting 14 parliamentary candidates after only a year’s existence isn’t bad. We’ll see what happens after May 7th. Many of our activists come from Labour backgrounds, and there are quite a few Liberal Democrats and former UKIP’ers too. We also have a handful of former Conservatives but lots of people who have never been politically involved before. And quite a few of us aren’t ‘ethnic Yorkshire’ but a mix of southerners, Lancs (like me!), Asians and others – making for a very cosmopolitan mix.

Let me stress one thing. I’m not targeting existing Labour voters. If you want to vote for me, that’s great but I expect most Labour people will stick to their traditional loyalties. The people I want to target are the Labour-leavers who wouldn’t be voting Labour this time round; the very large number of ‘non-voters’ – and people who might be sympathetic to the Tories, UKIP or Liberal Democrats on some issues but are attracted by our message of regional democracy and social justice. We argue that as well as the ‘left-right’ political continuum there’s also ‘centralist/decentralist’ – and we are very much at the decentralist end of the spectrum.

It’s a pity that previous Labour governments never took the opportunity – which was staring them in the face – to reform our antiquated voting system so that people wouldn’t be faced with such difficult choices in this election. It will have to come, as the days of the two-party system have gone for good. But I would echo what the Greens said in their brilliant election broadcast; the only wasted vote is a half-hearted vote. I would much rather see Ed Miliband entering no. 10 Downing Street than David Cameron; but my ideal would be a progressive coalition of Labour, SNP, Plaid, Greens – and regionalists like ourselves.

If you want to know more about our policies, go to the Yorkshire First website www.yorkshirefirst.org.uk or, for a more quirky view with my local manifesto: : http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/2015/04/19/election-manifesto-salvo-for-colne-valley/

Thanks for your time in reading this – if you do want to know more, just get in touch! I’m contactable on email at paul@paulsalveson.com or colnevalley@yorkshirefirst.org.uk or ring me on 07795 008691

With best wishes, Paul