PO privatisation: the view from the Labour’s grass-roots
Peter Mandelsonâ€™s proposals to sell off a third of Royal Mail spell electoral disaster for the Labour Party in the June elections and beyond. Last yearâ€™s local and mayoral elections were by and large catastrophic for Labour. The economic and political rollercoaster ride since then makes the 10p tax furore feel and age ago, but I remember it clear to this day.
One of my roles then was to ring party members to encourage them to play a role in these elections. In all my years in the party I donâ€™t think I had experienced such demoralisation over that one issue. The levels of activism were a fraction of what could be hoped for as a result. This despondency was shared by many core Labour voters too and we were punished heavily at the ballot box. The fallout from the Post Office proposals is going to be worse than that.
What distresses and disorientates many Labour supporters is the Government’s initiation of policies that go so clearly against our purpose as a party. Iraq was bad, no doubt, but you could make a case for toppling Saddam from a leftish perspective and deep down I think many explained it away since it was being pushed all the way by the US.
The removal of the 10p tax however was entirely our own doing and undermined the central case Gordon Brown has made to the party for the last 15 years – one of quiet but effective redistribution of wealth. Had he climbed down on 10p and admitted he was wrong prior to the May elections, we would have saved many, many councils, perhaps a Mayor and certainly a parliamentary by-election.
The post office proposals are worse than the 10p tax disaster, for five main reasons.
1. Greater public familiarity: Many more people have used Royal Mail than ever benefited from the 10p tax rate. The Royal Mail is a visible and trusted institution. Itâ€™s called Royal for a reason and the prospect of the stake being sold to foreign businesses escalates public opposition to it.
2. More resolute opposition: Huge numbers of Labour MPs (and some from other parties) have declared their opposition to it. Many know that we are likely to be out of Government after the next election and why should they spend the last year voting for proposals they wholeheartedly disagree with. The Chief Whip has even allowed 7 PPSs to sign the opposing EDM, which is normally unheard of. Anger is that strong and there will definitely be ministerial resignations over this.
3. United union anger: The unions are 100% united and vocally opposed to this. Under 10p a couple of unions were strongly encouraged to restrain their outburst. Nothing will stop them on this though â€“ public ownership of Royal Mail was a core part of the last election manifesto and the 2004 Warwick Agreement. Why should the unions trust or agree to fund a Labour general election campaign when it hasnâ€™t honoured its previous commitments? The unions are keeping Labour afloat remember and CWU members will almost certainly disaffiliate from the party over this should it go ahead. Just how exactly does Labour expect to fund its general election campaign?
4. International economic events: If banks can be bailed out, why not Royal Mail? People will ask if bankers â€˜who got us into this messâ€™ keep their pensions, why canâ€™t the hardworking postie they see every day? Itâ€™s a piddling amount in the current scheme of things and is counter to the mood of our time.
5. The Mandelson factor: His is a man loathed by many in my party and I’m sure across the country. He is personally so far removed from the experiences of ordinary people and he embodies everything the public detests about New Labour. In my experience if Mandelson is for something, then most peopleâ€™s reaction is to be against it.
The party was already expecting lower Labour turnouts in these European elections than in 2004, which coincided with greater use of all-postal ballots and local elections. So unless this issue is sorted out within the next fortnight, Labour will be almost certainly be annihilated at the European elections. Our supporters will simply not turn out to vote. This all spells bad news for Labour in the European elections, it will also end any chance of recovery by Gordon Brown as leader. Yesterday Brown reiterated his support for Mandelsonâ€™s plan at Labour’s National Policy Forum. In doing so placed a noose around his own neck.
I will never wager against my own party, but others could do worse than watch this issue closely and bet accordingly on a 2009 Brown exit and landslide Tory victory if these postal plans go ahead. The bleak scenario I describe is increasingly likely with every passing day this conflict is unresolved. When historians reflect on who finished off the prospects of the Gordon Brownâ€™s Government and who initiated the delivery of his P45, they may well conclude that it wasn’t Royal Mail but Peter Mandelson.
HenryG Manson is a long standing contributor to PB
European regional exit poll % scores (more details post 222)
Basque Region PNV 38 PSOE 32
Carinthia BZÃ– 45 SPÃ– 29
Galicia PP 45 PSOE 32
Salzburg SPÃ– 38 Ã–VP 36