As a newly-elected MP, I am on such a steep learning curve. There are so many procedures and rules — so many right ways of doing things — that you can lose sight of why you are here in Westminster. That’s exactly what I don’t want to do! I must keep in the forefront of my mind at all times the reason I stood for election to parliament. It’s because I want to see society transformed to one that puts people before profit — a socialist society — a society that is fair, caring, and compassionate, a society where my children can look forward to a productive future free from wars and poverty, and free from the threat to our climate and our planet.
You can call me an idealist if you like — what’s wrong with having ideals and wanting to achieve them? Some people criticise the recent Labour election manifesto for being too ambitious — how can you be too ambitious when proposing policies to end the inequalities in our society? To end Universal Credit, to end families’ dependence on food banks, to invest in our underfunded infrastructure, to fund a green industrial revolution or nationalise essential services?
I was born and brought up — and continue to live with my family — in the Cynon Valley, which I am now honoured to represent in parliament. Cynon Valley is an old mining community, proud of its history and heritage, but affected severely by the deindustrialisation and austerity measures of recent years. It has a forward-thinking local authority that tries to protect local services, but it is fighting a rearguard action against central government policies.
Our Welsh Assembly government is underfunded and this has a knock-on effect on services locally, such as health and social care. The Labour-controlled Assembly tries to mitigate the worst effects of austerity measures in Wales with imaginative policies around school holiday provision for children, for example, but child poverty figures remain high in Wales because of our history of poor funding and lack of investment.
This is a world away from the privilege and wealth I see around me in Westminster, and I frequently ask myself how people like Jacob Rees Mogg can make decisions that effect people living in my community. They have no experience whatsoever of the problems faced by my constituents and the pattern of their daily lives. There is a serious disconnect.
While I am trying to work out how to draw the speaker’s attention in parliament, my constituents are worrying about having to wait for their next benefit payment to cover their rent or feed their children. It sounds dramatic, but that’s the reality. I volunteered in a food bank, and I worked for Shelter Cymru. My PhD is in social exclusion among older people in Wales. I know these problems are very real ones for far too many people — and Tory government policies have hit the poorest the hardest.
Some people are suggesting that we should change our policies to win elections. They quote the example of Tony Blair — who took us into an illegal war, supported marketisation, promoted a ‘Third Way’, and brought in PFI (not operated in Wales, thanks to our Welsh Labour government). But never mind all that! He won elections, they say.
If we sell out on our principles the long-term damage to the Labour Party and to the interests of people we aim to represent will be significant. There is an implication in this argument that socialist policies can never win elections, and I do not believe that is true. We have work to do to convince people of the arguments, remembering that we have a powerful media to battle against. But we can do it. The post-war years and the establishment of the NHS also showed what can be achieved by a Labour government that has the political will.
In Wales we currently have a Labour government in our Assembly, but that is not guaranteed for the future. It is my view that we need a debate about how we engage with other political parties that have a progressive programme — though not necessarily a socialist one. The Green Party and Plaid Cymru are a case in point. The enemy of the working class is the Tory government, and we must begin to look at how we work across party lines to fight back against such a powerful Tory majority.
We cannot be sectarian in the present climate — we must look to our common ground and stop the backbiting that occurs far too often between parties who should be looking to see where they can unite around commonly-held policies and principles. This could include electoral pacts. Our primary focus must be to ensure that the people of Cynon Valley, Wales, and the UK as a whole do not suffer from Tory policies again — and that calls for unity of the Left.
We will not strengthen Labour in Wales — or anywhere else — by selling out on our socialist principles. We will strengthen Labour by being out there in our communities promoting our policies, fighting for our constituents, making sure we get the best funding deal possible for Wales (especially given the Brexit situation), joining the action against climate change, and calling out this government at every opportunity — whether it’s their support for Trump, or their continuing of austerity. I shall be out there, in Cynon Valley, arguing that together we can change society for the many not the few.