IWCA | 01.08.2003 14:11 | Oxford
The launch took place on the Aylesbury estate in the London Borough of Southwark, scene of Prime Minister Blair’s keynote ‘No forgotten people’ speech following New Labour’s first general election victory in 1997.
The IWCA came about in 1995 following the abolition of Clause 4 from the Labour Party’s constitution. In recent years the IWCA has called for ‘new thinking, new strategies and new tactics’ aimed at building an alternative to the mainstream parties in working class communities. This approach has been spear-headed by ‘pilot schemes’ in selected areas of the country which have yielded impressive election results and a number of notable campaign successes that have attracted the attention of the national media.
Speaking at the launch, Neil Stanton, Chair of the IWCA National Coordinating Committee and himself a former Labour Party member, said:
‘The IWCA has chosen the Aylesbury estate for this event today because it is, in our opinion, symbolic of the failure of the New Labour project to improve the lives of those once considered the party’s core constituency – the millions of working class people who live on neglected estates such as this. Within weeks of being elected in 1997 Blair came here and talked of “empowerment”, of giving people the “will to win”, yet nothing has really changed. New Labour’s “big idea” it turned out, was to demolish people’s homes and replace them with private apartments. When this was rightly rejected, Labour turned its back on the people here just as it has done to numerous working class communities across the country. It says everything about New Labour’s sincerity that the local Council hasn’t even got around to properly fixing the broken windows in the six years since Blair used them as a prop.
‘So much then for the talk of there being “no forgotten people” in New Labour’s Britain.
‘It is precisely because of this type of empty boasting that the IWCA is now in an ideal position to make ground in Labour’s former heartlands. Some pundits argue that New Labour must re-engage with ordinary people but it has neither the ability nor the inclination to do so. Just two months ago we contested a council seat against five nationally established parties in Scotland and from a standing start came within 150 votes of a shock victory. Many people who would not otherwise have voted were inspired to do so. So from today the challenge for the IWCA is straightforward: to inspire working class people not just locally, but up and down the length and breath of Britain.’
Also speaking at the event was Oxford city councillor, Stuart Craft, the IWCA’s first publicly elected representative. Stuart said:
‘When I was elected in May 2002 the shock on the faces of the New Labour councillors was a sight to behold. However, many believed that as a lone representative I would either be easily isolated or sucked into and swallowed up by the responsibilities of local government. Neither has proven to be the case. The core IWCA philosophy has proven itself sufficiently coherent and robust to allow me to intervene, and, all importantly make a difference on a range of issues, most notably in how the council respond to issues such as Class A drug dealing in Blackbird Leys, which hitherto, the politicians, media and police preferred to pretend was not a problem.
‘And as the first IWCA councillor to be elected I am aware that the Blackbird Leys branch will be seen as something of a model for new IWCA branches around the country. So what I have to say to them is simply this: the strategy works.
‘Why it works is because the IWCA brings to the fore “immediate working class interests”. Of course it is not necessary to be elected to do this. But as we have proved that even with just one of us elected we can make a difference at council level then it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine how much more we can shake things up when others come on board.
‘Which is why I am confident we will be even better placed to radically alter how things are run on Oxford City Council after the local elections in 2004’
Gary O’Shea a founder member of the IWCA in 1995 said: ‘Some people will wonder why it took us so long to get to the stage we are at today. The fact of the matter is that even though two years prior to New Labour being elected we could see a huge gap in the market to Labour’s left, the time was not ripe, nor were we in a position to exploit it. This was mainly because after almost twenty years of Thatcherism, many wanted to give New Labour a chance.
‘Perhaps for many people the first sign that all might not be well was when the government grandly announced their former constituency no longer existed, stating famously, “we’re all middle class now”. Many at the time may have dismissed it as typically glib New Labour spin, but in fact this social cleansing of the landscape has since informed government policies across the board.
‘For if indeed we really are “all middle class now” then there is no need to cater to a working class with specific interests, aspirations, and concerns, since according to them it no longer exists.
‘So by simplifying their world in this way, it allows Blair to talk of his ambition to see 50% of school children go onto higher education without a twinge of conscience or even a passing reference to what the other 50% are meant to do.
‘The Government’s apparent indifference to the plight of 57,000 households – the highest figures ever – living in some form of temporary accommodation in London alone is a genuine scandal. A similar scenario is being played-out in the NHS, in the realm of pensions and so on. All of which has contributed to the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us being the biggest ever recorded.
‘So we are all faced with a choice. We can compliantly go down the American route where the poor are effectively politically disenfranchised, or we can offer the working class people of this country a radical change of direction, which is of course what we are determined to do.’