Congratulations go to my friends in Oxford City Council's Labour ranks, Cllrs Turner, McManners, Bance and Baxter. They all gained national recognition yesterday in an ever-so-unbiased article in The Guardian, on the subject of Can Oxford save Labour?
Obviously, Oxford is a key battleground between Labour and LibDems, and this article attempts to set the parameters of the debate. Labour is presented here as the party of social justice -- yes, that's right, of social justice.
I don't eat cornflakes, so I didn't choke (sorry to disappoint you, Antonia & Ed). But here is the fault-line: I'm sure they joined Labour because they genuinely imagined it could be a party of social justice; I joined the LibDems precisely because I see it as the only party of social justice. How could one or other get it so wrong?
I'd bring to your attention evidence from the recent elections. Labour didn't like us fighting it on wanting a lower Council Tax -- when we did that precisely because that unfair tax hits some of the worst-off hardest. Perhaps Labour's response would be that anyone who can own a house doesn't deserve support, but that would be grossly to overestimate the wealth of some who have struggled to buy and stay in their own home, especially in an over-heated market like Oxford.
The blogs recently have also highlighted another blindspot in Labour's thinking. They attacked one of our candidates by quoting his blog in favour of reform of the drug laws, implicitly presenting themselves as in favour of the present drug regime. How can they imagine this sits with any assertion of support for social justice? I worry that they wouldn't even understand that question.
Labour in Oxford has also seen environmental concerns as somehow a distraction from social justice. True enough, one sets challenges for the other - but we should be finding ways to wed our actions on the environment with helping those worst-off. It's no good saving the planet, if the society left is not worth living in, but it's equally no use planning to build a New Jerusalem if the site is in the flood plain -- in other words, without a planet, there's no society.
These are only a few examples of the ways in which my friends on the opposite benches seem misguided in the claim that they belong to a progressive party. But, frankly, if they really want future elections in Oxford fought on grounds of social justice, rather than the mean-spirited campaign Labour recently run, my response is: bring it on. We will be more than happy to fight you on our home territory.