Grassroots protests are great, but Labour needs to up its game
It could be a sign that the official opposition to the Conservative administration is asleep on the job or it could simply the inevitable result of innovation in social media.
People protesting against the Housing Bill have launched their own perfect imitation of London’s Evening Standard newspaper to get the message of their opposition out to the electorate.
If enacted the bill will require councils to charge tenants with a combined income of over £40,000 the equivalent to a private rent and abolish lifetime tenancies in council houses. Critics say it will mark the end of social housing in the capital.
The four-page edition was a perfect copy of the longstanding London daily from the logo right through to the fonts. The headline on the paper, which was dated Friday 11 March 2026, was “Rich in turmoil as workers desert London”.
The front cover depicted a photomontage of a bewildered Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2026, detained for wandering the streets having not eaten for days after his cook joined the thousands priced out of London. “One onlooker said he had seen him desperately trying to smash open a tin of foie gras with a rock.”
The paper was written national newspaper standards, with error-free copy, snappy headlines and “case examples” of people priced out of London and other cities in 2016.
This initiative, organised by Radical Housing Network, is filling a gap that has been left by Labour and the other opposition parties who have struggled to propel the case against Government policies into the media.
This may be the fault of the media, which are obsessed by the Brexit debate (and will be until and beyond 23 June) and by speculation of a leadership plot against Jeremy Corbyn.
Events such as the speech by Dan Jarvis, the Labour backbencher and telegenic former army officer, setting out his view that Labour needs to become the “party that beats the Government” has been framed by pro-Conservative newspapers as a thinly-veiled swipe on Corbyn.
Housing is not the only battleground. The fight over plans to impose extra weekend working hours on junior doctors has become a personal stand-off between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Johann Malawana, who chairs the BMA’s junior doctors committee.
There are plenty of opportunities for the Opposition to attack the government
The next general election may be four years away but Labour are seven points behind the Conservatives in opinion polls at a stage in the parliamentary cycle when they should be ahead. Five years ago they were level-pegging. Four years ago they were 12 points in front.
There are plenty of opportunities for the Opposition to attack the government. The speculation that EDF may pull out of the plan to build the UK’s first nuclear reactor in 20 years has highlighted the incoherence of the government’s energy strategy.
The slowdown in the British and world economies has undermined the bullish outlook put forward by the Chancellor, who may be forced to announce cuts in spending and raise taxes in the 16 March Budget.
But there are signs of activity. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has set out his own plans for an “iron discipline” to balance tax revenues and day-to-day spending over a five-year cycle, but exclude long-term investment projects, allowing Labour to spend billions on projects such as housing, railways and high-speed broadband.
Commentators have pointed out that McDonnell, who stood with Corbyn on a platform of anti-austerity, is adopting the same split between current and capital spending that his despised predecessors Ed Balls and Gordon Brown did - but at least people are talking about what Labour are proposing
Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has gone on the attack over changes to the personal independence payments for the disabled that it says will mean some 200,000 people will lose £3,000 a year.
The outlook is confused by the fact that Labour is on the side of the Prime Minister and his allies over the UK and the EU, but that should not be reason for the shadow cabinet to pull its punches over aspects of government policy that will hurt specific groups of people who would naturally look to Labour to defend them.
The election campaign for the next London Mayor in May should act as a catalyst for the Labour machine to take on the Conservatives over large areas of policy.
MPs need to decide quickly whether to try to unseat Corbyn, or to unite and focus their efforts on attacking the government. The Standard Evening may be a brilliant concept, but Labour need to make sure its attacks get into the Evening Standard - and the rest of the media.
About the author
Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.
Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.
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