Opinion

Brave leadership will be our ticket for change

Senior politicians now tell the public to eat less cheese, but we're going to need much better leadership than that

Blair and Brown

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Image: Jamie Wiseman/Npa Rota/Shutterstock

Last week was a significant week. It marked the moment that the current Westminster leadership had overtaken New Labour’s length of time in office. It’s now more than the 13 years and a fortnight, give or take, that the Blair/Brown premiership(s) lasted. There have been five Conservative PMs in that time and more deputy PMs than you can name without a reference book. 

Is it long enough to accept responsibility for what you’ve done and finally move on from blaming the crew who were in before and the note that one of them left in a drawer? 

It feels like a long time. While the Conservatives will, as any government do, trot out achievements and bold claims over spending leading to better lives, the lived reality the nation feels cannot be papered over
with soundbites.  

It’s not just a sense of things grinding to a halt, but that the promises of better have come to nothing and that there is a complete vacuum where there should be big ideas. In lieu of bright tomorrows senior politicians now tell the public to stop complaining, to eat less cheese or to chow down on own-brand beans – you’ve never had it so good, you proles! 

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Globally, food tends to be a tipping point for uprising, though not so much in Britain. There is less appetite for revolution here. Still, I can’t find any historical precedent for success coming through blaming people for the mess that is evidently not their fault, and then expecting them to back you.  

A generation ago, when the late John Smith was rethinking what society could be like under his Labour leadership, he considered that among the goals of social justice there was a need for equal rights to meet peoples’ basic needs. You could argue around the exact meaning of parts of where he was heading, but the central thrust of a government needing to help their people meet their basic needs still exists. And it’s not happening. 

Into the gap in provision and big thinking, elements outside of government are starting to emerge seeking a new way. Last week, Big Issue founder John Bird launched his All-Party Parliamentary Group, a way to properly deal with poverty, to find, as The Big Issue is, joined-up thinking and a business solution to societal problems.  

And it may be that finally other groups and parties are seeing that we need to get to grips with arguably the other real driving big issue of our time – housing.  

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The ongoing crisis needs something bold. Those who have genuine viable solutions will profit. Anyone who backs nimbyism over developments are in the minority and will not be able to bring the public with them. Look at how welcome, aside from a few groups representing landlords with multiple properties, Gove’s Renters Reform Bill has been. 

Brave leadership, ideas that can incorporate new affordable housing, that also repurposes vacant town and city centres, makes housing affordable and available to the many, not just the diminishing few, that is a ticket for change. If they need some pointers, that’s me in the corner, nonchalantly munching on a lot of grilled cheese and beans. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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