The future of the left since 1884

Rebuilding trust

Labour’s commitment to keeping people safe must be felt by all across the country, argues Nick Thomas-Symonds MP.


Long read

Following our humbling election defeat in 2019, we have to ask ourselves deep questions about what went wrong.

We have now lost the last four UK general elections – it must be our mission to listen, change and win back trust. I take the job of building trust incredibly seriously. One thing which was so deeply distressing about the election last December was that we lost votes, and trust, in workingclass communities across the country: towns and communities that have always been the beating heart of Labour.

Many of these areas were built on the importance of close community and family, forged by working in heavy industry. This is the story of my constituency of Torfaen, where I am proud to have grown up and to live today. My mother, Pam, worked in a local factory; my father, Jeff, worked in the steelworks – it is a background shared by so many of those voters we lost.

Growing up in Torfaen instilled in me the values of respect and fairness, which I take into my job of shadow home secretary.

Too many people have told me they lost faith in Labour’s commitment to keeping people safe and upholding the law.

Across the country we have seen the huge cuts to the police, increases in anti-social behaviour and the horrors of knife crime and domestic abuse.  There is no doubt that this has been driven by the loss of 20,000 police officers under the Tories and deep cuts to preventative services. My priority is to convince people that Labour will keep them, their family and their community safe – not only in the areas where we lost seats last year, but right across the country.

We will push the government to rectify urgently the mistakes of the last 10 years, holding ministers to account for the fact that losing 20,000 officers has resulted in violent crime rising by 150 per cent.

Attacks on frontline police increased by 50 per cent in the last five years – officers are not getting the support they need from government. The Tories have broken a contract of trust with those that put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe and we will push for that to be repaired.

However, any officer will tell you that policing alone will never be enough to tackle crime. We have heard too little about the devastating impact the Tories have had on preventive services – youth clubs, mental health services and local authority gang services – which are all vital to the fight against violent crime and which have all been massively undermined and constrained by cuts.

Similarly, we know that domestic abuse continues to be a stain on our country, made even worse by lockdown. All the warning signs were there that domestic abuse would increase, and, sadly, that came to pass.

I am proud that we forced the government to commit £76m for domestic abuse services during the first UK lockdown. However, that will not address the systematic failure to support such life-saving services or to give the police the necessary tools to bring perpetrators to justice.

The truth is at no point have the Tories taken the issue of crime seriously enough. In fact, their serious violence taskforce, which was supposed to be chaired by the prime minister and driven forward by the home secretary, has not met for over a year.

So we will develop policy in the coming years, working closely with the police, communities, charities, local government and many more. This will be underpinned by our commitment to rebuilding trust across the country Labour cares deeply about, and will act on, law and order.

We take on that work at an extraordinary moment for our country. We went into this crisis weakened by a decade of Tory austerity: a housing crisis that left many households financially overstretched; insecure work on a grand scale meaning many workers were vulnerable to labour market shocks; a health system in England undermined and fragmented by Tory ideology; and a systematic government attack on our trade unions, in an attempt to diminish the very organisations that have proved so vital to saving livelihoods and getting people back to work safely. The pandemic did not create these challenges, but it magnified them enormously.

As a proud biographer of Bevan and Attlee, I am clear that the values and vision that drove those two great figures from Labour’s past must shape the way our party responds to today’s global emergency. Our party has a great responsibility in moments of crisis, with people relying on Labour to offer direction and moral leadership.

Moments of crisis shine a penetrating light on how the world has been; how we live today; and what our futures  can hold.  That is why they can be such catalysts for change.

Bevan summed this up when he said we can never “excuse indifference to individual suffering… There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual.” The baton now passes to our generation to find a way to make these timeless values real.

The Black Lives Matter movement is an incredibly powerful reminder – not that one should be needed – of the scale of individual suffering caused by anti-Black racism, in the UK and across the world. We must listen to those voices from our Black communities who have expressed how deep-rooted the systemic racism is and why so much more remains to be done. I am proud that Labour has committed to implement a new Race Equality Act to tackle structural racism and inequality, as was recommended by Baroness Doreen Lawrence in her recent review. I pay great tribute to Baroness Lawrence for her tireless campaigning to tackle racism.

We know, too, the importance of trust in policing and delivering a service that looks more like the people it serves. As home secretary, I would lead the change that is necessary from the top. This must include working to improve diversity in policing, as well as increasing the involvement of diverse communities in police training and improving accountability. There are excellent recommendations on tackling disproportionality in reviews from David Lammy MP and Dame Elish Angiolini, but this government refuses to act on continuing injustices.

We face a Tory government that is so lacking in compassion that  it would rather leave unaccompanied children in Greece’s burning Moria refugee camp, than live up to our promise to help them, and would mobilise the Royal Navy against dinghies in the English Channel in a bid to militarise a human crisis.

That is why we opposed the Tories divisive immigration bill. Among its many terrible features was the hypocrisy of branding low-paid workers unskilled.  We were not prepared to stand aside on a bill that effectively meant the 180,000 EU-born NHS staff and care workers we had been clapping for on Thursday evenings were told they are not welcome here.

We must build a Labour immigration policy that is true to our values of compassion and internationalism, while exposing the inhumanity and incompetence of the Tories. Alongside that, we will be a strong voice on issues like the Dubs amendment so that we can offer sanctuary to some of the most vulnerable people on earth, and we will continue to expose the lack of compassion and competence with which the Tories have handled those terrible scenes we have seen in the Channel.

Tory incompetence has also led to the gross mishandling of the Windrush scandal. At least nine people have died waiting for compensation and just 12 per cent of those who applied have so far received a payment. This is yet more disrespect from this government to a generation of people to whom we owe so much. Labour will continue campaigning on this issue and will  push for the Wendy Williams review to be implemented in full, without delay.

With the honour of being in the shadow cabinet comes a responsibility to help rebuild trust with the Jewish community, so badly damaged and powerfully exposed by the EHRC report. I will work closely with groups looking to tackle issues like the increases in vile antisemitic hate crime and the deeply worrying violence we have seen targeting Jewish people. However, it goes beyond individual policies. I will do all I can to help ensure the necessary shift in party culture is delivered.

I am fully aware that I take on the role of shadow home secretary at a critical moment in the history of not only our party and movement, but the country as a whole. Nobody can yet predict what situation we will face by the 2024 election. However, I am committed to ensuring that we go into that election having done all we can to rebuild trust in our party to keep people safe and true to our values of compassion, decency and humanity.

Image credit: Unsplash/Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona 

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP

Nick Thomas-Symonds is the Labour MP for Torfaen and shadow secretary of state for international trade


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