Election 2015: Ken Loach launches 'radical' Left Unity manifesto

By Nick Eardley
BBC News

image copyrightEPA
image captionKen Loach launched Left Unity's manifesto on Tuesday

Political press conferences in central London are not rare. Political press conferences in squats in abandoned offices in central London are.

That's the setting Left Unity chose for its manifesto launch on Tuesday. The use of the venue was to highlight the "terrible crisis" in housing, said the party's national secretary Kate Hudson.

It's an old office building in Soho. A group of squatters has been here for five weeks. They could be forced to leave any day after a court order authorising their eviction was granted, one said.

Left Unity was set up last year, partly inspired by the rise of left-wing parties in Greece and Spain. It is standing ten candidates at the general election.

Its most high-profile member is Ken Loach, the Kes and Cathy Come Home director, who said at the manifesto launch that the party is "against the logic of the market" which he believes has "failed in every respect".

image captionThe party launched its manifesto at a squat in central London

The party's manifesto calls for a "massive expansion of the publicly owned and democratically controlled housing sector, and for social housing to be allocated according to need". The party supports the legalisation of squatting in empty buildings, including the venue for the launch on Tuesday, Ms Hudson says.

And it calls for rent controls and the end of what the party calls the "bedroom tax" - the cutting of benefits for those deemed to have spare rooms.

"We have 93,000 children Shelter declares as homeless", Palme d'Or winner Mr Loach said. "Think of all those kids whose education is blighted, whose family life is blighted, who live with insecurity. That's a consequence of leaving housing to the market. Left Unity's proposal is that we go back to directly employed labour - directly employed building workers, architects, planners, so that we build stable and secure developments where there is housing for people."

Beyond housing, the party also calls for full employment, a £10 an hour minimum wage and an end to austerity.

How would that work?

"An end to austerity would be a different kind of economy," Mr Loach told BBC News. "The kind of economy that Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain are calling for. And that would have to be Europe wide, against the Europe of the big business."

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He added: "It means that you plan industries, you plan what you produce and that way you commit to full employment. Everybody, every child, should have a right to contribute to the society they live in and get a secure living from it so they can plan their family and plan a life.

"Which people can't do now - that's because the market demands cheap labour."

Progressive alliance?

Mr Loach is not impressed at the current debate in British politics, describing it as "bald men arguing over the comb."

But what of those other left-wing parties calling for an end to austerity? The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, for example, have all rallied against cuts. Then there is Respect, George Galloway's party, the Socialist Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition among others.

Mr Loach said: "The left struggles to get its voice heard because the BBC and others are so keen to promote UKIP.

"I think it will gather strength, because there is such anger, there is such fear amongst people. When you leave Westminster bubble and you listen to people at food banks, you listen to people with nowhere to live, you listen to people who fear for their job security... People are angry, they are dismayed, they live in fear. This is not being reflected in the election coverage."

image copyrightPA
image captionMr Loach said the message his party is delivering is "very important"

Would he welcome a "progressive alliance" of the kind talked about by the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens?

"I think an anti-austerity alliance is good, but the problem with the parties you mention they're mainly social democrat parties that think you can manipulate the markets to the advantage of ordinary people," Mr Loach said. " I think that isn't the case."

Any shift to the left is "welcome", he says. But parties like his are needed to peddle a more radical message.

"The market demands cheap labour, it demands labour that can be turned on and off like a tap, zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, agency work. This is not sustainable for people wanting to live a secure life.

"That's what the market decides and until those parties take a stand against that kind of employment then I think they're inadequate. So the voice of Left Unity is very important."

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