The timing could not have been more telling. As Labour members were making their way to Brighton for their annual conference starting today, one of the party’s most senior elected politicians was taking to the airwaves.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, was defending Transport for London’s (TfL) decision to ban Uber from operating on the capital’s streets because of a ‘lack of corporate responsibility’ in relation to public safety.
Telling indeed. This week Labour will present itself as a party ready to take on the challenges of the modern world. The reality – as the decision to ban Uber shows – is that its outlook comes straight out of the 1970s.
The decision to ban Uber from London shows the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has an outlook which comes directly from the 1970s, composite image
Sadiq Khan defended Transport For London’s decision to ban Uber from the city’s streets
Get one thing straight from the start. If London did not have a Labour mayor, Uber would not have been banned. Flexible, loose, and entrepreneurial, the taxi-hailing app service is everything Labour hates.
Instead of conforming to the rigid rules and regulations the Corbynites support, the firm is one of the most popular examples of so-called ‘disruptive technology’. It enters an existing market – in this case, minicabs – and turns it on its head.
But to a Labour Party in hock to the unions and looking back several decades for economic inspiration, Uber and what it represents is the devil itself.
For those cheering supporters of Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury, who have no concept of what life would be like under his Premiership, this is a glimpse into the future. At its most basic, if you want to get a cab in London, you’ll henceforth have to make do with whatever the state allows.
That is the ideology that underpins so much of what today’s Labour party believes: in all aspects of life, the state is supreme, the unions all-powerful and the individual not be trusted to make their own decisions.
Next week, Labour will present itself at Brighton as a united party with a coherent programme for Britain. Both claims seem credible – until you think for a moment.
Labour is indeed now united around an outlook so very different from anything we have had from it since the 1980s.
But coherent is the very last word one could apply. At a time when technology is changing the world and we have the knowledge and skills to embrace that change, the party has disappeared down a 1970s wormhole. Nothing could better guarantee we will be beaten by technology than the pretence we can ignore it.
At a time when we should be adapting to our new globalised future outside the EU – entrepreneurial, flexible and competitive – the Luddite forces that once shaped so many areas of our lives are gaining, rather than diminishing, in strength.
If TfL has its way – Uber is appealing against the decision – when its operating licence in London expires on Saturday, that will be that.
But it’s not consumers who want to see the back of the firm. Quite the opposite. More than half a million people have now signed a petition to overturn the Uber ban. Although the company has certainly not helped itself with some of its working practices, its users have benefited from its example of dynamic capitalism lowering costs all round.
Which is why the real lesson from the ban is nothing to do with the guff put out on Friday by TfL about safety and compliance. The bureaucrats are merely the useful idiots in this affair, doing the bidding of their political master, Sadiq Khan.
Jeremy Corbyn’s young supporters, pictured, have no idea about what he is planning
The Mayor is widely hailed for his direct personal mandate – even larger than Mr Corbyn’s. After the leadership’s initial refusal to allow him a speaking slot at the party conference, Mr Khan will now be paraded as the very model of Labour in power.
Indeed, even among opponents of the leadership he is touted as the moderate face of Labour – which is why his Uber ban is so significant.
And his ban it most definitely is. It is a pay-off to his union funders, the GMB, who represent many black cab drivers.
As the Corbynite writer Paul Mason tweeted after the ban: ‘Brilliant victory for unions, labour movement and London’s cabbies. Uber destroys the fabric of cities and evades social responsibility.’
For the Union barons, Uber is an enemy that has to be extinguished.
No matter that black cabbies are an anachronism based on the rules of their monopoly past – with years spent learning ‘The Knoweldge’ made redundant by the arrival of satnav systems that most of us now have in our own vehicles.
From the moment he took office, Mr Khan delivered for his union backers, drawing up a 27-point ‘action plan’ that has been described as ‘almost identical’ to the 28 measures in the manifesto produced by the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association. But although there is base politics involved in the Uber ban, the real point is that it required no ideological shift from Mr Khan. As a Tory MP texted me after the decision: ‘Why is anyone surprised? If they don’t want Lefties banning things they shouldn’t have voted for a Lefty as Mayor.’
Whatever your views about the rights and wrongs of Uber, this week’s news should serve as a wake-up call to the reality of Corbynite economics. Remember, Mr Khan is regarded as the moderate face of Labour.
It shows how far the party has regressed under Mr Corbyn that even its moderate wing now believes its purpose in power is to throttle competition, restrict choice and kill innovation.
Yet this is the party that came within a whisker of winning power.
In June, Labour won 40 per cent of the vote. At the Brighton conference it will have every right to consider itself as the likely next Government. Which is worrying, to put it mildly.
It’s easy to look at a party leadership that sees Venezuela and Cuba not as the corrupt, chaotic and dysfunctional regimes they are but as models for Britain and sneer – assuming that by doing so they rule themselves out of ever winning office. But we knew that about Labour at the Election.
So why would the party’s emergence as a force dedicated to turning Britain backwards – away from innovation and competition, and indeed from the modern world altogether – be any more of a block on support?
In a rational world, Corbyn would have to curb his hard-Left beliefs to appease the Blairite elements in his party.
But Labour’s moderates have given up on most policy battles.Momentum, set up to buttress the Labour leader and ensure the hard-Left has permanent control, is viewed by moderates as akin to Chairman Mao’s Cultural Army, enforcing ideological discipline across the ranks.
So the Labour conference will be a strange affair. With the Conservatives in semi- permanent crisis, a strong Opposition ought to be something worth having.
Instead, it is clearly the worse of two evils. Think of this – and the attempted destruction of Uber – when the Momentum mob is on the march in Brighton this week.