So, predictably enough Newcastle United began the season with a thrashing at ManchesterPAss City.  In some respects, we can at least be happy that such a hammering has exposed oyur paper-thin squad for the totally inadequate collection of players it is. And there are still nearly two weeks before the transfer window closes.  But what Yohan Cabaye must have been thinking is anybody’s guess.

To be fair I think we can all recognise that away to Manchester City was not the easiest of starts to Newcastle’s 2013-14 Premier League campaign. I remember back in 2000, when we began with a 2-0 defeat at City’s neighbours in Salford and even Sir Bobby  Robson said that effectively the season only started after that game. We would be fine. We could say the same now. But I very much doubt that many Newcastle fans would do that after such a comprehensive defeat.. Quite frankly Newcastle United are in disarray on and off the pitch. Already. Clearly there needs to be a lot more investment in the squad, but we all knew that back in May.

Playing away is rarely what football teams would choose to do. It is surely the same in politics. You are always better off fighting on your own territory. It is therefore all the more puzzling how weak the Labour Party has been this summer, seemingly afraid to take the Tories on in ways, which can really hurt them. Instead we have had the unedifying spectacle of shadow minister Chris Bryant making a complete hash of trying to say something about the right’s perennial scapegoats; immigrants.

Now, I’m not saying that immigration isn’t an issue for a lot of voters.  After all it is bound to be given the way sections of the tabloid press blow it up as an issue, usually with one-sided, inaccurate reporting, as they know it is an issue which will stir people up and help them to sell newspapers. We never hear about the thousands of immigrants who are helping to keep the NHS going or the fact that official staistics consistently tell us that the Treasury gains more in tax receipts from immigrants than is paid in benefits.

In one respect it should be an issue. If it is cynically used by employers to keep ordinary workers’ wages down then there is something of a problem. But the real problem, conveniently forgotten by the right-wing press, is that there is a huge issue of low-pay in this country, which has little to do with imigration, but rather is part of a culture encouraged by the government. In previous blogs, I have already mentioned zero-hour contracts and the way British workers, unlike many of their counterparts on the continent, have seen their wages fall over the last five years, in our case by a whopping 5.5%.

Belatedly yesterday (August 19th)  Chuka Ummuna, the Shadow Business Secretary,  spoke out against the climate of fear, caused by zero-hour contracts and today he is leading a seminar on the issue. But this issue first arose weeks ago. Indeed for what is usually termed the silly season, there have been a number of issues which the Labour Party, which is supposed to be the official opposition could have been banging on about.  But – until now – they haven’t.

It was left to the Church of England to say something about the appalling way in which payday loan companies, such as our very own Wonga have been exploiting the poverty so many people now find themselves in. There’s another issue which the Labour Party should have been shouting long and hard about. But they haven’t.

Then we have had a huge environmental issue around fracking – you remember that way of extracting energy, which is potentially dangerous and should apparently be limited to the ‘desolate Northeast’. It was interesting to see yesterday that a principled M.P. was prepared to take direct action for what she believed in – and get arrested. However, it wasn’t a Labour M.P. who was showing a bit of passion and principle, rather it was Green M.P. Caroline Lucas.

Now I suppose that it is fair to point out that it is so much easier for an M.P. from a minority party to show the kind of passion Caroline Lucas did today. The Greens are never going to get elected as the government in 2015. But surely at a time when interest in politics is at an all-time low, as people are so suspicious of the motives of so many politicians, then a few principled stands and a bit of passion from Labour M.P.s might actually earn them some respect – and some votes.

Then we have two other areas, which the Labour Party could have spent the summer shouting about and which are undoubtedly on their home ground; health and education. The NHS is gradually being dismantled, by stealth, by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Here is a man who should have been so discredited by his links with the Murdochs and their failed bid to  take complete control of Sky, that he should never have held a ministerial post again. Yet he was given a promotion by David Cameron, so that he can wreak havoc on the NHS.

As for education…..We have an Education Secretary who refuses to listen to teachers, who has wasted millions of pounds on the failed ideological vanity project of free schools and is trying to bring in a new curriculum, which has met with almost universal derision. Gove has alienated just about every section of the education world from teachers to governors, from headteachers to academics.  His one great achievement seems to have been being such an incompetent secretary of state that he has managed to get the NUT and NAS/UWT to work together.

So health and education are two more pressing issues the Labour Party could have been talking about all summer.  They could have linked these issues to the general denigration of public services by the coalition. But they haven’t.

The dreadful coalition government can be taken on and defeated, but only by those who have the courage to take the fight to them and campaign on issues where they are vulnerable, It’s not as if there aren’t many of them. As for Newcastle United, it is of course very early days, but you can’t help feeling that unless there is serious investment in the squad in the next two weeks, regardless of whether or not Cabaye stays, then we are in for a long season.

© Peter Sagar 20th August 2013

Northeast People’s Assembly

The comedian Mark Steel will join the writer and journalist Owen Jones at the People’s Assembly at Northern Stage on Saturday 14th September. Please see information below:

Your invitation to join Owen Jones at North East People’s Assembly 2013

Registration is now open here:

It will bring together opponents of austerity from a wide range of organisations and backgrounds across north-east England. It is a day for speeches, discussions and planning, with a mix of rallies, workshop sessions and cultural activities.