Although conference didn’t really start until today, yesterday was the day that events really started. Women’s conference appears to have been a success (and the biggest one yet), but where I spent the afternoon was in an academy in Moss Side, listening to Ed Miliband host a Q&A organised by Manchester Evening News. It was an interesting, if largely uneventful affair. There was briefly some confusion about Miliband’s position on repealing the NHS reform bill (later clarified), and some mood music around tackling youth unemployment and investment in infrastructure spending (especially housing) which I’d expect to be fleshed out more on Tuesday in the leader’s speech.
But I don’t really want to talk about Ed Miliband’s Q&A (even I thought it was a relatively positive experience). The audience were broadly Labour supporting and he didn’t get too many tough questions. I want to talk instead about a conversation I had on the way to the event.
I was picked up by a cab outside my hotel. We made small talk for a few minutes as we weaved our way towards the east of the city. Why was I in Manchester? What was happening at the conference? What do I do? (always a tricky one for a blogger to answer).
But then he started talking to me, openly and honestly. He told me about how his job has driven him to distraction, and recently, almost to tears. He told me about how his work was made harder by competitors who broke the law, wouldn’t play by the rules, and stole his customers. He told me about how he hadn’t had a day off for three years, despite working seven day weeks. He told me that every time he lost a customer to someone who had cheated him out of it, it was a real blow – he relied on the fares to make ends meet. No fares = no money.
We talked about how this was the same in many other professions. From temporary agency workers to contractors. How it often feels like those who play by the rules, try to be honest and do the right thing, are left behind. Whilst those who break the rules, cut corners and don’t give anything back seem to reap the rewards. In banking, like his line of work, risky behaviour and lawlessness seemed to be rewarded financially. Yet for all of the banker-bashing you hear in the party, how often does the plight of the agency worker, the cabbie, the zero hour contract shift worker get a mention?
Labour has the potential to seize a really compelling narrative about the way this country has gone wrong – at a really basic level – for millions of people, and how it could be put right. A narrative that speaks to the British sense of fair play and the sort of pride in the advance of British society that Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony engendered. The idea of a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work, fair holidays, punishments for those who break societies rules and rewards for those who follow them. A society where working hard is genuinely rewarded. The predators and the producers aren’t just at the top of society, they’re at every level.
If Miliband wants to “rebuild Britain”, then a good place to start would be with rebuilding the kind of society that my honest, hard working cabbie could make a decent living in, playing by the rules and giving his fair share.
Because if we can’t/won’t do it – who will?