It is great to be here in Bedford.
In 1957, the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan gave a speech just across the river here, to celebrate Britain’s economic success.
New jobs, higher wages, greater opportunities for people to make something better for themselves and for their families.
It became known as the speech where he declared “you’ve never had it so good”.
Today in Bedford, in Britain as a whole, things are very different.
Small business-people are working harder than ever before.
People are working harder than ever before.
But for far too many, wages are falling and prices are rising. They’re getting worse off.
Far from feeling they have never had it so good, millions across Britain today fear they will never have it so good again. Life for them, and for their children.
The question that people ask me the most is “how do we turn this round?”
That’s why I have come to Bedford today.
Because I think it starts with a truth that we have forgotten as a country:
That economic recovery will be made by the many, not just by a few at the top.
Britain needs great, successful big business leaders.
It needs them to feel rewarded and supported.
But they know better than anyone that they can’t succeed alone.
It is only when working people have confidence and security.
When everyone’s sons and daughters have chances to work and learn new skills.
When enterprising small businesses can flourish and succeed.
And when together we build world-class services – from childcare for our kids to new roads and rail – that we will succeed again as a nation.
That’s not a Labour idea or a Conservative idea.
It is a British idea.
And it is what I want to talk to you about today.
Previous generations knew the truth:
Our economic success depends on the success of all working people.
In the industrial revolution, it wasn’t just the mill owners and the factory bosses who drove our economy forward.
It was the people who went down the mines, spun the cotton, built the ships, and constructed the bridges.
Many of our world-leading engineers and inventors came from ordinary families, people like the great engineer, Thomas Telford, and the inventor of the railway, Robert Stephenson.
And in the 19th century, Britain improved housing, built proper sanitation, ensured good working conditions, not just because it was fair, but because it was essential for our economy to succeed.
Our country knew that economic success was made by the many, not just by a few at the top.
You know that here in Bedford better than anyone.
From the industrial revolution to well into the twentieth century, the Stewartby brick works, just down the road, gave jobs to thousands of people.
The bricks the people of Bedford made constructed the houses that they and so many others lived in.
And it was the good wages they earned that made it possible for them to afford those homes.
Economic success was built with the hands of working people.
But could only be sustained through the pockets of working people.
And Britain knew this lesson too after the Second World War.
We built great new public services to improve people’s lives.
But the NHS and free education didn’t just do that, they strengthened our economy as well.
I think of my dad, who came to Britain as an immigrant, was able to learn English at Technical College, went on to join the Royal Navy, and saw the new post-war economy built.
It was only possible, because Britain knew that only a healthy, better educated workforce could compete with the best in the world.
An economy made by the many not by the few.
And you know somewhere along the way we forgot that lesson as a country. We need to relearn that lesson.
People in Britain are putting in the hours – doing the shifts – as never before.
But something has changed in the last few years.
There’s less chance of promotion.
Less chance of a pay rise.
And prices just go up and up and up.
Petrol for the car. Tickets for the train.
Childcare for the kids. Deposits for a first home.
The “squeezed middle” has never been so squeezed.
And if we carry on as we are it will be like that for years to come.
It’s no wonder our economy isn’t growing when people can’t afford to buy the things that British businesses try to sell.
And then think too about the skills of working people that we need for our economy to succeed.
Young people here in this training centre are getting the help, but so many young people across Britain aren’t.
Every time a young person with ambition and talent can’t get on, it isn’t just bad for them. It is bad for our economy.
Some of you here today run small businesses.
Your businesses are vital to our economy.
But today, many small businesses across Britain just don’t have the orders to keep them growing, hiring and investing.
And all they hear from the banks are promises about how things will get better tomorrow.
But tomorrow never seems to come.
You know better than anyone that every time someone with a great idea for a business is knocked back, it isn’t just bad for them. Britain’s economy is weakened too.
So today, Britain’s economy is just not working for working people.
And that’s why it isn’t working for Britain. It’s no mystery as to why we’re in the trouble we’re in.
The squeeze on working people has deep roots.
Hard as it is to believe, over the last three decades or so, less than 15 pence of every additional pound Britain has made has gone to an entire half of the population
While 24 pence in every pound has gone to the top 1 per cent of earners.
The last Labour government took action to change this.
Labour helped families with the minimum wage and tax credits.
It made a difference.
But it wasn’t enough.
The problem now is that things are getting worse not better.
This Government promised change. But change isn’t coming.
They are cutting taxes for one group this year.
The very richest in society.
This April, people earning over a million pounds a year will get an average tax cut of £100,000.
Now, we need very successful entrepreneurs in Britain.
Making profits. Being rewarded.
But we can’t succeed as a country just by hoping wealth will trickle down from those at the top to everyone else.
Our economy won’t turn around that way.
That’s why it’s not right to be cutting taxes for the very richest when everyone else is just seeing their living standards squeezed.
You know, somebody said to me recently: this Government seems to be the first in our history to believe that you can base a whole economic strategy on the misery rather than the success of the working people of the country.
They cut the tax credits that make work pay for millions.
They take the side of the train companies, the energy companies and the petrol companies while we pay more for train tickets, energy bills and the fuel for the car.
David Cameron talks about a global race.
And it is essential that we can compete with China and India and others.
But I have to tell you, Britain won’t win a race to the bottom.
By competing in the world as a low skill, low wage economy.
You know this here, which is why you are working so hard, providing the training.
So all we are offered at the moment is the promise of wealth trickling down from the top, squeezing the middle further and a race to the bottom.
It doesn’t work.
And that’s been shown over the last two and half years.
We were promised that we could have growth and a lower deficit.
In fact, we’ve had almost no growth and the deficit is rising again.
That’s because people aren’t in work paying taxes.
Too many are out of work and on benefits.
And, what’s worse, this approach can’t work.
Because we will only build prosperity, when everyone plays their part.
To do that we need a new One Nation strategy for the British economy.
The starting point is that the recovery will be made by the many not just by a few at the top.
We cannot go on with an approach that simply promises more of the same: year after year of squeezed living standards for the majority of working people.
It’s wrong for them and it’s wrong for our economy.
We have said we should start with a temporary cut in VAT as part of our 5-point plan, cancelling the millionaire’s tax cut, and not cutting tax credits this April.
The approach we need is not just different from this Government; it is also different from the last.
After the next election, there will be less money around.
We know that we will inherit a high deficit and we will face difficult choices.
But we have also learnt from this government that without a plan for growth, a plan to tackle the deficit will fail.
And it is different choices and new priorities that will turn our economy around.
That means starting by protecting the incomes of working people with new priorities in taxation.
The One Nation Labour government led by me will put a fairer tax system at the heart of its new priorities.
It is a crucial part of how we build an economy where everyone can play their part.
A One Nation Labour budget next month would lay the foundations for a recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top.
Let me tell you about one crucial choice we would make, which is different from this government.
We would tax houses worth over £2 million.
And we would use the money to cut taxes for working people.
We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government.
We would use the money raised by a mansion tax to reintroduce a lower 10 pence starting rate of tax, with the size of the band depending on the amount raised.
This would benefit 25 million basic rate taxpayers.
Moving Labour on from the past and putting Labour where it should always have been, on the side of working people.
Showing our priority to do everything we can to make a difference to
people’s living standards.
Sending a message about how Britain is going to succeed in the years ahead:
That when you play your part, when you make your contribution to the economy, you will be rewarded.
And that Britain’s economic success will be built by the many, not just by a few at the top.
That is why Ed Balls and I want a 10 pence tax rate and a mansion tax in government.
We’ve rightly said that we will only set out our tax and spending commitments at the next general election.
That is the way a responsible opposition should conduct itself.
However this is a clear signal about the priority we attach to a fairer tax system and the living standards of working people.
We would also be making different choices between the most powerful in our society and ordinary working people.
Working people are paying more than they should, from energy to credit, and we would take action to
- Break the stranglehold of the big six energy suppliers.
- Stop the train company price rip-offs on the most popular routes.
- Introduce new rules to stop unfair bank charges.
- And cap interest on payday loans.
But this is only a beginning of a plan to build a One Nation economy.
The biggest changes Britain needs will come from economic reform.
Let’s start with skills.
As you all know, Britain needs to have the best skilled workforce in the world if we are going to compete.
The industrial revolution was built on the skills of the best workers in the world.
In more recent decades, Britain’s Universities have given us some of the world’s greatest scientists and innovators.
Today, however, we still lag well behind our competitors in productivity.
Not because we don’t work hard.
We work longer hours than many of our competitors.
It is because we’re not doing enough to get the best out of everyone, in particular the 50% of young people who don’t go to University.
That is where the next wave of productivity and growth must come from in an economy made by the many not just a few at the top.
We need a revolution in vocational education and apprenticeships.
Of course, I want young people from all backgrounds to aspire to go to University.
But I also want young people who are awarded an apprenticeship to know that Britain values you.
That means our country has to change.
We must end the culture which says University is always best and vocational education is second-best.
It simply isn’t true.
That’s why One Nation Labour will create a new technical baccalaureate, to complement A-levels.
So a 14-year old knows the qualifications they should be aiming for at 18.
It will give employers the control of the money for training for the first time so that young people are trained in the skills they need for the future.
And we will demand that Britain’s employers step up and offer real apprenticeships and training right across the country.
I know that so many great British companies want to play their part in leading this revolution: training our workforce and investing in our future.
But we can’t just provide people with the skills and then sit back and expect the right jobs to be there for them automatically.
We must also work together to ensure that better jobs are being created in our economy.
Today, we are increasingly two nations: with high skill, high paying jobs for those at the very top but low-skill, low paid, long hours jobs for too many people.
That’s because over the last three decades, we have seen fewer and fewer middle-income jobs in Britain.
That’s fewer jobs in skilled trades and more jobs paying less, with greater insecurity.
We must turn this round.
So a One Nation economy needs to support businesses that create sustainable, middle-income jobs.
That means a modern industrial policy that supports the sectors that will create those jobs of the future like the green industries that are so important for our country.
And an end to the short-termism which prevents many businesses investing.
Let me give you an example. We will stop takeovers that are waved through on the votes of speculators and hedge funds who flood in to buy shares once a takeover bid has been announced.
Because when that happens it can destroy great British companies and the good jobs that go with them.
One Nation Labour will also work with companies and workers to encourage a living wage across our country.
We also need to understand another big change in our economy.
That many new jobs in the future will come not from a small number of large businesses, but from a large number of small businesses.
So we need a new One Nation strategy for small business.
There are more than 3.5 million single person businesses in Britain right now.
People with new skills and new ideas starting out.
Trying to make a difference.
Like many of you here today.
These small businesses need a government that is on their side.
A government willing to take on the vested interests, wherever they find them, in the private or the public sector.
One Nation Labour will be that government.
That’s why it is One Nation Labour that is leading the way on banking reform.
Following Labour’s call last year for real separation between casino and high street banking, the Chancellor has moved.
But not far enough.
He still refuses to put in place a comprehensive power to split the banks by law.
We need that in legislation so if the banking system does not change its culture, we can break the banks up.
And new small businesses need something else too.
They need opportunities to work together.
So a One Nation Labour government would change the way Regional Growth funds work.
Because at the moment they all too often prioritise the interests of big businesses.
We’d make them work for small businesses across the country too.
So that we could find new ways for businesses to build shared facilities and develop deeper connections with each other.
Enabling them to start to overcome the challenges they face.
Finally, businesses and working people need a whole nation that supports them.
In the 19th century, people argued for clean air and sanitation. That allowed people to move to the cities for work and the great new industries to prosper.
In the course of the 20th century, the school leaving age went from 11 at the beginning of the century to 16 by the end. This enabled people to do the jobs they couldn’t have dreamed of before and allowed Britain to compete on the global stage.
Now in the 21st century, we must remember those lessons.
Today, too often, Britain just leaves people on their own.
That means too many parents can’t work, even though they want to work because they can’t get the childcare they need.
Too many people have to drop out of work when their parents become old or ill, because they can’t get the social care they need.
Too many young people just don’t have enough money for a deposit on a first home. That is bad for them and bad for our economy because they can’t move to the jobs they need.
And too many businesses find they can’t succeed because we haven’t built the roads, rail and infrastructure that we need.
They all know that we can’t solve these problems on our own.
None of us on our own are going to build the roads we need, the railways we need, the housing we need.
It is only by acting together.
And that is the idea at the heart of a One Nation economy: that our recovery will be built by the many – by all of us working together – and not just by a few at the top.
And that is what we will fight for between now and the General Election.
There is a big choice that will dominate that election.
It is a choice between two different visions of our economy.
The Conservative vision of a race to the bottom in wages and skills, rewarding those at the very top but leaving everyone else squeezed as never before.
Or the One Nation Labour vision.
Our economy will only prosper when the vast majority of the people of this country prosper too.
When working families have confidence and security; when they can invest in their future; and when they can start businesses of their own.
Britain is at a fork in the road. We can carry on as we are: falling wages, low growth, failure to tackle the deficit.
Or Britain can take the path I have outlined: a recovery made by the many, tackling low growth and reducing the deficit, building not squeezing the middle, all of us playing our part in turning this economy around.
Not just a better way to live, but the only way to prosper.
It is how Britain has flourished in the past.
It is what the Labour government understood in 1945.
It’s what Harold MacMillan understood when he spoke here in Bedford more than half a century ago.
We can rebuild this country.
We can offer people hope.
We can make an economy that works for working people.
It’s a goal worth fighting for.
It’s what One Nation Labour will do.