“Thank you very much for that incredibly kind introduction and I suppose I should say to you welcome to the frozen south. Who says there is a North South divide when it comes to the weather? Thank you all for braving the elements to come here today. Congratulations to Peter Hain who is going to be a fantastic chair of the National Policy Forum.
I’m really grateful to you for coming today and I do want to start by saying that we are a party that people are coming to, not moving away from. We’ve had 43,000 members join us since the general election and I think that is an extraordinary achievement. I think it shows people want to be part of our party. We’ve been winning council by-elections up and down this country. In Sandwell two weeks ago we won a council by-election in a seat that had been held by the Conservative Party for the last 36 years.
This is a party where the fight back has begun.
Now I know also that all of us six months on from the general election feel a huge sense of anger frankly about what is happening to our country. We feel a sense of anger about the broken promises that we see, Broken promises from the Liberal Democrats on tuition fees, on VAT. Broken promises on child benefit, on Educational Maintenance Allowances, on a whole host of other things from the Conservatives. You could add your own items to this list of broken promises.
And it’s not just the broken promises. The thing I found out this week is also the arrogance of this government. It came over the issue of school sport. Some of you may not know the difference we made to sport in schools during our time in office. An increase from 25% to 90% in the number of kids doing more than two hours sport a week. A million more children engaged in competitive sport. A network of 200,000 volunteers as part of schools sports partnerships.
Was this something the government decided to carry on? No. It was something that without any consultation they decided to end with the stroke of a pen. That tells you something about the arrogance of this government. The arrogance of never had it so good Lord Young. This is an arrogant government.
But most of all, and this is my theme today, this is a government that is widening the gap between the dreams apparently on offer in Britain today and people’s chances of realising them.
I was in the West Midlands on Thursday, in Birmingham, talking to kids at a college. A college that has around 35,000 young people there. And they were just saying to me look, how are we going to cope with the tripling of tuition fees? How are we going to stay on in the sixth form when we see the end of Educational Maintenance Allowances? And that is the issue in Britain today.
And it’s not just about the poorest in society, that’s why I make no apologies for talking about the squeezed middle. Because people are feeling squeezed. They were feeling squeezed before this government, they’re feeling much much more squeezed now that this government is in power.
So it is about standing up for the hopes and aspirations of people. And that is our mission. That must be our mission, to narrow that gap between the dreams that people can see around them and their chances of realising them.
But the truth is that despite all the things this government is doing wrong the next election is as much about us as it is about them. And that’s the mission I want to talk to you about today. That is the mission we are kicking off today with the policy reviews co-ordinated by Liam Byrne and the process of party reform which Peter Hain is leading.
And I want to talk to you about the principles that will drive that process, the principles that will underline both the policy reviews and the party reform and I say we’ve got to move beyond New Labour. Why do I say we have to move beyond New Labour? Not because the New Labour approach was wrong, it was right in many ways. Social justice and economic efficiency. Creating wealth as well as distributing it. Appealing to all sections of society.
All of those things are right but the truth is we got many thing right in government and some things wrong, we have to face up to that. And also the world has changed dramatically. Our last big renewal was in 1994. That’s why this process of renewal is so important for our party. This is such an opportunity for us.
So I want to talk to you about the five things that I think we need to do.
First of all we have to be a party rooted in people’s lives. Now this might sound like a simple thing but it isn’t a simple thing at all. What is the overwhelming impression that most people have of politics today, of politicians? It is of people distant from them and their lives. People who don’t understand the lives that they lead, the daily struggle that their lives represent.
I think of the low paid worker I met at an NHS hospital being paid £7.10 an hour but not getting statutory sick pay. I think if the small business owner who told me that actually he did feel that red tape and regulation was a massive problem for him. I think of the person I met in my own constituency who I talked about when I launched my leadership campaign who said that yes he understood that immigration was part of Britain and part of Britain’s history but he felt his mate’s wages were being driven down and he didn’t know why we didn’t have better answers.
Being rooted in people’s lives is not about a slogan, it’s not about going out and just saying ‘tell us what we should think’, but it is about saying we need to be reconnected to the hopes and aspirations of the people of Britain.
That’s why when I think about the policy reviews that we’re going to be undertaking, they’re not about a bunch of experts gathered in a room in London. They’ve got to be about us as a party going out there and talking to people. Going out there and being by people’s side and that’s why your role is so important as members of the National Policy Forum.
Because you are our connection to people. You give us the ability to reach out and connect. You and the party members, the trade union levy payers up and down this country.
And that takes me to the issue of party reform. Party reform is essential for us and it is about being rooted in people’s lives. Think about the challenge that we face. A hundred years ago when we were founded people’s allegiances to party were much more likely to be inherited rather than chosen.
Today the world is very different. People are much more likely to choose their allegiance rather than inherit it. People are much more likely to wear that allegiance very lightly. And some people don’t want to accept lock stock and barrell the idea of joining a political party.
So that is the context for the challenge of party reform. And yet for us as a political party we can’t just be a party with declining membership. That’s OK for the Tories, they’ve got other friends who can help them. Our challenge is different. We need to become a movement again.
How do we become a movement again? First of all you have to have high ideal. You have to show how you’re going to change the country. That’s, part of the process of our policy review. Secondly you’ve got to give a voice to members and this body, the National Policy Forum, has played an incredibly important role in the last few years in our policy making but we all know in our hearts that it can do more and that we can give more of a voice to our members and we will be a better connected party if we did and we have better policy if we did.
But also have to reach out to people. What have you heard on the doorstep when you knock on doors? If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a thousand times. “We only see you at election time”. Now that isn’t true of many parties that are represented in this room. But too few of us, too few of our parties are out there asm a campaigning force.
So one or the things that Peter’s review is going to have to do is find ways in which we can become a campaigning force up and down this country, a genuine community organisation not just saying vote for us but saying join with us to change your community.
There’s one other thing which is how you reach out beyond your membership. This is really really important. Some people say look, we should cut off the four million people, the nurses, the home helps, the dinner ladies, the engineers, the hard working people who are part of our movement. Frankly at a time when politics is already disconnected, that is the last thing that we should do in my view.
But there is a challenge for us. There is a challenge of engaging those four million people so they do feel part of our movement again and there’s a challenge of going beyond those four million people as well.
Some people will want to join our party. Some people will be trade union levy payers, but there are people beyond that too that we need to make part of our decision making in this country and that is also going to be part of Peter’s review.
And there’s just one other thing. I think given where we are today the idea that each of us has multiple votes in the leadership and deputy leadership election probably should be a thing of the past. But we can change our party and make it better connected top people up and down this country. So that’s the first thing we have to do, be rooted in peoples’ lives.
Secondly we have to change our economy and we have to understand how we need to change our economy.
Now we did great things as a party: we created millions of jobs through our economic record. We used the proceeds of growth to rebuild our public services and tackle poverty. But let’s be honest, the message we heard at the election was that that wasn’t enough. For the people who were saying where are the industrial jobs of the future going to come from for my son or daughter, that wasn’t enough. For the people who were saying to us how am I going to get on the housing market, how is my son or daughter going to get on the housing ladder, it wasn’t enough. For the person who said ‘I feel like I’m just stuck, I’m stock in a low paid job and I can’t get out of it’, it wasn’t enough. For the small business owner who said look, the banks don’t seem to be helping me, it wasn’t enough.
So our second challenge is to understand that we need a whole new approach on our economy.
Now what is the central insight? For me the central insight is this: New Labour was right to accept the role of the market in 1994, that dynamic markets do help create jobs. But government has a central role to play as well. Government as regulator, government as influencer, government must play its role. But how should we do it going forward?
We know what the challenge is: to promote a proper living wage in this country. To have the high quality industrial jobs that we need. To reform our banking system in the way that we know other countries, Germany and others countries have in the past and created those high paying industrial jobs. And to take action also so there is responsibility on pay throughout our society. All of those things must be part of our policy review.
I tell you this also though. Deficit reduction is important. But deficit reduction cannot be your only economic policy. This government is trying to reduce economic policy simply to deficit reduction and frankly it won’t work. It won’t create the good economy we need in the future. So we need to change our approach on the economy.
Thirdly we need to change our approach not just to markets, but to government as well. We use the power of government to do great things for the country, to build public services, and we should be proud of our record. But we do know that there is am danger that we need to guard against and the danger is this. The danger is that government becomes the answer to everything and the danger also, and many local councillors in this room will know this, that Whitehall knows best. That Whitehall solutions will always be the answer.
Now actually the targets we introduced – the 18 week waiting list target, the 2 week cancer guarantee – made an extraordinary difference to people up and down this country, But sometimes we took targets and audit and indeed reorganisation of our public services too far.
What are the solutions for the future that I am interested in? I am interested in mutual solutions to some of the issues we face in our public services. To community ownership of our public services. To public services where people don’t feel, both users and those working in them, like cogs in the machine which to often they do. And also we have to be the people who stand up for local democracy and local control over public services as well.
And if the relationship between the state and public service is an issue, so is the relationship between the state and the liberty of the individual. Anyone who tells you that there’s no difficult issues between liberty and security in our country today isn’t telling the truth because there are big challenges that we face.
But we know we also got the balance wrong and some of the good things we did like CCTV were undermined by some of the things where we went wrong like 90 days. We need to be the people who stand up for liberty. We need to be a party that has liberty at its core. We were founded on one of the most important liberties – the right to join and form a trade union and we need to remember that liberty is part of Labour’s soul as well. So we need to change our attitude to government.
But fourth we also need to think about not just the relationship of the individual to the market and the relationship of the individual to government but also the thing that probably matters most to all of us in this room, the relationships between individuals. People within communities.
Now it sticks in our throat when David Cameron tries to claim that he’s the man for the big society. Because he has an old fashioned view about the big society. His is essentially a view that says look, if government gets out of the way then society will prosper. None of us believe that. Because the evidence doesn’t support it. When you look up and down this country the voluntary sector has been stronger than it’s ever been before partly because we had a partnership with government.
But we didn’t get it all right and there is a lesson for us in this too. The way I think about it is this. Often we saw problems in communities and we thought the answer was a programme or a policy. Now sometimes the answer is a programme or a policy, like the New Deal for Communities which did great things or Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which took seriously a problem that hadn’t been taken seriously in the past.
Part of our job as a Labour Party, because we were founded from communities, is to think more deeply about our communities and what makes them successful and indeed unsuccessful. And where does that take me to? That takes me to some really difficult but really important issues.
Can you really be a vastly unequal society and have the kind of social solidarity that we all believe in? Inequality has an impact on the kind of community you build. Can you really be an economy where people work 50, 60, 70 hours a week doing two or three jobs and then say let’s nurture strong family life? It’s much much harder to do. Can you really be a society where high streets get taken over sometimes emptied of people by out of town shopping centres? It’s much harder to nurture that sense of community.
We need to be people who stand up for those traditions, those institutions that people values in communities. It’s not social conservatism to say the local Post Office, the local pub is an essential part of the fabric of community life.
So we need to think really hard in our policy review about how we are the people who stand up for strong communities and strong society and I tell you this, we’ve got to take that term ‘Big Society’ back off David Cameron.
There’s, one other thing which is the way we do our politics. This is fundamental. Harriet Harman our deputy leader led a massive change in our politics before 1997, the role of women in our politics. It is one of the many many things that we should thank her for, for the work she does for our party.
How we make our politics look like the country we seek to serve remains an incredibly important issue for us. And look, I tell you this: I won’t rest until we have proper gender equality in our party because it is fundamental to who we must be as a political party.
But there’s something else which is about the way we do politics. Let’s be honest, politics is in incredible disrepute, as are politicians. And this government is making it far worse because they’re breaking their promises in the most casual way, as I said at the beginning, that you can imagine.
So the challenge for us is going to be to inherit a politics that is frankly a politics that people don’t believe. Now what is the answer to that? The answer for me is that we have to be the people who under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the people who over-promise and under-deliver.
It is so important this. We’ve got to talk about the big problems our society faces but we can’t pretend that there are easy solutions and we can’t pretend we have solutions when we don’t.
Modest in our promises, ambitious in what we want to do for the country. That must be our watchword.
And there’s a counterpart to this idea of not making promises you can’t meet in the short-term, and that’s being the people who talk about the long term issues our country faces even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.
That’s why I said climate change must be at the core of everything we do. Because I know that the way my kids will judge me is on this basis. Were you the last generation not to get it or the first generation to get it? That’s why at the heart of our economic review that Alan Johnson will be leading is the issue of sustainability. And we’ve got to take this seriously and it’s not just about, in case you wondered, going off to the North Pole with some huskies. It’s got to be about a serious engagement about how our policy agenda needs to change and how climate change needs to be at the core of it.
So look, we know the scale of challenge that we face. I know that we have to change in order to win.
We’ve got to change in terms of the way we are rooted in people’s lives, and you are essential to making that happen. We have to change in the way we think about our economy, the way we think about government, the way we think about community and indeed in the way we think about politics too.
I do want to say this to you. There is no shortcut or quick fix to this. We shouldn’t mistake the anger we feel at what the coalition is doing to the country for a sense that it isn’t as much about us as it is about them. The strategy that says ‘wait for them to screw it up, simply be a strong opposition’ is not a strategy that is going to work for us. We need to do that hard thinking of our own and we need to understand that.
I have to say though I have a huge sense of optimism about what we can achieve. See, I think that actually what people see in Britain is a sense that this coalition is widening that aspiration gap, widening that gap between what people want to see for themselves, their families, their communities and what is possible for them to achieve. And in a way that is the ca ll we must answer.
If you think about New Labour before 1997 and after, we became the vehicle for people’s hopes and aspirations. That’s what I am talking about. That’s what we’ve got to do again.
And we’ve got to understand that people’s hopes and aspirations aren’t just for themselves. Yes of course they want to get on, yes of course they want to earn and own, but they also want to live in a strong, a fair and equal society, just like the values we have. But we need to show to them that our values are their values.
Let me end on this point. I have big ambitions for this party and this country because we are the idealists in politics. We are not the people like David Cameron who somehow says look; all I can promise you is an age of austerity. All I can promise you is a sense frankly of pessimism about what is going to happen to your communities, to the jobs of the future.
We are the idealists and the optimists. That is what gets us up in the morning, that is what motivates us as people.
We’ve got to go out though and show that and prove that to people. Every day of every week of every month between now and that general election.
We have to show again we are the people who are the idealists. We are the people who are the optimists. We are the people who can represent the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations of the British people.
I can’t do that on my own. The Shadow cabinet can’t do it on its own. We need you.
So please join us on this journey. Join us on this journey which makes us once again the people’s party. The party of people’s hopes and aspirations. Back on people’s side, back in power making for the fairer, the more equal, the more just country we believe in .
Thank you very much.”