The second half of 2020 could be the most defining period in British politics for an entire generation. Decisions taken in the next few months will define the type of country Britain will be in the post-Brexit, post-Covid world.
The Chancellor’s budget will need to borrow unprecedented amounts of money, vital to getting our economy back on its feet. It will need to set out not only how best to spend that money but also how we plan to pay it off: tax rises or, as the Prime Minister apparently prefers, more austerity.
A whole raft of climate change policies are due: the energy white paper, the net-zero strategy, the heat strategy, the national infrastructure strategy and publication of the UK’s “domestic contributions” to reducing our carbon emissions; an important signal in advance of hosting Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) next December.
The Integrated Review – combining the security and defence spending review with a wider review of our national security, development and foreign policy priorities – is also due this year. Dubbed by the Prime Minister as the most wide-ranging review of British defence and foreign policy since the Cold War, it will reflect the government’s view of Britain’s role in our fast-changing world.
The Brexit clock also runs out of time, with the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of the year. European workers here in the UK, British citizens living in the EU, businesses, universities and so many others wait to see whether the government actually has any chance (or indeed any intention) of delivering a complete set of trade and security agreements by the end of December.
And this is all in the context of the ongoing management of the pandemic, preparing for the normal winter challenges in the NHS – made worse because of social distancing and the significant backlog of appointments due to the lockdown – and the economic recession in which we find ourselves.
Unfortunately for all of us, the only thing this Tory government seems to be capable of is being incompetent. The onus is therefore on our party to force the government’s hand in the right direction, as Keir Starmer has so successfully done through a record set of government U-turns. We must be the political party with the best ideas, the party that shows how the enormous challenges facing our country right now can also be the enormous opportunity we’ve been waiting for to create a more inclusive, sustainable, productive and modern Britain.
As our Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has been asking over the summer: when will the government show some sophistication in its policies, to invest in and protect the vital economic foundations we need to rebuild and grow in the future? There’s little point sending highly-skilled manufacturing workers home to claim Universal Credit when we need them to build back British manufacturing, as I learnt on my visit to Vauxhall in the North West and Airbus in North Wales last week.
Bridget Phillipson, our Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was also right to call out the Tories’ lack of concern at wasting taxpayers’ money. Why give employers £1,000 for every returning employee when they are returning anyway, wasting billions of pounds that could be spent saving jobs in strategic sectors of the economy? The incompetence of this government is not just politically important – it undermines confidence in the broader economy and makes our recovery slower and harder.
Kate Green, our Shadow Education Secretary, brilliantly managed a political scandal of epic proportions with the GCSE and A-Level grading fiasco. Alongside the ever-changing guidance from government, it has reduced the confidence of parents and shown a lack of concern from this government over the future prospects of our young people.
Lucy Powell, our shadow business minister, seemed to be on TV pretty much every other day during the summer, She rightly called out the government’s ability to undermine the confidence of business owners, workers and customers, acting as a drag on our economic recovery. These self-inflicted errors, all in the context of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing the UK suffering the worst economic decline among G7 countries.
As we return to parliament, the sheer scale of our economic decline must now be met by the scale of our ambition for the future of our great country. A fiscal investment not just in infrastructure, but in people. A recognition that to build back better must mean to build back British, supporting British jobs and industry across the country. Providing much needed global leadership on climate change and making it clear to both our allies and others that Britain will continue to invest and play its role in defending a rules-based international order.
This autumn, we have not just an opportunity but an obligation to put forward our best Labour people and our best Labour ideas to show the British people how a Labour Britain can be so much better than what’s on offer today.