Labour must set out a three-term shaped project, with ‘security’ at its heart

Liam Byrne
©️ Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

It is now time to bring Labour’s security message into focus. As Keir Starmer signalled at the weekend, this is the beginning of the end for the Tories. The Wakefield walkover showed Labour back winning on the centre ground. But no-one is under any illusion about the mountain Labour still must climb. To win a majority of just one seat will take a swing of 10.5% — bigger than the swing Tony Blair achieved in 1997. And that’s why it is time to build out our story on ‘security’, which Keir was right to put centre-stage in January. Labour needs to set out not simply a catalogue of policies but a three-term shaped project. And at the centre of this must sit ‘security for new times’. While optimism is always important to winning elections, right now voters are simply desperately worried. And they’re right to be.

The Tories’ ‘backlog Britain’ is now a ‘stagnation nation’ with forecast growth of 0% next year. That’s the slowest in the G7. Our budget watchdog says we’re about to feel the biggest fall in living standards since records began. Yet this is the moment the Tories are pushing through 15 tax rises, hiking tax to the highest taxes for for 70 years. One in six people are in poverty, yet the number in absolute poverty will rise in 2022-23 by 1.3 million – a figure that includes 500,000 children.

Fewer people – especially young people – have a warm, safe home to call their own, not least because there’s almost 200,000 fewer council homes than 2010. The NHS has a record 6.1 million people waiting for treatment while street arrests have fallen by over 50% since the Conservatives took office; it’s never been so easy to be a criminal. Meanwhile, our national security is weakening as the army has been cut to its smallest size since 1714 and our navy is down to just 16 ships.

How have we ended up like this? Because the Tories waste money. Rishi Sunak wasted £11bn by paying too much interest on UK debt. The Covid loans scandal saw £11.8bn lost to fraud and error and £9bn written off on personal protective equipment that we are now spending a million pounds a day simply storing. And that’s before we get onto the £37bn splurged on a ‘test and trace’ service that didn’t work. By contrast, Labour offers something different: new security for new times. That means:

  • national security;
  • security at work;
  • security for family incomes and a warm safe home of your own;
  • security for our kids;
  • security in old age;
  • climate security; and
  • security for the national finances.

Let’s take each in turn. National security is the first obligation of any government and in response to the Ukraine crisis Labour has called for a ‘post-9/11’ style increase in defence spending and a reversal of the 9,500-personnel cut to the armed forces.

Everyone is feeling the squeeze. Labour would deliver security at work with a real living wage of at least £10 an hour so that work pays wages you can raise a family on. And our party has pledged to change the law so that workers have full rights from day one, outlaw fire and rehire, introduce a new right to work flexibly and strengthen trade unions to make sure more workers covered by collectively agreed deals that boost pay.

As inflation spikes, Labour offers security for family incomes and a home you can call your own. We led the calls for a windfall tax, opposed the hike in national insurance, tabled a bill to cut VAT on home energy bills and to help deliver warm, safe homes with low to no energy bills, we’d invest £60bn over a decade to retrofit 19 million homes to EPC Band C. For those on lower incomes, we demanded the £20 uplift in Universal Credit was maintained. To deliver more homes, we’d rebalance power between developers and communities so councils have more powers to deliver the affordable housing their communities need.

To deliver security for our kids – on whom we all depend – we’ve set out ambitious plans to invest £15bn in a national recovery plan, which is nothing less than the investment the government’s own advisors said was needed. Crucially, we’d offer a jobs promise for young people with a guarantee of quality education, training or employment and create tens of thousands of apprenticeships by ending the Treasury raid of the apprenticeship levy.

For security in old age, we promised in our last manifesto to maintain the triple-lock uplift for pensions and, crucially, we will develop plans for a national care service and end the postcode lottery of eligibility for care – providing the support people need with their personal care. To deliver security on our streets, we’ve promised to scrap plans for a pointless royal yacht and divert the £283m of funding into tackling anti-social behaviour.

Key to our plan for growth is our plan for climate security: an ambitious plan for net zero investing £28bn of capital a year to 2030 to meet the challenge of the climate and nature emergency. That would help us deliver quality jobs with a strong industrial strategy that uses government contracts to support British businesses so we buy, make and sell more in Britain, delivering investment in high-quality, well-paid green jobs in the industries of the future.

How do we pay for this and deliver security for the national finances? By helping business, cutting waste and taxing fairly. When businesses grow, the country gets richer. That’s why we’ll start by cutting the cost of business and scrapping business rates in the biggest overhaul of business taxation in a generation and buy, make and sell more in Britain with a target of helping create 100,000 new businesses over the next five years.

To cut waste, we would set up an Office for Value for Money to tackle government waste and introduce a new set of fiscal rules to ensure we will close the deficit on day-to-day spending over five years, make sure government debt is falling at the end of five years and only borrow to invest.

And to tax fairly, we want a fair and level playing field between the multinational giants and local businesses on the high street. We’ve said we would look again at the tech giants, review the Tories’ rock bottom digital services tax and undertake a major review of existing tax reliefs, targeting reliefs on wealth such as income from buy-to-let properties.

In today’s electorate big swings are possible. Not least for the simple reason that politics has never been so volatile. New research from the British Election Study team recently reported: “Looking at data from 2018 and 2019, we find that economic security was a key driver of people’s voting before the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis… [and] these people will vote for the party they think can provide them.” That is a political challenge we need to seize with both hands. We have the policies. It’s time to tell the story.

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