This is our truth, tell us yours
Thank you for gathering here, and listening to me.
As Labour Party staff your role is to serve the wishes of the party membership, and to help us fulfill our historic role as the parliamentary representation of the interests of the working people of the UK. That statement requires some clear definitions; the working people of the UK are all those who do not prosper because of inherited wealth, and parliamentary includes all those institutions, like local councils, that are empwoered by parliament to act on its behalf to make life better for the people of their area.
I know as staff you also are, in many cases, individual members of the party, who campaign where you live as well as working incredibly hard for the party. My thanks go out to all of you.
Last nights results are still coming in, still being processed, and will be analyzed in microscopic detail by everyone from dispassionate academics to commentators with an axe to grind. It would be inhuman of me not to reflect on what election results tell us, and what they mean for our party, but for a socialist, like me, the priority is not what I think, or what I feel, even if a little self doubt is not out of place right now.
The people whose reaction to the results matters are the voters, throughout the UK, who look to the Labour Party to make a difference in their lives, who look to us to challenge austerity, to challenge the orthodoxy of this government which says that the way to make a minority much, much richer is to make the majority poorer. Those people, the working people of the UK, are the people we need to listen to and to speak to about their lives, their families, their communities and their ambitions.
Ambition is important. It’s central to what the Labour Party does. It was our ambitious belief that a better world was possible that enabled us to build the NHS, to build millions of council houses, to embrace the idea of employment rights for all, pensions for all, social security for all. That ambition fitted with the ambitions of the working people of the UK, to be free from the fear of poverty, free from the fear of ill health untreated because they couldn’t afford the doctor, free from the unhecked power of employers who treated people like commodities.
Without that ambition we are nothing. We have to be unequivocal. Labour is a party of ambition, of opportunity and of optimism, and we will challenge at every turn the idea that the expansion of poverty is a price worth paying so that a minority may hoard even more wealth in offshore bank accounts. I’m not much given to biblical references, but the parable of the talents should be at the heart of every ambition we have for Britain now and in the future. Do you remember it?
In the parable a master divided his spare wealth between three servants. Two of the servants invested the money, and were rewarded. The third buried the money in the ground, returned it to his master when he returned, and was punished for not investing.
Money in offshore bank accounts is money buried, not invested. It’s dead to the world,and deaf to the needs of Britain in the 21st century. You can understand the fears of the people who salt their money away in that way. We have built a spiv economy in the UK, an economy where a whole range of financial instruments have been successfully promoted to generate fees for advisors, not profits for savers. Remember endowment mortgages? The pensions mis-selling scandals? We repeatedly free up financial regulation, then have to clean up the mess that results – that’s why we think the current reforms to pensions are so wrong, and so risky, because experience teaches us so. The corporate world is so corrupt,so disconected from reality that it takes a huge leap of faith for the ordinary investor to look at invsting in large companies wiht anything other than fear. Who will buy shares in a company when a Phillip Green might come along, or when, like Enron they might discover it’sjust amassive fraud of made-up numbers and invented profits?
What did the servant who hid the talent in the ground say to his master? ‘You were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid…’ We have built, in Britian, a spiv economy of hard faced men who reap where they did not sow, and we shouldn’t be surprised if people of ambition, people who care about their futures and their family’s futures, are fearful.
Labour has an alternative plan to the creation of a Britain of hardfaced men demanding their ten percent, whether they’ve contributed anything of value or not. We need a Britain of doctors and nurses,of engineers and builders, not of PFI profiteers and tax avoidance scheme architects.
If some of you are thinking that sounds like a conclusive break with aspects of our immediate past the answer is, of course, yes it is. We cannot keep on underperforming in, or losing, elections, and not look in the mirror and face some hard questions. If we lose elections we must look at ourselves, and ask whether we offered ideas that fitted the ambitions of the people of the UK.
Everyone in the UK wants their child to succeed. Everyone wants their child to fulfill their potential. Unwittingly, without intending it, Labour in power created an economy where we widened the gap between success and failure, and made it harder for too many families to believe that success, security, and prosperity were theirs to have and hold.
We built hundreds of new schools, which is always a good thing, but we built them with poorly procured, poorly planned and poorly delivered PFI contracts that mean that a tiny minority of investors make massive profits out of our children’s education. If we had funded those schools with government bonds, or local authority bonds, as we used to, sold to the general public, providing ordinary people with low risk high quality savings products, we would have got the same schools, more cheaply, and we’d have provided savers with a better return on their hard earned cash than they’re likely to get in a high streets savings account.
Instead we took the advice of the spivs, the ten percenters, who were more than happy to sign deals that mean we will pay them over the odds for decades to come. I can’t repeat this enough. In the process we shut out ordinary savers from the chance to earn a decent rate of return on their savings; a PFI contractor gets 10% per annum on their investment, while an ordinary saver is lucky toget 2% in a high street savings account.
If voters ask you why Labour is so committed to the idea of a national investment bank, funding small and medium sized enterprises, and to local authorities and central government using bonds, not PFI to fund their projects, tell them this, from me. It’s about not just encouraging investment to make our nations wealthier, it’s also about spreading the returns on that investment as widely as possible. That’s why I’m asking our treasury team, today, to start work on developing local authority ISA’s, so that our councils can return to their historic role of providing savings products for people where they live that are safe, secure, profitable, and which give the residents of an area a stake in the infrastructure that adds to the quality of life in those areas.
You can’t talk about localism, and about communities,without talking about devolution. The elections in Scotland have been a disaster for Labour. Not just last night, but in 2015, 2013 and 2009. Devolution did not cause those disasters.
I cannot repeat this enough. Labour loses, not when the chattering clases turn against us, not when the BBC decides it’s their job to scrutinize the opposition not the government who fund them, but when the working people of an area decide that it doesn’t make a difference whether you vote Labour or not.
The people of Scotland have made that choice. They have decided that things were not going to get better under Labour, and that they were better off with someone else, even if that someone else is the ideological and intellectual shapeshifters of the SNP, a party who can’t decide what they’re for, or why, but don’t mind so long as they win elections and can keep up the charade of being in charge.
Defeat in Scotland is our responsibility, and to win again we must re-connect with the people of Scotland, to re-connect with their ambitions, their hopes,and their eperiences. To treat Scotland, as some in Labour did, as a fiefdom where people should be content with what they were given, while the most visible parts of England flourished and prospered, was a profound economic and political mistake. And make no mistake about it, we are paying for it at the polls, not because the people of Scotland are irrational Nationalists, because they saw their children, their future, paying for our neglect with worse life outcomes, worse opportunities, and frustrated ambitions.
To a Scottish Nationalist there is only one England, the England of conspicuous consumption in London and the South East. They’re not going to talk to the working people of Scotland about the intersections of class, gender, race, sexuality and locality that decide who prospers, and who falls, in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, irrespective of borders or lines on a map. As socialists who care about all working people, irrespective of race, gender or creed, we do have to talk about the way those factors influence outcomes throughout the UK, and we must heed the warnings. As a Labour Party, we run the same risk in North East England as we ran in Scotland, of becoming irrelevant because we were content to manage poverty, to administer austerity and to lament a past we have lost. We run the risk of being despised by the lucky 30% of our population, who rationalize their good fortune, good health and good education as being their reward for being ambitious, and of being despised, too, by the unlucky 30% who see us as doing too little, too late to redress the inequalities and unfairness that mean they hold the losing tickets in life’s lottery. And the other 40%? They don’t vote. That’s how disconnected we have become, a party that had its roots in mass campaigns for the franchise and for equal rights, unable to motivate 40% of the electorate to exercise those rights.
We need to become once again the party of social security, of fairness and of opportunity. Once we encouraged our young people to reach out for the best education possible; now we bar the doors to our universities unless they sign upto a lifetime of indebtedness. There can be no equality, no fairness, no decency while education carries a price tag. There can be no equality, no fairness, no decency while children experience wide variations in the funding of their education, or the environment in which they receive it. The forced imposition of academy schools is the institutionalization of inequality, and we must resist it, not because we prefer one system to another, like bureacrats arguing over which bscuits to buy for the tea break; we must resist compulsory academies because every child matters. We may have got the funding of high quality, high standards schools wrong, but the principle is right; every child deserves the best possible school in which to reach their potential. Chains of academy schools, where education funding is drained off to pay the bureaucrats at the centre of the academy chains, are not the answer.
Somewhere, as Labour staffers, experienced, and good at your jobs, you’ll be hearing a clarion voice that says ‘that’s an uncosted spending promise.’ I say this to you. Before we get into the costing of spending promises,and the calculation of what we can afford,we need to have a national debate about the level of our national income that government uses, on behalf of all of us, to provide for our ambitions as a nation. Our Euopean competitors set the mark at 40% or above; this government is set on reducing the government’s share of GDP to 35%. That choice by this government, to reduce the amount it spends so it can reduce corporation tax is a choice made by people who believe in the spiv economy; why spend money on tax avoidance when the government will choose austerity over security, poverty over a publicly owned and properly funded NHS? While our schools struggle and parents hope that there’s a parcel from the foodbank to get them through the week the spivs rejoiceand salt away the profits offshore
Our job is to shape that national debate, to persuade millions of families that they can trust us to use their tax money not as tokens to be frittered away on foreign wars and the spiv economy, but to be invested in the talents and futures of all our country.
Menton of foreign wars brings us, inevitably, to where we stand on issues of human rights abroad, to where we stand in an increasingly divided world where conflicts are bitterly ideological and bitterly contested in ways we could not have imagined thirty years ago.
The Labour Party is the party of universal human rights, and of freedom. Let me give you an immediate practical example. We oppose TTIP. Why? Because you cannot have free trade if you do not have free workers who, right round the world, share the same rights and the same freedoms. It’s easy to build magnificant hotels and footbal stadia cheaply if you treat your builders as little better than serfs, as indentured labourers who cannot leave without their passports. It’s easy to mine coal more cheaply if you don’t care about safety, if you refuse to acknowledge the kind of rights and freedoms our miners fought so hard for over hundreds of years. You cannot have free trade without a level playing field of employment rights, and without an acknowledgement of that TTIP must fall.
As a Labour Party, as socialists, we have failed for a generation because we have constantly dabbled in foreign policy without starting from our key principles around equality and universal human rights.We have taken sides not on the basis of principled decisions, but on the basis of international alliances and sympathies. SOmetimes we have made grubby deals with medieval regimes fornothing more than a few arms sales. To use a sporting analogy, we have looked less like impartial referees than partisan supporters cheering from the terraces or ticket touts trying to turn a fast buck
If we say the cause of the Palestinian people is more important to us than, say the cause of the ethnic minorities of Burma, or the people of Tibet, what are we saying both to the Palestinians, and to the Israelis? We’re taking sides, and taking sides in a way that does us no credit. We’re not being a role model, advocates for the univesal human rights we believe in – we’re being partial, and opportunistic. We may not believe that in our hearts, but that’s how the world sees us, and we should be better than that.
We made that mistake because successive Labour governments forgot that, in our framework of alliances and relationships, sometimes it’s necessary to be a critical friend. We should have been more critical of America’s handling of the situation with Iraq between 1990 and 2003, and more vocal in our concern for the people of Kurdistan. We were not, and we looked less like advocates for universal rights,and much more like partisans acting in our own interests.
Small wonder our motives are distrusted,and small wonder so many of the British population believe we fought the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A small aside here; ever since I became a politician, Britain has advocated nuclear disarmament for everyone except ourselves and our partners. There’s a word for that. Hypocrisy.
You are Labour staffers, the morning after an election, and some of you worked hard for the party in those years between 2001 and 2005 when we sowed the eeds of distrust in our motives and our thinking. It will be no consolation when I say that many will see the Blair government as having made similar mistakes, in terms of being an uncritical friend, to previous Labour governments. My vew is that in order to make our selves electable again, we haveto face up to that trait in our politics,and change it for the better.
We achieve so much when we are in power that our first task is to reconnect with the people who will put us in power, and that is the voters. Let’s get on with it. Let’sregaintheir trust, let’s debate the issues that matter to voters, and let’s remember we do this for a reason, and that reason is our moral core, our belief in fairness, opportunity and ambition.
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