Two and a half years into this Tory led government, it is already clear that the Britain Labour hopes to govern in 2015 will be divided at home and diminished abroad.
Irrespective of GDP figures, which are likely to be volatile for some time to come, levels of poverty and inequality will have increased. In stark contrast to David Cameron’s Tory conference speech, the aspirations of the “mainstream majority” will have been held back and, in some cases, crushed by the squeeze on living standards, debt and job insecurity. The speed and depth of cuts will have damaged our public realm and undermined morale. On a more positive note, it is to be hoped that the majority of Scots will have voted to reject independence and remain part of the United Kingdom.
Against this background, voters will be caught between a yearning for change and fear of the risk of change. Fear which will be stoked by a Tory party whose default position will be to resort to a wholly negative campaign. In these circumstances, Labour will have to offer the electorate both reassurance and a compelling vision for a better future. This can be achieved by providing meaningful guarantees that we will not spend more than the country can afford and through immigration and welfare policies which strike the right balance between our duty to support the most vulnerable with an unapologetic commitment to be tough on abuse and fraud.
The foundations of our vision for a better future were laid in Ed Miliband’s bold speech to the Labour party conference speech last month. The speech enthused the party faithful but also captured the nation’s mood in the aftermath of the Olympics. ‘One nation’ Labour offers an ambitious vision of British renewal that embraces patriotism, gives everyone a stake, the chance to pursue their aspirations and an expectation of fair treatment. Where we respect and defend the unique institutions that bind us together, such as the NHS, while challenging vested interests that undermine the public interest. Where, despite tough financial constraints, we can demonstrate that in stark contrast to this Tory led government it is possible to emerge from the financial crisis a fairer, stronger Britain. Where we really are “all in it together.”
We have already begun to outline key elements of our one nation vision. A modern industrial strategy where active government supports wealth creators to succeed in a highly competitive global economy. A living wage, which over time can end the scandal of the working poor. New high status vocational qualifications and apprenticeships which will ensure all young people have the opportunity to progress from education and training into decent jobs. Reforms to the benefit system so that no young person remains unemployed for more than a year.
In the year ahead we will be strengthening our one nation vision further. Developing the concept of a new social contract between state and citizen. Our belief in an active state is fundamental to our values, but our vision of a good society, where opportunity and aspiration are central, will equally focus on the importance of families, active citizens, employers and community networks. The state should be the guarantor of rights and collective security but also assert the importance of duties, mutual and personal responsibility and seek a greater correlation between contribution and benefit.
As part of a new social contract we will also develop a radical public service reform agenda, recognising the need to do more with less, tackling the post code lottery, which too often leads to unacceptable variability in quality, and exploring models which support greater public participation and accountability. One nation public services should mean the vast majority of parents who use local state schools and patients who use the NHS having access to excellence and a personalised service in every community. The failing and mediocre services must be brought up to the performance of the best and offer the same standards as the best private schools and hospitals. It should also mean we seek to co-produce reform with public service workers and users, support local innovation and devolve more power to local government and communities.
One nation, one world will also be an important part of our policy agenda. Recognising that Britain’s future prosperity and security is inextricably linked to our place in the world.
We believe it is disastrous for our national interest that Britain is so isolated in Europe. However, we also want to see changes which make a reality of the single market and bring decisions closer to the public. Global inequality, the new emerging economies, a lack of progress on fair trade and climate change, continued instability in the Middle East all impact on our economic and social wellbeing. The debate initiated by Ed Miliband about the need for a new responsible capitalism at home applies equally to the global economy. We must be in the vanguard of challenging those who hope that once the ferocity of the financial crisis eases there will be a return to business as usual and the ’casino capitalism‘ that has caused so much harm.
Benjamin Disraeli would be surprised that 140 years after his one nation speech, it is a leader of the Labour party who has claimed his mantle of “one nation.” Then again, he would have been dismayed by this generation of Tory leaders aided and abetted by their Lib Dem partners, whose reckless approach to governing in challenging times will leave Britain a divided and insecure nation. Ed Miliband has laid down the challenge. It is now our collective responsibility to connect one nation Labour with the aspirations of the mainstream majority of the British people.