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Angela Rayner MP on rebuilding Britain’s education system

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner MP delivered a keynote address at the FEPS-Fabian Summer Conference 2019.

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Speech

Thank you for inviting me today.

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get tickets to Glastonbury.

But I really do want to thank the Fabians for this opportunity because we have a lot we need to talk about.

Rarely has it been clearer that a change of government is needed.

Just look at the Tories’ leadership contest.

The blond leading the bland.

You’d think Theresa May has earned her spot as the worst Prime Minister of our times.

But these two are determined to beat her to it.

And they are apparently their brightest and best.

Imagine what the rest of them are like!

You can smell the desperation from here.

But when they are at their most desperate, they are at their most dangerous.

And there are few more desperate than Boris Johnson.

Desperate enough that today he admitted that the Tories’ cuts to our schools were wrong.

Cuts he backed time and time again at the Cabinet table and on the backbenches.

Cuts that even now he can’t credibly claim he will reverse when his priority is cutting taxes for giant corporations and the super-rich.

Never acting in the national interest, only in his personal interest. Always prioritising his future, not the future of our country or our children.

Because today we also reveal figures showing the terrible legacy of cuts to our schools.

Forty five thousand more children crammed in to super-sized classes in a single year.

Fewer secondary teachers for the sixth year running.

Fifteen thousand fewer teaching in those schools than when the Tories came to office, with the teacher retention rate now the lowest in twenty years.

And Boris Johnson’s solution for our public services? A disastrous no-deal Brexit.

A divisive leader for a divided Party.

But let’s be honest. Brexit hasn’t just divided the Conservative Party.

It’s divided the whole country.

And that is a unique threat for a party of the left.

Because unlike the Tories, our vision is founded on solidarity.

And our victories are founded on the shared values and interests of the vast majority.

It is why we must hold our coalition together.

Our future depends on it.

Some might hope that things will “get back to normal” once Brexit is sorted out.

But the challenges we face go deeper.

There is now no other “normal” to go back to.

We must restate the purpose of the Labour Party and what we stand for, and win the case for it from first principles.

Labour was set up to bring people together.

People of different nationalities, regions, religions, and occupations united as working people, and the Labour Party gave them a voice in the government of the country.

And we have achieved great victories, when we have shown unity and a common purpose, based on shared values and ideas, and shown we have the policies and plan to put them into practice.

Our party must again work together to bring the country together in a spirit of national renewal.

Because that is the task we face.

It is why so many of my constituents, even many of my friends and neighbours, voted to leave the EU.

Why some have just given up voting altogether.

They made their contribution and in return they believed their country would look out for them. But it hasn’t.

They once thought democracy meant politics belonged to them and now they don’t think it does.

They no longer believe that they will be treated fairly for working hard and playing by the rules because the rules themselves are rigged.

And they feel that political, economic and media elites regard them and their concerns with contempt.

That they are forced to be passengers while others choose the destination of their communities and lives.

My politics are straightforward.

Like them I don’t want to be a passenger. I wanted to be the driver of my own life, and to ensure that others can be the same.

Because poverty isn’t just about being penniless.

It is also about being powerless.

People want and need decent jobs and homes and better wages, good schools and hospitals but they also want respect and dignity.

But that’s not how our economy works.

I remember as a young single mum myself being told that I was getting ‘something for nothing’ when I claimed tax credits or welfare.

Yet in reality it is many at the top who are getting the most for the least.

Who don’t create wealth, but take it.

“They contribute nothing.

They make nothing.

They take – because they can.”

That isn’t a quote from Tribune or the Morning Star but from The Investors Chronicle, the bible of private investors.

They know what they are talking about.

When the Tories came to power in 2010 the median FTSE 100 boss was paid 102 times as much as the median worker.

By 2017 that ratio was 155 to 1.

This kind of inequality of wealth and power is breaking up our society.

We’ve sold off all our key assets – our utilities, bus and rail companies, manufacturers, even football clubs.

And our economy is dominated by a business model of chasing short term profits at the expense of long term, shared prosperity.

A model of restricting pay, not increasing skills.

Workers are treated like units of production: the cheaper the better.

Their trade unions are resisted.

Taxes are avoided.

Our economy is increasingly divorced from our society.

The fundamental challenge of our time is forging a new economic settlement.

Not tinkering at the edges. Transforming from the very heart.

That is John McDonnell’s vision for a new economy hardwired to improve the lives of those with low and middle incomes.

New models of ownership.

Valuing work and workers.

Developing the everyday economy of retail, utilities, care and public services which sustain our daily lives.

Bringing work and wealth to the places that too often missed out.

Uniting our cities, towns and regions in a national economy.

This is how we rebuild our coalition, and rebuild our country.

Decent work and wages, homes and neighbourhoods that people are proud of, security for families and the chance for them to succeed in life.

A strategic state guiding, innovating and planning.

Local authorities invested with real power and resources to match.

Regional banking to bring investment to areas neglected for years.

Workers given a stake and a say in their companies.

Trade unions empowered to represent their members.

An end to the economy of greed and waste.

Britain, rebuilt.

And as Shadow Education Secretary I want to see a national education system as a cornerstone of this plan.

The government of 1945, too, faced the challenge of rebuilding Britain.

That Labour government built the NHS.

Founded on the principle that our whole society is better when free healthcare is available for all who need it, from cradle to grave, funded through progressive taxes so we contribute according to our means.

That too is the vision behind Labour’s National Education Service: an integrated system, offering free, lifelong learning, to all citizens, and for the public good.

Not just because education is important in its own right.

But also because it also shapes our society.

It shapes who has wealth.

Who has power.

And who has opportunity.

The outgoing Prime Minister herself recognised it.

She promised to tackle the burning injustices.

To build a country that works for everyone.

But the reality was different.

The government’s own Social Mobility Commission found that class privilege has been entrenched, inequality embedded and social mobility has stagnated.

The contest to replace her was symbolic. Three quarters of the candidates went to Oxford, half to private school and a fifth to Eton.

A lot of privilege. Not so much merit.

For me, the problem with the Tories’ whole approach was summed up by one of the Prime Minister’s early proposals.

She wanted to spend twenty million pounds hiring taxis to chauffeur a few hundred pupils to their nearest grammar school.

This, while cutting school transport for disabled and disadvantaged children to get to their own local schools.

That is the Tory view of social mobility.

A hand-up for a handful of people, while the rest are left behind.

Our vision is different: ensuring that everyone can realise their potential.

Sometimes people point to me, as someone who had a difficult start but got on in life, as evidence that anyone can succeed on their own.

But actually my life shows the opposite.

Any success I have had is thanks to Labour governments that provided the council house, minimum wage, welfare state and Sure Start children’s centre that enabled me to achieve it.

That is the Britain I want us to build.

Not the chance for one lucky person to do better than the people they grew up with but all of us working together to give everyone a better future.

It is why I and Jeremy announced earlier this month that our aim was not just social mobility for a few but social justice for all.

That is very opposite of what the Tories believe or do.

Let’s take how have prioritised their capital spending on schools.

Even as the vast majority of schools faced relentless cuts, they found and kept £200million for the few remaining grammar schools.

Yet at the same time, they broke their own promises to all children.

They guaranteed that they would protect the healthy pupils fund – only to cut it by three quarters.

Money that was meant to ensure our schools were accessible to disabled children, to address mental health needs and promote a healthy start in life for all.

So I have a simple challenge for both the Tory leadership contenders, the blond one and the bland one.

If you really understand your mistakes, then stop the failed ideological experiment with grammar schools and reinvest that money in the health of all our children instead.

Because that is the ambition that I and Jonathan Ashworth share.

Not just rebuilding Britain’s services and infrastructure. But our people too.

That is why John McDonnell has put wellbeing at the centre of our policy making.

Starting with the ambition that Jonathan set out this morning, that our children will be the healthiest in the world.

As he rebuilds Healthy Start, I too want to reinvent Sure Start.

The Sure Start of Tessa Jowell who described it as a nurture programme.

We know the difference made in the first three years of a child’s life.

The importance of bonding between parent and child in those months, and how children who know they are loved go on to flourish.

I know because I myself learned it at a Sure Start centre as a young mother.

I’m here today speaking to you because of it.

So I know Labour governments did great work.

We changed the country for the better.

But I also know those days are in the past.

There is no path to our future that goes backwards.

Now we are in new times.

There are new challenges.

And under Jeremy’s leadership we have new opportunities too.

The conference today is about our policy priorities.

Those policies are vital. But they must be part of a story about the kind of country Labour wants and the role we want to play in the world.

Labour’s last manifesto captured people’s imaginations.

We must do so again.

Because socialism is a movement, not a moment.

That is our task. Not just to oppose austerity.

But to end it.

To unite our coalition, and our country.

To transform our economy.

To rebuild Britain.

Thank you.

Watch the speech here.

Angela Rayner MP

Angela Rayner is shadow education secretary and Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth.

@AngelaRayner

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