In his opening address to the Progress manifesto conference Ed Miliband laid out his vision for a reformed, open and forward-looking society that has reshaped its politics, society and economy for the era that lies ahead. He argued that:
“the ideological pendulum has not yet swung against us. Conservatism will have a massive problem for decades to come”.
Labour remain the idealists, but also the ones with the tools to find practical answers:
“We are still the idealists. What’s the choice? Only reducing the deficit? That’s not all – there more of a space. If we can say it’s not just about the deficit but about rebuilding the economy in a new way, doing things differently, improving our society, and caring for the elderly, then we can win a fourth term.”
We’re very pleased that Ed was able to attend, hear the policy pitches and examine them as part of the creation of Labour’s general election manifesto.
PROGRESS MANIFESTO CONFERENCE ADDRESS
Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, 30 January 2010
The change we have to stand for is a different kind of economy, politics and society
Can I just say first I’m glad I’m not on dragons’ den, unlike the other speakers today! But that is what the Labour party should be about, an old fashioned teach-in. A party must talk about ideas in order to keep itself going. Stephen Twigg introduced me and I first met him back in 1988 when he was contesting Oxford University Student Union elections. And he will be in parliament soon we hope, because this election is absolutely winnable, based on the experience of the last month.
There’s a space here for our ideas. Our opponents have supposedly spent a month unveiling their own ideas; there was meant to be an idea a day from the fourth of January onwards. But we have had five a day on the married couples’ allowance!
Second, the ideological pendulum has not yet swung against us. Conservatism will have a massive problem for decades to come. Progressive politics says we should protect people from the risks they face and widen opportunity. This is more relevant today than it was 30-40 years ago. Greater risks, climate change, fear of growing old alone – the truth is the Tories are still stuck in a paradigm that doesn’t recognise these facts. When it comes to the future of care system, they say people can receive care if they can afford to pay for it. But this is a time when a sink or swim philosophy is not what the people want.
‘Well if it’s so easy why is it so difficult?’ you may ask. This is our challenge. John Major and Lord Liverpool are rare occurrences, a black swan, a fourth term. And the challenge is of a historical scale. But the mood of the electorate makes it difficult; you always lose people along the way, and because of what happened in the politics system over the last year. People have become cynical about politics and sceptical about us. What is the task for us? It’s to have a manifesto – difficult when there is not much money about – which doesn’t pose the election choice as change versus more of the same. That we can be for the right kind of change is what we must say, and if we can do that we could win. Today’s manifesto conference is excellent because it’s about the ideas that can help us for the future.
The change we have to stand for is a different kind of economy, politics and society.
To reinvigorate the economy, we should first acknowledge the shock the system has had and the lessons learned. We constructed the economy on too narrow a base for financial services, leaving us too exposed to the shock. Our tax base was similarly overexposed to shock , and we underestimated the importance of an active industrial policy. We also have to acknowledge that the rewards in the economy were distributed in a way seen as unfair. In a way we have responded through some of the tax changes, saying those who’ve gained the most should shoulder their fair share of the burden. The minimum wage was good as it ended exploitation, but lots of people got stuck at that level. How can we show in return that for higher skills you have a higher wage, like a living wage? We need to show that our future banking system will not expose the economy as it has in the past. Instead, it will serve people’s needs. A people’s bank and the Co-op’s ideas on mutualisation are all very interesting and important.
We also must improve the political system. It seems to me basic that politics is quite broken; even before expenses only 60 per cent of people were voting. It’s a minority sport. And it’s not recent. Trends show a decline in political engagement as a long-term trend. The older people say, “I’ll vote,” but the younger ones are more turned off. We must show that the electoral systems are not a panacea but an entry ticket to being heard though measures, including a referendum on AV, votes at 16 and so on. We must also start devolving powers to local government more – we’re talking with John Denham about that. Part of our manifesto has to be about devolution to local government.
Thirdly, we have to acknowledge people have anxieties about the society we’ve become. It’s not always easy for Labour to speak to these issues, but they deal with everything from irresponsibility at the top and bankers, and from the closure of community shops to town centres on Friday nights. It’s about saying there are things in our society that go beyond the material things, that there are things that people value.
For people in my constituency who struggle to make ends meet, who see others, who destroyed the economy walking away with billions it is clear that things cannot remain simply as they are.
One of the biggest issues facing our society is immigration, which is difficult. The current points-based system is right, but we have to say we understand that immigration to Britain has class-based effects in terms of who it affects, wages, and housing that people want to rely on.
Consumer finance, loan sharks, all of that agenda is big for us going forward. Part of the sense about the crisis was not only personal borrowing but also ripping people off at the bottom end of society. The ‘people’s bank’ presents a way of how finance can be different and the post office can become the centre of our community again.
We have done a lot in term of families, but there’s still one big issue for the future and that is care for the elderly in the home. The system is unsustainable. There’s anxiety among the elderly, a feeling that they can’t pass on their houses to their kids.
All of these things together say something about the kind of society we believe in. And we need to talk about this more as it goes to some of the concerns people have about Britain that go beyond the economics and the recession. These are my set of thoughts on the manifesto.
One last thing – it’s about our attitude of mind going forward. Why Progress is important is because it is part of the generational change that parties go through. I mentioned meeting back in 1988 at the beginning because we have to remember we cannot stand still. Parties atrophy and fail because they stick to their old ways and don’t recognise how things change around them. Not because the old can’t do it, but simply because the role of young people in our party is very important going forward. Stephen and I remember 1992 and the defeat that year. A political moment like that can shape your view about the future. Many young people will now remember only 1997 or even just 2001 or 2005.
Parties renew with new people, new thoughts and a new sense of idealism. Going for a fourth victory, it’s hard to embody that sense of idealism but the truth is that we are still the idealists. What’s the choice? Only reducing the deficit? That’s not all – there more of a space. If we can say it’s not just about the deficit but about rebuilding the economy in a new way, doing things differently, improving our society, and caring for the elderly, then we can win a fourth term.
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