Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Progress Promise

Ronald Reagan and Ed Miliband may have little in common, although history is silent on Reagan’s Rubik’s Cube prowess. However, in their different ways, both hit on the simple idea that will revive Labour. That idea was at the heart of the not-so-secret discussions at last weekend’s Progress political school.

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Reagan’s path to power was boosted in 1980 when he asked Americans: ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’ When the answer was ‘no’, Americans turned against President Carter. Ed has spoken of the British Promise – the promise that, for people of all backgrounds, their children will be better off than they are. Or, as Jim Murphy put it at the weekend, that working-class parents will have middle-class kids.

It’s a simple point, but one that Labour should relentlessly focus on. If voters are convinced that the government is breaking the British Promise, or that the answer to Reagan’s question is ‘no’, they will stop supporting the government. The problem is that many people who feel this blame us, sometimes with good reason. They remember the second half of the noughties, when living standards for many skilled and unskilled workers remained stagnant. Even before 2008, real wages for many stalled, while prices increased.

We have to show that we have learnt our lessons and that we are the party to guarantee the British Promise. As Caroline Flint argued on Sunday – we must not get so blinded by the cuts that we don’t offer a positive message of hope. How will the country look if we are fulfilling the British Promise? How will that differ from the Tory and Liberal Democrat vision?

However, we must heed Douglas Alexander’s warning – we have to get away from the idea that economic growth for the country will inevitably lead to rising living standards for everyone living there. People know that isn’t the case from their own experience. What they want is simple: higher wages and affordable prices. It’s the key to answering Reagan’s question with a ‘yes’.

Growth is, of course, important – a growing economy is more likely to improve living standards than a stagnant one. However, it doesn’t guarantee rising living standards. And talking about growth without saying how we will increase the money in your pocket or make a gallon of petrol affordable will just not get through to those people rightly worried about their own future, let alone that of their children.

The work done over the weekend was a big step in the right direction. The British Promise became a Progress Promise. All the shadow cabinet members showed that they understood our challenge – rising living standards now, and a better life for the next generation. Ed Balls’ campaign to reduce fuel duty is spot on. We are showing that we are relevant, we are listening and that we understand people’s concerns. We are answering Reagan’s question and guaranteeing the British Promise. More of the same please.

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Mark Rusling

is cabinet member for economic development and corporate resources on Waltham Forest council


  • God where do you people come from, what we want is not middle class children in the future but children who have a bloody job a real job. Where a child which is born with a disability or illness is looked after, where we have houses to live in, moving working class people into the middle class is silly.

  • Robert, what I want is for people to be confident that their kids will enjoy a better standard of life than they have done. We offered that confidence in the early years of the Labour government, but by the end we didn’t. That breaks one of the most fundamental promises a government should make to the people. I definitely hope that my kids will enjoy a better standard of life than I have done, just as I enjoy a better standard of life than my parents. Wouldn’t you want that for yours? That’s a shame – it’s hard to see how anybody wouldn’t. A society which is growing economically is more likely to offer jobs for all, although your distinction between real jobs and fake jobs baffles me. Is there a list of ‘Labour approved jobs’ that are real and ‘Labour non-approved jobs’ that we disapprove of so much that they are fake? Good God, I hope not. A growing society is more likely to offer security and care for those who are ill or disabled, and decent homes for everyone. However, I’m arguing that we shouldn’t take it for granted that growth will inevitably lead to a better standard of living. We have to argue for growth which benefits everyone, not just those who are already wealthy. If we get that right, everyone should be confident that their kids will be better off and have a better quality of life than they have enjoyed. Is that too much to ask for? I don’t think so.

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