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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