Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Keynote address

Why do so many people hate politics and how does it need to change?

It’s great to be here at Progress.

You have always been at the heart of challenging old orthodoxies and championing change.

You have given the Labour party space to think, you have challenged the party, and you have changed it.

I also want to thank many of the people here who were out campaigning for the Labour Party in the local elections we’ve just had.

Across the country, Labour party members came out to knock on doors, hand out leaflets, make the case to their friends and their neighbours.

The success we enjoyed was largely down to the efforts of people like you.

I am proud that we are the only major party gaining members and supporters.

I am proud that Labour is growing again.

But as well as praising your work, let me also challenge you.

The sun is shining.

The shops are open.

And the pubs are too.

And you chose to come here.

And how about those people watching this on 24 hour news channels?

Yes, you.

Let me tell you what’s on the other channels.

On  BBC1 there are the qualifiers for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Over on ITV the 1962 classic, Carry on Cruising, is just starting.

And if you have Dave TV, you can – as always– watch a re-run of Top Gear.

But instead, you’re watching me.

Now why am I insulting my audience?

Because it’s what I want to talk about today:

About how politics is an increasingly minority activity.

An increasingly minority activity.

When you knock on doors, you will all have heard it:

“You’re all the same.”

“It won’t make any difference to me.’

“I don’t vote….Ever”

Last week did see good election results for Labour.

The Conservative-led government should learn lessons from the people who didn’t vote for them.

But I think we need to learn lessons too.

Most of all, from the two thirds of people who didn’t vote for us or anybody else.

The lowest turnout for more than a decade.

It sometimes suits politicians to explain low turnout in terms of apathy. As if the voters are to blame.

But I think people are telling us something we need to hear.

Yes, that this government has run out of ideas and is out of touch.

And even some of those who did vote don’t like politics.

It tells us we have a very long way to go to generate trust, enthusiasm and deep allegiance.

It’s a challenge we must rise to.

Today, I want to explain the direction in which this party is going and needs to go further to win them over.

We have an opportunity and we must seize this moment.

I want the British people to understand how the Labour party is changing.

To know the true character of the party I want us to be.

Our work to make that happen is well under way but now must intensify.

For me, this change is about:

Showing that Labour stands up for all the people of Britain, not the powerful vested interests.

Showing that politics can change people’s lives to make the economy work for all working people.

Not just a few at the top.

Showing we’re a party which reaches into communities.

Not one that just talks to itself.

And showing we’re a party that keeps the promises we make.

Not one that makes promises we can’t keep.

Relationship between politics and vested interests

Let me start by talking about who politics stands up for.

Yesterday was another extraordinary day at the Leveson inquiry.

Yet more evidence that the government was standing up for Rupert
Murdoch’s interest not the public interest.

This might look like it’s just a Westminster story, but it tells you something about the character of this government.

What have we seen in the last few weeks?

A Budget for millionaires while millions are forced to pay more.

A cash-for-access scandal in which the Tory treasurer was forced to resign over dinners for donors.

A Government which bent over backwards to help a media company secure its biggest ever deal.

And all the time, Britain’s economy sliding into a double-dip recession.

A recession made in Downing Street.

A government out of touch with the many, too close to the few.

The reason the government has lost its way so badly in the last few weeks is because they’ve been revealed for who they are – a government that stands up for the rich and powerful.

But what about us?

The Labour Government never in my view engaged in the sort of behaviour we’ve seen with Jeremy Hunt.

But there are issues about our past here too.

I am hugely proud of what Labour did in office.

But having been in office for thirteen years, the British public lost faith in who we stood up for.

They thought that we had lost touch.

They thought that we were too close to the powerful interests.

Not willing to take on the banks, until it was too late.

Not willing to take on the utilities enough as they began to drive up prices.

Not willing to take on the media giants, even though everyone knew that things were not right.

The British people thought we were not always willing to stand up for the country, even when it needed it most.

We became one of “them” rather than one of “us”.

We are putting that right.

The character of our party means we must always put the national interest above the interest of a small, powerful elite.

We must do that even when it is difficult.

We must do it even when conventional thinking and received wisdom warns us against it.

Take last year. It’s hard to remember now but there was a sense that taking on the Murdochs was impossible.

I was too slow to speak out on phone hacking.

But when I did, and I called for News Interntional executives to be held to account and said Parliament should block Rupert Murdoch’s bid to expand his empire, there were some who thought that breaking this private Westminster club rule would spell disaster for the Labour Party.

But it was the right thing to do because we were on the right side.

There was more criticism when we said publicly-owned banks should not be handing out big bonuses at a time when millions of families are struggling to get by.

But it was the right thing to do because we were on the right side.

The Tories said it was anti-business. It wasn’t , it was pro-business.

The small businesses who can’t get a loan from the banks giving themselves big bonuses.

It was the right thing to do.

It’s the same with the big electricity companies or the train firms.

They will not like being challenged but in these tough times, people need to know politics can be on their side.

We must put our values alongside people’s interests.

In the 20th Century, we pioneered standing up for workers against unaccountable private employers

Now, in the 21st Century, we must lead the way in standing up for consumers, citizens, small businesses against unaccountable concentrations of private and public power.

Politics and the Economy

If we are to reach out to people who have lost faith in the political system, we must show people who we stand up for, not just a few at the top.

And we can know we must change the economy.

Knocking on doors in my own constituency ever since I became an MP, I am struck by who is more likely to engage in politics and who isn’t.

If you have a family, you may well think the health service, schools, local services, will be better if Labour is in power.

But if you don’t spend time using those services, if you don’t have kids, and you are simply struggling to get by in an economy where your wages are low, you are more likely to think, it’s the same whoever is in power.

Why is that?

It reflects what people feel: governments have little influence on the kind of economy we have.

I was in Redditch during the local election campaign.

When I was there, I heard from a middle aged man who said he used to work in a plant that made trains for London Underground.

That plant had been there for 150 years.

A proud British company.

But it isn’t there any more.

He said to me: “I’ve watched our area lose car works and trainworks.
“All the jobs have gone from the local area. The country has lost work and there’s nothing there to replace it.”

He said his son was bright, he had high hopes for him, but there were just no jobs left.

He said he didn’t blame the Conservatives.

He didn’t blame Labour.

He blamed all of us.

In his lifetime, he just hadn’t seen any politicians who had the answers.

No-one, he said had offered him any real hope that things could be different.

That party politics could help change his life.

The economy wasn’t going to be changed by any of them.

Those are the people we should always be listening to.

Those are the people that politics ought to serve.

So, at our party conference I began challenging the old story.

The story that globalisation means we are powerless.

That we must tolerate irresponsibility at the top.

That ever-more flexible labour markets are good for people.

Instead, I began describing a better economy for Britain.

An economy that creates good jobs, with good wages and good training

An economy where we can get loans to businesses with bright ideas even when the banks are refusing to lend.

An economy sustained by a proper plan for growth and jobs rather than just tax cuts for the super-rich.

An economy that does not suck all of our greatest talent away from making things and into the financial sector.

An economy that is not sustained by low wage jobs and cheap labour.
That’s what I mean when I talk about an economy that works for working people.

What drives me on is the idea that we can build a better economy.

One that works for working people.

The character of our party must be one that says we can change our economy so that it always reflects the interests and values of the British people.

The way we do politics

So we must show who we stand up for.

We must show the kind of economy we stand up for.

And we must show that our party is not some distant organisation but is part of the communities we seek to serve.

In the old days, it was said we listened to the party membership but not the public.

Then it was said we listened to the public but not the party.

The truth is that by the time we left office, it seemed like we had stopped listening to both the party and people.

On the 10p tax.

On the pace of immigration.

On excessive rewards for excessive risks at the top.

Party members were getting these concerns but the leadership wasn’t listening enough.

But we also know that there is more work to do to ensure that Labour in every part of the country understands the community it seeks to serve.

I saw that in Bradford West where we lost the by-election badly.

That is why we need more change not less in our party.

To reach out much further and much deeper into every community in Britain.

And that means changing the way we do things.

Let me give you an example.

In Battersea, when the CLP organised their first meeting after the 2010 election, only two people turned up.

Andy Fearn and Mark Rowley.

They started canvassing as usual, but half way through, feeling a bit demoralised, they decided they needed a new approach.

They phoned all the new and inactive members and asked them for a chat over a cup of coffee.

Without a script, without an agenda.

Just to listen.

Then they asked those people to come to a meeting to talk about the local issues that were on their mind.

They got 35 people to their first meeting, and 60 to their second.

Those people called other new people and soon, many people started to campaign with them for Labour.

Mark and Andy are rebuilding the Labour Party in Battersea.

And they offer an example of how we can rebuild the Labour Party in the country.

It’s a similar story with Labour Students.

Manchester and Kent Labour Clubs organised campaigns on their campuses for all the staff at those universities to earn a living wage.

This is a national campaign being spearheaded by David Miliband.

And they are succeeding.

And many of our MPs are doing the same.

In Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger is getting local residents involved in a campaign for more police on the streets.

Siobhain McDonagh has run a jobs fair in Mitcham and Morden to help people find work.

And Stella Creasy has done great work campaigning against payday loans, both in Walthamstow and around the country.

And we are only beginning to change the party.

We have begun a programme to select more candidates from more diverse backgrounds.

And we are knocking on doors we haven’t knocked on for years.

A little noticed part of the Queen’s speech was the bill on individual voter registration.

This system won’t come in before the next election but will deregister all existing postal voters.

We will fight this.

But whether we succeed or fail, I am committing  today that we will embark on the biggest drive to register new voters in a generation.

In the coming years, we should knock not just on the doors of people we already know vote Labour, but also on people we haven’t contacted for years.

Let us make 2015 a change election, and set a target of making voter turnout at the next election the highest since 1997.

The last change election in this country.


Finally, if we are going to change things, we must show that we are different from what people expect from politicians.

This government came into office with the benefit of the doubt.

But they have catastrophically forfeited that.

Broken promises on everything from child benefit to tuition fees, from the NHS to all being in it together.

But they are not the first politicians to lose trust.

We did too, including over Iraq.

The Conservative-led government’s broken promises hurt them.

And they also damage respect for all politics.

We must be the people who only make promises we can keep.

I know we can’t reverse every Tory cut.

I know whoever wins the next election will have to make tough choices.

And I won’t make promises that I can’t keep.

But at the same time about being realistic about what we can do, we must show we are not just different managers of the system.

People waiting for our turn to come round again.

The last government in exile.

The establishment in waiting, impatient for our chance to get hold of the levers of power again.

Waiting for voters to accept they got it wrong and we can carry on where we left off.

We must be different.

Above all, people with a different vision of society, of the way we live together.

People who make realistic promises, but with big ideals for a better way of living together.

A country not riven by class, wealth and income.

A country where the economy works for all working people, not just a few at the top.

And a country where we show politics can improve people’s lives.

This is and must be the character of our party.

Standing up for the people against the powerful vested interests.

Showing our economy can work for working people.

Connected to our communities.

Let’s all play our part in making that happen.

So Labour can win back trust once again.


Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Ed Miliband MP


  • Ed,

    Be careful about your quotes – well about Battersea in particular. The implication of your speech was that Battersea as a party was moribund in May, 2010. I think Martin Linton, MP (1997-2010) would not think so nor indeed the many members who fought in that campaign and the contemporaneous Borough elections. I think you would probably find quite a few London party members, who have been members here in Battersea or know Battersea well, who would also not recognise that implication.

    This element of your speech has offended many very, very active and long-standing members and will do no good to the relationships between those members and those who you so clearly quoted. Please, please ensure that in future someone from your office checks out the facts with someone with on the ground knowledge.

  • Very encouraging to read this speech. May I suggest some targeted work with the traditional longstanding
    Labour supporters eg from the Caribbean, who have felt let down by the party. One thing the Conservatives did in 2010 was targeted work with this group especially in theChurches, and it seemsto have and continue to be paying off.
    The difficulty in my opinion is getting people to understand the need to see the bigger picture rather than focusing on single issues that tap into belief systems and emotion.
    I would like to see a real focus on education about how society works and spelling out the ideologies of the parties, which regardless of who is leading in each political party does not change; despite what Cameron may spout.

  • It appears that at last the British people and the media are lending you their ears. Well done! – you’ve been able to achieve that in less than two years since you became leader after arguably our worst election defeat in 2010 (I say worst as the turnout was higher in 1983). However, you didn’t spell out what our new politics would look like in your Progress conference speech – the party has been debating adopting open primaries for electing councillors, mayors sand MPs for some time. I’d like to see you come off the fence on this one and declare your hand. My hope is that you are for them. I think you can be bold and go public on this matter now. Yes there will be howls of protest from some within the party machinery, but really does coughing up £40 a year entitle anyone to special privileges over the party to influence policy? Surely the membership fee should be seen as a supporting subscription to a magazine, access to an exclusive website and invitations to conferences and events. If we can get beyond the idea that £40 entitles one to make policy then the idea of inviting ‘supporters’ or the like minded to represent the party becomes less of a problem. Of course once a supporter is selected to represent the party, a mutually binding code of conduct will need to be entered into by anyone taking up the role so that lines of accountability and responsibilities are clear.

  • This speech is refreshing and well judged. The New Labour elite has to admit its faults in shutting down discussion of any alternative to the neo-liberal consensus and this is a good start. There are no worked out policies to offer to the public because considered discussion and debate has been left to Compass and a handful of Lefties. Yes, and Positive Money and a few other good people. We need detailed programmes for unwinding the death spiral of personal debt, taxing wealth more, a focus on street level needs and community building, cutting out the need to travel further and further to work rather than playing with High Speed train sets, valuing caring and respecting the right to a useful job, to a home not a house, to health not a hospital, to a family not a property. Stop managing and start imagining.

  • A WAKE-UP CALL for the Labour Party Membership and a frank admission of some of our past
    failures(including IRAQ). But we need strong central policies to deal with the impact of so-called “Market
    Forces” on the ordinary Citizen.

Sign up to our daily roundup email