The Progress business breakout session, entitled Osborne’s Not Working: How do we get Britain back to work?, was an example of real progress and commitment that Labour has to becoming the natural party of business. Chaired by Seema Malhotra, the chair of the Labour backbench committee on business, and a panel featuring our shadow business secretary, a progressive policy wonk, a reforming council leader, modernising trade union general secretary, and chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, this session showcased the makeup of elements for future progressive thinking on business, helping Labour to wrench the mantle of the party of business, so complacently surrendered to the Conservatives in the past.
In a refreshing alternative union pitch compared to recent foghorn calls for non-violent resistance and threats for a general strike, John Hannett, general secretary of Usdaw, the shopworkers’ union, called for Labour’s business and jobs policy to be based on evidence-based fiscal responsibility, rather than just an aspirational wish list. In the world of One Nation Labour, which sees both trade unions and business leaders working together, rather than engage in perpetual conflict, this was a very encouraging message – a demonstration that parts of the trade union movement do see themselves as members of the new entrepreneurial wealth creators rather than the bonded class warriors of an unreformed public sector.
Chuka Umunna reflected on making a refreshing rebuttal to posturing from Iain Duncan Smith, who asked in a recent House of Commons debate ‘Would Labour apologise for the mess that it got us into?’ Chuka’s swift reply was ‘Would the Tories apologise for the double-dip recession, flatlining economy and unemployment reaching a level of 2.5 million?’, a good example of the tone Labour should strike for the next two years as opposed to being on a regular defensive position. It was encouraging to hear Chuka emphasise the Federation of Small Businesses’ cry out for sustained infrastructure spending, something that One Nation Labour has been making the case for in recent months, as well as the emphasis on continued strategic partnership between the state and private sectors to deliver long-term economic growth across various regions of the UK.
Labour’s strength in innovative local government was showcased by Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle city council, who demonstrated through implementing the living wage and taking a stand against zero-hour contracts while cities in the north like Newcastle, as well as seaside towns, bear the brunt of public expenditure cuts. By doubling the amount of apprenticeships provided to 16- and 17-year-olds, including working closely with the Jobcentre to partner young people with seeking employers and taking charge to develop skills and personal qualities for long-term work, Newcastle council is determined to stop a potentially large brain drain from the north-east, in order to instil confidence and self-esteem to an area with a troubled history over the past 30 years.
Both Graeme Cooke of IPPR and Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group emphasised the importance of prioritising welfare reform around finding jobs and training (especially for those in more disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds), as well as making work pay for hard-working families, especially those on traditionally lower incomes, whose children risk going back into poverty by 2020 (an estimated 1.1 million rise).
This was an altogether encouraging session which showcased Labour’s commitment to long-term business and job creation (as opposed to the stop-gap fixes that the coalition uses to massage its various statistics), combined with the moral purpose of delivering work that pays for a sustainable and blossoming standard of living. That is the modernising Labour tradition. Very One Nation Labour, indeed.
James Gill is research and communications officer for the Labour Finance and Industry Group. He tweets in a personal capacity at @JamesGill13
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