It is the question on every Labour member’s mind: how does the party secure a majority in 2015? Ed Miliband has been clear: we are in a relentless pursuit of a majority Labour government. This challenge was at the heart of Progress Political Weekend last week. From shadow ministers to Labour students, everyone’s focus was on that strong mandate, that licence to govern. And, thanks to a bursary, I was able to be there: meeting new faces, discussing the issues, exploring how we can deliver on a radical programme of government for Britain.
It was my first Progress Political Weekend. It won’t be my last. Drawing on the debates launched by the Campaign for a Labour Majority, Andrew Adonis kicked things off with a timely reminder that, despite what George Osborne says in his budget this week, every household is three and a half thousand pounds worse off than when he took the reins. With utility prices racing ahead of inflation, standards of living are the forefront of the electorate’s mind. And, three years after the coalition promised a paper on housing, where is it? It is astonishing that in the time it has taken the government to even prepare a consultation paper, Clement Attlee’s government had already built eight new towns for over a million people. And Andrew is right that the single most significant impediment to growth is a lack of skills: let’s not forget that there are fewer apprentices under 19 today than back in 2010.
Other highlights included Spencer Livermore’s first public engagement since becoming the general election campaign director. There is no doubt that the Tories are intensifying their efforts to define the frame of the parliament in terms of borrowing, debt and growth as Labour shifts the frame to living standards. While the Tories appeal to the electorate to stay the course, dangling the carrot of future prosperity, we must ensure the election does not become a referendum on Labour’s past but instead on Labour’s future. And it was amusing that, despite David Cameron actually being the prime minister for the past four years, recent polling shows that only 25 per cent of the electorate say they can picture him as prime minister.
Sally Keeble, parliamentary candidate for Northampton North, coined the phrase of the weekend:
People want to live in a decent life in decent society, and they want a government that can deliver that.
As Sally wrote in her Progress article this week, it is not surprising that people are questioning whether the Tories are on their side.
I am proud that through the work started by Movement for Change led by Arnie Graf, Labour is transforming the way we do politics. Steve Reed and Stella Creasy emphasised that effective community engagement must become the norm, not the exception, if we are to win in 2015. Steve is right: politicians do not generally make change at all – you have to build a movement around you to effect change. Social justice is bringing people with common concerns together to effect change, just as empowerment is helping people realise what they can contribute to their community. And I loved Stella’s idea of a ‘dating service’ for our PPCs and activists: why aren’t we better at asking what we can do to help with X or how we can assist with Y?
Working for the leader of the London borough of Lambeth, it was great to hear Jon Cruddas, Labour’s policy coordinator, praise local government as a major driver for growth. Jon praised our council leaders for some of the best party leadership in the country.
But the star was Caroline Flint, who gave us a road map for power for the next 12 months, and an unforgettable story about how politics begins in a lift.
What a weekend it was: challenging, bold, aspirational. We know that the language of aspiration is one that guides us as we head towards 2015. Progress stands for a clear message for a majority, and activists up and down the country left this weekend with a clear, resounding mission to secure just that.
Chris Ricôt is a local government adviser and a member of Progress.
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