Social mobility matters because everyone wants their lives to get easier economically, have better health and more fulfilling and enjoyable leisure time. Everyone wants this and, perhaps even more importantly, wants it for their children. The vast majority of people would prefer to have this not be at the expense of others. Indeed most people feel deeply uncomfortable or even guilty living with the knowledge that life is getting harder for others on their estate, in their village, or town and even country.
It is a complete and utter nonsense, therefore, for the Labour party to use the language of class divisions and the politics of envy. Our language is really important – if people think we want to make everyone standard class rather than everyone first class, we lose them. Yes people are against the bedroom tax because they see it is unfair and a penalty on the poor; but they are also against the mansion tax because they see that as unfair and a tax on the fortunate. Everyone would like to be one of the fortunate one day. Standing for ‘the many, not the few’ is OK if you are happy to be in ‘the many’ and stay in ‘the many’ – but it does not speak to those who aspire to the lifestyle of the ‘the few’.
The Labour party needs to find a new language to express its commitment to wealth creation, to creating the opportunities for equality, and for fairness and justice. Our new language needs to speak about quality provision and outcomes of public services rather than speak to method and process of delivery: when sick people want to be treated in a timely manner and to have quality care – how that is delivered is not at the forefront of their minds. We need to find new formations of words to express how highly we value service and care of the vulnerable together with the contributions from the intellectually and economically strong which make that possible.
The old political language needs to be buried as it no longer speaks to the people of Britain. We are all tired of hearing about ‘hard-working families’. For a lot of the middle class this simply means working-class, and for all of us who work hard it sounds patronising. I aspire, as does just about everyone I know, to work less hard. Labour women have seemed unable to talk to women like me for far too long – they are wedded to an agenda which says women issues are childcare. This ceased to be a ‘women’s issue’ around the turn of the century and to families like mine it makes Labour look anti-feminist and deeply old-fashioned. Why not address agendas around how to support one income families and families without extended family networks?
The British people are fundamentally fair and decent and we need to find a language that meets their aspirations. A new political language for a renewed Labour party which talks of ‘us’, the compassionate, astute and wise, who aspire for a better life for ourselves and for fairness and justice for all – and that values wealth creation.
Ros McMullen is chief executive of an academy trust and a member of the Labour party
Based on remarks made at Progress annual conference 2015
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.