The art of opposition is to credibly oppose the government of the day while positioning yourself as a legitimate government-in-waiting. You need costed, credible policies to motivate activists and signpost the future direction of your government, but not so many as to create easy targets for the sitting government to prey on.
Liz Kendall’s ‘5 pledges’ announced earlier this week – ending inequality from birth, eliminating low pay, building a caring society, sharing power with people and providing a future of hope for young people – suggest a candidate capable of performing this hazardous juggling act.
To have any chance of winning in 2020, Labour needs a leader who can radically rethink our offer to the public. Returning to our positions of the 1980s would certainly be radical but electorally suicidal. Resurrecting old policies with bigger targets on housing or child poverty is literally more of the same.
Kendall’s pledges have the ability to unite the Labour movement, effectively oppose the Conservatives and signal a fresh direction for the Labour party.
Her pledge to reverse George Osborne’s inheritance tax cut and invest the money in early years care ticks all the boxes for a costed, credible policy that contrasts Labour values of equality with Conservative action to entrench privilege.
In sharp contrast to what she has labelled Grand Theft Osbo with the Conservative’s not-quite-a-living-wage, she has promised to expand the remit of the low pay commission, made up of trade unions and businesses, to look at ways to implement a true living wage sector by sector.
Not only is this more business-friendly than Osborne’s crude, centralised approach, it highlights the coalition of trade unions and progressive businesses Labour’s next leader needs to build that Kendall has also prioritised via the ‘Yes to EU’ referendum campaign.
Trade unionists should also find a lot to like in Kendall’s pledge for a more caring society. Ensuring carers are paid for travel hours and no longer have to buy uniforms out of their own wages have both featured strongly in Unison’s campaign on care.
On devolution, Kendall’s interest is longstanding so it is no surprise to see one of her pledges devoted to it. As a councillor in Bradford where we have run a successful programme called get Bradford working, helping hundreds of people into employment, I believe devolving power from Westminster will bring more innovation and efficiency into the public sector. Crucially, Kendall’s views go much further, representing a real opportunity for Labour to win back some of the momentum Osborne has created with the Northern Powerhouse.
Kendall’s last pledge is on building a future of hope for young people, centred on opposing the abolition of the student maintenance grant and investing in the green jobs of the future. The grant issue is key: a deeply regressive move by Osborne that means poorer students leave university with significantly more debt than their wealthier peers.
The next challenge for Kendall is tying the pledges together into a unifying message – what is the underlying inspiration that will guide Labour back to power over the next five years? Whether it is empowering workers through better rights and pay, empowering young people with a better start in life or empowering communities, councils and regions through radical devolution, Kendall continually comes back to the idea that ‘every corner of our country should have the power and control to shape their own lives’.
Empowerment is Kendall’s trump card – she should play it.
Alex Ross-Shaw is a Labour councillor in Bradford
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