It was always clear that this year’s local and European elections, like the general election next year, would be close fought. But we should be confident that we can win the battle for Britain’s future because our ideas are rooted in real lives of working people and the pressing problems they face.
Labour Party members who have been organising and campaigning for the elections in their communities these past few weeks and months know that we are not seeing a recovery for the many. While the richest one per cent are increasing their share of national income, for millions of families on middle and lower incomes the daily grind of the cost-of-living crisis continues relentlessly.
The anxiety people feel goes beyond this week’s household budget, or next month’s bills. It’s about the future they can expect for their children or grandchildren when home-ownership, a rewarding career and a decent pension seem to be slipping out of reach for more and more people.
No wonder Thomas Piketty’s 700-page tome on the threat to democracy and social cohesion posed by ever-rising concentrations of wealth and power has touched a nerve. This crisis of confidence in our country’s future raises fundamental questions that go right to the heart of the way our economy has been developing over recent years – whose interests it is run in, and who is being left behind.
These are the questions that Ed Miliband has been posing since he became Labour leader. They demand fresh thinking and radical new answers about how the rules and institutions of our economy can harness market forces to the public interest by rewarding responsibility, incentivising investment and innovation, and making the most of everyone’s talents and potential.
Under Ed’s leadership, and through a constant process of engaging and involving ordinary people in our debates and policy development, the Labour Party has been developing compelling proposals to get our economy working for working people:
- reforming our energy markets to increase competition, transparency and long term investment – with an immediate price freeze to ease the squeeze on hard pressed families and businesses;
- extending free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds, funded by an increase in the bank levy, so there is more help for mums who want to work and earn;
- getting young people and the long-term unemployed back to work with a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, funded through the life of the parliament by repeating Labour’s successful tax on bank bonuses and restricting pensions tax relief for people with incomes over £150,000
- tackling the housing crisis by giving renters and landlords greater security with three-year tenancy agreements, cracking down on the scandal of empty homes, and getting 200,000 new homes a year built by the end of the parliament;
- overhauling the UK’s takeover regime to ensure that bids such as Pfizer’s for AstraZeneca cannot be at the expense of long term investment in strategic sectors creating sustainable, good quality, high-skilled jobs.
Along with all the other aspects of an agenda that also includes plans for a more competitive banking sector, a less insecure labour market and more responsive NHS, Labour now has a powerful package of proposals to help hardworking families now at the same time as laying the foundations for a fairer future.
The Tories have never known how to deal with this agenda – veering wildly from denouncing any practical proposal to reform markets and help hardworking families as “Marxism” to belatedly and unconvincingly attempting to appear sympathetic people’s plight while concealing their own record of inaction.
We saw it with Ed’s first calls for a more “responsible capitalism”, we saw it on the issue of energy market reform, and we’ve seen it again in recent weeks in response to Labour’s proposals for improving options available to “generation rent” and the scrutiny we’ve brought to bear on the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca.
Yet while the Tories try every trick to change the subject and evade the real issues, we know that the arguments and policies we have been putting forward command strong and broad support that cuts right across the normal party battle lines.
The challenge we face is cutting through the Tories’ attempts to sow confusion, winning back the hearing of many voters who have understandably switched off, and rekindling people’s faith in the potential for a political party to articulate and rise to the needs and aspirations of the time.
But the opportunity is there to forge a new progressive consensus in this country about how together we can we earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis and build a stronger, fairer Britain for the next generation.
It’s up to all of us in the Labour Party to do all we can over the next week, and the next year, to seize that chance.