The message was clear, for Labour to succeed we need to create a new social contract with Britain.
It was a tentative start, a few low-level platitudes and the odd cliche but, just like his leadership campaign, the momentum grew and it finished up as a winner of a speech. Most importantly it started to develop the narrative we so desperately need. Ed quickly dispatched the Tories stating “David Cameron is offering a pessimistic, narrow and austere vision for Britain” before focussing the main body of the speech on the challenges facing the country and how Labour responds to it.
When talking about the challenges, Ed stated he saw (and I am paraphrasing somewhat)
– Inequality – the richest in society are leaving the rest of the population further and further behind. This undermines social cohesion and actually negatively impacts on aspiration. At the same time a hard core of those at the bottom are stuck on a life of welfare dependency. This leaves the middle being squeezed, taking on the burden of those below them whilst facing stagnant wages and increasing cost of living. This doesn’t just impact on those on low wages, but even higher-rate tax payers.
– Erosion of ‘the promise of Britain’ – Our society is built on the basis that our children, and their children will do better than us. They will be given greater opportunities, have a better work-life balance and live in a fairer, more equal society. For the first time in several generations this promise is being eroded. With household incomes falling and investment in education, health and welfare decreasing, our children risk inheriting the country in a worse condition than we did.
– Communities and family units are changing beyond recognition – This is not about yearning for a c.1950s Britain of village greens, ginger beer and cricket that never really existed. It is about recognising that there are elements of community that are more than just commodities to be sold at whatever price… Whether it is The port of Dover, our forests or the local pub or post office, some things help define the community they are based in and we cannot afford to be ambivalent to them.
The answer? To create a new social contract with Britain. Like the analysis, this new social contract can be spelt out in three parts.
A new economy – One that where fairness is hardwired in, rather than leaving people’s livelihoods in the hands of the shadow economy. Sitting behind this is a new industrial policy to bring sustainable long-term economic growth, the creation of a living-wage, investment in green manufacturing and more investment in small business, finally we need to redevelop the banking system as a system that works for us all.
Protecting the Promise – this builds on the above, putting narrowing inequality front and centre of any future Labour government. It is about more than that though – it means protecting young people’s access to education, improving work-life balance and aggressively pursuing a green agenda. This involves a level of long-term thinking that the Tories are either unwilling or unable to engage in, which makes it a prime target for Labour.
Rebuilding communities and families – This is where Ed went a bit Blue Labour. We should be actively seeking out policies that devolve power and responsibility down to local communities, from running post offices and libraries to having more control over local health provision. It also means stepping in and protecting businesses, football clubs and amenities that hold special significance for a specific community.
It might not all be fleshed out yet, but for the first time since the leadership election we are beginning to see the green shoots of a narrative appearing. There is something positive that Labour people can talk about, the beginnings of what will define us over the next few years. It gives parameters for the many ongoing policy debates happening within the party and, most importantly, gives an opportunity to talk to the electorate about something more positive than just opposing cuts.
There is much still to do but today gives hope to all those who voted for Ed – A very good way for him to spend the weekend before hid wedding!