Labour will deliver fairness when there's less money around. And only Labour can - Ed Miliband10 January 2012
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Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party, said today in a speech to London Citizens at the OXO Tower:
Thank you for that inspiring introduction Richard, and thank you for everything you do to showcase the great things young people do across our capital city.
And thank you all for coming this morning.
It’s great to see so many members of Citizens UK here.
Every day, you take action to change communities for the better, from the CitySafe initiative to campaigning for the Living Wage.
Thanks to you, the cleaners at the Queen Mary University are earning a Living Wage.
And they’re not the only ones.
From KPMG to the Olympic Delivery Authority – working men and women are now being paid enough to cover the essentials of life.
Citizens UK don’t just read about problems in society, you get organised and lead change.
You know that with a bit of optimism, coordination, and persistence, we can change the world around us, one fight at a time.
Those are your values, and they are mine as well.
A lot of people will hear me talk about values and say:
“Welcome to the real world: values cost money, but right now the government just doesn’t have money to spend.”
A lot of people say:
“These are tough times. It’s easy to talk about fairness, but how are you going to achieve it when there’s less money around?”
That’s the challenge for Labour.
And it’s a challenge for me as the leader of the party.
A challenge I relish.
Yes, we live in tough times.
Yes, in the years ahead there will be less money to spend.
But however tough the times are, I believe a simple truth:
Politics can always make a difference.
The Labour Party stands for fairness and fighting injustice.
Those commitments are more important now than ever.
But my argument starts by recognising that tough times will continue.
The government wanted to eliminate the deficit before the next election.
That was the foundation on which their entire programme was built.
But they didn’t understand that you can only eliminate the deficit if the economy is growing.
So they failed.
Last November was a defining moment.
George Osborne admitted that his plan to eliminate the deficit in one Parliament had crumbled.
He wanted to get us to borrow less.
But he bled so much demand out of the economy, that he will have to borrow more.
Over five years, £158 billion more than he promised.
Not borrowing to get people back into work, but paying them to be out of work.
That’s the price of George Osborne’s failure.
Of course he’s got excuses.
He’ll blame the Eurozone.
But it’s not as if he wasn’t warned.
As Ed Balls said, if there’s a global hurricane brewing, you don’t rip out the foundations of your house.
But that’s what George Osborne has done.
We always said the deficit had to be reduced.
But in a steady and balanced way.
We warned that trying to cut spending and raise taxes too far and too fast would make it harder to get that deficit down.
The Government’s failure in eighteen short months has proved the point.
And the consequences of that will be with us for years to come.
The failure of George Osborne’s economic policy creates a different landscape for the 2015 General Election and whoever wins it.
Whoever is the next Prime Minister will still have a deficit to reduce, and will not have money to spend.
Whoever governs after 2015 will have to find more savings.
It means that the Blair/Brown approach will not be enough.
Those governments achieved great things.
Ask the parents who drop their kids off every day at the schools we transformed.
Ask the patients being treated in the new hospitals we built.
Ask people who see more police on their streets.
We should all be proud of that.
But we could only do it because the economy was growing.
Each time New Labour won an election, it won at a time when business was prospering.
When entrepreneurs could set up new firms and be confident of a return.
When companies knew that there were markets for their goods, and consumers ready to spend.
That growing economy meant that there were tax revenues to invest in our infrastructure, to help hardworking families, and to protect the most vulnerable in our country.
Next time we come back to power, it will be different.
We will be handed a deficit.
We will have to make difficult choices that all of us wish we did not have to make.
So we must rethink how we achieve fairness for Britain in a time when there is less money to spend.
There are some who say that fairness is a luxury we cannot afford in tough times.
That it is inevitable that this country must become:
That fairness is something for good times, and nothing more.
I believe that is profoundly wrong.
When there is less money to spend, the choices are starker.
So our values matter even more.
And if you don’t believe me, talk to the low paid working families who are losing the most, thanks to this Government’s priorities.
Talk to the school-leaver, joining a queue of one million young people looking for work.
It’s Labour’s responsibility to find a new approach for tough times.
So we will be a different party from the one we were in the past.
A changed Labour Party.
The ideas which won three elections between 1997 and 2005 won’t be the ideas which will win the election in 2015.
And not just out of necessity, because there’s less money around.
But because we have to recognise some of the things we didn’t achieve.
The last Labour government did more to tackle poverty than any in British history.
Yet, inequality between the very top and the very bottom still grew.
The last Labour Government saw many jobs created.
But too many people found themselves stuck in low skilled, low wage jobs which offered neither satisfaction, nor time to spend with the family.
New Labour’s answer, tax credits, made a real difference.
But they weren’t enough.
Sometimes in government it felt like, instead of building a new economy, we were spending money to patch up the failures of the economy we inherited.
Fairness wasn’t hard-wired into our economy and society.
That, as well as the deficit, means Labour needs a new approach.
We have already set out what we would do to get the economy growing again immediately.
We would tax bank bonuses and use the money to get young people back to work.
In short, where the Government is stripping demand out of the economy, we would go less far and less fast.
We call for these things not because we aren’t interested in dealing with the deficit.
We call for them because we are.
The sooner growth and jobs return the easier it is to reduce the deficit we face.
That action to get growth moving must be combined with balanced cuts.
And to get Britain’s budget back into balance and the national debt back on a downward path, we will set out tough new fiscal rules.
But as I said earlier, the deficit will persist well into the next parliament, well beyond 2015.
So today I want to focus on that horizon.
I want to explain the principles which will guide the Labour Party under my leadership.
I want to set out a new approach.
To demonstrate once and for all that Labour is a party for all times, not only a party for good times.
So in the future, how we deliver when there is much less money available is going to have to be different to the approach taken by Labour in the past.
That means three new ways of delivering fairness in difficult times.
First, reforming our economy so we have long-term wealth creation with rewards fairly shared.
Second, acting against vested interests that squeeze the living standards of families.
And third, making choices that favour the hard-working majority.
So first, Britain needs a new era of long-term wealth creation.
Both to pay its way in the world and to create fairness in tough times.
Too often in the past we ended up with wealth creation which was built on unstable foundations.
With excessive rewards at the top and everybody else seeing their incomes squeezed.
The New Labour approach focused on how government could act to address the consequences of this failure.
But it didn’t focus enough on stopping it happening in the first place.
Not enough on dealing with the roots of our economy’s problems:
Poor quality jobs;
The over-reliance on finance;
And the squeeze on living standards.
The school-leaver in my constituency who years ago would have gone into mining or manufacturing but who now faces an insecure, low-paying job.
The young engineering graduate who is told she is better off designing derivatives than helping British firms design the aeroplanes of tomorrow.
And the workers wondering why their living standards are squeezed and their company is struggling, when the people at the top seem to be getting ever greater rewards.
So what is Labour’s new approach to addressing these problems when there is less money around?
To use the power of government in new ways.
To set new rules that promote the long-term and fair wealth creation we need.
To share a vision with British industry of how we pay our way in an ever more competitive world.
To nurture a growing, thriving economy which creates better jobs, new companies and innovative industries.
That means we have to end the situation where British employers want their companies to invest but can’t find the finance to do so.
That’s why we are looking at plans for a British Investment Bank so small businesses can invest and grow.
It means we have to end the situation where an industry knows it is in its long-term interest to invest in the skills of its workforce, but each firm doesn’t act because it isn’t in their short-term interest.
That’s why we will need new leadership from industry, undertaking their responsibilities to bring on the next generation.
And government must play its part.
That’s why we say that major government contracts should only go to those who offer apprenticeships.
It means we have to end the situation where the chief executive wants to make decisions which will benefit his company in five years, when some of his shareholders are only interested in results in the next two months.
That’s why Ed Balls will shortly be announcing our review of short-termism in British corporate life, like quarterly reporting.
All of this is an agenda for responsible business that our business leaders already champion.
It is the one they urge me to address as I go around the country talking with entrepreneurs, visiting factories.
It’s not anti-business it’s pro-business.
Government also has a particular responsibility when times are tough to ensure that rewards go to those who work hard and do the right thing.
That is why we have to take on irresponsibility wherever we find it.
At the top and at the bottom of society.
We have to end the situation where we have rewards for failure at the top — harming the company and its workforce.
That is why we need real change.
Like an employee on every remuneration committee so that top executives have to look an ordinary member of staff in the eye before they award themselves a pay rise.
We are determined to reform our welfare system too, so that it rewards those who do the right thing.
That’s why I’ve said that those on the waiting list for council accommodation should move up that list if they are contributing to their communities, being good neighbours, and seeking work.
We need an economy that builds long-term wealth creation, fairly shared.
But we also need to act on the vested interests that squeeze the living standards of vast numbers of people across the country.
Does anyone doubt that people are feeling squeezed?
The price of food is going up.
The price of gas and electricity is going up.
And the price of getting around, getting to work is going up.
And when there is little money to spend, fairness starts with how you are treated when you spend the money you have.
We need a big change in approach from government.
When big companies use their dominant position to charge too much, we mustn’t be afraid to intervene.
No company that is engaging in predatory behaviour should be too big to challenge.
Take train fares.
This month, some are going up by as much as 11%.
Next year and the year after, some are going to go up by as much as 13%.
And that at a time when so many peoples’ wages are falling.
Some train companies have jacked up prices so much that some season tickets are now a fifth of the average salary in this country.
So much that some parents are giving up jobs because they can’t afford a child minder and a season ticket.
And what are the Government doing about it?
They are afraid to take on the train companies.
In fact they are making it worse.
Just ask a commuter coming into London from Basildon or Basingstoke.
The Government are giving the train companies more freedom to rig the system of fares, so that the busiest routes get the biggest fare increases.
That’s got to change.
I’d make sure the rail companies followed a really simple rule.
The limit for fare increases should apply to every regulated train fare, not just the routes fewer people use.
And it’s not just transport we need change.
Everyone here today who has enjoyed Christmas and New Year with their family has had the central heating on.
But it’s expensive.
And we all know that particularly with the rising costs of energy, there are a growing number of people, many of them elderly, who find it difficult to afford.
We introduced the Winter Fuel Allowance for all pensioners, and we gave specific help to those who were struggling with fuel poverty.
Great Labour achievements.
But what’s going to happen in the future?
As energy gets more expensive, how can we offer the help people need when there is very little money to spend?
The Government has already cut the Winter Fuel Allowance so that it provides less support.
That cut may be something we cannot reverse.
With the economic outlook that we face, we’ll find it hard to do that.
But that doesn’t mean we give up.
Instead our new approach starts by looking at the root of the problem – the way our energy market is letting British consumers down.
We’ve got six main energy companies in Britain.
Competition should be good for consumers.
But the way that the current market works is disadvantaging them.
The tariffs are so complicated at the moment that 80% of people are overpaying for their gas and electricity.
Eighty per cent.
And we know who the most vulnerable are.
Those least able to find the cheapest deal, or to be online.
Often the elderly.
Offering different products is a good thing.
But if those products end up taking advantage of older people – that is wrong.
So I’ll give the energy companies a simple rule.
By all means put different products out there and for different kinds of consumers.
But we will ensure you give pensioners over seventy-five the lowest tariff on offer.
You make it happen, or we’ll put it into law.
There may be less money around.
But for those four million pensioners, Labour can still deliver fairness in these tough times.
So we need action against these vested interests.
But these new straitened times also mean that the next Labour government will have to have a clear sense of priorities.
In the past, the proceeds of a growing economy gave the last Labour government greater room for manoeuvre.
You could cut capital gains tax and reduce child poverty.
It was easier to avoid tough choices.
But that era is gone.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be political choices about the balance between taxation and spending, and about where our priorities are.
But in these times, with less money, spending more on one thing means finding the money from somewhere else.
When someone wins, someone else loses.
And for Labour, that means there are no easy choices.
That’s why when we say invest money in our young people to make university more affordable, we also have to be clear that means not giving the banks the corporation tax cut this Government has planned.
Bringing the cap on university fees down to £6,000 would make a real dent in the awful levels of student debt this Government is going to impose on families.
Let me give you another example.
Everyone is now joining us talking about the squeezed middle and the next generation.
But it’s not enough just to talk about them.
If you want to make taxes fairer for those on middle and low incomes, your priority can’t be to scrap the 50p rate for those earning £150,000 or more.
In the years ahead, we will be focused on how we can make the right, tough, long-term decisions to help those on lower and middle incomes succeed.
Building long-term wealth creation, tackling vested interests, and being clear about our priorities – that is how we can deliver fairness even when there is less money around.
It’s my agenda for a fairer country and a more responsible capitalism.
The new approach – only Labour can deliver
When I talked about that in my conference speech, you might say I wasn’t overwhelmed with support from other political parties.
Some even said that I was anti-business.
But in the last few months something strange has happened.
Suddenly, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are falling over themselves to say that they too are burning with passion to take on “crony capitalism”.
A Prime Minister who six months ago was gagging to scrap the 50p tax rate now tells us he will keep it for a few more years.
And the same Prime Minister, who said I was anti-business when I called time on undeserved rewards at the top, now claims he’s desperate to stop them too.
I say to the Prime Minister, who are you trying to kid?
No-one is ever going to believe you’re the man to take on crony capitalism.
No-one will believe this is what gets you out of bed in the morning.
But now that you have accepted that this is the battleground of politics, I say:
Bring it on.
Because my message today is not simply that Labour can deliver fairness when there is less money around.
But that only Labour can.
Because the core belief of this Prime Minister is that we can solve the problems Britain faces by government getting out of the way.
His answer to the problems thrown up by the economic crisis, is simply more of the same.
My answer is different.
Different to this Prime Minister.
And different too to the previous Labour Government.
My Labour Party is not going to bow to the outdated idea that says that government cannot help, that there are no choices to be made.
My Labour Party is going to show that we can deliver fairness even when there’s less money around.
And in the end, once the savings have been made and the deficit has been reduced, the question is this:
What is your vision for this country?
This Government doesn’t have one.
But we do.
Because we understand that a responsible economy is also a stronger, growing economy.
Our vision is for an economy based on sustainable wealth creation.
Where rewards are more fairly shared.
Where we take on the vested interests that squeeze people’s living standards.
Where we stand up for the hard-working majority with the choices we make.
That is the basis on which Labour will govern.
That is what Labour stands for.
That is where Labour stands.