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Britain starts 2012 in the most difficult of moments. Economic gloom, rising unemployment, falling living standards.
What I have heard, going round the country in the last year, are the same concerns everywhere: young people struggling to find work, families feeling their living standards squeezed, parents fearful about what kind of future lies ahead for their children.
Take our young people. Some have applied for hundreds of jobs without success. When they are just starting out in life, they should feel a sense of hope. Instead, they feel desperate.
Yet just when the challenges facing our country are greatest for a generation, many people feel politics cannot answer their problems. Some believe things would be the same whoever was in charge. And others fear the Government is in the grip of forces so powerful that nothing can be done.
It suits the current Conservative-led government to go along with this idea. Having failed in their promise to make Britain a safe haven, they now say that there is no alternative to rising joblessness and years of falling living standards for working people. It is a counsel of despair.
When so many are sceptical about politics the easy route for politicians is to join in and accept the cynicism. To say simply that in hard times nothing can be done. But that's not why I came into politics and it's not what the Labour party stands for.
My party's mission in 2012 is to show politics can make a difference. To demonstrate that optimism can defeat despair. That politics can rise to meet the challenges Britain faces even when the challenges are so great.
How do we do this?
First of all, by showing things could be different now.
When those in power say, "You’re going to face five bad years and there is nothing to be done about it," that is a statement of their values and priorities
But neither in Britain, nor across the world, can anyone afford just to stand back and watch unemployment rise, growth stagnate and indeed borrowing go higher as a result.
When politicians shrug their shoul ders in the face of other people’s despair, they are not just abdicating responsibility, they are making clear choices. That is as true now as it was in the Great Depression during the 1930s.
There are choices to be made every day about how best to reduce the deficit and restore growth to the economy. There are choices to be made about who should bear the greatest burden in these difficult times, choices to be made about what Britain will be like to live in next year and in the future.
Tough times expose your values, because they force you to choose.
So when this government, in the Treasury’s Autumn Statement, takes three times as much from the working poor as from the banks, it shows where its priorities lie - with the privileged few.
And when Labour says it would choose to tax the bankers' bonuses in order to put our young people back to work, it shows who we are as a party and where our priorities lie.
Second, we will show that different solutions can build a different economy and a better society for the future.
The British people know the scale of the task. They know there is no going back to business as usual before the financial crisis. Our economy was over-reliant on one industry, rewards were unfairly shared out, and we were not doing enough to build long-term wealth.
We must rebuild in a different way. Britain faces enormous economic and social challenges which go beyond the here and now: the rise of China and lndia, the unacceptable inequalities that scar our society and the need to build social justice in tough fiscal times.
To address these challenges we need a more responsible capitalism, a new approach to our economy and our society.
Building an industrial future which goes beyond financial services to create more well-paying jobs. Tackling vested interests - from banks to utilities - that hold our economy back and squeeze living standards. And a fairer sharing of rewards so that we discourage irresponsibility at the top and the bottom of society.
Third, we will always seek to do politics in a different way. The best moments I have in this job are talking to people about their work and their lives.
It is a daily reminder of the values of the British people: fairness, equality of sacrifice, responsibility. I saw it in our troops that I met in Afghanistan. We all saw it after the riots with those who came out to clean up, and we see it in the everyday lives of the decent, hard-working people of this country.
Labour's task as a party is to be at the heart of every local community: making the case for what matters - from the living wage to the children's centre.
Labour councils throughout Britain and the Assembly Government in Wales are already showing the difference we can make. Helping advance the prospects of our young people, supporting families and listening to local people about the services they most want to see protected.
Finally, we rebuild on the basis of our ideals. I believe this country needs profound change, not small change.
Not to seek simply a continuation of what Labour did in government but to renew and reinvent our party's mission in response to the urgency of changed times. Everything I have seen and done since I got this job has convinced me I am right to believe that.
Throughout our country's history, tough times have seen us not lower our sights but raise them. We need equal ambition for the future if we are to avoid our country heading further and faster in the wrong direction: a lost generation of young people, Britain struggling to compete in the world, and greater inequality.
These are the stakes facing my generation. This is the challenge to which our politic s must rise. This is the challenge to which Labour is determined to rise in the year ahead.