The Promise of Britain - Speech by Ed Miliband at the Royal Festival Hall
23rd May 2011
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said today in a speech on the promise of Britain at the Royal Festival Hall:
Thank you all for coming this morning.
I’d like to start, by saying a few words about a big event happening later this week.
Not the visit of President Obama.
But my marriage to Justine on Friday.
The most important people at our wedding will be our lovely boys, Daniel and Sam.
I suppose every father says this, but becoming a parent really does change the way you think about life.
The love you feel overwhelms you.
Like most fathers I was unprepared for that.
It broadens your perspective.
You think about the kind of future you want for your children.
For their health and happiness.
And for the kind of country you want them to grow up in.
I’d like to speak today, not just about them, but about the prospect of their whole generation.
My belief that we can and must create a better life for the next generation.
My concern, like millions of others, is that for the first time for more than a century, the next generation will struggle to do better than the last.
In the past we took it for granted that if we worked hard, if our children worked hard, they would be more prosperous, and have greater opportunities.
But the last few decades have begun to show that the promise to the next generation, the promise to our children, what I call the promise of Britain, cannot now be taken for granted.
Today I want to set out the scale of the problem as I see it, and why it matters – not just to those affected, but for the whole country.
And how I see it as the duty of my generation of politicians to answer this challenge.
As a parent, like all parents, I judge myself on the opportunities my children will have—and the happiness that can provide.
As Prime Minister, I will judge the next Labour government on the opportunities that Britain can provide for all of the next generation.
I believe this issue is so important that it must a key test for the next Labour government.
That promise of Britain is a benchmark against which we will be judged.
Let me start by talking about what I have heard from people about their hopes and fears for the future.
Some of the people I have met agree with us on the big issue that politics has focused on ---the pace and scale of deficit reduction.
Others disagree with us.
But what unites everyone I meet is that there seems to be so much that politics isn’t talking about.
That’s why I say people want more from us.
People want more from our politics.
And what is happening to the next generation is one of those unspoken truths that people know about – but somehow politicians seem to refuse to discuss.
I’ve heard it from the young people I’ve met thinking about their options as they leave school or college, fearing unemployment.
I’ve heard it from the young man I met in my constituency who said he wasn’t going to go to university, even though he had the grades, because of the debt he feared he would face at the end of it.
I’ve heard it from the Mums and Dads who don’t understand, because they have done everything right - raised their children well, given them every opportunity - but their kids have no prospect of buying a home until they’re nearly 40.
Since 2007 the average age of first time buyers without assistance has risen from 33 to 37.
I’ve heard it from parents who feel like they are working longer hours than ever before and finding it hard to spend time with their family.
And they’re right because we are the only country in Europe working longer hours now than twenty-five years ago.
I’ve heard it from people in this country of all ages worried about the environmental legacy our generation will leave behind.
That’s why people think politics isn’t delivering.
Now it so happens that David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and I are all about the same age.
Some people have called us the Jam Generation because of the music we grew up with.
But our generation is on course to totally fail in meeting our duty to the next: to uphold the promise of Britain from which we all benefitted.
Which we all took for granted.
The current representatives of the Jam Generation are on course to create a jilted generation.
You won’t often hear a politician say this, but I will.
It’s not all our opponents’ fault.
Some of these are big problems that are rooted in the way the country’s been changing for years, not just over the last year.
But my criticism of this government, of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, is that they are doing nothing to turn things around.
In fact on many of these issues, they are making them worse.
Their only benchmark of success is dealing with the deficit.
It is the over-riding concern.
All others are set aside.
Cutting the deficit matters.
And the argument about how we do it matters too.
But our politics cannot be reduced just to a debate about the deficit without considering the consequences for our country.
Now they claim to be protecting the next generation by making these decisions.
But their claim is blown apart by the evidence because the next generation are bearing so much of the burden of deficit reduction.
They are scrapping the future jobs fund and the investment which gets young people off the dole and into work.
Years on benefits is not just bad for them, it’s bad for Britain
They are piling debts on our students - tens of thousands of pounds - which will put people off going to University.
Those same debts will make it far harder for the next generation to start a business or buy a home.
That’s not just bad for them it’s bad for Britain.
They are making damaging changes in the tax system, with double the burden on families with children compared to those without.
If it’s harder for families to get by, harder to be a parent, that’s not just bad for them but for Britain.
And they are abolishing financial support for children staying on at school.
A disastrous reform to our educational system.
Not just bad for children at school but bad for our country’s future.
They have failed to understand the problem and that risks accelerating the decline.
It is exactly these young people whose talents Britain needs to ensure we continue to lead the world – from culture to science to great businesses.
And wasting the talents of this generation makes it harder to get the deficit down, not easier.
More young people out of work means more money spent on benefits, and less coming in with tax receipts.
It’s the ultimate in short-termism.
So when they claim that they making decisions in the interests of the next generation they’re not.
Parents know it, grandparents know it, and every young person knows it.
Let me be clear: I am not just criticising their deficit strategy, I’m criticising them for having a pessimistic, austere vision for the country.
They have no ambition, no national mission.
Normally, when new governments take power, the public start to believe the country is heading in the right direction.
Not this time.
People still believe, even after a change of government, Britain is heading in the wrong direction.
Unless we turn round the chances of the next generation, we risk being a country in decline.
Ask people whether their kids will find it easier to find good jobs, own a home, balance work and family life, have a secure retirement or fulfil their potential and they will tell you by vast majorities that the answer is no.
In these circumstances, how could people possibly believe the country is heading in the right direction?
And so when people ask me what our task will be, inheriting from this Conservative-led government the kind of country it is creating, my first answer, our first challenge, our greatest task, must be to take head on the decline in opportunities for the next generation.
David Cameron’s benchmark for his government is simply deficit reduction.
The benchmark I set for a future Labour government is much more than that.
It is about improving the chances for the next generation.
We must reverse the sense of foreboding that people feel for their children and their future.
To replace that with hope about what is possible for them and our country.
Doing so will require us, once again, to be a force for major change in Britain.
So the task I am setting for our party and our policy review is to identify how we can turn round these trends.
We already know the areas that matter.
First, we need to act on jobs for young people.
We cannot just stand by when nearly one million young people are out of work.
That is why I have said we should repeat the bank bonus tax and put young people back to work.
We also have to recognise that one in five graduates in work are not doing graduate-level jobs.
In other words they are not being given the opportunity to use the skills for which they have worked so hard.
The pessimistic answer, the apparent answer from this Government, is fewer young people going to university.
Our ambition instead must be to reshape our economy so that Britain’s firms choose a business model rooted in higher skill, higher wage jobs not in so many low skill, low wage jobs.
And for those young people who choose not to go to university we need to construct a better route through vocational training, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship which give people fulfilling work and chances to get on.
Second, I don’t believe the government’s new university funding plans will leave Britain fit for the 21st century.
Britain will not compete in the world if we put such great burdens on the next generation’s ability to get on.
But I also know we can only meet people’s desire for a better politics if we make promises we know we can keep.
At this stage, I can’t make a promise on tuition fees, but I am clear about our guiding principles.
Genuine access for all, minimising the debt burden on the next generation, and a world-class university system.
I have to say I don’t believe the current policy will achieve these things.
Third, we need to change the way we think about what support families need and have a right to expect.
If we want the next generation to do better than the last we need to make being a parent easier not harder.
That is why our challenge is not just to grow the economy, but also to address something politicians hardly ever talk about - the culture of long working hours, low pay and insecurity at work.
Our family policy needs a better economic policy.
Fourth, all the decisions this government is making on housing – cuts in investment, removing the requirement on local authorities to allow new homes, botching the planning system - will make it harder not easier to provide homes.
Our generation of politicians must act or people will be waiting till their 40s before they buy their first home.
It is a sign of our commitment on this issue that when we said the bank bonus tax should be extended for another year, we said part of it should be used to build homes.
And a task I have set for our policy review is that we must seek to stop the inexorable rise in the average age of home ownership.
Fifth, when I think about my own children, they will judge me in twenty or thirty years time by the extent to which my generation took the environment and climate change seriously.
That is why as part of every aspect of policy - the economy, transport, homes - the environment must be a built in part of what we prioritise.
So these are five priorities which will be central to our work and our next manifesto.
But there’s one other thing.
The overwhelming majority of our young people are decent, and they want to do the best for themselves, their families and their communities.
We owe it to them to paint a fairer picture of young people in our country, and to celebrate what they do.
But it’s a two way street.
The promise of Britain is not just about the promise we make to them, but the promise they must make to themselves and our country to be good citizens.
Let me end with this thought.
When their time comes, future generations will look to our record just as we look to history.
As the child of parents who found refuge in Britain from the Nazis, I owe my life to British decency and democracy, to British freedom.
That’s why the promise of Britain means so much to me.
It’s why I’m so proud of our country, and its people.
It’s why I’m so sure of what we can achieve in the future.
Today my message is a simple one.
I am convinced from listening to people, that the public want more from us.
They want more from our politics.
They want a debate about the kind of country we are now, and the kind of country we could be.
It is our duty as an Opposition to be people’s voice in tough times.
Not just by criticising specific policies, but by setting out a distinct national mission.
To protect the promise of Britain.
A national mission that meets the hopes people have for their children and their grandchildren.
A national mission which ensures Britain’s next generation have a more optimistic future
That is my task.
The task for Labour in opposition.
And in government.
To deliver on the promise of Britain.