I think Owen has left us with not a lot to talk about as he’s covered so much in his speech.
I first met Owen when I first got elected as an MP in 2005 – I don’t know if you talk about this very much – you were working the House of Commons for the trade unions and so Owen was always a friendly face. Always someone there to give support, if any advice was needed, to give information or research in those first few months when we were facing all sorts of challenges by the Labour leadership as they tried to push through all sorts of legislation.
Whether it was ID cards, whether it was 90 days detention, Owen was always there giving support. So it’s wonderful to see he’s doing so well, working in the media, and going around the country speaking to people who may not here from a Labour person otherwise.
I think we need to be absolutely clear that the big issue that Labour needs to get its act together on is the economy. What the media is saying already is that the next general election is going to be the cost of living election, and I think that’s a good thing, because that’s what Ed Miliband’s been saying for the last period of time.
And if you look at what Labour is talking about in Parliament, that is what we’ve been pursuing.
If you look at what the votes have been on this week, on the energy freeze, on the energy price issue, on the behaviour of the big energy companies and whether they are under any form of control. It’s quite clear that Labour has the support of the British people.
If you look at the vote that will take on Tuesday of next week, on the bedroom tax, when Labour is going to put forward a motion, calling for the bedroom tax to be abolished, it’s quite clear that Labour has the support of ordinary working people up and down this country.
However, the reality is that we are not going to be effectively able to address that cost-of-living crisis unless we challenge austerity.
Because when you look around Europe, Britain is far from unique. The politics and the ideologues that are putting forward this politics of austerity, this politics of public spending cuts, of rolling back the state, of taking away from the poorest in society, are arguing the same thing in country after country. And of course these are not new ideas. They are ideas which poeople in this room will be only too familiar with as decade after decade they have been put forward by the right as to why it’s necessary to have a trickle-down economy. Why it’s necessary to give freedom to those who run the economy. Why it’s unnecessary to put any restrictions on their ability to exploit the weaknesses of others to make profits.
We’ve lived through 30 years when in many ways the left has been in retreat and in some ways the political centre has moved to the right.
In many ways it hasn’t, on many social issues we’ve seen huge advances. Look at the position of women, the fact we’ve actually got some more women in parliament is something that has really been impossible for the political establishment to stop. The fact that we’ve seen such massive improvements in women’s ability to live independently, to have economic independence and to have more choice. The fact that we’ve seen huge strides in terms of the gay rights issue and other equality issues are not in any way to be derided.
They are massive advances and in no way can be considered other than a move towards a more progressive and leftwing society.
But in many of the economic issues we’ve seen privatisation after privatisation. The unions – and I’m delighted that Steve [Turner] is here today – the unions and the changes we’ve seen in union membership which in this country has always been so important, going down in the private sector where we need industrial strength, in many ways the left have not won the argument and the politics of Thatcher have been hugely successful, not only in their party but in ours.
And therefore the politics of austerity has to be central to what we talk about over the coming period of time. I was delighted to see yesterday that it seems the government may not appeal the Independent Living Fund decision that was made by the courts this week. This is an issue that John McDonnell who’s here with us today, John and I have spent a lot of time on and been involved in with the disability groups. And this was the decision the government took that it wanted to abolish the Independent Living Fund, which is the national fund that helps about 20,000 people with the most severe disabilities in this country, with living, to live independently.
And the fact that the court has overturned that decision and it looks like perhaps the government might not fight that decision is a huge victory to all those who have campaigned in the disability movement against the abolition of that fund.
Disabled people have been absolutely at the forefront of the attacks that have been taking place.
The young, the disabled, the poor are the people who are paying the price of austerity and the government’s policy and if you look at an area like North Ayrshire where I represent, millions of pounds have been taken out of the economy by these cuts.
We’ve heard a lot of speakers talk about sanctions and I know as a constituency MP that increasingly we’re having more and more constituents come through the door who are being sanctioned for thirteen weeks, for a longer period of time, who are not going to have any benefits til Christmas because they’ve not behaved in exactly the way the Job Centre wanted, or perhaps have not applied for quite as many jobs as they thought they should this week. We have the figures to prove it, if you look at the Job Centres in my constituency, in Saltcoats Job Centre, in October 2012, there were 60 sanctions, in May this year it was 170, in June it was 160. In Kilbirnie, another Job Centre in my constituency, it was 10 sanctions in October 2012, in April, May and June this year it was 60 every month. That will be the case in John McDonnell’s constituency, that will be the case in every constituency you live in. The reality is there are probably targets, because it’s very difficult to look at those figures and see the consistency in those figures and believe it is about the individual cases and it isn’t about the targets staff are under.
But the reality is that this is yet another way the poor are being victimised and money is being taken out of the economy.
So I honestly believe that if we are going to change the cost-of-living debate in this country. If we are going to effectively turn around the huge move there has been to take from the poor and give to the rich. If we are to stop the huge transfers we are seeing, from the poorest in this country, to the richest in this country, we have to take this austerity issue on.
John McDonnell’s here. I think there were four of us who voted against the Fiscal Responsibility Bill in the last Parliament. If we get back into power, which we will in 2015 if not before, we need to get this right because we need a Labour government that will deliver. And to do that, we need to take on the politics of austerity.
We need to say that if you take money out of economies, if you grind down the living standards of ordinary working people, there will be no economic recovery, and the people of this country will not have a full and proper share of this wealth.
So I wish all those who’ve been involved in putting this campaign together, all those in Next Generation Labour, all those organisations that are supporting this initiative, I wish you the best in working with all of us to make sure that we put this type of politics on the agenda, over the next eighteen months, as we move to the next general election, when I believe we will see a majority Labour government.