Andy Burnham writes for Unions21 on Fair Work
In the months since our devastating Election defeat, Labour has been consumed by a round of painful soul-searching.
I spent the early stages of my Leadership campaign focusing on the most difficult issues we heard on the doorstep – the deficit, immigration and benefits – because we won’t win until we regain the public’s trust on them. But this doesn’t mean copying the Tories. Far from it. Labour wins when we are better than them.
The focus on our weaknesses has given Labour’s Leadership campaign a negative feel. The time has come to lift people with a bigger vision. In the 21st century, what is Labour for? My answer is simple: to help everyone get on in life.
The hopes of people at all levels of society are pretty much the same: a secure job; a decent home; a good standard of living; prospects for their kids; and proper care for their parents. But these dreams are dying for millions. Labour’s mission must be to revive them.
The first Budget from a majority Conservative Government in 19 years made it even harder for young people to make their way in an already challenging world. It raised the prospect of a two-tier workforce, dividing young and old, and disproportionately hits families in work.
While raising skills is crucial to raising pay in the long term, we must break the cycle of low pay and productivity by boosting pay at the lower end of the pay scales.
David Cameron continues to wage his campaign of demonisation against our union movement. I will oppose this unjustified attack on the legitimate role of trade unions to protect people in a fragmented and casualised workplace and if the new proposals get through Parliament I will repeal them.
We have seen the return to work undermined over recent decades, both due to the weakening of workers’ rights and wider economic trends including globalisation and technological advances. Improving the economic position of British workers is not a simple challenge, but it will be at the heart of my mission as Labour leader. We need to invest in the skills and industries of the future, so that we have an economy of high value, high paid jobs.
The sad truth is that despite his attempt to commandeer the language of the living wage campaign, the Chancellor has delivered nothing of the sort, with a measure not based on cost of living, taking no account of the slashing of tax credits, and ignoring the higher living wage rate needed in London.
I welcome plans to raise the minimum wage but, by applying the measure only to those 25 and over, the national minimum wage has now become a five tier system, with your pay decided by the year you were born not the job you do. I want the raise to apply to every age group.
One of the greatest failures of post-war public policy has been this country’s lack of focus on technical education. Our schools system is geared towards the academic, University route. Young people who aspire to go on that route have clear goals to aim for and support to get there. But the same cannot be said for young people who aspire to a high-quality technical education. They have been neglected by successive Parliaments full of people who went to University and have made that the focus of education policy.
No wonder so many people feel that politics doesn’t speak to them. I will take Labour out of the ‘Westminster bubble’ and make it the vehicle for the hopes and dreams of ordinary people once again.
I will end the discrimination and inequality that is still inherent in our school system and bring true parity between academic and technical education. The best way to raise standards in schools is to give all children in those schools hope that they have something to aim for at the end of it. And the best way to build a modern economy is to invest properly in our skills base.
I will trust our councillors again and the time has come to trust local communities with more financial freedom too. We need the most ambitious house building programme in half a century – the best way to bring down the Housing Benefit bill is to let councils build homes again.
This period now, the next few years after a bad defeat, will be defining for our Labour movement, party and unions together. We will either rise to the challenge with bold solutions to big problems or we will be written off as timid, small and irrelevant. The change I offer is to take our Party out of Westminster, put it back in touch with people across our country and I would like to ask for your support in doing that.