Speech at Progressive Britain Launch
Wes Streeting MP
Shadow Child Poverty Secretary
Thursday 11th March 2021
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I’m Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North and Shadow Child Poverty Secretary and it’s my great pleasure to welcome you to the inaugural Progressive Britain conference.
We’ve got an action-packed day of debate and discussion in store for you with a fantastic range of speakers from across the United Kingdom, including Labour Leader Keir Starmer, who will be speaking to us shortly, dancing internet sensation and Scottish Labour’s Saviour, Anas Sarwar, Welsh Labour’s brand new Education Secretary Jeremy Miles, Claire Hanna from our sister party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, and some of our leading lights in local government, including West Yorkshire’s history-making Mayor, Tracy Brabin, and Chair of London Councils, Georgia Gould.
We’ve got David Miliband joining us from New York.
And if that weren’t enough, joining the line-up of politicians, we’ve got some of the biggest brains in Britain and beyond to help us tackle some of the biggest questions facing our country and our party.
Goodness knows we need them.
In its present condition, the Labour party is unable to deliver the change our country needs.
Our defeat in 2019 was our worst since 1935 – a comparison that actually does a disservice to Clem Attlee’s team that gained a huge number of seats at that election.
It was also our fourth defeat in a row.
Four defeats, under very different leaders, in very different circumstances.
The last time we’d lost four times in a row was in 1992. Giles Radice wrote of ‘Southern Discomfort’, analysing what he described as ‘Labour’s southern problem’.
If only things were that simple now. Labour still has a southern problem, with only 14 parliamentary seats outside of London in the whole of the south of England. But we also have a problem in the north east and north west of England, where Labour lost 20 seats; Yorkshire and the Humber, where Labour lost nine seats; the east Midlands, where Labour lost seven seats; the west Midlands, where Labour lost nine seats; and the east of England, where Labour is down to five seats from seven.
Seats that have returned Labour MPs for the best part of a century went Conservative and the result in Hartlepool shows that they won’t just inevitably swing back to Labour.
Even in London, which returned the single Labour gain of the election, we also lost a seat and Labour’s vote share went down by 6.4 per cent.
In Scotland, Labour was on life support with just a single MP returned for the second time in three elections. Anas Sarwar’s dynamic campaign helped Scottish Labour Party avoid the near-death experience predicted by the pundits and the polls, which had pointed to Labour in fourth place behind the Greens.
And in Labour Wales, where Mark Drakeford’s impressive leadership during the pandemic saw Welsh Labour achieve a majority in the Senedd, there’s no room for complacency for the general election.
The Labour party has a problem with power. Since it was founded in 1900, the Labour party has contested 31 general elections and won a working majority in only five of them: in 1945, 1966, 1997, 2001 and 2005. By any standards, this is a lamentable record for a major political party.
The pattern has become all too familiar: prolonged periods of opposition, interspersed with periods of Labour government, perennially plagued by dogma and division about what the Labour party is for and who it is supposed to represent.
The consequence has been a Conservative century.
I spent a lot of time on the road during the recent election campaign. I campaigned in all nine regions of England and in three seats across South Wales.
The mood on the doorstep has changed. A lot of the anger towards Labour has dissipated.
People are beginning to give us a hearing again.
But that doesn’t mean they’re flocking back.
In some cases, they’ve even moved further away from us and that comes with consequences, too.
Just up the road from me, I’m absolutely gutted that Basildon no longer has a Labour Council. Gavin Callaghan, had a bold vision for Basildon’s town centre, including a youth zone for young people. Now he can’t deliver it.
In Southampton I saw first-hand the impressive work that Chris Hammond’s Labour Council had been doing to tackle kids going hungry with their school food programme, but now they’re in opposition.
Nottinghamshire’s experienced Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping and his talented deputy, Emma Foody, made a real impact on crime across the county. But we lost to the Tories. It’s galling isn’t it? The Labour team that successfully cut crime losing to the Tory Party that’s cut police officers.
Before you write me off as a bad omen, I did campaign in some places that Labour won! I was particularly pleased to see Marcus Dearden elected in Bingley, having lost so narrowly last time, Sarah Murphy win in Bridgend, and Dan Norris prevail in the West of England.
But alongside positive signs of advance, like Nik Johnson’s win in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, were too many examples of retreat.
I’m not telling you all this to depress you. I’m an eternal optimist.
All I’m saying is that I’ve got an easier time ahead beating kidney cancer than Keir’s got leading the Labour Party.
He’s the best candidate for Prime Minister that any party has offered this country for a very long time.
But the Party has got to want to win.
A winning mindset must underpin everything we do.
Our culture. Our organisation. Our policy platform.
Our aim isn’t simply to ‘hold the government to account’, it is to be the government.
It’s not just renewal we need. It’s reinvention.
That goes for Labour’s modernising centre-left tradition, too.
The 2010s have been a low decade for the Labour Party, characterised by defeat, division and decay.
All too often, those of us on the centre left have found ourselves pigeon-holed in the past and defined by what we’re against, rather than what we’re for.
Now is the time for a new generation to lead the debate about how we forge a broad-based post-Brexit, post-pandemic settlement for the future of the United Kingdom.
So I’m delighted to announce that Progress and Policy Network are coming together to reboot and re-launch as Progressive Britain – a brand new platform for critical thinking, political education and policymaking on the left.
Rooted in the Labour Party, Progressive Britain’s mission is simple: to support Keir to reinvent the Labour party so that we can rebuild our country.
This isn’t just a job for politicians in Westminster. The leadership and heavy-lifting must also come from beyond – and below – Westminster and Whitehall.
For this process of renewal to be a success, it requires the active involvement of citizens and local communities; local, devolved and national politicians; policymakers, businesses and trade unions.
We have to stop taking for granted that voters will stick with Labour because of traditional family or community loyalties. And we can’t get drawn into Conservative attempts to create ‘culture wars’, division and competition between different parts of the country.
Labour’s continuing difficulties are not because it has changed too much, but because it hasn’t changed enough to be seen as the Party that shares the priorities of the people. Sometimes we’re barely having the same conversation.
So let’s write a new story for our country and Labour’s place within it.
We are the sixth richest economy in the world. We are home to world-class universities, captains of industry, world-leading surgeons, and groundbreaking inventors, artists and entrepreneurs. We’re a global centre of music, literature, fashion, art, design and film.
Our military, foreign aid, diplomatic and intelligence services provide a cornerstone of international development, peace and security.
1.5 billion people around the world speak our language and more than 40 million people visit the UK each year.
But this is also a country with intolerable levels of inequality in power, wealth and opportunity.
Child poverty was rising before the pandemic, and is set to rise further still, as a direct result of Conservative policies.
We are failing to care for people later in life.
We are at the beginning of a technological revolution that is changing every aspect of our work, lives and democracy, for better and for worse.
There is a climate emergency that is burning our planet.
Old adversaries like poverty, disease and tyranny are manifesting themselves in new ways.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Progressive Britain will help Keir to write a new story for our party and our country.
We believe that everyone deserves to live a good life: to have a place they can call home, to have a good job that provides an income that does more than pay the bills, to have quality time to spend with their friends and family, to enjoy arts and culture, sport and recreation.
We want Britain to be the best place in the world to grow up, with every childhood filled with joy and discovery.
We want this to be the best place to grow old. We believe that everyone deserves to enjoy their retirement, not just to look back on a life well-lived but to live life to the full until the very end.
We believe that the state, the private sector and civil society have a shared role to play in promoting human flourishing.
We believe that we are temporary custodians of the world that we share together and that each of us has a responsibility to care for our environment and the life on Earth that it sustains.
We care about the world beyond our own islands and wish to see a world without hunger and hardship, tyranny and oppression and needless suffering.
Our ambitions and our aspirations, for ourselves, our families, our communities, our country and our planet aren’t radical. But achieving them really would be.
Throughout the party’s 120-year history, every Labour government has changed our country for the better, but our time in government has been too short and the agony of opposition too long.
Our values are timeless, but they are meaningless unless they’re made real by Labour governments elected by the people. Power and principle go hand in hand.
So let’s meet that challenge as reformers of our broken economic system and as champions of a dynamic and enterprising economy where economic prosperity and social justice go hand in hand and child poverty is history.
Let’s deliver the biggest devolution of power and resources in our country’s history to put power closer to the people and let’s put forward a plan for our public services based on investment and reform, delivering more flexible, responsive and relational public services, so that people in all parts of this country can take greater control over our lives and our destinies.
Let’s return to the tried and tested approach of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime as the party of law and order.
Let’s reform our broken social care system and our attitudes to old age, so that retirement is something to look forward to, rather than something to fear.
Let’s build a lifelong learning system that provides opportunities for learning from the cradle to the grave.
Let’s make sure that the technological revolution is one that leads to better quality work and higher living standards for everyone.
Let’s make this industrial revolution a green industrial revolution, using every lever available to incentivise the right behaviour and decarbonise our economy, recognising that government can’t do this alone.
Let’s make the transition to a zero carbon economy a just transition, not simply preventing the further decline of the communities that experienced the sharp end of import shocks, globalisation, and rapid deindustrialisation, but actively seeking to reverse those trends so that those communities reap the benefits of green industry and green jobs.
Let’s present the UK to the world as a beacon of democracy, freedom and human rights. A force for good in the world in the best traditions of our Party.
Progressive Britain will work tirelessly to develop the winning platform we need to deliver a Labour Government and I believe that our first special guest has the qualities we need in Britain’s next Prime Minister. So to chair our first session, it’s with great pleasure that I hand over to a woman that I hope to see in Keir Starmer’s winning Parliamentary Labour Party, Ashley Dalton.