Labour Party Conference: An honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. Friends, this is my pledge

Ahead of Ed Miliband’s keynote address today, Owen Jones imagines the speech he should deliver  if he wants to propel his party to election success



This isn’t just a party; it is a movement. We were founded with a historic mission: to be a voice for working people, for those who toil, who struggle, who keep Britain ticking each and every day. Those who slog away in our supermarkets, stacking shelves from the early hours; in call centres, glued to phones in those dark Satanic mills of our times; in hospitals, mending our sick; in schools, raising a new generation.

They may live in a sleepy Sussex village, or bustling inner-city Birmingham, or the windswept Highlands of Scotland. But they share this: their pockets are being emptied by a government making them pay for a crisis they had nothing to do with. Not since Queen Victoria sat on the throne have living standards fallen for so long. They have no greater ambition than to see their children flourish, but know they face a worse lot in life than the generation before them, the first time this has happened since VE-Day.

The Tories want me to be ashamed of millions of working people – the backbone of this country – bankrolling our Labour Party. They will be disappointed. But they will know this. We will ceaselessly expose them as a party bankrolled by hedge fund managers, bankers, legal loan sharks, asset strippers. A government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.

Conference, when we call for those whose bank accounts are booming to pay a fair share of tax, the Tories accuse us of the politics of envy. But that is their game. They want the poor to envy each other. If you are a low-paid worker, your wages slashed by your boss, your tax credits cut by the Tories, who do they want you to resent? The unemployed “skiver” down the road. If you are a supermarket worker, with no pension because your boss won’t provide one, who do they want you to turn on? The nurse next door whose pension is still intact. It is a cynical, depraved attempt to turn people’s legitimate anger at their falling living standards, away from those responsible, and towards their neighbours instead. And where do these politics of divide and rule end? Splashing public money on vans, paraded in our proudly mixed communities, spraypainted with the sort of slogan that belongs on National Front posters from the 1980s.

You have to hand it to the Tories. They took a crisis caused by the market and turned it into a crisis of public spending. They backed our spending plans pound for pound until after the crash, and then spread the myth that overspending caused the mess. They use a crisis to push policies they always cherished, but never thought they could get away with. And then they claim victory, even as their pledge to wipe out the deficit lies shattered, even as we are plagued by a supposed recovery worse than the Great Depression.

Friends, I’m here with one mission today. To offer hope. Injustice is as expensive as it is cruel. We don’t know the true cost of the housing crisis: the sleepless nights, the kids with nowhere to study, the families forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children. But we know how much it costs the taxpayer: £24bn a year on housing benefit, money which could build over 125,000 homes. It’s not lining the pockets of tenants. It increasingly lines the pockets of landlords charging rip-off rents. So here is my pledge. We will liberate councils, finally letting them build houses – creating jobs, stimulating the economy, bringing down our 5 million-strong social housing waiting list, and reducing housing benefit spending, too.

One day, Britons will look back in disgust at the idea that people could get up early in the morning, labour and toil, and come back home with a paypacket that didn’t let them live a decent life. They will look back in horror at the fact that most people living in poverty in 2013 were in work. They will look back in disbelief that we spent billions subsidising poverty wages with in-work benefits. But they will remember the year that ended: 2015, when we will introduce a living wage for all. And no more unpaid internships. No more workfare schemes. An honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.

There are 6.5 million Britons looking for full-time work that isn’t there; hundreds of thousands of young people sending CV after CV, often not even getting a response. For too long, the dogma has been “let the market decide, the state doesn’t pick winners or losers”. But we will launch an industrial strategy, like Germany did, creating hundreds of thousands of renewable energy jobs – taking on the environmental and jobs crises.

Friends, you have to pay your taxes. You don’t have an army of accountants, seconded to the Treasury, helping to write laws, and then telling you how to avoid them. But too many people at the top do, costing £25bn a year. And here is my promise. We will change the law, with one clear principle: whoever you are, you will pay your taxes.

You bailed out the banks who plunged us into disaster, and you see them carrying on like they ever did, not lending. So here is my pledge. Our bailed-out banks will become a People’s Bank, accountable to you, the taxpayer; a public investment bank to rebuild our shattered economy.

It would be irresponsible of us to stand back and allow our Royal Mail to be sold off, its service gutted. So here is our message to any prospective buyers. Stay away. The British people want the Royal Mail to stay in their hands, and we will return it to them in 2015.

We splash out four times more on our railways than we did in the time of British Rail. Millions are priced out because of extortionate ticket prices. So here is my commitment: as each franchise expires, we will bring it back under public ownership, with passengers helping to run a new, modern, people’s railway we can finally be proud of.

Where they offer fear, we offer hope. No more tomorrow being harder than today. No more future of debt and insecurity for your children. We will rebuild this country – not for those bankrolling Cameron and Osborne, but for working people, the backbone of this country. That is my promise.

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