In Labour’s agony over our terrible defeat, the risk is we throw everything out from the last five years and revert to a playbook from another era. It’s hardly “New” Labour to dust off a way of doing politics designed to meet the challenges of the 1990s not the 2020s.
We must learn from what we got right, and build on it. Next year’s mayoral election gives us the first opportunity to show we understand that security underpins opportunity, responsibility underpins our sense of community, and shared effort enables economic growth and reduced inequality.
My dad was a bus driver, with a secure job and pay and conditions protected by a trade union: similar jobs today are under threat from the emboldened Tory Government. My mum was a seamstress working at home: globalisation has exported such work abroad.
No one can tell me that aspiration is only for those who shop in Waitrose: it was aspiration that drove me, as a trainee solicitor, to sleep on the top bunk in my childhood home, to save money for the life I wanted to lead. But it was also the council house, the decent state school and the affordable university education that helped make my mum and dad’s ambitions for me a reality.
With few jobs for life these days, our commitment to fair rents and house building spoke to millions of people. They struck a chord, including with middle-class professionals. Being chucked out of your flat disrupts schooling and employment, undermining people’s chance to make it. Faced with finding over £1,000 a month instead of a modest council rent, I just don’t think my mum and dad would have been able to get on as they did.
And talking about these kinds of issues is not anti-business or anti-market. The high cost of housing and commuting are the biggest concerns for employers. By addressing these, we’d be making it easier for companies to grow and prosper. Let’s be clear about our time in Government – the deficit we were running had nothing to do with the global economic crash. And the Tories were fully signed up to our spending plans.
But there were big issues with our economic approach: taxpayers subsidising low pay rather than rewarding responsible employers meant fairness was an add-on rather than built into our economy. We began to address that, but we didn’t paint a picture of what it meant for people beyond the low paid.
We also made out it would be painless for the “squeezed middle” and they smelled a rat. It compounded people’s suspicion we weren’t telling them the whole story. This country doesn’t thrive by taking things off other people, but by recognising each other’s effort – from bus drivers to city financiers, sandwich-makers to coders. Ed Miliband’s finest achievement will be putting tackling inequality centre stage in UK politics – he was right to do so.
We need to tell the story of our future prosperity that acknowledges the threats of insecurity, isolation and inequality. This has to be about a deal: you put in, I put in, we all put in: effort, money, ideas, whatever it takes to make us more than the sum up of our parts.
Sadiq Khan is standing to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of LondonReuse content