Labour is the true party of workers – that's why we are investing in the UK's industrial future

If we crash out of the EU without a deal, it will destroy what remains of our industrial base and fire the starting gun in a race to the bottom on wages and workers’ rights

Rebecca Long-Bailey
Thursday 01 June 2017 22:48
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The Labour Party have narrowed the Tories lead in the polls over the past couple of weeks
The Labour Party have narrowed the Tories lead in the polls over the past couple of weeks

It has been a long time since voters faced such a stark choice in an election.

The Conservatives have run a wholly negative election campaign. They’ve evaded all substantial questions of policy, choosing instead to stoke up tensions ahead of a showdown in Brussels in the hope of distracting from their plans for continuing austerity at home.

In contrast, Labour’s manifesto has focused on concrete policies to rewrite the rules in favour of the majority of people in Britain, and has struck a chord with millions up and down the country. Remarkably for this kind of document, it was shared on social media more than 63,000 times in the days after its launch.

It’s no wonder Amber Rudd was laughed at by the audience on the BBC leaders debate when she said “judge us on our record”. They know seven years of Tory Government led to an unprecedented fall in wages, savage spending cuts and the realisation that we were not all in this together.

Many dividing lines have opened up in this election, but the choice before voters runs deeper than how much each party will spend on the NHS, or whether or not primary school children will get free school meals – as important as these are.

Across the Western world, the political and economic settlement of the past forty years is crumbling.

For years, policymakers believed that Britain could sustain an economy on the back of growth in the financial sector and the South-east, relying on the welfare state to redistribute to areas of the country that were left out of this growth.

The last sustained period of Conservative rule saw vast swathes of our country neglected and industrial communities put into “managed decline”. Trade unions were suppressed, stable well-paid employment became an increasingly rare experience and a favoured financial sector came to dominate both economically and politically.

Communities changed beyond recognition as industries disappeared with nothing to replace them, while tax avoidance by the rich and corporations became one of the biggest growth industries, contributing to a staggering rise in inequality.

In the constituency I have represented for the past two years, Salford and Eccles, 30 per cent of children live in poverty, unemployment is a full percentage point higher than the national average and, for those in work and average earnings are £80 a week below the UK average.

The financial crisis laid bare the risks associated with an economy overly reliant on a volatile financial sector. And the EU referendum result last year was driven in part by a rejection of this failed economic model by those who have paid its highest price.

But, as shadow Chancellor John McDonnell warned last year, we cannot assume that what comes next will be better.

From workers’ rights to industrial strategy, the Tories have been borrowing Labour’s language in recent months. But beneath the rhetoric, the Tories are offering a dystopian vision of Britain’s future outside of the EU. If we crash out of the EU without a deal, it will destroy what remains of our industrial base and fire the starting gun in a race to the bottom on wages and workers’ rights.

Labour’s vision couldn’t be more different. We are clear that there is no way out of this failed economic model without a government that is prepared to intervene in the economy and to put power in the hands of people and their local communities.

Today, we announce our industrial strategy designed to do just that – and to create a million good jobs over the course of the next parliament.

General Election polls and projections: June 1

We will rebuild and transform the British economy with an industrial strategy centred around three pillars: national missions to tackle the biggest challenges facing the modern world; cross-cutting policies to create a fertile ground for business activity; and cooperation between employers, workers and government at a sector level to strengthen existing industrial strengths and cultivate new ones.

Unlike the Tories, whose industrial strategy Green Paper amounted to little more than a cobbling together of existing policies, our industrial strategy will have real teeth. It will be powered by our National Investment Bank and National Transformation Fund, which together will provide the investment our economy so desperately needs. And we won’t recoil from taking a more active role in the economy, working with employers and trade unions and using all available policy levers to create the winners of the future.

This is an industrial strategy for a richer, fairer Britain. One that recognises that redistribution isn’t enough; job quality and work satisfaction also matter. That it matters where growth comes from, as the absence of vibrant local economies destroys the fabric of communities. One that creates greater wealth in our country and makes sure that everyone has a fairer share in that wealth.

Our country stands at a crossroads at this election, and Labour is clear about which direction we would turn.

The Conservative path leads to more economic stagnation, falling wages, deindustrialisation, and economic insecurity holding people back at work and home. A Britain where the benefits of technological change continue to accrue to a privileged few, while throwing some out of work and driving down living conditions for others.

The Labour way is of investing for the future, of putting people in charge of our economy and enabling everyone to live better lives in a richer Britain.

It’s a plan for the many not the few.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is the shadow Business Secretary and Labour candidate for Salford and Eccles

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