This autumn’s fight for the top job in the Labour Party will be the first true leadership election since Tony Blair defeated John Prescott and Margaret Beckett in 1994.
Public Servant asked the five candidates to set out a clear vision for the party and for public services
Over the past two months, the mission of this coalition government has become clear: to unpick the fabric of our society, to hollow out public services and to pursue a survival of the fittest ““ or the richest ““ approach. I joined the Labour Party against a backdrop of swingeing Thatcherite cuts. Now I am seeking to lead the party against a depressingly similar backdrop.
The Tories’ election slogan was “we’re in this together”, but we’re not. Older people, those with disabilities, families struggling to make ends meet, will all feel the cuts harder than the Cabinet of millionaires that is making them. But it’s not just the recipients of services who will bear the brunt. Thousands of public service jobs are at risk too.
We need to tackle the deficit, but the emphasis on cuts is wrong. I would adopt a more balanced approach, looking at tax as well as cuts. I want to see a more meaningful financial transaction tax which exerts a level of social justice where the institutions who got Britain into this mess make more of a contribution to get us out.
We also need to look at personal taxation. As Labour leader, I will support the continuation of the 50p rate and recommit to the increase in National Insurance contributions. I will look again at taxation in order to minimise cuts. Higher taxation may make life a bit harder for those having to pay it, but service cuts can devastate lives.
That is the collectivist approach I will bring as leader of the Labour Party. At times in government, we appeared to be dazzled by big business, power and glamour, no longer on the side of the ordinary people. I want to redress that balance and to bring forward policies that will improve health, wealth and life-chances across the country.
I want to help those kids without connections get the training and education they want and need. That’s why I oppose the scrapping of the Future Jobs Fund. I want to help support those families who do the right thing, but still live on a financial knife-edge. That’s why I will ensure that they are not penalised by utility companies because they don’t have access to direct debits. And I want to start celebrating our ageing society. That’s why I will bring forward a National Care Service, to give older people and their families peace of mind that they will not lose everything they’ve worked for just to pay for their care.
That is why I am standing for the Labour leadership, and that is why I’m in the race to win.
When Labour came to power in 1997, the public sector in Britain was on its knees. Chronic underinvestment had left a legacy of diminished services, decaying infrastructure and a demoralised body of public servants. Labour can be rightly proud of what it achieved in power.
But we failed to address people’s daily frustrations ““ citizens who felt that the state was not responsive enough to their needs, public servants discouraged by layers of central bureaucracy.
I have, and I believe Labour must always have, the highest expectations for public services, where local people are able to shape the area where they live and the services they receive.
At a time when the public finances are stretched, it is all too easy declare that real improvement to local public services is impossible. To do so is mistaken.
Rather than cut funding and leave small pockets of citizens to fend for themselves as the coalition government intends to do, we have a plan for the future which is about empowering public servants. By shifting the balance more towards local communities and less towards Whitehall, by encouraging greater cooperation between services. It is a radical approach that relies on our ability to change the way we use resources.
The Labour government set up the Total Place approach that was pioneered across the country. It seeks, not simply to improve the standard of individual public services, but to bring together the many facets of local public bodies to deliver the best possible services.
It asks the hard questions of what people need and how best to provide it. It strips away layers of central control and hands power to the people who are going to use those services in their communities.
Under our proposals, from April 2011, local authorities and services like the NHS and police could come together, gaining for themselves enhanced freedom in their spending, and a lighter touch from central government, in return for offering better and more efficient services.
The coalition government would rather not see the different arms of our public services work together. Instead they have said they will ringfence health and schools spending, leaving local authorities and police forces to fight for ever diminishing resources.
Theirs is a disjointed approach, which is happy to see schools break away from the local education authority, setting up parochial health boards and local sheriffs. In short, cementing a permanent dislocation in local public services at the cost of massive inefficiencies.
The Tories are happy to promote better services for the few at the cost of substandard services for the many. There is nothing radical or new about it. It is an insidious attempt to disguise something we all recognise ““ a return to the cuts and retrenchment of the 1980s.
But a truly progressive party believes in establishing a standard that all can live by and seeks to achieve it for all. Only when that deeply held belief is matched by what you attain, do you achieve genuine progress.
Over the past couple of months, Labour’s leaders have rightly been opposing the government. The coalition’s avoidable and ideological Budget has put our fragile recovery at risk. Despite their pre-election promises, Cameron and Clegg hit the poorest the hardest, and yes, they did cut frontline public services.
However, in time Labour will have to propose. We will need to show that we have the vision and ideas to chart an alternative course. An alternative course in the economy, an alternative course in society and an alternative course in public services. In hard financial times we will need to find innovative ways to deliver better for less. And we must make sure we don’t leave those at the bottom behind.
In public services Labour made real progress. Thirteen years of investment and reform has left our nation healthier, safer and more qualified. Public servants are better paid and better trained. At our best we are world class.
But ours is a job half done. Too many students still leave school without decent qualifications, crime blights too many communities and health inequalities remain stark.
In the debates ahead my principles are clear. People must have the power to shape the services they rely on. Practitioners must have the autonomy to deliver. Strong accountability must be the ally not the enemy of professionalism. And while the state should provide the platform for this empowerment, it is people who will turn their power into action and into change.
In the past, public services have too often been state services; done to people; offering but not always demanding. At their best, relationships, between teachers and parents, doctors and patients, police and residents, are based on reciprocity and give and take. We solve our problems together when powerful citizens enter into pacts of mutual obligation with professionals.
The truth is we won’t close the achievement gap, or tackle antisocial behaviour, or improve life chances if people are passive recipients and public servants are above, not alongside, people. Parents can determine how well their children read, so we need them on board. Communities standing together can help the police stamp out crime, so there must be engagement. People need to change their lifestyles to defeat obesity, so we can’t ignore individual responsibility.
Fine words, but what do they mean in practice? I set out last month my vision for the next stage of education reform. I said I wanted to recruit three-quarters of teachers from the top 25 per cent of graduates, with self-critical peer-to-peer networks central to accountability. I said I wanted to give pupils the power to choose their own pathways at 14 so they could move at their own pace. I said I wanted to make the opportunity of university a promise to more and more young people. My vision: excellent teachers with the tools to innovate, students with the freedom to create, graduates with the social capital to be powerful.
Over the months and years ahead I will be making the case for people power in all our public services. I believe that this is the way we meet and master our shared challenges.
We are witnessing the biggest assault on our public sector since the 1980s. Ideological free market reforms to our schools and NHS are being pursued regardless of the cost. Vital public services are being slashed as public sector jobs, pay and pensions are attacked.
The new Tory-Lib Dem government is promoting a myth that the public sector is to blame for our economic difficulties. But this is a myth we must not allow to go unchallenged. The global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers, not by teachers, nurses or local government workers on modest incomes. It is immoral for them to pay the price. Most public sector workers have modest incomes and pensions ““ though significantly improved compared to 1997 ““ and while there are some over-generous salaries at the top, as in the private sector, let’s not allow these examples to feed a battle against millions of public sector workers.
As a Labour leadership candidate, I will not be distracted from my first duty which is to defend public services from this savage assault. That’s why I have led from the front on campaigns to stop cuts to free school meals, against axeing new school buildings and in opposition to privatisation of the Royal Mail.
But we must also be clear that, despite all the investment in better public services of which I am very proud, the Labour government sometimes got things wrong. When our core aim should have been guaranteeing better public services for all those who rely on them, in the second term the government sometimes sounded as if this could only be done by attacking public sector workers.
We cannot duck difficult decisions and reforms, but there is a better way of doing politics which takes people with you. In education, the social partnership model between government, unions and employers delivered investment and reforms and a better deal not just for teachers and support staff, but for parents and children too. I want this approach, based on fairness not favours, to apply across government.
I fought hard to make sure Labour honoured the three-year pay deal for teachers and prote?cted spending on vital frontline services like schools, the NHS and police. But even with that settlement, I knew that our public services needed to make every pound go further. That’s why I worked with unions and employers on being more efficient ““ with schools working more closely together for example ““ not just to save money but to raise standards too.
I set up the first negotiating body for school support staff and was the first and only Cabinet minister to implement the living wage for all staff and contracted staff in my department.
So in this Labour leadership election I hope people will judge me not just on what I say and do now, but on my record as a champion of public services too.
As this contest proceeds my first priority will be to continue being that champion who will stand up for public services from this most savage assault.
How life will look under the coalition government is something that only time can tell us. But with the threat of cuts looming over Britain the outlook is decidedly gloomy.
We might be in opposition but there is still a very important debate to be had about the economy as part of the leadership contest. The Con”“Lib Dem coalition all assume that we have to have big cuts in public expenditure to fill the hole in the public balance sheet. But, as an MP from the inner city, I know that these cuts will hit my people twice. Firstly they will have a worse service, but secondly they will lose their jobs.
I live in an area where the majority of people work in the public sector. Or they are in private sector jobs such as restaurants, cafes, hairdressers etc that depend for their clientele on people who work in the public sector. Many of these people are women. There are no alternative jobs for them. Often they are the only wage owners in their family.
Big cuts in the public sector could devastate some inner city areas like Hackney, just as closing the mines devastated many pit communities in the North. When David Cameron tells us our way of life must change, he doesn’t mean his way of life, he means ours.
I want to be leader of the Labour Party because I understand this. I want to be the voice in the debate about the future of the Labour Party that reminds people that one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job loss.
I would look at ways to avoid drastic cuts altogether. Instead of assuming that all this money should be found from public expenditure cuts we need to discuss raising levels of taxation on bankers and the higher paid. Why should ordinary people, who did not pocket the bonuses, pay for the credit crunch? We are being forced to pay to clean up the mess the bankers left after them. I find that hard to accept, as do my constituents.
In addition, we need to discuss the possibility of dropping the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, which would save billions. Even military men believe a new Trident weapons system would be a waste of money. This money could be used to save our public services and stop hardworking people losing their jobs.
I have always stood up for my beliefs and those of my constituents. This is something I will continue to do as leader of the party.