“In conversation” with Stephen Kinnock MP full speech

Thank you.

It is great to be here tonight to talk about our party, where we are, where we could be going and what that might mean.

The past couple of months have been fairly eventful for all of us in the Labour party and the movement more broadly.

I think all of us here, we are a room full of Fabians after all, will have done some hard thinking about where we went wrong and where should be going.

We have all seen some rather big changes in the party these past 7 or 8 months.

A Leadership election that stated, rather resoundingly, that the Party would be doing things differently.

But I am not sure if we properly addressed where we went wrong in the process of that contest.

We have seen some of that with the publication of the Beckett report, but we must have a broader conversation about where we went wrong before we can truly figure out where it is that we should be going.

And where better to start that conversation than here, with the Fabians.

For 132 years the ideas of the Fabians have helped guide our Party, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so into the 21st century.

And so I think it is worth looking back and reflecting on the history of our Party as we look ahead to our future.

Beatrice Webb, when working as a researcher for Sir Charles Booth on his social class map of London, saw, in the East End, the true nature of life in 19th Century Britain.

The grinding poverty, disease and exploitation that characterised the lives of many.

But out of this hardship came great hope. We saw the beginnings of the organised Labour movement.

And the founding of the Fabians.

And it was the union of these two forces that saw the creation of the Labour Party.

And in the century and a bit since the birth of our Party we’ve seen incredible changes in our country. And in our Party.

We grown and survived through the changes of the twentieth century into the twenty-first.

We have seen New Labour and Old Labour, we’ve had Blue Labour, One Nation Labour, Labour Together, Labour for the Common Good, and so the list goes on.

But they key is we are always Labour. We always stand together, fighting for progressive change.

The Labour Party is still traumatized by the election, and the rebuilding has only just begun after a leadership contest that exposed the depth and complexity of the issues that we have to resolve.

But I am not one of these people who thinks that optimism is some sort of eye disease.

I am confident that the Party can pull itself together, and that by the time we get to the next election we will be back to winning ways.

There are huge challenges, but we have done it before, and we can do it again.

Jeremy Corbyn’s rise has certainly generated some fundamental questions about the past, present and future of the Party, and I think that is a very positive and healthy thing.

We are desperately in need of renewal. We need to explain to ourselves, and then to the great British public, what the Labour Party is actually for in the twenty-first century.

The Labour Party has no God-given right to exist.

It is therefore crucial that we drop any sense of entitlement, roll up our sleeves, and get stuck into the hard work that has to be done if we are to once again become a credible force in British politics.

We cannot allow ourselves to be a backward looking sect.

We cannot seek to rebuild our party and movement by seeking to relive past glories. By just seeking to keep what is here and rebuild much of what has been lost in the past 40 years.

Not least because such an approach is, to put it bluntly, little more than small ‘c’ conservatism.

We as a movement must be forward looking. We must find 21st century answers to 21st century problems.

We must look to mobilise intellectually to meet the challenge of today and tomorrow; we must look to build modern institutions that will engender a sense of solidarity, community and common purpose.

And it is against this backdrop that I wrote a pamphlet over the summer, called ‘A New Nation: building a United Kingdom of Purpose, Patriotism and Resilience’. The idea behind it was to get the ball rolling, to stimulate debate, and ultimately to give us the tools we need to get back on course to victory in 2020.

I’ve boiled the pamphlet down into a shorter plan, and that is what I am going to talk about tonight.

So, first, we must be a party that understands why it lost the election

On 7 May the British electorate sent us two clear messages:

1) We don’t trust you to run the economy.

And 2) we think you’re more concerned about people who are on welfare than you are about us – hard-working families trying to get on in life.

We know these views are a grotesque caricature of the truth.

But, when it comes to politics, the fact is that so often perception is reality.

And we won’t win people over by shouting at them about how wrong they were.

The Conservative, backed up as always by their media cheerleaders, successfully framed us as weak on the economy; and as a lobby group for the ‘skivers’, the enemy of the ‘strivers’.

We have to avoid one of the errors of the last parliament where we spent too much time talking about what we were against, and not enough time explaining what we were for.

Unless we can give people a clear sense of what we are for then we will never be seen as a credible party of government.

The mission of the Labour Party is to promote social and economic progress, and we know we can only put our values into practice if we have the democratic power of government.

It’s not rocket science: if we wish to put our values into practice then we must have a Labour Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street.

To return to the wilderness years of the 1980s would be a betrayal of the very principles upon which our Party was founded.

There can be not Fabian gradualism without Labour ministers to push things on.

We are a party of government, or we are nothing.

The open and inclusive debate that Jeremy has launched is both welcome and necessary, but let’s not forget that cohesion is a pre-condition for credibility.

The British public will cut us some slack for a while, as we gather our thoughts.

 

 

But it is essential that we use the coming months to coalesce rapidly around a narrative and a set of policy priorities that will send three clear messages to the British people:

1)    Labour Party are back in business as a serious and credible party of government

 

2)    We understand the realities of life in modern Britain – and we are engaging with you on that basis

 

3)    We do not represent any narrowly defined social group - our appeal is broad – we are simply not interested in the ‘politics of envy’.

And so we must also be a party of economic competence.

The story of the British economy today is a story of low productivity, ballooning personal debt, a yawning trade deficit, creaking infrastructure, a dangerous over-reliance on financial services, chronic low pay, and an economic chasm opening up between London and the rest of the country.

Labour can and must tell an alternative story.

But if we want people to listen then we will need to change our tone and vocabulary.

Old mantras are not cutting through. We must make it clear that Labour’s purpose is to reform capitalism, not to dream of overthrowing it.

We are capitalisms critical friend, not its enemy.

We embrace the market economy as a vehicle that has lifted millions of people out of poverty, but its excesses have also brought waste, exploitation and unacceptable levels of inequality.

Labour exists to ensure that the market serves the people, not the other way round.

But at the moment, with the way thing are, the free market isn’t really working.

Wealth is supposed to cascade down, but the harsh reality is that today it only cascades upwards.

62 global plutocrats own as much wealth as half the world’s population.

The average FTSE 100 CEO makes 182 times that of their average employee.

This kind of gross inequality must be tackled, as both a moral duty and an economic necessity.

Which makes the governments sweetheart deal with Google last week all the more galling.

Apparently the government think that with £4.6bn in UK sales, almost two and a half thousand UK employees and a brand new £650m Head Quarters at Kings Cross, that Google do not have a “permanent” taxable presence in the UK.

And this comes on the back of Amazon’s £11m in tax from British sales of over £5bn.

And Facebook paying only £4,000 in tax from revenues of £105m.

And just remember, in the same week that the government trumpeted their sweetheart deal with Google they announced that would be appealing to the Supreme Court against the ruling in favour of victims of domestic abuse and disabled families hit by the Bedroom Tax.

So if you have a panic room because you are afraid your abusive partner could turn up and attack you; or if you are disabled and need a spare room for carers to look after you and your immobile grandson, then this government will try to take you to court.

But if you are a global giant like Google then the government will help you to a sweetheart deal and trumpet an effective tax rate of 3% is a “major success”.

It just goes to show that this government are strong when it comes to the weak, and weak when it comes to the strong.

They believe that as long as the rich and powerful are doing well that everyone else will be ok.

But that is wrong.

Even the IMF have come out and said that not only does inequality hinder growth, but that active state measures to reduce inequalities are pro-Growth and desirable.

And one way in which we can begin to tackle these inequalities is by re-balancing our economy, developing an investment-led model of growth and leading a manufacturing renaissance.

And the so Labour must be the party of manufacturing

In 1970 manufacturing accounted for one third of the British economy; today it stands at barely ten per cent.

The dramatic decline of our manufacturing sector is the root cause of three structural weaknesses in the British economy.

It is why we have a 6% trade, the largest in peacetime since 1830, which has shaped Britain’s consumption driven growth model.

It is why we have such an unbalanced economy – over-reliant on the services sector and tilted dangerously towards the South East and London alone.

And it is why we have such poor productivity, the widest productivity gap of anyone in the G7.

That has to change.

Just this morning the BIS Select Committee reported that the government’s “productivity plan” amounted to, and this is a direct quote, little more than “a vague collection of existing policies”, with “non-existent” milestones and ministerial engagement that is “far too weak”.

If we were to raise our productivity to the same levels as America we could see a 9% growth in GDP, that is £144bn.

But instead what we get is government on the hoof, a plan that isn’t a plan, containing nothing new or distinctive.

This is a missed opportunity for the country and the government, but we must make sure it is not so for Labour.

Which is why we must become the party of manufacturing because it provides a far better spread of high-quality, high-pay jobs than our service sector, and those jobs tend to be far more evenly distributed across the country.

So let’s play to our strengths, and remind the British people that Labour is the only party with the desire and capability to lead a manufacturing renaissance.

And as part of that I am working with Labour colleagues on formulating a comprehensive industrial strategy for British manufacturing and industry.

Because without that work we cannot ever hope to be seen as credible. If we are going to demand the government do something, we should be prepared to do it ourselves.

And another key to credibility is showing that we are the party of smart deficit reduction

We have had the slowest recovery in history and, as recent weeks have shown, the markets are volatile.

It is difficult to believe that the global economy is potentially once again heading for the rocks, but we never seem to learn from our mistakes.

We have a model of growth based on the very same fundamentals that led to the 2008 crisis.

A growth model based on low wages increased household borrowing and rising house prices.

It is not propelled by productive investment, and therefore does not deliver the increased tax receipts that are a pre-condition of deficit reduction.

At the heart of our narrative on the economy must be the idea that if you want to pay down the deficit by growing your tax receipts then you must shape a broadly based recovery that is driven by manufacturing, investment and exports.

Our objective must be to establish broad understanding of the fact that tackling the deficit is our prime economic priority, and we must then provide a compelling plan for investment-led growth.

And that is why Labour must be a party that is pro-business, but not pro-business as usual.

At the last election we had a strong offer to business: a commitment to cutting business rates, a British Investment Bank, the creation of a Small Business Administration, and resolutely pro-European.

But in spite of that strong pro-business, pro-reform offer we were seen by much of the public and business community as being anti-business.

And I think that goes some way to showing that it wasn’t so much our policies that were the problem, but rather that the “mood music” wasn’t right.

And so I want to have a collaborative and cooperative approach to the business community.

I want to work in partnership with Business, Unions, and workers; with everyone who has a stake in this country, to co-create a new kind of growth.

Growth with sustainability and fairness at its heart.

The job of progressive politics is not to simply react and adapt to change.

The job of progressive politics is to become the engine for change, and growth, of a new and different kind.

I’ve spent most of my working life in the private sector.

And, with notable exceptions, I saw too many business models driven by fast buck short-termism.

What we need is business driven by investment in the keys to sustainability and profit: from skills to technology, to commercialising this countries research brilliance.

And making these changes will require original thinking.

The sort of Labour original thinking that built the welfare state and the Open University, that built the NHS and revolutionized child care.

That original Labour thinking needs to be applied to the fundamentals of our economy, and in particular to our work with business.

But those great Labour ideas didn’t develop from a vacuum.

They developed because we worked in partnership.

And so partnership must be at the heart of everything we do.

Partnership with business.

Partnership with Unions.

And partnership with the British people.

And that brings me nicely on to my next point.

Labour must be the party of community activism.

The increase in engagement with Labour that came in the leadership election is, in many ways, the delayed result of a new kind of politics and localism that we have seen developing over the past decade.

That of community activism and self-organisation: rooted in that most Labour of values, a sense of civic pride.

Labour must seize this, not as some form of electioneering, but because this is how politics should be in a 21st century democracy.

A co-operative movement, embedded in the fabric of our communities, as equal partners.

We must share a vision of a country that is energised and full of a sense of purpose and progressive patriotism, and that is resilient enough to absorb and adapt to change.

And part of that change will mean that Labour must be the party of radical constitutional reform.

With an agenda to decentralise and gives the regions of England representation, fiscal powers and obligations comparable to those of the devolved nations.

And the result of the 2015 election demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that we live in a multi-party democracy, and that First Past the Post is no longer fit for purpose.

And finally I want to talk about how we must become the party of patriotism

I love the UK and feel a deep sense of pride in being Welsh, British and European.

My Britain is not the Britain of the narrow nationalism that defines the likes of UKIP, the SNP and Plaid.

My Britain is a country of openness and liberty, built on the values of compassion, courage and solidarity.

Labour’s progressive patriotism can re-invigorate our British identity, and from that base enable our country to stand tall in the world, as an actively and constructively engaged partner in the NATO, the UN, and in Europe.

Today we see the value of Europe, the value of openness and solidarity.

The scale of challenges facing our world cannot be met by the old Westphalia model mind-set.

We know that we must come and work together to overcome the great challenges of our age.

From Climate change to insecure work to extremism, it is as part of Europe that we will have the tools to build a better world.

With a common energy market, carbon trading, common action on working conditions, agency working; and there is nothing that will tackle extremism like the sensible moderation of collective action and common purpose.

So the campaign to remain in the EU presents us with an incredible opportunity to articulate our deeply held belief in our country.

Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU are defeatists who believe our country does not have the clout to hold its own at the negotiating table in Brussels.

The Labour Party would never accept this pessimistic view of the world.

The patriotic case that Britain is stronger in Europe must be re-asserted, and our practical principles of co-operation and solidarity set against the politics of nostalgia and isolationism.

The choice we face is simple: do we want to be an active, outward progressive nation; or an isolated island, with a post-colonial hangover, characterised by embittered nationalism?

And the debate is live. Minds can change.

This afternoon the life-long Eurosceptic Mark Pritchard, one of the 81 Tory rebels who forced Cameron into pledging the referendum, came out as a Remain supporter.

And he made an important point, that our national security would be weakened by exit.

Without a British voice in Europe our geo-political interests could come under threat and NATO would be weakened.

If Britain tears itself away from Europe we also tear ourselves away from Europe’s decision making-table. Away from the opportunity to influence, shape and lead.

This will weaken both Britain and Europe.

And as Mark Pritchard said today, and I don’t think there are too many times you will catch the two of us agreeing, the “who cares” attitude towards a failing Europe is “sort-sighted and ill-judged” because, as modern history shows us, “Europe’s crises all to often become Britain’s crises too.”

A Europe without Britain is less secure. And a less secure Europe means a less secure Britain.

It is quite simple, when it comes to diplomacy Britain needs Europe, and Europe needs Britain.

I say this to remind you that the battle of ideas has only just begun, and minds are far from being made up.

This will be a battle, a big one. But it is one that I am confident that we can win, and not least because even eurosceptics like Mark Pritchard can see that Brexit isn't the answer.

And so our pitch cannot be a wonkish technical one. It can’t be about economic statistics or trade figures. It must be about the type of country we are and the kind of nation we want to build.

Conclusion

My contribution is just one of many that will doubtless emerge over the coming months, but sometime soon we will have to start making some choices and articulating our vision.

Elections are won in years, not months or weeks.

And our first real test will be the elections in May.

I am sure many of you here will be out Campaigning for Sadiq. I’ll be fighting for a Labour Assembly in Wales. So, if we can just find someone to sort out Scotland then we might be alright!

But as hard as things can be at times, it is by looking around rooms like this that I know there is hope.

Oscar Wilde famously said that the problem with socialism is that it took up too many evenings.

Well, he may have had a point but I am hoping it is evenings like this and conversations like those I hope we will have in the Q&A that will help bring about the change we need.

We just have to look at how far Britain has come.

Our country is unrecognisable from that in which the Fabian Society was born and into which the Labour Party entered.

Look at what we have achieved since then.

From the NHS to Sure Start, to the Open University, to putting development issues on the political map, our Party has changed our country. And changed it for the better.

And you know what, we also changed our opponents. Who would have ever though, back in the dark days of Section 28, that a Tory Prime Minister would oversee the passage of gay marriage legislation.

We should be clear, that wouldn’t have happened were it not for the social changes, the seismic social shifts our party made.

And these are all things we should be immensely proud of, but never complacent about.

There is a restlessness that drives all of us in our movement. A restlessness that means we can never look at the world and think “well, I guess it is good enough”.

It is a restlessness that sees injustice and cannot stand by and allow it to go unchallenged. 

Crucially, it is a restlessness that means we cannot allow injustice to go unchanged.

And that is why we must once again become a movement that wins, a movement of government as well as of people.

Because our restlessness demands it.

Our restlessness requires it.

And it is because of that that I have hope for the future.

Hope for the Labour Party and hope for Britain.

Thank you.

ENDS

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