Liam Byrne – 2019 Speech During No Confidence Motion

Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Byrne, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, in the House of Commons on 16 January 2019.

I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate.

The essence of our argument was laid out with force, passion and eloquence by the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister is this afternoon charged with the greatest political failure in modern times. On the most important question that this country faces, she has secured the biggest defeat that Parliament has ever delivered. That alone should be grounds for her to go. How on earth does she think she is going to command a majority in this House when she cannot command a majority on the biggest question of the day?

The truth is—the Leader of the Opposition made this point eloquently earlier—that the Prime Minister’s failure of leadership stretches well beyond the failure of her policy on Brexit. It is often said that we campaign in poetry but we govern in prose. For me, the best definition of our poetry was set out back in 1945, when we offered that plan to reconstruct a war-weary nation and win the peace.

At that time we said, “What we need in this country is industry in service of the nation.” Do we have that today? The Chancellor himself is the first to berate the terrible rates of productivity growth in our industry, which are worse today than they were in the late 1970s when we used to call it “British disease”.

We said that everyone in this country should have the right, through the sweat of their brow, to earn a decent life. Yet half the people in work in the west midlands are in poverty. There are now people going to food banks who never thought they would be in this position.

Above all, we said to the people of this country that they should be able to live and raise a family free from fear of want. Well, on the doorstep of this Parliament people are dying homeless, including one of the 5,000 people who have died homeless over the last five years. Many people in this House know that I recently lost my father to a lifelong struggle with alcohol after he lost the woman he loved to cancer, a few years older than me. I know at first hand how a twist of fate can knock you down, but for millions of people in this country, a twist of fate knocks them on to the streets, on to the pavements and into the soup kitchens where I work in Birmingham on a Sunday night. That is not the sign of a civilised and decent country, and it is something of which this Government should be ashamed.

When the Prime Minister took her seals of office, she had the temerity to stand on the steps of Downing Street and say to an anxious nation that she was going to tackle the burning injustices of this country. She said that she was going to tackle the burning flames, yet those flames now rage higher than I have ever seen in my lifetime. She now leads a Government of shreds and patches, and the Opposition say that this country deserves better and that she should do the decent thing and resign.

Liam Byrne – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Byrne in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton). She is right that this is a serious debate. It is one I have considered, too, and I am sorry, but I have come to a different conclusion from her.

I speak against this motion, and I speak with a great sense of frustration. I am frustrated because I agree with the Prime Minister that we are at war; we are under attack, and we face an enemy the like of which we have never faced before. We are fighting against shadowy networks and nebulous states. Today’s debate is about the theatre of Syria, but we all know there are other theatres. We know there is conflict that we may need to come to in Yemen, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the Khorasan region, in Libya and in parts of Nigeria. The enemy we are debating tonight is Daesh, but we all know there are other enemies. We know there is the core of al-Qaeda still present somewhere around Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know there is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We know there is the Khorasan group at work against us. We know there is Jabhat al-Nusra in Iraq, and its allies.

What this reveals to us is that this will be a long march. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff) said, we must maintain solidarity and unity of purpose at home for what will be a very long fight. That is why we cannot afford in this House to put forward strategies that we think carry too great a risk of failure, as I am afraid the Government strategy does.

I was grateful to hear the Prime Minister put such emphasis on this being a joint struggle for both western and Islamic freedom. We can see that in the refugee camps of northern Iraq. We know that Daesh has acquired the capability to plan attacks here in Europe. That is why what I wanted today was sustained, short-term action to take out that external planning capability of ISIS, whether that needs air cover or boots on the ground. In the longer term, like the Chair of the Defence Committee, I want to see an overwhelming coalition brought to bear, to smash Daesh into history. That needs Vienna first, not Vienna second.

We dare not risk defeat. That would hand our enemies a propaganda victory that we would hear about for years to come. However, victory means bringing together air cover, ground forces and politics—and, heavens above, if we cannot sustain that combination to take back Mosul, how on earth will we take back Raqqa in Syria? That is why I was disappointed that the Prime Minister was not able to specify this afternoon just what the ground forces are that will help us take back Raqqa under the air cover of the RAF. That is the difference between Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, there are ground forces; in Syria, frankly, there are not. I do not want a half-hearted fight; I want a full-on fight, and we did not have a plan for that from the Government today.

Liam Byrne – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to the 2013 Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Conference – It’s a privilege to open this debate, a debate we approach with a passion and care.

That’s not a sign of weakness, that’s a sign of our strength.

We are so much stronger and our policy is so much better for the work of Unison’s Liz Snape, the TUC’s Kay Carberry, for the leaders of our ten biggest councils, to those from business and the third sector who’ve worked so hard on our youth jobs taskforce.

It’s stronger for the Labour councillors all over Britain who have helped us think radically about how we revolutionise the Tories’ failing back to work system.

It’s stronger for Sir Bert Massie, a pioneer of disability rights, for his taskforce, and for the hundreds of disability activists who have helped us think radically about how we make rights a reality for disabled people.

And it’s stronger for all our brilliant PPCs, fighting in key seats, who brought together residents to tell us how they want Labour to rebuild social security and a different kind of Britain.

And what sort of party would we be if we were not passionate about the stories we hear.

Like the woman I met with MS who told me how her carer, her teenage son, had lost all his support; it’s tough she said, for a boy to lose to that help when he knows his mum won’t get better.

Or the Remploy workers on a GMB picket line, fighting for work, who said to me: this isn’t just my job; this is my life.

Or the thousands of young people, I fight for in East Birmingham, hunting for work, who speak of the hundreds of CVs they send and never even get a reply – and still they keep going.

You know, there’s a Tory minister – and I’ll let you guess where he went to school – who tells us: our young people lack grit.

Well, let me tell you this: the young people fighting for work in East Birmingham have got a damn sight more grit than you need to get through Eton College.

Good people all over Britain hear these stories too.

And right now they’re asking themselves what kind of country are we becoming?

Once upon a time the Tories told us they cared: all those speeches in Easterhouse.

And people gave them the benefit of the doubt.

We were promised a Tory party that cared about the poor.

We were promised a welfare revolution.

We were promised we’re all in this together.

Three years on I tell you the jury is in.

A cost of living crisis.

A million young people out of work.

Long term unemployment at record highs.

Disabled people living in fear.

Child poverty rising.

Living standards hammered.

A promise that started in Easterhouse has ended with the spectacle of a Tory Minister, Michael Gove, blaming the poor for the temerity to turn up at a food bank.

He should be ashamed.

Three years on, I tell you the verdict is simple:

These Tories have let their prejudice destroy their policies.

And just as bad as the prejudice is the incompetence.

They say to err is human.

But if you want someone to really screw it up you send for Iain Duncan Smith.

And Conference that’s why we need to fire him.

But let me level with you, we won’t win power with a plan to roll back the clock.

To restore the status quo.

To ignore the calls for change.

The vast majority of people in this country believe the welfare state is one of our proudest creations.

It’s a mark of a civilised society.

But the vast majority don’t believe the system works for them or for modern times.

So let’s not be the defenders of the status quo, we must be the reformers now.

Today life is very different to the days of Beveridge.

The job for life is gone.

If you’re without a skill, you’ll most likely to be without a job.

Two thirds of couples both work – yet struggle with child-care.

Millions struggle on low wages while company profits rise.

Hundreds of thousands save for decades just to buy a home.

We’re aging, and yet fewer have a pension.

Getting a job, setting up home, working as a parent, caring for another, saving for the future.

These are the challenges of the real world you can’t solve by demonising others.

These are the challenges for One Nation Social Security.

And the truth is today the system doesn’t help.

So we need to change the system.

And build a new consensus rooted in our values, our party’s values, our country’s values.

Where we listen not to our demons but to the better angels of our nature.

Were we move from a language of division to a language of respect.

Where we match the personal responsibility to work.

With the collective responsibility to care.

These are the founding principles of the system we built in 1945, and these are the principles we must restore.

And today I want to tell you how.

With the ideas we’ve hammered out in hundreds of conversations and debates all over Britain this last year.

And the cardinal principal is this, full employment first.

Full employment has always been the foundation for rebuilding Britain. It was for Atlee’s Labour, it was for New Labour, it will be for One Nation Labour.

The Tory system doesn’t work.

So we need a better way.

So let’s start with a tax on bankers bonuses’ to fund a job for every young person out of work long term.

But let’s go further.

Let’s take the ideas – like Apprenticeship Agencies, pioneered in Labour Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newham and Wales.

And use them to revolutionise the path from the classroom to the career.

But, let’s go further.

Let’s stop fighting unemployment with one hand tied behind our back.

Let’s deliver a large devolution of power from the DWP to local councils.

Let’s build a new partnership between our job centres and town halls.

Let councils shape the programmes to get people back to work.

And let’s go further; let’s set a limit on the time we’re prepared to let people languish out of work.

Let’s invest in jobs for anyone out of work for two years, but say it’s got to be a deal.

We’ll invest in new chances, but if you’re fit to work, we’ll insist you take it.

Full employment first, that’s the Labour way.

Conference, any job is better than no job. But a good job is better than a bad one.

When the welfare state was started, its big idea was to ‘minimise disruption to earnings’.

Now our task is different. It’s to ‘maximise potential of earnings’.

That why we need Universal Credit to work.

So if the government won’t act to save it, we will.

The Tories’ system may prove dead on arrival. So we need a better way.

So, today we announce our Universal Credit Rescue Committee.

And I’m grateful to Kieran Quinn, leader of Tameside, the first pathfinder, for his offer to drive our work.

But, we’ll need more.

We’ll need a campaign for the living wage because it is wrong that we are spending the nation’s tax credits propping up low pay at firms with rising profits.

The deal has got to be simple. If your workers help you do well, then you need to give them a pay rise.

We the Labour party stand as the party of work – and the party of better off in work.

But, listen, if we want a new consensus, we need to remember this: if working people are strong, then Britain is strong.

So we should help working people.

Yet, those born in the turbulent world of the 1960’s, pay so much in and get so little out.

It’s wrong and we should change it.

Those in their 50’s are the people who’ve worked most, cared most, served most. And what do they get?

I’ll tell you, nothing.

So let’s bring back an idea from Beveridge.

Extra help for those who’ve paid their dues but are desperate for extra help to work again.

After a lifetime’s working or caring, I think it’s the least we can do.

Conference it’s a modest step – but it’s a big signal.

But, there’s something more.

Like most families in this country, I know that disability can affect anyone.

Therefore it affects us all.

Yet, today disabled people are threatened by hate crime, by Atos and by the Bedroom Tax.

Today we deny disabled people peace of mind, a job, a home and care – and I tell you that is wrong.

We need to change it.

So we will change the law so hate crime against disabled people is treated like every other hate crime.

And I say to David Cameron, Atos are a disgrace, you should sack them and sack them now.

And yes Conference we say the Bedroom Tax should be axed and axed now and if David Cameron won’t drop this hated tax, then we will repeal it.

We’ll protect disabled people in Scotland and across the UK.

Conference, we need a system that delivers the right help to the right people.

So assessments have to stay.

But let’s take Andy Burnham’s idea of whole person care and ask why not bring together health, social care – and the back to work system into one comprehensive service.

That’s what Labour did in Australia.

Let’s see if we can learn from that here.

I’m delighted to announce that Jenny Macklin, a fine Labour politician and the architect of the system down under, is going to help us figure out how.

Conference, nearly 10 years ago many of you helped win a very tough by election.

For nearly a decade I’ve served the poorest constituency in Britain.

I know in power we will have difficult decisions to make.

And I passionately believe we judge our success not by the money we spend but the difference we make.

There is no moral credibility without financial viability.

That’s why we’ll cap social security spending.

But, full employment, fair pay, a return to Beveridge, rights a reality for disabled people, fair pensions not for some but for all.

These are our principles for rebuilding social security for new times.

More than 50 years ago, my hero Clement Attlee, a man with the best hair in Labour history, made his final broadcast to a war weary nation hungry to win the peace.

We call you, he said, to another great adventure, the adventure of civilisation, where all may help to create and share in an increasing material prosperity, free from the fear of want.

That’s the Labour way, that’s the Ed Miliband way, and that’s the way we’ll win.

Thank you.

Liam Byrne – 2013 Speech on Full Employment


Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Byrne to the IPPR North conference on 17th May 2013.

There are few better places than here, to speak about the task of rebuilding Britain as a country of full employment.

Today we meet under 10 miles from Jarrow, where I spent this morning.

The town from where families hungry for work set off on the road to Westminster.

Walking in hunger they still inspire us down the ages.

Today we meet in a city where once again it is the Labour movement, in trade unions, in constituency parties and in local government, that are once more leading the campaign for work.

The story of our fight for jobs is the genesis of our credo.

When Keir Hardie stood up in Parliament as the first Labour MP, he spoke to insist on the principle of work or maintenance.

‘Useful work for the unemployed’ was the call of our first manifesto.

And it is our call today.

Next year we mark a proud anniversary in our long struggle.

We mark seventy years since the famous white paper on employment policy.

The first white paper in which a national government accepted a national responsibility to build a country where everyone had a job.

Its virtue was not simply the determination written through its pages to never return to the Devil’s Decade of the 1930s.

Its achievement was greater than that.

Its achievement was to show us how countries can be rebuilt and can be renewed if and only if we put everyone back to work.

The story of this great declaration bears re-telling. It’s mother and father, so to speak, was the Beveridge Report.

The bold plan for a system of ‘all in’ social insurance.

It was swept off the shelves in 1942 to become the most popular White paper until the Profumo report published in the 1960s.

Sex and social security were never going to be a fair competition.

The Beveridge Report was published to a country that was hungry for a vision of just what it was we were fighting for: the victories in 1942 in North Africa, in Stalingrad, in Guadacanal had delivered us the ‘end of the beginning’.

Beveridge gave us that vision of what we were fighting for.

Atlee looked at the report, and said, for us, Beveridge means socialism.

And that is why the PLP was acutely worried that Churchill would to put off the job of preparing to turn ideas into action.

And so 70 years ago, the Parliamentary Labour Party decided to force the issue.

In the biggest Parliamentary revolt of the war, 97 MPs broke the whip, voted against the government and demanded that planning for the peace begin immediately.

In his speech, Jim Griffiths, later the first Minister for National Insurance, moved the rebel’s amendment and rested his case on the belief that we could never again return to the mass unemployment of the past.

“Our people have memories of what happened at the end of the last war”, he said. “Years in which never less than one million and sometimes two million and at one time three million of our people were allowed to rust on the streets”.

“That”, said Griffiths, “must never be allowed to happen again”.

And so, Churchill relented.

A Reconstruction Committee was formed dominated by Atlee and Bevin.

And after just two years the Committee produced its finest fruits. The 1944 White Paper on employment policy, replete with its famous first paragraph that henceforth:

“The Government accept as one of their primary aims and responsibilities the maintenance of a high and stable level of employment after the war”.

It set out the big levers that government would pull:

Trade policy – vital for an exporting nation; interest rates – to keep money at the right price; public investment and tax rates to make good any shortfalls in business investment or consumer demand, and crucially, special help for special areas, where old industries were in their sunset years but where new industries were yet to dawn.

When Bevin launched the white paper in the Commons he was very clear that as technical as the strategy might sound, this was a moral crusade.

Remembering some of the soldiers he had bid farewell as they sailed for the D-Day landings in Normandy, he told the Commons of one man of the 50th Division who had asked him this:

“Ernie, when we have done this job for you, are we going back to the dole?”

Both the Prime Minister and I answered, “No, you are not.”

“Unemployment”, said Bevin, “was and is a social disease, which must be eradicated from our social life”.

And so henceforth “Our monetary system, our commercial agreements, our industrial practices, indeed, the whole of our national economy, will have applied to them the acid test—do they produce employment or unemployment?”

When Labour went to the country in 1945, we argued that if we could achieve full employment then we could afford to rebuild Britain – and we could afford to build the welfare state.

In our manifesto ‘Let Us Face the Future’, we said a policy of ‘Jobs for all’ could pay for ‘Social Insurance against the rainy day’.

“There is no reason”, we argued, “why Britain should not afford such programmes but she will need full employment and the highest possible industrial efficiency in order to do so”.

The big insight of the Atlee government was this: in a fully employed society we could afford social security. We could afford to rebuild.

It was the same insight as New Labour. We knew back in 1997 that if we got our country back to work, we could afford to renew our public services.

Our insight is the same as Clem Atlee, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown.

If we restore our country to full employment, we can afford to rebuild; to address the biggest challenges of our times. Full employment has always been the foundation for rebuilding Britain.

It was for Atlee’s Labour.

It was for New Labour.

It will be for One Nation Labour.

Today the goal of full employment is important for a very simple reason. The faster we return to full employment, the faster we can pay down our debt, and the faster we can put the something for something back into social security.

The Tories’ problem is that they lost belief in full employment many years ago, and they never rediscovered it. This failure is now costing us not less, but more. And more money spent on unemployment means less for working people and less for care.

It wasn’t always like this.

Two years into Government, the Tory Chancellor, Rab Butler told the 1953 party conference:

“Those who talk about creating pools of unemployment should be thrown into them and made to swim”.

You don’t find Tories like Butler any more.

The old consensus about full employment is gone.

Mrs Thatcher’s death has provoked some debate about whether we are all Thatcherites now.

The Prime Minister himself does not seem sure. We can have less doubt about the Chancellor.

It seems pretty clear to me that he is, in Denis Healey’s words, just as much a sado-monetarist as Geoffrey Howe.

And in practice the Chancellor has shown by his action that he is a firm believer in those old nostrums of the 1930s, and 1980s and early 1990s, that unemployment is a price worth paying.

The Conservatives beat their retreat from the ideals of full employment in stages.

In Preston in 1974, Sir Keith Joseph declared he had been converted to ‘true Conservatism’ by the ideas set out six years before by Milton Friedman.

Friedman had set out the monetarist case in 1968 arguing the long term effect of trying to buy less unemployment with more inflation simply increased both.

Joseph did not argue that full employment per se created inflation but rather: “It is the means adopted by successive governments to achieve a high level of employment which are the cause of inflation. Instead of dealing with the real obstacles to fuller employment which are often very specific, governments try the panacea, the universal healer, excess demand”.

Jim Callaghan acknowledged the point in 1976 that, as Gordon Brown put it:

“Quite simply governments could not deliver growth and employment through a macro-policy designed to exploit a supposed short-term trade off between higher inflation and lower unemployment”.

Now, Joseph freely admitted that his prescription would create unemployment – but he at least acknowledged:

“There is no magic cure for these problems”, and that further, “In economics there is not and cannot be one cure. Economics is a matter of balance”. He argued too for “reform of employment services, re-training, mobility of labour, reform of housing policy”.

But no such balance was to moderate the disastrous policies of Mrs Thatcher’s first term: massive spending cuts, large tax rises and a big hike in interest rates.

In a year corporate profits fell 20 per cent, output fell six per cent, manufacturing fell 15 per cent and unemployment rose from 1.4 million to over two million.

It was a disaster. And it got worse. In the following two years, interest rates were cut, but public spending cuts were deep.

Unemployment grew for another five years. It did not peak until 1984.

Nigel Lawson tried to argue there was a logic to this cruel ‘British experiment’.

Macro-economic policy was targeting inflation, not growth and employment.

Micro-economic policy would target growth and employment, not inflation. It was a switch in the traditional roles played by each policy field since the war.

But it was an experiment badly conceived.

Macro-economic policy – both fiscal and monetary – targeted a bewildering array of moving targets – £M3, M1, M0, shadowing the D-Mark, and then joining the EMS – each in their turn, targets wildly missed.

Micro-economic policy meant simply laissez-faire.

The investment – public and private – deemed so important in the 1944 White Paper simply failed to materialise.

Investment backlogs grew, in industry, in infrastructure, in housing.

Bottle-necks got worse. Productivity flagged.

By the late 1980s, Britain was suffering once again from the old curse of rising unemployment and rising inflation.

Unemployment reached 3 million mark, so high that any notion of full employment felt well beyond reach.

Now, Mrs Thatcher liked to pretend this was all about economic efficiency.

When a young Tony Blair challenged her in October 1984, she claimed not only to have read the White Paper but to have a copy in her hand-bag.

In practice the Tories were not creating new economic dynamos but new economic deserts.

The decline in industrial output between 1979 and 1981 was unprecedented.

The balance of Rab Butler and the post-war Tory party was gone.

The Tory cabinet minister Ian Gow later put it like this:

“Belief in monetarism it emerged, was now a prerequisite not only for controlling inflation but for being a real Conservative….Those who resisted conversion and clung instead to traditional Tory principles were soon regarded as, at best, suspect infidels or, at worst, the enemy within”.

Today the Conservative Party is in the grip of the same dogma, and it’s costing us a fortune.

After the recessions of the 1980s, and then the 1990s, structural social security spending rose and rose after the end of each recession.

In the 1980s, from under two per cent of GDP before the recession, to three per cent thereafter.

In the 1990s, it rose from 3.5 per cent of GDP before the recession to 4.5 per cent thereafter.

The reason is simple. A generation were written off on incapacity benefit and never worked again.

Between 1979 and 1997, the number of people on incapacity benefits more than doubled.

Inactivity rates for men aged between 25 and 55 rose from under 10 per cent in 1975-6 to around 35 per cent in the mid-1990s.

Even today of the 10 per cent of most deprived districts in England, around 40 per cent are either ex-manufacturing or ex-mining areas.

The same challenge now afflicts us once again. The cost of social security system rose £24 billion during the crash.

But since then, it’s not come down. It’s carried on rising. It’s rising by 2 per cent a year.

That is simply unsustainable.

The Tories’ economic policy has failed so badly that the output gap is forecast to continue widening until 2014-15.

The Tories are reacting by taking an axe to the security in social security – and people know it.

They pay more in – and get less out.

It’s what Brendan Barber calls the ‘nothing for something’ problem.

I say we have to break out of this vicious circle.

Seventy years ago, we set out a new path to full employment.

And the lessons of 1944 are just as relevant today as they were for the post-war era.

The White Paper teaches us to be radical reformers, to build exports, supporting public investment, fanning consumer demand – and taking determined action on jobs.

When New Labour came to office in 1997, we set out a new approach.

In place of the pure and purely failing monetarism, came a new approach that:

Recognised that demand management was important but could not on its own deliver high and stable levels of employment; provided a new institutional framework for governing monetary policy including the independent Bank of England to replace the failed policy of target chasing; delivered active supply side policy – targeting productivity, competitiveness and active labour market policy – the new deal, tax credits, the national minimum wage – support for high levels of employment.

Contrary to Lawson’s neat but contrived seperation of macro policy to combat inflation and micro-policy to aid competitiveness, new Labour argued for “macroeconomic and microeconomic policy are both essential – working together – to growth and employment”.

And boy did we deliver.

In the decade before the crash, productivity employment and wages all grew together for the first time since records began.

Wages for workers in Britain rose for over a decade – an average of 3.4 per cent a year between 1997 and 2006.

By 2007 UK average wages were some 59 per cent ahead of where they were in 1997. Only two other OECD countries could match this record – Ireland and Australia.

The UK’s record was almost 20 points higher than the average for the Euro area.

In 2015, we’re going to inherit a very different country – Tories always leave higher unemployment.

So over the next few months, I want to say more about just how we raise the employment rate – raise it with five big steps.

First, tackling the crisis of youth unemployment. Nearly 40 per cent of those out of work today are under the age of 25. As the MP who represents the constituency with the highest youth unemployment in Britain, that is simply not a situation I am prepared to tolerate.

Second, tackling the crisis of long term unemployment, because we are simply not so rich that we can afford nearly one million people out of work for more than a year.

Third, raising the employment rate for women. As a country we will never fire on all cylinders when our employment rate for mothers with toddlers is amongst the lowest in the OECD.

Fourth, showing just how we can make the right to work a reality for disabled people once again.

And fifth, and this is what I want to touch on today – how make sure that in the One Nation economy we want to build, we do not leave any part of our country behind.

In his very first speech as Prime Minister, Tony Blair declared that concentrations of poverty and unemployment represent ‘the greatest challenge for any democratic government’.

This is the same challenge that Iain Duncan Smith saw when he went to Easterhouse.

Back in Easterhouse, Iain Duncan Smith set himself a test. He said:

“A nation that leaves its vulnerable behind, diminishes its own future.”

He found his echo in the Prime Minister, who said in 2007:

“A modern aspiration agenda means helping the have-nots to have something, and if we do not succeed in that mission then I tell you frankly that we will all be poorer”.

Iain Duncan Smith’s time in Easterhouse inspired his reform plans for the Work Programme and Universal Credit.

The challenge is that, however well-meaning, both programmes are failing and failing badly.

Three years into the Parliament, the Work Programme has proved literally worse than doing nothing.

Universal Credit is now so mired in problems its virtues are enjoyed by just 300 people in Tameside.

The challenge for welfare reformers is not whether you have nice ideas. It is whether you can make a difference.

I believe the jury is now in for Iain Duncan Smith.

He has failed the Easterhouse test.

On three-quarters of the estates in Britain where unemployment is highest, there are now more people out of work not less. Long term unemployment has risen in two-thirds of these places.

Iain Duncan Smith has failed the test he set out in Easterhouse because he has failed to understand the challenge that poor places now face in the 21st century.

Let me explain.

Back in the 1980s, old industries were destroyed – and almost nothing was done to offer workers a new future.

The great destruction of British industry – especially manufacturing and mining had huge consequences for jobs in places like the North East.

The aftershocks of that shock therapy are still felt today, two generations later.

Of the ten per cent most deprived districts in England, around 40 per cent are either ex-mining or manufacturing areas.

What happened during the 1980s was no great programme of re-skilling.

Instead a generation was written off, put on incapacity benefit without a thought for those former workers or the damage it would do to the aspirations of their children.

Yet this is what the 1944 White Paper taught us: that when the sun sets on old industries, you need big action to reskill, ‘to fit workers from declining industries for jobs in expanding industries’.

But we were contending with a revolution in globalisation. Big time.

Two years after unemployment peaked in 1984, I was sitting my exams.

That year Deng Xiaoping was Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ for the changes underway in China.

When I got to university in 1989, the Berlin wall came down, and a path opened to a united Europe of 500 million people.

A year later, Manmohan Singh was appointed Finance Minister of India and set about dismantling India’s ‘licence raj’, the vital precursor to its explosive growth a decade later.

By the time I graduated in 1992, President Clinton was in the White House, arm-wrestling through Congress a plan for the North American Free Trade Agreement and eventually a green light for China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation.

A century that began with revolution and world war ended with conscious decisions across ten years on four continents to create a global marketplace linking 6 billion of the world’s 7 billion people. It was a quite a fin de siècle.

Since this century began the commanding heights of the global economy have changed out of all recognition.

As Peter Nolan at Cambridge University has shown: since 2000, some 2,500 -billion mergers, worth in total some .4 trillion, have created a new global super-league.

A handful of firms now monopolise the aircraft industry, the world’s auto business, the world’s mobile telecoms infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, beer, cigarettes, aero-engines, computer chips, industrial gases, soft drink cans.

These giant firms often richer than nations now have the power to move jobs to wherever the skills are greatest or the wages lowest.

That means unskilled workers here in Britain compete with wages far lower elsewhere.

The ILO says low skilled wages in some of Britain’s competitors are 12 times lower here than in Britain.

That means there is simply not a lot of low skill work to go around.

The result? Over half of adults in Britain without skills are out of work. And that figure is going up not down.

Crucially, that means Britain’s poor places are falling behind. Why?

Because some of Britain’s poorest communities are home to five times more unskilled workers than Britain’s richest communities. This was the challenge Labour had to clear up.

During our time in office, Britain’s employment rate hit record highs; from 71 per cent of the population in 1998 up to 73 per cent in 2008.

This increase in the employment rate was coupled with a long-term shift in the number of British workers with skills.

Back in 1994, 22 per cent of the workforce had no qualifications. By 2005 this had fallen to 13 per cent.

Because we believed it was wrong to dismiss the future employment chances of disabled people, we introduced the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

We combined reform with investment in back to work programmes; the employment rate amongst those with disabilities rose by over ten per cent between 1997 and 2008.

Now of course we didn’t finish the job: there remained a gap between the national employment rate (72.4 per cent) and employment in our ten biggest cities (68.4 per cent). But at least we closed the gap.

This government is simply ignoring that lesson.

Even when the jobs are there, we’re not training the unemployed to do them.

In great regions like the North West or Yorkshire and Humber, business says they’ve skill shortages, yet we have unemployment way above the national average.

Yet, we knew this was going to happen.

The challenge of poor places and changing places isn’t new. It’s an old challenge.

It was crystal clear to inter-war politicians.

You know too the big challenges that poor places face.

How in many communities, we still grapple with the legacy of the ‘Right to Buy’ legislation of the 1980s, that often led concentrations of the poorest housing stock, where councils were forced to house the most disadvantaged households – often adults without skills.

In poor places, jam-packed like my own with aspirational people, problems multiply.

A low skills base, poor transport connections to work, brownfield land left unoccupied and limited private investment.

Yet, these places are packed with potential.

Over the last ten years, thinking about how to regenerate inner-city areas – in the UK and the US (especially under the Clinton Administration) – has been re-animated by fresh thinking which has explored the idea that inner-cities might actually have some competitive advantages and are in fact a ‘missed market’.

But to unlock that potential means we have put investment in people, and investment in places in the same place.

Unlocking that potential means coordinating skills, education, crime, worklessness, transport, physcial regeneration, health, housing, environmental sustainability, social regeneration, spatial planning, and economic development.

That’s complicated today.

And in fact if you try to do it from Whitehall, it’s impossible to do. We know – we tried.

In fact we had 36 different organisations, operating on four different levels: national, regional, sub-regional and local trying to coordinate this work.

We made progress. But it was no surprise that it was slow.

This is not a mistake that other countries make – they devolve far more to their regions.

It is in fact, something that people on both sides of the debate now agree with.

Lord Heseltine, the Rab Butler of his day, put it like this:

“We need to mobilise the skills of provincial England. I want to shove power out of Whitehall, into the provinces.”

Once upon time, Iain Duncan Smith agreed with him. Once upon a time he told his party conference:

“In the past, Conservative governments have been guilty of taking power away from local government to Whitehall. That was a mistake. We will reverse this process and restore to local councils the discretion to act according to the interests of the communities they serve.”

But it’s not happening.

The problem is that neither Vince Cable or Iain Duncan Smith believe Lord Hesetline. They are the new road-blocks to reform.

The result is our back to work system is hopelessly centralised. This is what the clear conclusion of Labour councils who are now leading the fight against youth unemployment.

That’s why I’m publishing today analysis of the way other countries work.

In Germany, a more localised approach has contributed to saving billions of Euros in welfare payments by driving up the employment rate. Jobcentres work closely with surrounding schools and have deep roots in the local labour market which allows them to engage with employers far beyond the traditional low skill, low pay sectors.

In Canada, localised delivery of back to work programmes gives local government the flexibility to establish their own priorities and to develop programmes to achieve this. Provinces and territories control how the funding is allocated in order to meet the needs of their particular labour markets, which in turn gives them the opportunity to apply local expertise to skills development, allocating targeted wage subsidies, and creating Job Creation Partnerships, to help provide useful work experience that leads to sustained employment.

Next year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the white paper on full employment.

I believe we should mark that anniversary not with empty words but with big plans.

Plans to rebuild the path to full employment for new times. Plans which could help us modernise our social security system, to rebuild trust, and crucially put its finances back on an even keel for the future.

Our economy not rebalancing

Despite the huge depreciation of our currency since 2007, our export growth has been anaemic.

Business investment is low.

Corporate tax cuts have now totalled £5.7 billion over the course of this parliament. Yet this great act of corporate welfare has not been repaid.

The cash is simply stacking up in corporate bank accounts. Our new Bank governor Mark Carney will recognise the phenomenon from Canada where he has attacked the curse of ‘dead money’.

The result is persistent, high unemployment. The result is OBR now downgrading the country’s trend rate of growth.

The result is that there is quite simply not enough work to go round.

And the government’s strategy is causing engine damage that may last for years to come.

That’s why we need a new plan. We need a new plan for growth. We need a new plan for jobs. And we need people to vote for it at the next election.

To win that vote we need to show how a new plan for full employment will help us pay down debt faster and with less risk by putting our social security system back on an even keel after the crash.

The people of Britain know we can’t go on like this.

And profound change is needed because life has changed since we created the system back in 1945.

People need different things from social security today.

I want to put the something for something back into the system. I want to put the system back on an even keel after the expense of the crash.

But I believe the lesson of our history is simple:

We can afford to do big things to repair and renew our country, to pay down our debt faster, to bring fairness back to the system if, and only if, we get people back to work.

Liam Byrne – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to Labour Party conference (delivered live via Skype from a Jobs Summit at Manchester College) on 1st October 2012.

Conference, let me apologise for not being with you in the hall right now.

But sometimes you have to strike a balance between argument and action – and when it comes to youth unemployment what we need right now is action.

So I’m here with Tony Lloyd at the fantastic Manchester College.

Where we’ve brought employers, colleges, business with apprenticeships, and hundreds of young people to see what we can do to get young people in this city into jobs.

And what I’ve heard this morning is just wrong.

It’s wrong that young women like Nazish have been out of work six months, desperate for a job or apprenticeship.

It’s wrong that young men like Colm who’s 23 have been out of work since July.

This is the economics of the madhouse.

You know our welfare is rising by £29 billion.

And yet people like Colm and Nazish and a million others just like them and hungry to work and are forced to stand idle.

Now as some of you know, I represent the constituency in Britain where youth unemployment is highest.

What I’ve realised is that the anger we feel about youth unemployment is the anger we feel when we see our values under attack.

We believe in the pride and dignity of work. That’s why we’re called the Labour Party.

We believe that we’re stronger when we pull together as a country. We don’t believe in the economics of you are on your own.

We believe in an economy that works for working people.

And we believe that when you see an injustice, you don’t just walk past it.

You roll up your sleeves and you do something about it.

Today every single one of those values is under attack and it’s our young people paying the price.

So we have to take a stand.

That’s why Labour are calling for a real jobs guarantee – paid for by sensible tax on bankers bonuses.

And, we have to organise the fightback.

We can’t and won’t stand on the sidelines and watch our young people take a kicking.

So today I’m very proud to launch our Youth Jobs Taskforce.

Just because we’re not in government doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference.

We run Wales, and London’s big boroughs and Britain’s big cities.

Right now it’s our councillors and local leaders who leading the charge for youth jobs: thinking, organising, making a difference to get young people work.

Today, these local leaders are coming together in a new coalition to galvanise action.

They are going to join forces with good people from our trade unions, from business, from enterprise, from civil society, and from our youth movement.

We want to make sure that the best ideas anywhere, become the way we do things everywhere.

We know how high the stakes have become.

The young people we serve are good people.

They don’t dress up in white tie and smash up restaurants.

And they don’t swear at policemen.

They are people who want to work hard and get on in life if only someone will let them.

And today we send an emphatic message: that we are on their side.

Let me just finish with a story.

You know Iain Duncan Smith likes to boast that he was once inspired in his reforming zeal to smash up the welfare state by what he saw in Easterhouse in Glasgow’s East End.

Well last week I too went to Easterhouse, together with the great Margaret Curran.

To meet a group of young people to talk about the future.

What they say inspires them, isn’t yet another Tory attack.

It’s investment in skills. In jobs. In chances.

Those young people are just like people we’re here with today.

They’re people who want to rebuild Britain.

And Labour is going to help them.

Because we’re the party that knows how futures are really built.

It’s built by people like those behind me here in Manchester today – and a million more like them all over the United Kingdom.

They might have a do-nothing Government.

But they’re going to have a do-what-it-takes Labour Party.

So thanks for listening.

I’ll let you know how we get on a bit later.

If you’d like to get involved in the taskforce, drop me a line: we’d love to have your help.

And I’ll catch up with you later this afternoon.

Liam Byrne – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Byrne to the Labour Party conference on 25th September 2011.


As we’ve gone around the country what’s become clear is that people are now seriously worried about what this Government is doing to their families, their communities and our country.

This week is our chance to point to a different way now – and different possibilities for the future.

That is the single aim of the Policy Review Ed Miliband has asked me to chair.

After last year’s defeat, the easiest thing in the world would have been for us to turn in on ourselves.

Gaze fondly, lovingly perhaps, at our navels.

Sit around in a comfort zone.

Argue amongst ourselves.

Let’s be honest. Some of us quite like that.

But under Ed Miliband, we have to do it differently.

We’ve picked ourselves up.

Dusted ourselves down.

And got straight back out there once more, talking to people, who we came into politics to serve…

About what we got right.

What we got wrong.

And how we need to change.

What we have decided to do is go for the prize that no-one has achieved in British politics for 35 years.

One-term opposition.

A party determined to bounce back from defeat and back into office where we know we can make a difference.

So I suppose I should give you the bad news.

I know what many will want this week is a detailed 5 year plan.

A new budget.

Sorted out down to the last pound and penny.

I know the hardest question I get on doorsteps in Hodge Hill is where’s the alternative? Where’s your plan? What would you do different?


The easiest thing in the world would have been to sit in a committee room in Westminster and write a new manifesto.

But I can tell you now, it wouldn’t have got us very far.

It wouldn’t have delivered one-term opposition.

Because we can’t revise our policy, or reorganise our party, until we reconnect with the public.

And that is what this first year of the Policy Review has been all about.

We’ve taken the simple view: that policy has to start with politics and politics starts with people.

And that is why we got back out there.

Back in touch with over a million men and women, party members and affiliates.

150 events.

6,000 local residents, coming along in person.

20,000 submissions pouring in to our HQ.

And it’s not always been easy has it?

You never quite know what you’re going to get.

I’ve been doing policy review door to door in Hodge Hill.

I won’t forget the man in Shard End, who I disturbed in the middle of his dinner.

He came to the door. Wiped clean his moustache.

And, how shall I put this?

He confined his remarks to two words; it began with F, it ended with F, and there were five letters in between.

I said, shall I put you down as against?

But whether the conversations have been hard or easy, we’ve had them.

People have been incredibly generous and personal in the stories they have shared.

They’ve told us about their daily struggles.

Their worries about balancing the bills.

Their hopes for their kids. At school. At college.

Their memories; their observations.

Loves. Hates.

But above all their common sense.

People haven’t pulled their punches.

They’ve given it to us straight.

They thought we grew out of touch.

They thought we got it wrong, on issues close to their heart.

On immigration. On welfare. On control of banks.

And that is why they’ve told us to change.

I know at times this has felt like an exercise in gratuitous masochism.

It isn’t.

We can leave that to George Osborne.

People don’t expect us to get everything right.

But they do expect us to learn from experience.

Their experience.

Because for most people in this country, things are different from 1997.

Life hasn’t stood still.

Times have moved on.

Challenges have changed.

What we have heard from people is that there is a new centre-ground in British politics.

It’s not a place that the party gets to pick.

The centre-ground is where voters say it is.

Our challenge now is to change and move in and say once more the centre-ground is our home-ground, and this is where we fight.

Everything I’ve seen of the Tories tells us that we should be bullish if we choose to change.

I think we can be a one-term opposition because of the people in the centre-ground; they’re under attack from a Conservative party, that is not on people’s side

You can’t pretend that you’re on people’s side if you cut jobs, and childcare and tax credits.

And damage people’s chances to work and pay the bills – or treat the kids – or take a holiday.

You’re not on people’s side when you curtail the chances for children.

And you’re not on people’s side if your idea of responsibility means firing 12,000 police officers, putting charities out of business and singling out as the people who need a tax cut, the bankers who got us into this mess in the first place.

So this week is our chance to show that we’re the ones who get it.

– That we’ve heard what people said.

– That we’re up for the challenge of change.

– That we are back on the side of the majority.

This week, we’ll set out what we’ve heard about how people want a different economy not run on the old rules but new rules with a welfare state that works once again for working people.

And we’ll say how we think change should begin.

We’ll say what we’ve heard about the next generation.

Remember education, education, education?

It was an expression of our aspiration for youngsters.

This week, we’ll say more about how we bring that aspiration back alive for new times – in education, in jobs, in housing.

We’ll say where we think change should begin.

We’ll say what we’ve heard about how good people in this country want to rebuild a responsible country, with rules that bite at the top, the bottom and at every point in between.

And we’ll say how we think change should begin.

So this first year is just a beginning.

We put first things first because we know that Oppositions that stay in opposition look inwards, and not out.

And that is why I’ve always said that my hope is that this policy review will change the way we make policy.

Not in committee rooms in Westminster.

But through conversation with the public, our members and affiliates.

I know we and I need to work harder to get these debates out of here.

So if you want me to come along and listen, wherever you are, I’d be delighted. Give me a ring.

Because over the next week and over the next year, we’ll begin to set out the new ideas we think are right for the future.

New ideas for the new centre-ground.

New ideas that reflect one simple philosophy.

That for most people in this country, politics is about the personal.

It’s about how you get on at work.

It’s about the safety of your community.

The education for your kids.

The care for your parents, your husband, your wife.

It’s having the chance to earn a better life, to get the good things in life, to live free of fear.

In other words, politics is about the most important things in the world.

In everything I read this year, no-one put it better, than a guy called Andrew, from Newcastle upon Tyne who wrote this:

“People want straight answers from politicians not avoidance or waffle. Talk like people, on the street, in the pubs, in the factories and offices and give straight honest answers. Try to make Britain a fair society.”

That’s our test.

So I think if we get the politics right; if we’re passionate about how politics can make a difference, then and only then will the right policy follow.

That’s the way we earn back the trust to serve.

Get that right – and we’ll win.