Ed Miliband – 2011 Speech to National Policy Forum


Below is the text of the speech made by Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, to the National Policy Forum on 25th June 2011.

We meet today thirteen months on from the General Election.

I am proud to be speaking to you in Labour Wales.

Labour Wales showing there is a practical alternative.

Where tuition fees are not being trebled.

Where the health service is not being broken up.

And where we have a Government with a vision for the future.

And what have we learnt about the Government back in Westminster?

After this week, I’ve lost count of the u-turns, the handbrake turns, and the three point turns:

– Forests

– School sport

– The NHS

– Sentencing

– And this week’s highlight? Circus animals.

I know David Cameron doesn’t do detai l, but for goodness sake.

They couldn’t even get their policy right on Nellie the elephant.

What a bunch of clowns.

These changes in direction show this Conservative-led Government is already losing its way.

But they show something else.

Why is it that David Cameron and this Government get themselves into these problems in the first place?

The answer is that they are reckless.

Reckless with the future of our young people.

The next generation on whom Britain depends.

From cuts to Surestart, to £9,000 tuition fees, to almost a million young people out of work.

Reckless too with the lives of families already struggling to get by; now seeing their household budgets squeezed ever tighter.

And reckless with what we value in our communities as well.

With our National Health Service.

With the local services on which people rely.

The home help, the meals on wheels, the drop in centre for the elderly.

And they are undermining the responsibility that is so vital.

Just in the last couple of weeks, cancer patients who have worked hard all their lives and paid into the system, have been told they will have their help cut.

Women in their 50s who have worked hard all their lives are now seeing their plans for a dignified retirement undermined.

What have we learnt about this Government?

They have no clear idea where they want to take our country.

They are reckless.

And the only thing they have to offer the British people is a deficit plan that goes too far and too fast.

Driven by dogma not sound economics.

Pessimism, austerity and no mission for the future.

That is this Government.

But you know, the next election won’t just be about the Tories.

It will be about us as much as them.

None of us should be in any doubt about the scale of the task in front of us.

To go from losing a majority at one election to regaining a majority at the next is something that no political party has achieved for a generation.

And the challenge is greater because our starting point is the aftermath of one of our heaviest election defeats.

During our thirteen years in office we did many great things.

We should be proud of all of them.

The new schools in our communities.

The hospitals we rebuilt.

The extra police officers, who helped cut crime by 43%.

The millions who got a job.

I will never turn my back on our record.

Britain did get better under Labour.

We also, though, must face up to the truth of what happened to us.

We are in opposition today, because in addition to the many good things we did, we also made mistakes.

Over the last nine months, we’ve gone out and listened to the country.

Our policy review hasn’t been focussed on what people are saying at Westminster, but on thousands of conversations with people right across Britain.

We’ve gone direct to the British people – some Labour supporters, others not.

And a lot of it wasn’t easy listening.

People were blunt with us.

You’ve all heard it.

Because week in week out, you are out there on the doorsteps.

Talking to people about their concerns.

You know they were livid about the banks.

Worried about the squeeze on their incomes.

Frustrated that their concerns on immigration were not addressed.

Angry when they thought some could work, but didn’t.

And you know we lost trust, including because of what happened in Iraq.

We must prevent this happening again.

And you know it’s not just about policy, it’s about the way we do politics too.

A party created by working people for working people lost touch with them.

We need to be honest about the way we operated as a party.

Because only by being honest can we rebuild.

We need to confront some hard truths.

And if we ever doubt why we need to do this, if you find what I say today difficult, think of the people in your communities suffering today as a result of this Conservative-led Government.

These truths may be uncomfortable for us; but life is more uncomfortable for the people we serve suffering under this Government.

It’s not their fault; it’s ours that we lost the last election.

We owe it to them not to shy away from any of the difficult changes we need to make.

And I want to say how we will build a party fit for the future.

Above all, my message is that Labour cannot hope that power will come automatically.

That all we need is one more heave.

We can only win if we change.

I became your Leader to change our country.

But to do that I know we need to change our party.

So that once again we are a party in touch w ith people.

Once again, the party standing up for a fairer country, for those who do the right thing, for the grafters.

So painful as it is, we need to understand how we got to this point.

In the 1980s, people in our party argued that for too long, we had been centralised, top-down and dominated by the leadership.

They argued for giving more powers to our members.

Some of it was right, some of it was wrong.

But one crucial element was missing: the connection between our party and the public.

As the leadership and the members slugged it out over policy, it was the British people that got left out.

Three election defeats followed.

New Labour got us back in touch with the hopes and aspirations of the British people.

It was right to change Clause 4.

We gained hundreds of thousands of members.

And millions of voters.

We won three elections.

But let’s be honest, the leadership believed its role was to protect the public from the party.

It never really believed the party could provide the connection to the British people.

And we didn’t build a genuine movement.

By the end, it was our party members that were trying to tell the leadership what people wanted it to hear.

You were telling us about immigration, about housing, and about the 10p tax.

But the leadership did not listen enough.

So we went from six people making decisions in a smoke-filled committee room in the 1980s to six people making the decisions from a sofa in Whitehall.

Old Labour forgot about the public.

New Labour forgot about the party.

And, by the time we left office, we had lost touch with both.

That wasn’t all.

We talked about the importance of solidarity and respect, but too often looked inwards, distracting us from the task of serving the country.

The internal squabbles damaged our reputation and distr acted us from the task of serving the country.

And some of our MPs let down our party too – because of what they did on expenses.

People expected higher standards of Labour, and rightly so, and that is why they were so disappointed.

We’ve got to change the way we work as a party.

We cannot go back to the 1980s, simply making decisions within our own four walls.

We’ve got to knock those walls down.

We need to build a party which is rooted in the lives of every community in this country.

Our consultation, Refounding Labour, only closed yesterday, but today I want to provide a down-payment on some of the ideas that I believe are necessary.

And there will be more to come in the weeks ahead.

The responsibility on our elected representatives needs to be clear.

The idea of Shadow Cabinet elections was supposed to be about accountability.

But it didn’t work out that way.

I have talked to some of our old hands in the party about this.

As they have told me, all it did when we were last in opposition was to force members of the Shadow Cabinet to look inwards not outwards.

Jockeying for position, spending months campaigning against colleagues, and organising to get elected.

All of this was a huge distraction and only emphasised differences.

If we are serious about moving on from the patterns of the past, and never returning to the factions that divided us, we cannot persist with this system.

That is why I am therefore proposing that in future the Shadow Cabinet should be chosen by me rather than the Parliamentary party.

I want us to be an alternative government.

The only election members of my Shadow Cabinet should be worrying about is the General Election.

Just like I want the focus of every party member to be on the public, so too it must be for my top team.

Just like the football manager picks his team, so it is right that I pick mine.

And I will keep in place a requirement to ensure that the proportion of women in the Shadow cabinet at least reflects the Parliamentary Labour Party.

We currently we do better than that and I want to keep it that way.

We will also set out a simple set of principles based on transparency, accountability and representation for all our local representatives too.

Many good Labour groups already do this, making sure local councillors serve their constituents to the best of their ability.

I want every one of our elected representatives to be the best: the most active, the most in touch with their communities, the most involved in the life of their local parties.

Second, policy-making has got to change.

Let me say it plainly.

This policy forum and party conference do not have sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of members.

Too often, they submit ideas with great enthusiasm, and never hear anything again.

That has to change.

But equally, we don’t simply need ideas from party members.

We need ideas that are based on real conversations with the public.

What can we learn from community organisations like London Citizens?

The best policy does not come from a few people locked in a room; it comes from conversations, on the doorstep, at the school gate, in our workplaces.

The living wage came from conversations among working people in America.

Or take the idea of safe havens, being pioneered in South London – shops, community centres, churches, places where young people worried about gun or knife violence can go and seek help.

This idea came out of conversations with those young people and their communities.

Much more of our policy needs to come from the everyday experiences of people.

So we do need more of a voice for party members.

But those we should hear the most, are those who do the most in their communities.

If local parties get enough support for a particular cause, it should be debated at the National Policy Forum or conference.

Here’s the offer: the more support from the public you get for your ideas, the more weight they will have.

I don’t promise all of them will become policy, but I do promise they will be taken seriously in a party that does policy in a different way.

And just as we need to change the way the policy forum works so too party conference.

In the 1980s, conference was just about us talking, sometimes fighting, with each other.

Let’s not romanticise the way policy was made: late night deals, thrashed out in locked meeting rooms by a handful of people.

A local party going into conference with a motion they wanted to debate and returning home, at best, with one word in someone else’s resolution.

It was no way to make policy.

By the 1990s conference had just become a rally fo r the leadership.

Neither is right for the 21st Century.

That is why I want members to have more of a voice.

But to those who want conference to have a greater role, it must be a two way street.

If we want conference to have more legitimacy inside the party with the leadership, the conference must be more legitimate in the way its decisions are made.

We can’t modernise our party and make it fit for the 21st century unless we look at the way conference works and that’s what we are going to do.

I also want to open up conference to the public.

We should reach out to the thousands of organisations of civil society.

Charities, pressure groups and community organisations should come and speak at our conference.

And members of the public should too.

Thirdly, we have fantastic local Labour parties.

Which make real change in our communities.

But we all know every local party could do more to reach out and we all know we’ve got to change.

Let’s confront the most difficult fact for all political parties.

I am so proud of our 65,000 new members since the general election.

I want tens of thousands more, if possible hundreds of thousands more.

But membership of political parties has been declining since the 1950s.

Only one voter in a hundred is a member of any of the three main political parties – a third of the level only 20 years ago.

So we have to find new ways to reach out to people as well.

Nearly three million ordinary men and women – we call them trade union levy payers – are linked to this party.

Nurses, call centre workers, engineers, shop workers.

We are unique in having that relationship with working people.

But for years we have done nothing to reach out to these men and women.

When did any of us see substantial numbers of them involved in our party?

All of that has to change.

Let me tell you.

Many of them did not vote for us at the last general election.

Every local Labour Party should be holding regular meetings open to them and make them genuinely part of our movement.

And we need to reach beyond union and party members.

A few years ago, Labour had a good idea: the supporters’ network, for people that didn’t want to be a fully paid up member of our party but wanted to be involved.

But this network was undermined because it was centralised.

Let’s congratulate those MPs and local parties, like Gisela Stuart in Birmingham Edgbaston and Andrew Smith in Oxford East who have, under their own steam, managed to sign up local supporters.

It’s not about undermining the membership offer, but it’s acknowledging the fact that many people aren’t by instinct joiners anymore; they are supporters and doers.

I want every local party to be able to sign up their strong supporters a nd then involve them in party activities.

And I believe that once those supporters know what we are about, many of them will want to join us.

Let me end with this thought.

I am determined we win the next election.

I am determined we are a one-term opposition.

I know where we need to take this country.

We need to uphold the promise of Britain that the next generation does better than the last.

We need to build a new economy that stops the rising inequality that we see between those at the top and the rest.

And we need to build communities where we look after each other and strengthen the responsibility that holds our society together.

But I know this also.

We cannot change Britain in the ways we want to unless we become a genuine movement again.

A movement that starts with party members

That reaches out to our supporters in the country.

That goes beyond them to new recruits.

Millions of people that argue our case up and down Britain.

We cannot do that either with central control from the top.

Or a party that looks inward to itself.

Let me be clear what my ambition is:

For Labour to be:

A cause not just a party.

A mission not just a programme

A movement not just a government.

Then, together, we can build the country people deserve.