Ed Miliband – 2013 Speech to Progress Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, at the Progress Conference on 11th May 2013.

Thank you for that kind reception.

But it is great to be here at Progress.

For nearly 20 years Progress has been an important forum for debate in our party, and it will to continue to provide that in the future.

That’s why I am proud to be here today.

We meet – as we always seem to – in the aftermath of the local elections.

And I want to start by congratulating all of you here who worked so hard for our Party.

Let’s take this opportunity to applaud the 291 newly-elected Labour councillors.

And let’s applaud the great success we had in the crucial battlegrounds of the next general election, places from Carlisle to Harlow to Hastings.

And if you will allow me, let’s applaud a One Nation Labour success: a new councillor in Witney Central, Laura Price, pushing David Cameron’s own Tories into third place.

This is a party moving forwards.

But what else did we learn from last week’s elections?

That the people of Britain have lost any confidence in this government’s ability to turn this country round.

But also that our Party has more to do to reach out to the people we need to win back.

That is clear from the results.

Being a one term opposition is about defying the historical odds.

But today I stand here convinced that not only can we win the general election.

If we do the right things and we have the right programme, the right policies, the right organisation – this general election is there to be won.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

To win we have to be clear about the ideas that will drive us to victory.

We will not win the election by saying that we were a good government and we just need to carry on where we left off.

Because the truth is that things have dramatically changed in the years since Progress was founded in the run up to our victory in 1997.

Progress helped make possible New Labour’s successes: rebuilding our schools and hospitals; lifting families out of poverty; creating Sure Start to give support to millions of young families; introducing the minimum wage.

I am proud of those achievements.

We should always be proud of those achievements.

But almost two decades on, many of the truths that underpinned that project – truths that appeared to be so self-evident back then – have been undermined.

That is what I heard as I went round the country during these local elections.

From Maidstone to Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

In our economy, our society and our politics the old certainties have broken down.

There was an old way of running the economy that saw financial services as the bedrock of our prosperity.

That what was good for the City of London would automatically be good for Britain too, just as long as government was there to redistribute the tax revenues.

It is no longer true.

In the way we live together in communities, there was an old certainty that globalisation and economic change would open up aspiration and benefit all.

For example, that ever-increasing diversity would automatically benefit the whole country and that should shape our view of immigration.

It no longer holds true.

And in our politics, there was an old certainty that we were in a world of predictable party politics, where the pendulum and the voters would always swing between Labour and Conservatives.

None of these certainties any longer hold.

And that changes what our party needs to do.

The first of those old certainties was shot to its core by the financial crash in 2008.

But it had been crumbling before then.

The reason I take a different view of our economy from the past is simple: it is clear now this economy is not working for most working people.

And the answer can’t be to go back to the world before the crash.

In our society, change has brought anxiety, winners and losers, and often people have felt left alone and isolated in the face of change.

It is not prejudice but real issues that have driven concerns about immigration.

About the pace of change.

With worries about jobs and livelihoods.

And about the integration of our communities.

If we go out and talk to people, we all hear it on the doorstep.

And in our politics, more and more people are turning away from the major parties.

More people who don’t vote.

And more people eligible to vote who have never voted at all.

That’s why I say our biggest opponent at the next election is not the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or UKIP, but the idea that nobody can make a difference.

These are uncomfortable truths for our Party.

But we ignore them at our peril.

Now, in the face of so many deep and profound challenges in our country, it is no wonder that the people of Britain are worried about our future.

Let me tell you, on the way back from Doncaster last Friday, having celebrated our Party’s victory over an Independent mayor, a construction worker in his forties came up to me on the train.

He said he had just one thing to say: that the country had no future.

No future for him.

No future for his friends.

No future for his son.

And that’s what he needed me to know.

It shows the gravity of people’s concern about what is happening.

He, and millions of people like him, just don’t believe we have an economy that works for them.

A society that they feel part of.

Or a politics that can answer these challenges.

Now, can the Government turn this around?

I think we can be pretty clear that the answer is no.

In this week of the Queen’s Speech, exactly three years after they stood together in the Downing Street Rose Garden, what do David Cameron and Nick Clegg really offer for our country?

Their economic plan has failed and they have run out of ideas – and the Queen’s Speech shows it.

They stand up for the wrong people – from the millionaires’ tax cut, to their U-turns on cigarette packaging and lobbying.

And they are hopelessly divided and cannot offer the leadership our country needs – and Europe shows that more than anything else.

What an extraordinary spectacle of a government that says it is relaxed about its own MPs voting against their own Queen’s Speech.

I know David Cameron is a man who likes to be known for a bit of relaxing, even chillaxing, but on this occasion, it beggars belief.

He’s not lying on the sofa, relaxed.

He’s hiding behind the sofa, too scared to confront his party and provide the leadership the country needs.

He’s weak and panicked and flailing around.

Because on this, as on so many issues, he has no answers to the challenges facing Britain in the future.

And why is he in this position?

Because he is being pushed around by his own backbenchers.

That’s the only reason he changed his mind in January on an in/out referendum.

It wasn’t about the national interest, it was simply about his party interest.

And it hasn’t even worked.

Because those backbenchers will keep coming back for more.

David Cameron may try to out Farage-Farage on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

But in all of our decisions we make, we will always stand up for the national interest.

And our national interest lies in staying in the EU.

And working for the changes that will make it work better for Britain.

It is wrong now to commit to an in/out referendum and have four years of uncertainty and a ‘closed for business’ sign above our country.

Of course people are frustrated about the EU, but in town centres across the country I heard loud and clear where people see the national interest, what people are most worried about: jobs, living standards, the fate of their small businesses.

One Nation Labour will not put them at risk.

It is One Nation Labour that will fight for our national interest.

Of course, we live in anxious times.

And it is understandable that people are looking for different answers.

But UKIP doesn’t have them.

It is a party of protest, not solutions.

And the Tories are fast turning from a party of government to a party of protest too —protest against each other.

Labour will succeed as a party of solutions addressing the challenges of 2015.

In the 1990s, Labour adapted to change.

So too today.

The policies for today will not be the same as those we put forward back then, or in 2005, or in 2010.

We are not going back.

Nor are we looking for false promises or easy answers.

We will have to pay the deficit down.

We cannot promise to reverse every cut.

And we will not just sit back and wait for the political pendulum to swing.

We will win by offering Britain a new direction: to rebuild together as a country, not fall apart.

That is what One Nation Labour is all about.

That’s why One Nation Labour is the modernising force in the Labour Party and in the country today.

It means a new economic plan.

A plan to turn Britain around.

When there is less money around.

This is the challenge the British people have set us.

I think of the young man in Long Eaton I met desperate for work, who couldn’t find work, and who hasn’t be able to for four years.

I think of the single parent I met in Lincoln.

She was working as an ambulance controller, desperate not to be stigmatised, struggling to make ends meet.

She wanted a government that understood.

I think of the market trader I met in Bristol desperate, as he told me, just for some hope.

What unites every person I met during the local election campaign is the sense that we are facing an economic crisis without end.

We will win the next general election by showing people that we have credible, real answers to that crisis.

And that is the mission we are on as a Party.

One Nation is not just the country we would like to be.

It is the only way we can succeed as an economy in the future.

It is based on this idea: wealth creation does not come simply from a few at the top.

All the lessons of our history, from the industrial revolution to the post-war reconstruction, are that we need a recovery made by the many.

The people who do the hours.

Who put in the shifts.

The people who are out at work before George Osborne’s curtains are open.

And come back after those curtains have already closed for the night.

And we are setting out how we do that.

Different from this government.

And different from the last Labour government too.

Training and apprenticeships for the forgotten 50 per cent of our young people, not just qualifications for those who go to university.

A banking system that serves the real economy, in particular small business, not businesses serving our banks.

An industrial policy based on long-term, durable wealth creation and innovation, not on the short-term, fast-buck.

Homes, schools, transport that we invest in, as the best route to growth, to create jobs and to enable people to play their part.

And understanding that we cannot have a recovery made by the many when living standards are falling year on year on year.

That might not keep the people in Downing Street awake at night.

But we know it is what keeps the people of this country awake at night.

That’s why we’d make different decisions on the tax system from this government and from our own past, like wanting a mansion tax to fund a 10p starting rate of tax.

And all this must be underpinned by credibility that we understand the next Labour government will not have money to spend like the last.

In our society, we are not dazzled by change.

But nor do we seek to re-create the past.

Take immigration.

It was controversial when I started giving speeches on immigration a year ago.

Immediately, people asked: is this a dog-whistle to prejudice?

Let me tell you: this Party must never make the mistake that any issue is a no-go area.

If the British people are talking about it, we must be talking about it too.

And we’ll always do it in a Labour way.

On immigration, I bow to no-one in my commitment to a diverse, multi-ethnic Britain.

It is one of things that makes our country great and more prosperous.

But immigration doesn’t just work for everyone automatically.

And we got it wrong in government.

Not just the policy.

But our failure to listen.

The pace of change does matter.

Integration – including learning English – is important.

And it’s about our economy too.

We should stop employers paying less than the minimum wage.

Crack down on recruitment agencies that only take people from overseas.

And say no to slum landlords who cram people into houses, leaving neighbours and communities with burdens simply too big to bear.

An agenda only we can champion.

Because we’re the party that believes in high standards for working people and not a race to the bottom in wages and conditions.

And just as we need rights and responsibilities when it comes to immigration, so too in social security.

Which is the only party in politics today that is actually going to tackle the chronic problem of 70,000 young people languishing on the dole for more than a year and 160,000 older people out of work for more than two years?

Only the Labour Party.

I think of the young people I met, like that young man in Long Eaton, desperately looking for work.

And the older person in Blackpool, who was so turned off politics because he thought no-one could help get him a job.

Only the Labour Party – with a compulsory jobs guarantee has anything to say to them.

For all their rhetoric about welfare reform, for all the cuts they’ve made, this government will be spending more on social security at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning.

Not because they’re generous.

But because they haven’t taken the action on the economy and they haven’t created the jobs we need to keep the social security bill down.

Rights and responsibilities are at the core of what we believe for our society.

Because One Nation is about everybody having opportunity and having a responsibility to play their part.

And that should go all the way to the top of society too.

From taxing the bankers’ bonuses for youth jobs to ensuring everyone pays their fair share of tax through the stamping out tax avoidance for individuals and the big corporations too.

Now, there is no greater challenge to the old certainties than when it comes to our politics.

Here, the only way forward for us is to understand why people have turned away from politics and seek to change it.

Power in Britain is far too centralised.

Local people don’t feel they have a say in the decisions that shape their lives.

That is why, as part of our Policy Review, we are absolutely committed to devolving power down.

Because the only way we can restore faith in politics is from the ground up.

And if you want to see what difference that can make, look at the fantastic 29 Labour councils committed to paying a living wage.

We need to devolve power not just in the country but in our party as well.

You know, the best campaigns I saw across Britain were the ones based on an open manifesto process, talking to people about their lives and about what they wanted to see, as we did in Lancashire.

Our pledges in that election were made by the many.

Based on 150,000 conversations on doorstep across all of Lancashire.

And, finally, the lesson for politicians is always we need to open up our politics.

In this campaign, as you know, I went to town centres across the country and stood on a pallet.

Reinventing the old-fashioned town meeting.

The way politics used to be done.

Not seeking the easy questions but answering the hard ones.

In a small way, it is a symbol of the need for us to open up our politics.

And it is a lesson for our party.

That we need to reach out to people.

Including people who are completely turned off politics.

In every area, the only way forward is use the talents of every person in the country.

A recovery made by the many.

A society in which everyone plays their part and accepts their responsibilities, all the way to the top.

And a politics to match.

But there’s one other thing that will win us the next general election.

And it’s not about policy.

It is what I used to say on that pallet in every town centre I went to.

We don’t just offer a different style of management.

We offer a different vision of the country.

Think about UKIP and what it is offering.

It is seeking to offer a patriotic story about Britain.

But it is not my patriotic story.

And it is not yours either.

Because it is insular.

Backward looking.

And it won’t meet the challenges of our age.

Just look what they say about rights for women and maternity leave.

They say employers shouldn’t hire women who want to have a child.

They are campaigning to scrap maternity pay.

And are against parental leave for working families.

We don’t like their story about our country.

And we have a much better one ourselves.

A sense of mission for the country.


Not exclusive.

Outward looking.

Not inward looking.

Optimistic about our future.

Not simply hankering back to the past.

There will be some people who say that a UKIP strategy or a Lynton Crosby strategy may just work.

Set one group of people against another.

Those in work against those out of work.

Those in the public sector against the private sector.

North against South.

I say it’s our job to show a different way forward.

Because we believe it.

And it is the only way our country can succeed.

One Nation is not just a slogan.

It is not a Labour idea or a Conservative idea.

It is a British idea.

A country that acknowledges the difficulties, accepts the anxieties, knows that times are going to be hard, but that is confident that change can come.

A country that knows that we work best when we work together.

That knows that we won the War and rebuilt after the War because of that vision.

A country where everybody is given the chance to play their part.

And everybody is expected to do so.

That’s what One Nation Labour stands for.

That’s the future I offer our country.

That’s the Britain we will rebuild together.