Jeremy Corbyn – 2016 Speech to the Fabian New Year Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, to the Fabian New Year Conference on 16 January 2016.

The absence of fairness and the wish for more of it is what drives us into political activity. We want a fair treatment for all, a fairer society and a fairer world.

Fairness is easily to claim but hard to deliver. David Cameron makes the argument that cuts are fair because it is not fair to burden future generations with debt.

Superficially, a very compelling argument but how is cutting investment in, and opportunities for, tomorrow’s generation fair? It’s not. It’s deeply unfair.

And today’s young people are already paying the price:

The maintenance grant is being abolished – John McDonnell recently joined a demo against that – and nurses’ bursaries are being cut – Heidi Alexander joined the demo about that last week – housing is becoming less affordable whether as a renter or a buyer.

David Cameron is burdening today’s young adults with more debt than ever. Shackling them with a lifelong fetter on their ability to live independently, to rent or buy their own home, to start a family.

They don’t believe it’s fair but many people believe the economic crash means cuts have to be made. Not fair, but necessary.

That is our failure. Our failure to offer a convincing alternative to people who already agreed with us that it isn’t fair. How was it that we couldn’t make a convincing case that fairness was necessary?

Investing in our future, investment in new infrastructure, industries and jobs is guaranteeing fairness. Investing in housing, new railways, new digital infrastructure creates jobs, creates a social and economic return. Cutting investment, as this government has done, cuts opportunity and cuts fairness.

Fairness isn’t just an abstract morality that we claim; it is something we together – as Labour – have delivered over decades in Britain.

Labour governments only became possible when everyone had the vote; men and women, working class as well as the propertied classes. It was the labour movement, the trade unions, the Suffragettes and our Party that campaigned for that to happen.

Universal suffrage is inherently fair and we used its electoral force to create a fairer Britain.

Like Tony Benn said “Democracy transferred power from the wallet to the ballot. What people couldn’t afford for themselves, they could vote for instead”.

We are the party that created the institutions that built a fairer and more equal Britain: we founded the NHS established the safety net of social security we implemented comprehensive education we built council housing we created the Open University we instituted the Human Rights Act and the Equalities Act and the minimum wage.

And we are the party founded by trade unions – the organisations that deliver fairness in the workplace.

Anyone can wrap their policies in the language of ‘fairness’, it is only Labour that has delivered fairness through institutions and laws.

Today the Britain built by Labour fairness is under attack and we have to find new ways to institutionalise fairness in British society again.

Now, the very basis on which those victories were secured – the vote – is under attack.

Having narrowly won the general election, the Tories are now trying to rig the system to keep themselves in power, and weaken opposition both inside and outside parliament.

Late last year they drove through a new voter registration scheme that will slash the number of young and inner-city voters. And later this Parliament they will cut the number of parliamentary seats. The Conservatives are gerrymandering the electoral system to benefit themselves.

By directly attacking Labour’s funding through their trade union bill and by cutting public Short money support for opposition parties’ research, they are deliberately setting out to constrain democratic accountability.

Add to that their “gagging law”, which prevents charities, unions and thinktanks from taking part in political debate near election time.

Their threats to use the BBC’s charter renewal to hack away at its independence;

Their packing of the House of Lords with Tory peers; their moves to restrict the powers of local councils, it all adds up to a serious attack on democratic rights and freedoms.

Theirs is the party funded by hedge funds backed by a press owned by multi-millionaire or even billionaire tax avoiders

Their concept of fairness is of a very different order to ours. Fairness for only a few is not fairness, but privilege.

Hidden among the fake concern for ‘balancing the books’, is the same hoary old Tory ideology – to shrink the state, to shrink fairness.

Look at the floods – flood defence schemes up and down the country cut back because of a political ideology that says the state must be shrunk.

I saw the consequences of that. I met the families who had lost their personal possessions: their photos, children’s toys, family pets – in homes that now have the foul stench of sewage-polluted floodwater.

I met too with the councils who told us about flood defence schemes cancelled or left unfunded. I met with Environment Agency staff who complained about the cuts to their staffing. I met with Fire & Rescue Service personnel whose numbers have been cut and who still don’t have the statutory responsibility for floods that would mean they had the equipment and kit to better respond.

Just because the Tories are running the state into the ground, don’t think it’s our public services that are the problem.

This is the same Tory strategy – they did it with the railways – underfund it, make cuts, run the service down, then offer up privatisation as the solution.

Cynical dishonest and unfair.

It’s not just public services though they see only a limited role for the state because they want fairness limited too.

Their laissez-faire attitude to the steel industry could let a downturn become a death spiral in that sector. While other governments across Europe acted to protect their industry, the Tories let ours close, let jobs go, let communities suffer.

That is not the Labour way I’ve raised the issue with the Prime Minister, discussed it with the Chinese President and Chinese ministers and diplomats Labour brought together industry, unions, MPs and communities to try to find a solution.

I visited people in Scunthorpe they are proud of being a steel town, want to work and know how vital that industry is to their town’s prosperity.

Look across Europe and the support was there – in some cases they took their plants into public ownership to protect vital industry they offered schemes to help with energy costs and they have an industrial strategy and procurement strategies. They don’t let whole regions sink into decline.

Across Europe too – other countries’ investment in renewable energy leaves Britain languishing as one of the dirtiest, most polluting countries on this continent. This government is failing to invest in our future energy sources – its reckless negligence has seen the UK solar industry diminished.

But what is even more unfair is the inheritance it leaves our children – a polluted environment and a country without long-term energy security. That too is not the Labour way.

We are determined to build alliances across Europe for progressive reform to ensure the EU always works in people’s interests.

Labour backs Britain’s continued EU membership as the best framework for trade and co-operation in the 21st-century along with the protection of human rights through the European Convention.

But we need to make EU decision-making more accountable to its people put jobs and growth at the heart of European policy strengthen workers’ rights in a real social Europe, and end the pressure to privatise services.

Most of all, we want a Europe of solidarity that works together to address climate change that doesn’t pull the drawbridge up on free movement that acts together to tackle the refugee crisis, and the causes of refugees – and deals with disgraceful situation in Calais.

That’s the Europe that is possible and that Labour must work to deliver. I met last month with our sister parties to start to build those working relationships.

A fairer society – whether in Europe or in Britain – can only be built by working together and by enshrining fairness through institutions and laws.

This is about transforming our principles into practical policies – what Labour has always done when it has been successful.

It is guided by this practical fairness that Labour must move forward together.

I want to set out some of the ideas under discussion – policies to institutionalise fairness in Britain again:

We are committed to a publicly owned railway, to bring down fares and to get investment in a modern railway – which would be governed not remotely from Whitehall, but by passengers, rail workers and politicians, local and national.

To democratic control of energy, not as an end in itself, but to bring down costs and to transition to carbon-free energy. Do you know half of German energy suppliers are owned by local authorities, communities and small businesses? There are now over 180 German towns and cities taking over their local electricity grids, selling themselves cleaner, and cheaper, electricity they increasingly produce for themselves That is something we as Labour should want to emulate – and the most innovative Labour councils are starting to do so.

To integrate health and social care recognising that if you cut social care – as this government has done – then that has a negative impact on the NHS with fewer beds available and longer waits at A&E. If we fund prevention fairly through an integrated strategy, we can save money in the long run without undermining fairness.

Creating a lifelong education service, so that opportunity is available to all throughout our lives recognising that in the modern era we need to be able to re-train and re-skill our workforce as technology evolves, and industries change. Again this is in sharp contrast to this government’s unfair slashing of college funding and the adult education budget.

Universal childcare – so that we build on the great Labour legacy of Sure Start and the 15 hours free childcare that has supported so many young parents into work and provided high quality childcare so that all children have the best start in life.

In workplaces too we must ensure that fairness is hardwired the scandal of SportsDirect has shocked people. So as well as repealing the Tory Trade Union Act when it becomes law, we need a set of rights for all workers from day one to stop exploitation. It was Beatrice Webb who coined the term ‘collective bargaining’ – recognising that together we bargain, alone we beg.

But we need to go beyond that and ensure that everyone benefits when companies succeed. One proposal is pay ratios between top and bottom so that the rewards don’t just accrue to those at the top of the G7 nations only the US has greater income inequality than the UK pay inequality on this scale is neither necessary nor inevitable.

Another proposal would be to bar or restrict companies from distributing dividends until they pay all their workers the living wage. Only profitable employers will be paying dividends, if they depend on cheap labour for those profits then I think there is a question over whether that is a business model to which we should be turning a blind eye.

Too much of the proceeds of growth have accumulated to those at the top. Not only is this unfair, it actually holds back growth – as OECD research has found. A more equal society is not only fairer, it does better in terms of economic stability and wealth creation.

And a large-scale housebuilding programme – recognising the housing crisis that has been so recklessly exacerbated by this government we need homes that are for families not for investment portfolios. Our country cannot succeed unless everyone can live together in our towns and cities – the cleaner and the city trader the carer and the chief executive a new generation of council housing delivered by councils able to borrow prudentially.

These are all only suggestions. You – Labour Party members, affiliates and supporters – in this Hall and beyond. You will decide what our policies are policy made by small cliques in small rooms often only brings small returns.

The passion to change things, to make things better, is what drives us all. Labour needs to hear from all those fired by that passion.

Ed Miliband expanded the vote to elect the Leader – empowering members and supporters. I want to do the same with our policy-making. We all have ideas; we all have a vision for a fairer Britain and a fairer world.

Labour will be stronger and more in touch with our communities when it hears from its greatest strength our members, supporters and affiliates.

Our party is changing our membership has doubled since that defeat in May our party is in a process of regenerating – a difficult process of adjustment for us all at times – but a huge opportunity to breathe life into all sections of the party and draw on the collective wisdom of all.

Only Labour can offer a vision of a fairer Britain. Let’s work together to create and deliver that fairer Britain.

Thank you.