“I’m the only candidate who can unite our Party”
Speech on the choice of visions
Andy Burnham, Engine Hall, People’s History Museum, Manchester
17 August 2015
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From today, 610,000 people will begin to decide the future of the Labour Party and indeed the wider Labour movement.
It is a big decision and there has been no shortage of warnings in recent days about Labour at a crossroads.
Indeed, as a candidate in this race, it sometimes feels as if there are as many elder statesmen as there are registered supporters.
But, at a time like this, as Labour prepares to decide its future, as well as listening to voices of the present, we must also hear those from our past.
So this is the right place to be on a morning as important as this.
Upstairs here, there is a wonderful collection of banners.
If you take a walk through, you will quickly notice how one motto runs through them all.
Unity is strength.
If our forefathers and mothers could ask us to bear in mind one piece of advice right now, then surely it would be that.
It is the simple philosophy that has under-pinned our movement since it began.
This race has come to life and presented our members with a real choice.
I want to talk to you about the nature of that choice.
But, coming out of this contest, Labour must unite.
I can unite Labour and I want to tell you today how I plan to do it; to make us a strong opposition from the start and on a path to win in 2020.
As this race has developed, one thing has become very clear.
Our Party wants change. Real change.
It has lost patience with the timidity of modern politics, the spin and the soundbites.
Our members are fed up going to the doorsteps with nothing to say and hearing that same refrain coming back and back: “there’s no point, you’re all the same.”
They want a Labour vision they can believe in again, policies of real substance that are worth voting for, that will change lives, provide real answers to the worries people have.
I have no doubt now that this election will mark a break with the style of politics we’ve been running for the last 20 years. I feel sure it will bring real change.
That is a good thing as I started this contest saying how Labour couldn’t carry on as we are.
Our Party has lost its emotional bond with millions of people out there, even with people whose grandparents and great-grandparents marched under the banners displayed upstairs.
And the truth is this: the people haven’t drifted away from Labour; Labour has drifted away from them.
So the choice now is not between change or no change, but what kind of change do we want.
Is it change that has a reasonable prospect of uniting us, or is it change that might push us apart?
Is it change that will restore our prospects as a Party of Government or will it leave us as a Party of protest?
That is what this race has boiled down to and these are the questions people need to ask as they come to vote.
All four candidates have had important things to say but only two candidates have set out radical visions for our Party going forward.
People now need to decide which one they want.
But I want to make it clear today that, as Leader, I would want to embrace the important things that other candidates have said and build them into my vision.
Liz has put forward a radical agenda for the true devolution of power and that is something that this Party should now embrace.
Yvette has led on calls for Labour to revive the spirit of the “white heat of technology” and put ambitious plan for science at the heart of our industrial strategy.
Jeremy has brought real energy to this race.
I want to capture that and would involve Jeremy in my team from the outset.
I want the people who are drawn to his campaign — particularly young people — to help us rebuild our Party from the bottom up, to re-energise it, make it the People’s Party again.
I will invite all those 120,000 registered supporters to become full members.
I want Labour to rediscover true party democracy again, to involve its members in building a Labour programme that can win in 2020.
There is a good deal of common ground between Jeremy and I on some of the big ideas he has brought to this race.
On housing, one of the first announcements I made during this campaign was about my plans to tackle Britain’s housing crisis and set a new pledge for Labour to take into the next Election: a decent and affordable home for everyone to rent or own.
I want to trust our councils to borrow to build again and provide the homes their communities need, and Jeremy has said something similar.
We agree on the need for much tougher regulation of the private rented sector.
So, on housing, I believe there is real scope to develop an ambitious policy that commands broad support across the Party.
The same applies on the railways.
Jeremy and I share the belief, as voters of all parties do, that rail privatisation has been a disaster.
Our fragmented railways cost 40% more to run than other railways across Europe.
Subsidies have gone up, so have ticket prices, overcrowding is getting worse and customer satisfaction ratings are shockingly low.
As we saw when a public sector operator ran the East Coast Line, it provided a better service and returned a £1 billion surplus to the Treasury.
I don’t believe it is feasible to re-nationalise the railways at one fell swoop.
It would involve buying franchises off the private sector before they expire, compensating for lost profits of around £250m per year, diverting resources from other public services, such as schools or the NHS.
But my policy of bringing lines back under public control and ownership as franchises expire could again be one that binds together all parts of the Party.
There other area where this race has brought some welcome new thinking and big ideas is education.
All candidates have spoken eloquently about how hard it is for young people to get on in life and we have a Government which is systematically stripping away what little support remains for them.
Can we as a Party continue to stand by while our young people struggle as they start out in life with this millstone of debt on their backs?
This contest has brought a consensus that tuition fees should be scrapped and also that far more needs to be done to end the discrimination of young people who want a technical education.
Jeremy’s idea of a National Education Service to re-think how our education system supports people through life is something I could work with.
I don’t think we can just commit to making higher education free again, as university is usually a passport to higher earnings through life and it is right that people contribute. But we all benefit from a highly educated workforce so we should all contribute too.
Getting a fairer and more progressive funding system for higher and further education is something I will ask my Beveridge-style Commission to examine. It will consider how we can construct a new graduate tax that lets people pay over their lifetime and is fair across the generations.
So on housing, rail and education there is real scope for common ground on an ambitious new policy agenda for Labour coming out of this contest.
But that can’t be allowed to disguise the fact that there are some big difference between the two visions on offer and a very real choice before our Party.
The differences are substantial and in the most important areas of policy: on the EU, the economy and on public service reform.
Make no mistake: the choices Labour makes in these areas will define our prospects of success at the next Election.
Firstly, on the EU.
Let me put my cards on the table.
I am pro-European. Any Labour Party I lead will be so too.
Yes there are issues we need to address with the EU, particularly around immigration.
But I will address those things from a clear and positive position of wanting to remain in, not leaving it open as Jeremy has done.
We are one year out from what will be a defining referendum on Europe for politics in this country.
This is not the time for equivocation.
Even to entertain the notion that Labour could campaign for Britain to leave the EU is a dangerous position to be in.
On an issue of such vital importance for jobs, for economic security, and for Britain’s influence in an increasingly unpredictable world, we need to be clear where stand.
And we need to take the fight to a divided Tory Party putting its own internal politics on this issue before the national interest.
Second, the economy.
The lesson we must learn from the last Leadership election and what followed is that we must win the argument on the economy early on in this Parliament.
That means properly defending Labour’s record, whilst conceding where we got it wrong.
But, crucially, it means having a credible plan for the public finances and the deficit.
The lack of trust in the economy was the single most important reason why we lost the Election and we can’t forget that.
Yes we need a genuine alternative to Osborne’s punishing austerity. The notion that we bring down the deficit almost exclusively from public spending cuts needs to be rejected. It is harming the lives of very vulnerable people and destroying the fabric of our services and communities.
But that is not the same as saying the deficit doesn’t matter. It does.
I don’t see how renationalisation of utilities could be considered a priority for public spending at a time when people’s tax credits are being cut, nor how printing money to pay for infrastructure will help restore the trust we have lost on the economy.
My worry is that policies like these would leave us open to losing the argument on the economy on day one.
Thirdly, public services.
I think there is growing feeling that the way we provide services is simply not sustainable.
In this context, Labour risks looking out of touch if it reaches for old, top-down solutions.
Instead, Labour needs to face up to the need for the radical re-shaping of the state based on true devolution to the local level.
I don’t think George Osborne’s plans for mayors and new bodies at regional level go anywhere near far enough.
Instead, I believe we need to start with individual councils and give them much greater control over the budget for public services so that they can develop imaginative new answers.
This was what I proposed in the last Parliament with my plan for asking councils to commission with a single budget for health and care.
But, building on what Liz Kendall has been saying, I think we could go much further.
I want to reinvigorate local democracy and put key areas of public spending in the hands of local councils, including the DWP budget.
The success of local employment programmes compared to the limitations of Job Centre Plus and, even worse, the Work Programme, is stark.
Localised employment support convened by local authorities, bringing together employers, community groups and colleges with a detailed knowledge of who needs most help are much more effective, and no more expensive, than the tick-box, top-down, dehumanising DWP approach.
A lot of the money we spend on Job Centre Plus seems to go into deciding who should be punished and sanctioned rather than helping people get a job.
Just think of the potential of a system where local communities are empowered to help each other into work.
Where adult education, housing support, health services, childcare and employment are brought together in one package.
Labour can’t hark back to 70s or 80s style solutions but instead needs to open its mind to radical ideas of this kind that could reinvigorate our democracy at a local level and lift the lives of millions.
So on the biggest issues of all — on the EU, the economy and public services — there is now a real choice before our Party.
And the way we choose to go will define us as a political force in the rest of this century.
Coming out of this contest, there is a real risk of division and that is why I am presenting my vision today as the only one that can unite our party.
And I believe I am the person who can unite us too.
I was accused early in this race of wanting to put the Party first. And you know what — I admit it — I have done that all my life. Why? Because unity is strength.
If we all put the Party first, then that way we can be a strong force that stands up for people and changes the country for the better.
I have been an MP 14 years and am proud to say I have never broken a Labour whip.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t had differences with our party’s position on certain issues. I have.
But I have always sought to raise my concerns in the right way — behind closed doors — so that we can be a united force in the public arena.
I could have resigned from the Shadow Cabinet over the Welfare Bill, and won this contest.
But that wouldn’t have been me and I want to win this by being true to myself.
So I put the Party first again.
And because of the way I have always done my politics, I believe I am the only person who can unite this Party coming out of this contest.
On September 13, I will be able to turn round to all Labour MPs and ask them to show to me the same loyalty that I have always given to them — starting with opposing the Tories’ Welfare Bill.
I won’t let our Party repeat the history of the early 1980s, when we were more interested in fighting each other and we left the pitch clear for Margaret Thatcher to bulldoze her way through Labour communities up and down the country.
I won’t let those Bullingdon Boys — the heirs to Thatcher — do the same to people in 2015 as she did in 1985.
That was the year I joined Labour here in the North West. I have given my life to it ever since.
I am now fighting to win this contest with everything I’ve got because the very future of our Party hangs in the balance.
To read more of Andy’s plans, visit www.andy4leader.co.uk/manifesto.