Ed Miliband is the leader of the Labour Party and MP for Doncaster North
I am not a Conservative – so I was a bit surprised to be asked to write for ConservativeHome in this local and European election campaign. But I am delighted to do so because, having travelled the length and breadth of Britain over the past fortnight, I know people of all political persuasions are demanding to know whether any party can make life better from them.
Millions are caught in a sustained cost-of-living crisis where the great wealth of our nation has become separated from everyday family finances. So many are working harder and harder but feel they are slipping further and further behind. A few are getting the big rewards, but hardworking families face growing insecurity for themselves and worry what the future holds for their children. Inequality is rampant and the Promise of Britain, that the next generation should do better than the last, is being broken.
This is the defining issue of our age. It presents a challenge which cuts across whole continents and advanced economies around the world – from America to Australia – as well as different political parties here in Britain.
The means to overcome that challenge can, I believe, be found in a very British idea which was first expressed by Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative Prime Minister. That idea is One Nation. It is about a belief in binding our people together across divides of region, class and wealth; a politics which speaks for the interests of all not just a few; a country where everyone has a responsibility to play their part – and everyone has the chance to do so.
You do not need to go back to Disraeli to find a time when Conservatives believed in One Nation. Labour may have had lots of other reasons to disagree with them on a whole range of issues but – from Salisbury to Butler, to Macmillan and Heath – there were Conservatives who understood dynamic markets needed rules to ensure they worked in the public interest, who held dear the importance of nurturing institutions that brought people together, who sought to build an economy which works for the many not just a few.
When I look at the current leadership of the Conservative Party, however, I see politicians that have become detached from these values and unable to provide the answers to the problems of modern Britain.
In these elections for local councils and the European parliament on May 22, the Labour Party is showing it has answers with a campaign which is about real, hard-headed solutions to the problems which all of us – including conservatives – care about.
In the past few days, I have set out how I would deal with the problems caused by the severe shortage of homes. Not only does this mean rapidly increasing the rate of house-building so more people can fulfil their dream of home-ownership, but also helping councils give millions of families who rent privately the security they need with long term tenancies and more predictable rent increases.
That is a policy to help protect strong families rather than see them being forced to move away, take their children out of their schools, and leave their friends behind.
On Europe, I have set out a principled position to govern in the national interest and focus on what is best for Britain – to work within Europe to deliver real change. I recognise that people do not want more power transferred to Brussels so, in the unlikely event of such proposals being made, we would offer an in/out referendum. But I have also stated clearly that our priority is not a damaging and divisive debate about leaving which would risk three million British jobs and thousands of British businesses.
Instead, my priority is taking action here at home and in Europe to make people’s lives better with action on jobs, fairer rules on immigration to stop undercutting of wages, and combating tax avoidance. The Conservative Party, the party of Disraeli, has become too comfortable with talking up division between rich and poor, old and young, and north and south, and, yes, between Britain and Europe too.
Nor does UKIP offer any answers which would help families deal with the cost-of-living crisis. Withdrawing from Europe would destroy jobs, their plan for a flat tax would massively increase inequality, and they have said they want to charge people to see their GP.
I want to be Prime Minister of a One Nation Labour government which makes the big changes to ensure that, together, we can make hardworking Britain better off, rebuild our middle class and restore the link between our country’s prosperity and families’ finances.
I know there will be tough times and difficult decisions ahead for the next Labour government that will balance the books in the next Parliament. That is why I have been setting out a series of reforms that require determination to overcome big vested interests rather than big spending. These include:
- Improving vocational education and apprenticeships to equip our young people and our businesses with the skills they need to succeed;
- Restoring our great towns and cities as engines of growth across every region;
- Reforming the banks so that small firms can get the access to finance they need;
- Fixing broken markets such as energy so that the proper rules are in place to ensure competition works and families are not ripped off;
- Encouraging great British businesses to invest for the long term and help us build the high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy that can win the race to the top
- Banning exploitative practices which are a magnet for low-skill migration and undercut wages or conditions of workers already here.
And a One Nation Labour government will always seek to conserve and nurture what is best about Britain. Nowhere is this truer than in our National Health Service. This is an institution which serves us all and binds us all together as one nation: health care free at the point of use, for single every citizen of this country, where everyone is treated equally.
It is a great British achievement but is also one under threat. I am genuinely concerned about what our NHS would look like after another five years of this government. This week I set out new plans to improve services for patients, guaranteeing a same day GP appointment for anyone who needs one and within 48 hours or anyone who wants one. This will save hundreds of millions within the NHS by taking the pressure off hospital services and help ensure it there for the next generation as it was for ours.
I believe you meet the challenges facing politics and facing Britain with a programme of action, not posture. You do not have to be Labour or Conservative to help us turn our One Nation vision into reality – because it is about the decent values that our country has always held in common.
This article is the second in a series from party leaders about next Thursday’s elections.