Our country stands at a crossroads. The Tory government has shown what it offers working people – tax hikes for pie in the sky plans. The Labour path is the promise of a better, brighter, more secure and more prosperous future.
I’m clear-eyed about what that future looks like and how we will achieve it. It is one where a modern, efficient government works in partnership with a brilliant, innovative private sector to create jobs people are proud of. One where you can expect better pay, more flexibility, and greater opportunities to get on. One where the great challenge of our era – climate change – is tackled head-on, but also seen as an opportunity to bring quality jobs to our shores. It’s one where we raise our expectations of public services and how they serve the people that use them. Technology has already revolutionised how we shop: we should be ambitious for how it can change our health outcomes and our kids’ education.
During the pandemic we’ve seen that when people pull together, they can achieve remarkable things. Community-level efforts kept neighbours safe. Businesses, scientists and the NHS vaccinated the country. We’ve seen that when it comes to building a safer, better, more prosperous Britain, we all have a part to play.
Our opponents don’t grasp this. Their politics is about dividing people, whether by breaking up our country or stoking tensions between different groups. Theirs is a road to nowhere. Labour would strengthen the ties that bind us together – family, community, the union. You cannot do any of this without accepting that place matters: that when people are forced to move hundreds of miles just to find good work or are priced out of a decent house or are the victim of antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhoods, those bonds are weakened.
As restrictions lifted this summer, I was able to take these ideas directly to people. While I travelled the length and breadth of the country, I began to capture the conversations I was having. Eventually these scribblings grew into the essay I am publishing today. It captures the great optimism and hope I feel about the road ahead. The British people are just as resilient, tough and fiercely independent as ever before. But a new country is emerging and with it an appetite for change. Some of that is new, based on our changing demographics and sense of who we are. But it is also rooted in traditional ideas: that people should be rewarded for what they put in, that workers are owed a better deal, that people deserve a fair crack at life, regardless of where they come from.
I believe the role of government is to give every person, every community and every business the tools they need to contribute to our success. That means that under the next Labour government, hard-working people won’t see their pay packets pinched with endless tax rises. Good employers will be celebrated and supported. The key workers who got us through the pandemic will get a pay rise, not just a round of applause. We will lead by example, restoring trust and decency in politics.
I call this a contribution society, where we all have a part to play, one in which we recognise the value of family, community, every person and every business; and their ability to contribute to the country’s success. With Labour everyone will have the opportunity to contribute; and everyone will be valued.
This also means giving people and local communities the chance to control their own future. Not just because it’s right – but because it works. Throughout the pandemic, local systems to counter the spread of Covid were far more efficient and effective than the national test-and-trace system that wasted tens of billions of pounds of taxpayer money. This failure is emblematic of a country where decisions are too often made in offices in Whitehall rather than with the consent of people across the country.
The central promise of Brexit – to give people control – has been broken. The future must be about rethinking where power lies – driving it out of the sclerotic and wasteful parts of our centralised system and into the hands of communities across the land. Corruption, waste and falling standards will no longer be met with a shrug but with us putting our collective shoulders to the wheel to fulfil this country’s great potential.
The Labour future will be about providing security and opportunity to the working people that make up the backbone of our country. For too long, opportunity has been spread unequally. The wealth of a child’s parents goes a long way to determining their life chances. Quality jobs have disappeared from swathes of the country and not been properly replaced. People haven’t been able to fulfil their potential. That must change. But you can only reach for opportunities if you stand on solid foundations. That’s why it’s so important that people have security at work, in the home and in the communities they live in. Education must equip young people with the tools they need for the future. Our health system must be able to promote good health and prevent problems in our changing population – including mental as well as physical health.
This is a huge moment for Britain. But our politics is small. It is increasingly clear that whether it’s making the most of our departure from the EU or improving the lives of working people, this government has only one mode: talk a lot, deliver little. It will be a tragedy if Britain sleepwalks into another decade of missed opportunities because the Tories don’t understand the size of the challenge.
The next election will not be far away. The road ahead will not always be easy. But if we take it together, it will be a chance to change the direction of our country. Prioritising security, opportunity and a society based on everyone’s contribution can take us to a wonderful destination: a better Britain for working people.
• Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour party and MP for Holborn and St Pancras