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14.10.13

Labour Party Conference 2013

Source: Public Sector Executive Sept/Oct 2013

Labour’s party conference urged British people – all people, rich and poor – to raise their aspirations and believe in a better society. Kate Ashley reports. 

Ed Miliband’s conference speech – delivered without notes once again – was welcomed by many as strong and decisive. He announced a populist freeze on energy prices until 2017, as well as a tax cut for small businesses – in reality a relatively small amount, but one that puts the emphasis on support for those who really need it at the expense of corporation tax breaks for all companies.

Conservatives responded to the energy policy with warnings of power cuts, and attempted to frame the move as short-termist. 

The Labour conference built on last year’s theme of ‘One Nation’, with an argument for social democracy and a Government that would intervene when markets do not work for consumers. 

“What happens when competition fails?” Miliband asked. “What happens when it just fails again and again and again? Then Government has to act.” 

Better Britain

In his keynote speech, the Labour leader reiterated that “Britain can do better than this,” drawing parallels to Reagan’s famously simple campaign tactic that asked voters if they thought they were better off than they were four years ago, or not, seeking to make the election primarily a referendum on the Coalition rather than a choice between competing visions for the future. 

“Are you satisfied with a country where people are working for longer for less, year after year?” he said. “Are you satisfied with a country divided losing touch with the things we value the most? Are you satisfied with a country that shuts out the voices of millions of ordinary people and listens only to the powerful? Are you satisfied with a country standing apart as two nations? 

“Well I am not satisfied. 

“We are Britain, we are better than this. And we have to rebuild anew One Nation. An economy built on your success, a society based on your values, a politics that hears your voice – rich and poor alike – accepting their responsibilities top each other. 

“One Nation, we are going to make it happen, and today I am going to tell you how.” 

Living standards 

Now that the economy is in tentative recovery, Labour instead advanced a new focus on the cost of living, seeking to highlight the ways in which Tory-led cuts are harming local people and services. “They used to say a rising tide lifts all boats, now the rising tide just seems to lift the yachts,” Miliband commented, warning against a “race to the bottom”. 

His speech pointed to poor figures around long-term employment, part-time work and low wages. 

Stricter spending 

The party also sought to reiterate the fact that Labour has learnt its lesson on spending – Miliband said: “We are going to have to stick to strict spending limits to get the deficit down. We are not going to be able to spend money we don’t have.” 

Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls warned against measures that would push up house prices without acting to increase the supply, something a number of industry commentators have raised concerns about. 

On the NHS, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham again pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act if Labour wins the next election. It’s an appeal to the many voters who are still smarting over the introduction of the legislation, and who are against greater competition and the possibility of privatisation at any cost. 

But critics pointed out that to repeal the Act now would cause more disorganisation, extending the time the health service needs to find some stable ground and move forwards.

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