What is One Nation Labour?

by Peter Watt

One Nation Labour, what exactly is it?  Well according to Ed Miliband on the Labour party website:

“Today, our country risks becoming two nations, with a million young people out of work, the gap between the richest and everyone else getting worse, and hard work not rewarded.  My core belief is in leaving this country a better place than I found it, and that when people join together, we can overcome any odds. We did it during the second world war and we did it when rebuilding the country afterwards. That is the spirit Britain needs today.”

I have quite a bit of sympathy for this.  We certainly needed to refresh our thinking and move on from new Labour which for much of the public had become tainted by ‘spin’.  With the Tories appearing to lack any sort of central purpose or vision other than deficit reduction, it was good to see the Labour Party trying to develop a fresh single organising thought.  The Party wanted a new sense of purpose and Ed’s espousal of One Nation Labour seemed really promising.

Over the last few months there has been some welcome associated rhetoric around challenging vested interests that threaten the living conditions of hardworking families.  So energy companies are challenged to reduce their prices.  Payday lenders are rightly targeted and there is talk of giving local people a bigger say in shaping their high-streets (I’m not quite sure what this means but I think if I did that I would support it!).  Certainly banks and some bankers had become greedy and there is a tiny percentage of the population that has got very rich and who seem very good at avoiding paying tax.  So far so good for ONL.

But then I get a little sceptical.  Firstly there is the fact that the One Nation rhetoric actually seems to divide the nation into three nations.  Of course there is the really rich ‘nation’ that Labour has a lot to say about; and it generally seems to be about taxing them and their bonuses more and then spending the receipts several times.  Then there is the really poor ‘nation’ who need support that Labour has a lot to say about; and it generally seems to involve opposing any reform of the welfare system.  And finally there is the everyone else ‘nation’ – the hard working lot that, as Ed points out, are not being rewarded very well and who feel a bit let down and put-upon.  And One Nation Labour doesn’t actually seem to say much about them at all.

And then there is this whole issue of challenging vested interests; of stepping in ‘when capitalism clearly isn’t working’ for families already struggling.  So banks, energy companies, pay day lenders and so on are all in the firing line.

But what about those other vested interests that damage families?  Like when the NHS lets people down by giving really poor care and that allows thousands to die neglected on its wards.  Or when schools let down children by allowing them to fail too easily.  Or when the transport unions close parts of the transport network impacting hundreds of thousands of people.  It seems that One Nation Labour is only interested in challenging vested interests selectively.  Yes to challenging capitalism but not to challenging the essential public services that are virtual monopolies or those trade unions who abuse their power.

I also object to the implied, and occasionally explicitly stated, notion that everything before One Nation Labour was rubbish.  The sense that we have had decades of failing capitalism that has let people down, all overseen by a succession of governments that have either not noticed or that have wilfully conspired.  That is until the world and what went before all changed in the financial crash of 2008 and the seeds of One Nation Labour were sown.  Just look again at the Ed quote above:

“My core belief is in leaving this country a better place than I found it, and that when people join together, we can overcome any odds. We did it during the second world war and we did it when rebuilding the country afterwards. That is the spirit Britain needs today.”

So after thirteen years of Labour government we need the spirit of the second world war to help us rebuild Britain?  Or perhaps the damage was done before then because it can’t all have been done since 2010.  So the decades of increasing wealth; the rising standards in education and the longer lives lived; historic reforms like the Open University or a raft of equalities legislation and the national minimum wage to name but a few are all but discounted by the year zero of One Nation Labour.

And finally there is authenticity question.  As I have said, new Labour came to be associated with the superficiality of spin.  In fact many voters are increasingly turned off from politics generally by what they see as a system that is self-interested and by politicians who will say anything to get elected.  So when Ed stands up and talks tough on immigration for instance, saying that he understands people’s concerns he looks inauthentic.  He does not sound tough, he sounds like he is saying something that he doesn’t believe in in order to address an issue of concern for voters.

The authentic thing to do would have been to say “I know many of you don’t agree with me but I think that immigration has been and is good for the country.”  He could still have talked about supporting communities that are changing rapidly or of celebrating traditional local institutions.  And it would have been a tough but authentic message.  But he didn’t; and so he undermined his authenticity and that of One Nation Labour.

So I welcome the fact that Labour is trying to develop a refreshed purpose that is fit for a post-crash world.  But I guess that I’m just not as convinced that One Nation Labour is yet the great leap forward that I’d hoped for.

But like One Nation Labour I am an optimist at heart.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party

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9 Responses to “What is One Nation Labour?”

  1. Nick says:

    My core belief is in leaving this country a better place than I found it



    The pensions debt went up by 736 bn a year (ONS figures).

    Not that you would know.

    Inspired by Bernie Madoff, for the same reason, its hidden off the books.

  2. swatantra says:

    Historically geographically and politicallly the UK is not a ‘One Nation’. It is in fact a ‘Commonwealth’. So EdM is barking up the wrong tree. We only come together at times of crisis like a threatened invasion as in WW2, otherwise there is no bond.
    Historically England is still the dominating power, dominating over the Principallity of Wales and the Former Colony of Ireland and the Rebellious Scots, the North Britons Geographically Road Rail Air and Water travel does not really bring us any closer together and still presents a hindrance to peope travelling across the length and breadth of the Countries; some people would you believe have never been to London. And politically the SE and London belong to the Conservative Parties, the NE and NW to Labour, and the SW to the Lib Dems and Can’t make their minds up Independents. And Scotland to the Scots and Wales to the Welsh.
    In fact the SW gives the clue as to why we should have Regional or Federal Structure for the UK or the British Isles. So tear up the Unwritten Constitution and devolve power to the Regions, and let them get on with doing what is best for them. But for the Defence the Isles and a fairer distribution of ‘wealth’ and the relief of poverty, let us have a Commonwealth.

  3. aragon says:

    Ed is not credible on immigration because he has supported and advocated open door immigration and making immigration work for everyone, is a fantasy. As you suggest he appears still to favour mass immigration. (A policy I have always opposed).

    Your authentic message on immigration would go down like a lead balloon, but it is the position associated with Ed in any case.

    We need to leave the EU not only to get control over our own immigration but to get control over our own destiny and escape the neo-liberal club.

    Ed is simply too weak and too shallow, he does not address the fundamentals. His analysis is superficial and his solutions amount to tinkering.

    He will not take bold action when policies are presented to him, look at his hesitancy when it comes to the living wage becoming the minimum wage. He has a weak economic model based upon a small Keynesian stimulus.

    And immigration is partly the reason why wages have stagnated, as well as Government policy.

    He does not have the substance or vision to match his one nation rhetoric. The two Ed’s are Gordon Brown and Tony Blair was a Thatcherite.

    New Labour, aka Tories Lite, did not achieve much for ordinary people, a boom fueled by debt where inequalities grew, no houses were built no investments take place and the management of decline continued was Brown) fiddled with the benefit system, making it generous only to children.

    What are the vested interests that all children to fail too easily at school, could it be the knowledge that their are no jobs. Could this impact on the moral of the Teachers and pupils. Mass unemployment offers no future to the poor, no prospect of work and self esteem..

    And what about the obsession with money in the NHS and targets; managers been measured on outcomes other than clinical performance. When PFI, outsourcing and emphasis on finance lead to understaffing.

    The transport system, privatised, fragmented and used to extract monopoly rents (subsidies) from the Government. Ed’s solution, controls on fare increases not rejection of the franchise system.

    Housing well I expect the two Ed’s to flunk this one too, even though now they have let millions of immigrants into the country to add to demand the need is great and the benefits opf proceeding clear.

    On Banking well Ed Balls has a track record that is not to be envied and does not understand the fundamental problems, and Ed Miliband is no help.

    The two Ed’s and too superficial and two incremental, they do not have a clear understanding of the issues and a clear purpose in resolving the problems.

    The trouble with One Nation Labour is that the two Ed’s are not authentic and not up to then job. But then it was their turn.

    There is a common thread but I don’t expect people to identify it, including the two Ed’s

    So ignore the rhetoric, it is incremental and insignificant change from the Blair/Brown years. Britain will remain safe for the rich and leave the rest to their fate.

    So much for representative democracy.


    I am just a party member.

  4. David says:

    Spot on. “I know many of you don’t agree with me but I think that immigration has been and is good for the country.”

    He could go on to acknowledge that some people have taken advantage and that our policies would seek to identify abuse of the system and root it out. And sound as though he was meaning it, rather than just a sop.

    Much the same with welfare really. Don’t believe the Tories that the majority are shirkers but rather real people needing real help but lets acknowledge that there is abuse of the system that needs to be dealt with. And acknowledge that there is a limit to what the state can (and should) do. Nothing wrong with a welfare cap that says if we are helping you it can’t be by giving you more than hard working individuals can earn themselves on average. And it may only be a small minority of people who get large houses in expensive areas paid for – but why ever give them one in the first place. Are we mad?

    Rents are too high and are much the cause of the high level of welfare spending but how much of a premium is there on rents because of the state’s willingness to pay ridiculously high rents in the first place.

    And what is it that is stopping house building? Lets get specific here and spell out in detail how we are going to build X number of houses in Y years. How about a manifesto commitment to do just that? Is it beyond Labour to commit that in a full 5 year term a Minimum of X thousand council houses will be built?

    But you are right because of the waffle too many people who would be natural labour supporters just don’t believe they will address the inequalities that exist – even if things are not as bad as the tories would have everyone believe.

    But the trouble with talking about “one nation labour” (and not forgetting “the big society” tosh as well) is that it is not specific, its warm and nice and altruistic and it loses the listener/reader far too quickly because they just don’t know what it would mean in practice and how it will affect them and what they are expected to do to contribute to make it come about.

    Maybe it is just me of course, because espousers of both big ideas, to give them their due, they always make clear that they have always been clear on this and if their meaning isn’t getting through it is just a communication problem because absolute transparency and fairness is at the heart of everything and just to be absolutely clear it means that we will not be like the other lot who are in the pockets of big business/trade unions and other vested interests and lobby groups and we came into politics to make a difference rather than the other lot who are there to help their friends.

    UKIP is a problem. I suspect a number of them are racist and fruitcakes, but not the vast majority. But because they have been articulating clear policies that appeal to a lot of people they are gaining support. And not just from disaffected Tories either. I can see the next election resulting in a hung parliament again, with a coalition government and the question is will it be labour or tory led?

    At the moment I can see the advantages lie with the tories who will claim some successes, gloss over their failures and promise a better future and say after all the hardship – why risk change? What are labour offering? Time is running out to start clearly articulating the policies and making them believable.

  5. Ex-Labour says:


    Lets put this to bed before I carry on….”when capitalism clearly isn’t working’ for families already struggling…….energy companies……..are all in the firing line”

    This statement couln’t be further from the truth. Our energy bills and energy poverty are a real issue precisely because the Labour government at the behest of looney green eco-warriors interfered with the markets. The Climate Change Act introduced by Labour has been a complete disaster for the consumer with some 20% of our bills being used to subsidise government and EU policies brought into law by these eco-loons and doomsters who have no interest except to reverse any progress society has made in the last 150 years and drive us back to a subsistance economy.

    As for “One Nation” its about as meaningful as “Big Society”. Politicians trying to convey some form of sentiment without any real policy. Cameron seems to have let the big society mantra die off, but Ed plods on merrily as if he feels he is connecting with the electorate. My suggestion to him would be to actually enegage with public opinion, LISTEN to what people want and devise some policies around this.

    No doubt his inner circle of spads are telling hiom how wonderfully its all going. If only the foll knew eh ?

  6. Fred smith says:

    Farage talks reality: Immigration, waste in the EU, waste in government up and down the country, pragmatic politics listening to the electorate…

    Miliband talks bollox with the phrase one nation preceding and ending each of his sentences.

    You do not need to know any more than this.

  7. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    Well, it’s an excellent way to destroy a Labour Party in summary 🙂

  8. John Reid says:

    Nick, is really the need for the county to have more pensions and the fact ,that Yes we increased debt, a sign that the country was in a wirse state in 97 than 2010′ even Cameron said as he took over that Labour left the country mo at peace with itself than, in the way that it was in 97′

  9. john reid says:

    But What is this one nation test,? reading ed’s attitude, any one think we hadn’t come out of power 3 years ago.

    We need to show that we have the powel and ideas to handle whole group of problems which we ignored on immigration and welfare in the latter part of our terms in office that we let appear out of our reach. Our voters to see the labour party in the same terms as they did in 1997 , but we have to ask would they want it, we may be united and want to see the back of the Tories and we haven’t made the mistakes of the past, and Cameron clearly didn’t have the answers as he didn’t win ,

    but to me 2010 wasn’t just about us not letting the Tories, win the election, it was not leaving labour in such a badly organsied demoralised state as 79, that infighting would put us out of power for a generation

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