Labour should use the language of social justice and ambition to connect with voters

by Glenn Edwards

It’s less than a year till the general election and there’s been a lot of talk about Labour alienating itself from business interests and lurching too far to the left. But even if Labour hasn’t been effective in courting corporate leaders this doesn’t mean that it is anti-ambition. Current policies actually seem to have a lot in common with Tony Blair’s once cherished idea of combining social justice with ambition, even if they differ from the ‘third way’ in practice. We just need to start thinking about ambition in a much broader light and therein could lie a key part of the Party’s message over the next year.

Labour is pursuing a political approach that views everyone as potential success stories and not just winners or losers, as people pursuing their own human development and not just static stereotypes and as having a stake in this economy rather than just being compensated for their loss. We need a country that doesn’t wield clout in the world simply through a privileged elite in London but on the backs of a vast army of clever and confident people. Labour’s aim to redirect the economy towards high-skill jobs and create a world-class workforce is a policy example par excellence.

There is a feeling that many politicians, particularly on the right, are pandering to the short term interests of a wealthy few at the expense of the long term prosperity of the nation. In no clearer way is this expressed than the political divide over the treatment of the banks. Labour’s policy of taxing banker’s bonuses in order to create jobs for the long term unemployed isn’t a tax on ambition, it’s a tax on greed. It’s a sensible way of bringing back confidence and self esteem to those who lost it so long ago whilst simultaneously helping expand business.

Whilst the Conservatives like to think of themselves as the party of business, it seems that this often only extends as far as big business. Poor access to finance continues to burden many small businesses and Labour are prepared to use the reigns of government to introduce a regional banking system to improve this. Such a policy has enormous potential of fostering green shoots of future growth and strengthening the culture of entrepreneurship outside of London. The Conservatives can only sit back and hope that new banking competitors will help make this sector more dynamic but they are hampered by their ideological commitment to small-state solutions.

Labour could even take a step further and pledge to create a national investment bank funded by a one-off tax on the most wealthy, as suggested by Robert Skidelsky. It may or may not be remembered that the idea of a wealth tax has already been floated past the government by Nick Clegg only as late as 2012. The result was for the policy to be quickly slapped down by senior Tories as promoting the “politics of envy” and for George Osborne to warn that it could drive potential wealth creators away. This however is far from clear and one wonders whether this is simply politically untenable for a party that courts the most wealthy.

Perhaps the single greatest drain on ambition is inequality. Low-skill, low-wage and insecure jobs do not create ripe conditions for people to feel confident and in command of their lives. So many children are born into environments in which there is a real perception that there is only so much they can achieve, a by-product of increasing inequality of outcomes. The cost-of-living crisis has pushed many into debt and forced people to start spending their savings, which doesn’t put them in a favourable position to do something like starting a business. Again it is only the Labour Party that has real answers to this as demonstrated by recent plans to ensure that the minimum wage rises faster than average earnings.

The Conservatives so often only seem capable of supporting ambition as it occurs at the highest echelons of society. They are reluctant to take the tool-kit to the economy both for ideological reasons and for fear of alienating their high-profile business support. However in doing so they are prevailing over an economic settlement in which the odds are stacked against many people being able to make something great of themselves. It’s important not just to reckon with a situation as it stands but to envisage what is possible in the long run economy. Ambition isn’t just about owning a big business but starting a business in the first place, bettering yourself through work, finding confidence and fighting your way out of poverty.

Glenn Edwards is a politics graduate and a Labour activist

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12 Responses to “Labour should use the language of social justice and ambition to connect with voters”

  1. Tafia says:

    Poor access to finance continues to burden many small businesses

    This isn’t the fault of the tories. The sad fact of the matter is that most small businesses employ 6 people or less, of which one is the owner and usually at least ne other is a family member. Most are corner shops, tenanted pubs, fast food take-ways, cafes and small restaurants, small taxi firms, independant garages, small builders, painters and decorators etc etc. Most don’t want money to invest they want it to pay unpaid bills (usually unpaid VAT and/or suppliers) and as such are technically insolvent/bordering on insolvent and have nothing to offer as security (such as a house) or if they do they wont (and if they won’t stake their house why on earth do they think the bank thinks lending to them is a sane thing to do). Do you seriously think the banks would lend to them? There’s plenty of venture capital out there who will lend to small businesses but they charge a premium because basically if a bank won’t then you are ‘sub-prime’.

    Still, I’m sure that you think lending to them is a good idea and as such are busily persuading your family to borrow against their houses and cash their pension funds in to enter into private arrangements. You are doing that aren’t you? You really really do want to lend everything you’ve got and more to the local pub, newsagent and kebab shop because you think it’s a good idea.

    Banks make money by lending to sure bets not lost causes., Nothing stopping the government by-passing the banks but even the government aren’t that stupid – especially not as they have no money – it’s taxpayers money.

  2. Tafia says:

    Social Justice? I don’t hear much squawking coming from the Miliband camp over Blair’s papers and Chilcot. The man is a mass child murderer and your refusal to condemn him and expel him is nearly as disgusting as your on-going talks to accept a large donation from him.

    And no, Iraq is not going to go away and one of the reasons is your seeming refusal to deal with the aftermath within your own party.

  3. Ex labour says:

    The Labour Party equation:

    Tax hard working people + massively increase welfare spending + borrow to keep the feckless, feral and workshy in the lifestyle they feel entitled to = social justice

    I had to read this nonsense twice to make sure you had not just stepped out of a timewarp. Have you listened to what Miliband has been saying ? Have you heard what the business community has said in response ? Have you noticed whats happening on the economy, job creation, unemployment etc ? How many times are you going to pledge to spend bankers bonuses ? What is Milibands policy on immigrantion and immigrant labour ? Does he intend to control labour markets ?

    Sometimes I despair of the left and their activists. There is a real world out there where some things aren’t fair, but to think that Miliband or Labour could deliver some socialist uptopia is just plain nonsense. Human nature will always triumph and those that want to work and succeed (to whatever degree they deem as success) will, and those that dont wont.

  4. Glenn Edwards says:

    Tafia, I find your first point interesting but I can’t help but feel a bit suspicious towards the description of struggling small businesses you provided- doesn’t it seem like a bit of a simplification? Rather than a sea of ‘lost causes’, is it not more so the case that small businesses tend not to have a financial track record behind them, given that they’re often first attempts? I think it’s only sensible to look into ways to break this catch-22. I’d also add that, if we were to take your description as very plausible, other Labour policies such as a rise in the NMW are well placed to help them. I fear that we’re suffering from a lack of consumer demand in this country, explaining some of the hardship small businesses face, and more money in people’s pockets would help this.

    Ex Labour, I’m sorry but I think your argument is defeatist. There is no timeless ‘human nature’ in which there exists in all of us inherent winners and losers. We’re all to a large extent a product of our environmental influences and the (lack of) opportunities at hand. Sometimes people find themselves in bad situations of which are not entirely their fault and of which are often difficult to escape. People are complex and will often respond to new ways of thinking and new resources/ opportunities if given to them.

  5. Tafia says:

    Beware Ex Labour, there are two ‘lefts’ in the Labour Party.

    One is faux left – a middle class London-centric nonsense that is really disguised neo-liberalist in outlook, is really centre/centre right and includes the Blairistas and the Miliband/Unite Junta and Miliband’s ultimate succesor in waiting currently being groomed for when Miliband falls flat on his arse – Umanna. It has no soul, is purely preoccupied with power at any price and illustrates something a Labour Welsh Assembly member once said to me – never trust a Labour politician with soft hands and a manicure – they’re a fraud and know nothing of the working class and view them merely as a tool to power. It is pro-EU at any cost

    The other is the real and genuine left. Democratic socialists, good genuine honest people such as Dennis Skinner. Most are anti-EU although some will only express that in private in the pubs (and it would surprise many people).

  6. uglyfatbloke says:

    Do you suppose the electorate have become disengaged with politics simply because the political class have pissed off virtually everybody? It’s not just the arrogance or the ignorance or the dead-eyed repetition of condescending cliches; it’s not even things like 400-odd of the buggers getting off scot-free when they were stealing through the expenses scam.
    It’s a whole range of things from the mindless stupidity of Trident or carriers with no aircraft- or the replacement tank of course, but nobody talks about that. It’s all the things that you can’t do because ‘it’s not our policy’. You can’t convert your loft into a room for your impending new arrival without endless grief, you can’t take cannabis for a terminal illness, you can’t join the infantry if you’re a woman, your pub needs a special license to put a table out on a 20 foot wide pavement on a boiling sunny day, you can’t have a party with loud music anywhere … the list is endless.
    Having the freedom to do only as we’re told really is n’t good enough.
    Of course each of these things are irritations to only a modest number of groups of people , but the number of groups that get pissed off and pissed on is becoming so large that eventually it will include everyone who is n’t a university graduate who has become a special adviser en route to being an MP and then a member of the lords.

  7. Tafia says:

    Glenn Edwards – I had a small business for about 5 years. Most small businesses (about 6-7 out of 10) fail in their first year. Of those that get beyond that, most of the remainder don’t see 3 years. It’s been like that for decades, probably longer.

    There is a very simple reason – most people set one up to give the consumer what they want to give them. Unfortunately for them the consumer only wants what the consumer wants and if you don’t provide someone else will and you are toast.

    Compounding matters now is ebay, amazon, supermarkets, out-of-town retail parks and cheap immigrant tradesmen. It’s cheaper to get builders, electricians, painters and decorators, plumbers, independent hauliers etc etc now than it was a decade ago – not because of the crash but because of the surplus of people with those skills.

    Walk into any house and look around you – do you really think there has been a collapse in consumer spending or o you think it’s actually that stuff has got cheaper. As an example, bananas are 99p a bunch now. A decade ago(when people were earning less) they were 3 quid. So if we only eat the same amount, the amount spent on them has dropped by two thirds.

    Another example. 15 years ago I bought a 38 inch sony trinitron for 600 quid. I have just bought a Samsung 46 inch LED with built in HD freeview tuner for exactly the same. Being as wages have reason since then, I am proportionately spending less as a percentage even though the product is vastly superior.

    Likewise I spent 1200 quid on a computer 1998. My current one cost 600 and is infinately superior in every respect. Adjusted for inflation and wage increases that’s probably a fall in spending of more than 75%

    Then stuff bought on ebay from non-UK sources. Few months ago I bought a latest version nintendo DS with 10 games, UK compatable, direct from Hong Kong, opting to pay via PayPal in Australian dollars. None of that would have appeared anywhere in consumer spending or international trade on the UK’s books.

    Likewise I buy precious metals (not paper – the actual item). But if you buy silver in the UK you pay VAT however due to quirks in the law you can buy it from Germany and have it sent here without paying VAT quite legally, no paperwork involved, HMRC don’t even have to be informed and again, it doesn’t appear anywhere in any UK figures.

    Three extreme cases I know, but it’s food, electronic consumer goods and luxury items that are either getting considerably cheaper in real terms all the time, or are not showing in figures or both

    I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Cars, electricity, gas, food etc etc are all far cheaper in real terms than they have ever been in my lifetime. We live in a time of unparralled wealth and Milipede/Balls and their cost of living crisis is baloney to most older people. Supposing living standards and wage levels fell to just 40 years ago and prices re-adjusted likewise? When skilled workers could barely afford a car. Where hardly anyone had a fridge, or a phone. Where most people only had one TV and a significant percentage didn’t even have that? Where food spending was a third or more of a household income and gas and electric were frighteningly expensive and people turned lights off by habit and there were shortages of bread, sugar and even at one stage, milk.

    Things have got cheaper faster than wages have stagnated and as a result we have got ‘richer’ (if that makes sense). It’s the way we spend now that is small businesses worst enemy.

  8. John Reid says:

    Lots of replies about our lack of credibility on enterprise, regarding the Blairite Mantra of social justice,it was also due to the Tories failing on Law and poverty, that had come from it, that gave the Nu Labour claim to be a party that understood why crime happened ,so it could get crime down, those comments maybe as true now as they were 17 years ago, but until the public see through the a Tories claiming where they have cut police numbers and their powers and crime figures haven’t rocketed, then Labour can’t claim to have the Answers ,of course when it’s realised the crime figures are fixed, as less police mean, that there’s less of them to detect crimes, that wouldn’t have been recognised had there no been no police there,

    Tafia, I can assure you that Ummuna won’t replace Miliband ,of Labour lose, yes Miliband will be out straight away,if he loses as he’s a lot less popular than he party, but the successor if it happens, will be someone over 40′ be it Cooper, Cruddas, Burnham, de Perio, or Creasey.

  9. Ex Labour says:

    @ Glenn

    Your arguement is niaive and assumes :

    a. All people are motivated to contribute to society and do the best they can for themselves

    b. All people share the same goals and objectives.

    c. There is a common intelligence level amongst the population.

    d. People’s definition of success is the same.

    e. Social and environmental factors always are a negative influence for the “working class”.

    F. There are no opportunities which are open to everybody.

    I know this from personal experience. I was riased on a rough council estate. I have friends from school that range from long term unemployed (no skills, motivation etc ) and are generally feckless and happy to live off the backs of other people. At the other end of the scale one friend is a senior hospital consultant in a London teching hospital.

    We ALL had the SAME opportunity !!!

    Unfortunately the left and Labour are the nanny state and can not accept that there is a concept called personal responsibility. It always the fault of the motivated and successful people and of course they are portrtayed as the bad guys.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    Benefit Sanctions are socially unjust. Labour introduced the illegal practice of Benefit Sanctions and continue to support it. Labour are socially unjust. Vote Green or SWP or Class War, but NOT Labour!

  11. Landless Peasant says:

    Social justice? Here’s another poor soul sent to an early grave by punitive legislation Labour introduced:


  12. Yep, Labour have lost the plot. Who in their right minds is going to vote for further Austerity and more Benefit Sanctions? Not me, that’s for sure!

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