This year’s Fabian New Year conference takes place as we watch an increasingly incompetent and deeply damaging Conservative government lurch from crisis to disaster. It reminds me of the Major years, the constant litany of mistake and misjudgement. Nonetheless, Major held grimly on for a full five-year term, before losing to the Labour landslide of 1997. This time, while the sight of another Tory government unable to reverse the tide of its own failures feels all too familiar, we need to be sure to push the Tories out of office much more quickly.
The government’s much-delayed industrial strategy was finally launched last month. It’s short on detail, with large font and glossy pictures padding out a 255-page document with few new ideas.
But one of its headline announcements was that an “Industrial Strategy Council” will set the direction of the strategy and hold the government to account. Its members will be drawn from various walks of life, including investors, entrepreneurs, economists, scientists… but not, as far as we can tell, ordinary workers.
When our servicemen and women join the armed forces, they sign a contract vowing to serve and protect our country. In return the Government ought to provide them with adequate pay, decent accommodation and the professional and personal support that they need.
It is increasingly clear that under this Government that contract has been broken. Whether it is the deepening cuts to the defence budget, the public sector pay cap or the poorly maintained military housing, this Government is letting down our armed forces.
The half a million people of Barnsley and Doncaster are now entering the final few days of a community consultation on the future of Yorkshire devolution. They are voting on whether they want to be part of a Sheffield City Region, or to further explore the possibility of a larger, more powerful ‘One Yorkshire’ deal.
As it stands the Government is planning to impose the narrower Sheffield City Region deal. This is despite the fact that the majority of local councils in Yorkshire agree that the best way to unlock Yorkshire’s potential is through the wider ‘One Yorkshire’ deal.
The Government will this week announce their plans for police funding. It is a critical moment after a punishing year for the service and with the police under more pressure than ever before. It is no exaggeration to say the future capability of the service is at stake.
Successive Governments of all political colours recognised that it was reckless to slash the police but this Government have torn up that rule book and our communities are now paying a heavy price.
Today Labour will be challenging the government on its finance bill; arguing that the £4.7bn currently set aside for bankers is best spent protecting vulnerable children.
The last Labour government invested in early intervention because we knew how important it was. We knew that in order to give every child a fair chance to succeed, we needed to give them the best possible start in life. But seven years of funding cuts have pushed the services that we built in government – there to spot signs of abuse and neglect before children are put at risk – into a state of crisis.
It was a heartbreaking read. The Christmas Day story of seven-year-old Lucy hiding under a bed from her alcoholic parents while she listened to a fairytale stuck especially in my mind.
Cold, alone and with no presents, the helpline was the only comfort for that little girl.
As Labour’s health chief, I have nothing but praise for Nacoa, the charity which provides that helpline.
Just in time for Christmas, the drumbeat of Brexit economic bad news rolls on. Today’s figures from the Office for National Statistics shows inflation has risen to a near six-year high at an eye-watering 3.1 per cent. This means everything from food, to fuel, to transport, to clothing is becoming more and more expensive. The ONS doesn’t beat around the bush about why inflation is soaring: the main reason is quite clearly the collapse in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote last year. And with average wage growth running well below the rate of inflation, real wages will continue to fall meaning less money in your pocket at the end of each month.
In the battle for votes, cyberspace is now almost as important as the doorstep as the place where elections are won. And that’s why it’s become a hunting ground for the trolls and election-winning cyber-specialists like Cambridge Analytica.
So it’s time for the digital democrats to get their act together and step up the work harnessing the online world to open up democracy. To help, I’m launching the People’s Plan for Digital. It’s a simple innovation, a new platform to harness some of the techniques pioneered by Geoff Mulgan at Nesta, new parties and city governments around the world, to help Parliament get digital policy right.
So the facts are in. The Tories have given us a recovery that is worse than the one in the 1930s that followed the Great Depression. And families won’t see any improvement in living standards until 2022. That’s why we should set a new ambition for Britain: to become the world’s leading digital economy.
Today there are just 1.5 million jobs in the digital economy. That’s about 4% of the workforce. But here’s the key point: digital jobs pay 40% more than the average wage. That’s more than £190 a week. So transforming the number of digital jobs in our economy is one of the fastest ways we can give Britain a pay rise.