We must end the idea that inequality is inevitable. Let’s get Britain working again | Keir Starmer

British politics has been marred for too long by fatalism. Communities, businesses and people were expected to ride the headwinds of globalisation or be blown away. Politicians saw themselves as spectators marvelling at the power of change but unwilling to intervene.

The Conservative party has been both cheerleader and midwife for this “creative destruction”. On their watch, neighbourhood policing was slashed and crime soared. Quality work became harder to find and people were unable to save for the future. NHS capacity was cut and care for the elderly became a national disgrace. For too many, Britain was not working.

Then came the virus.

We know the prime minister’s slowness to act at crucial moments cost many lives and jobs. But Covid-19 also cleaved apart existing faultlines, brutally exposing the weakened foundations and the inequality in our country.

It wasn’t inevitable that workers would be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood – it was because of miserly sick pay.

It wasn’t inevitable that cancer waiting lists would soar – it was because of an underfunded, overworked health service.

It wasn’t inevitable that we would have the worst death toll in Europe or the deepest recession of any major economy – it was because the failed politics of austerity had eroded the country’s resilience.

As we emerge from the crisis, our country is at a fork in the road. We can attempt to patch up our broken system and hope it works next time. Or we can choose a brighter future, built on security and prosperity for all, one that harnesses everyone’s talents.

The Conservatives have chosen the first option. Boris Johnson’s pay cuts for nurses and tax breaks for second-home owners isn’t a blueprint for a new Britain – it’s a roadmap to yesterday. His tax rises for families and businesses across the country come at a time when he is handing out billions of pounds in crony contracts. His government, uniquely, knows the value of nothing and the price of nothing as well.

Labour must be bold. Ahead of us is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink what Britain can be, where power lies and who it works for. An opportunity to end the idea that inequality between towns and cities, north and south, black and white is somehow inevitable. To ensure no one is left behind or held back. The commission on the UK’s future, chaired by Gordon Brown, is already working on exactly how we can win power in order to hand it to every part of the country.

Our ambition for Britain must match the moment. Not merely fiddling with tax incentives or creating pots of money for towns to scrap over but creating an economy that works for everyone. Technology and decarbonisation will change our world. But under Labour you won’t be left to fend for yourself. Instead, we will seize the opportunities presented to create an economy based on high skills and high standards.

That means switching from a model of short-term returns to one that puts long-term shared security, justice, and economic and social prosperity at the heart of decision-making. No matter where you come from or what your circumstances are, we will drive up school standards to ensure opportunities abound. Then we’ll help businesses create quality jobs people can be proud of, from manufacturing to care to creative industries.

But we must go further still. Our focus won’t be merely on the types of jobs, but where they are. You shouldn’t have to move hundreds of miles from family and friends just to find work. Quality prospects, wages and conditions should be on everyone’s doorstep. An active Labour government, working in partnership with trade unions and any business that wants to join that mission, will deliver for the whole country.

For me this is personal: my dad worked on a factory floor all his life. I know the pride that comes with a good wage and job security and my passion is delivering that for the next generation.

Creating a country that works for everyone should begin with a proper pay rise for our NHS frontline. Long-term, it means rethinking public services, with a focus on preventing societal ills rather than simply alleviating them. As the country’s most senior prosecutor, I rarely saw a criminal case that didn’t involve missed opportunities or people who had fallen through the cracks. Creating a health system that is the envy of the world won’t just be about spending money on the NHS – it will mean a radical rethinking of everything from early intervention to fitness to education.

At the heart of getting Britain working are two concepts: security and opportunity. People can’t flourish if they live with the fear of losing their job or crime in their neighbourhood. If you want to start a new business, improve your community or give your kids better opportunities, Labour will have your back. Great schools, safe streets, world-class health, jobs, jobs, jobs: that’s a country that works for everyone. And it’s the country Labour will deliver after the next general election – which I believe will come much sooner than expected. I’ve instructed the party to be ready to fight one by 2023.

To truly build a better future we must also take on the increasingly toxic way public life is conducted. The rise of nativism and nationalism has wrenched people apart. We must rediscover the ties that bind us, because empathy – the core of progressive politics – has been the victim in all this. It is because we love this country and its people that we want to make it as good as it can possibly be. Labour’s patriotism is optimistic and inclusive, not jingoistic. It is the belief that there is nothing inevitable or unsolvable about the problems around us. It is the hope for a greater, safer, greener, more prosperous future for our country – and it is the resolve to make it happen. The opportunities ahead of us are huge. The task for Labour is clear: to get Britain working again.

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