A root and branch transformation of our economy

Let’s concentrate on the difference a Labour government would make and the high stakes at the coming election.

AS EVENTS over the past few weeks and days twist and turn, a general election in the very near future looks increasingly likely and the hope of getting Boris Johnson out by Christmas grows.

Jeremy Corbyn has been clear on the need to first ensure that Johnson can’t crash us out with no deal, and once that is secured, a general election must be fought and won.

The message of his leader’s speech at Labour Conference on Tuesday afternoon was clear — everyone who wants a Labour government with socialist values needs to be in election-ready mode now. That means campaigning and explaining to everyone we meet the very real and tangible difference a Labour government would make to their lives — to the lives of tens of millions of people — and winning them to vote Labour at the ballot box.

As John McDonnell said — Labour has traditionally been committed to full employment, because work should be a path out of poverty, but that is no longer true. Eight million people from working households are in poverty — a record high.

There will be many, many more in work, anxious about their future, knowing that any little knock in life or bump in the road will mean they can join that eight million.

The commitment to end in-work poverty in the first term of a Labour government is bold. To turn this around in five years, Labour has said it will end the roll out of universal credit, raise the real living wage to at least £10 an hour — and ensure it is the minimum for everyone in work — cap housing rents and build a million genuinely affordable homes; restore full trade union and workplace rights from day one in work, and end insecurity in earnings.

By removing unnecessary legal shackles from trade unions and people being able to enforce their rights we will begin to see not just wages get better, but the quality of work.

But importantly, life has to be about more than drudgery and surviving. We should work to live, not live to work.

The average full-time working week fell from nearly 65 hours in the 1860s to 43 hours in the 1970s. Thomas Cook, which collapsed into liquidation during conference, began as a travel company in 1841 with one-day rail excursions at a shilling a head from Leicester to Loughborough and expanded as more workers began to enjoy proper weekends.

In recent years the progress towards spending fewer hours at work has stalled — and this country has the longest full-time average working week in the EU, bar Greece and Austria. The government’s own funded study — the 2017 Skills and Employment Survey — found that people are now under more pressure at work than at any time in the past 25 years with increasing numbers coming home exhausted every day.

So the announcement that the next Labour government will reduce average full-time hours to 32 a week within the next decade, achieving a shorter working week with no loss of pay and will consult about how to increase statutory leave — they have already committed to four extra bank holidays — is something everyone should promote.

Other commitments included rebuilding what we understand as public services, free at the point of use.

Free personal care in England, funded like the NHS through general taxation, will ensure high quality and over time, we will bring those services back into public hands. The abolition of prescription charges in England is on the agenda.

In addressing the climate emergency, there were concrete actions that would transform our country to be sustainable in a way that makes lives and communities better.

Big, bold investments such as new offshore wind farms and allocating £6.2 billion to jumpstarting a home-grown renewable industry have been coupled with plans to deliver an £83bn investment and strengthen the manufacturing sector by using public buying power to support local businesses, re-shoring thousands of jobs to coastal towns.

Taking some of the dirtiest cars off our roads and accelerating the roll out of electric vehicles will help clean our toxic air — the largest public health hazard we face and killing more than 40,000 a year.

These, and much more, amount to a root and branch transformation of how our economy works — a ripping up of the rule book of the past 40 years.

The stakes for this next election may be the highest we have ever faced as a movement. If the Tories win we will be lashed to Trump, his reactionary agenda and the US asset stripping of our country — and our rights — in a helter skelter race to the bottom.

If we achieve Jeremy Corbyn walking through the door of Number 10, it is the opportunity to lay the foundations of a new society. To have our own 1945 moment and help secure a better future for our children, grandchildren and the planet itself. Let’s do it!

First published by the Morning Star