Jeremy Corbyn’s Peterborough address, January 2017
Whether you voted to Leave or to Remain, you voted for a better future for Britain. One thing is clear, the Tories cannot deliver that. So today I want to set how Labour will deliver that vision of a better Britain.
This government is in disarray over Brexit. As the Prime Minister made clear herself they didn’t plan for it before the referendum and they still don’t have a plan now.I voted and campaigned to remain and reform as many of you may know I was not uncritical of the European Union. It has many failings. Some people argued that we should have a second referendum. That case was put to our party’s membership last summer and defeated.
Britain is now leaving the European Union. And Britain can be better off after Brexit. But that’s far from inevitable and it certainly won’t happen with a government that stands by whilst wages and salaries are driven down, industry is hollowed out and public services are cut to the point of breakdown. Because while the European Union has many problems so does Britain in the hands of Theresa May after six years of Conservative misrule.
- Our social care system is failing to provide essential care for people with disabilities and over a million of our elderly people.
- The NHS is in record deficit; nearly 4 million people are on waiting lists, the Red Cross is describing the state of our emergency health and social care as a ‘humanitarian crisis’.
- Our jobs market is being turned into a sea of insecurity, six million workers in Britain earning less than the living wage, nearly a million people on zero hours contracts, record numbers of people in work living in poverty while in fat cat Britain, the chief executives had already received more than most people will earn all year by the third day of January.
My point is this, I don’t trust this government with social care, or with the NHS or with the labour market.
So do I trust them to make a success of Brexit? Not remotely. Only a Labour government, determined to reshape the economy so that it works for all, in every part of the country, can make Brexit work for Britain.
And there can be no question of giving Theresa May’s Tories a free pass in the Brexit negotiations to entrench and take still further their failed free market policies in a post-Brexit Britain. The Tory Brexiteers, whose leaders are now in the government and their Ukip allies had no more of a plan for a Brexit vote than the Tory remainers, like Theresa May. They did however promise that Brexit would guarantee funding for the NHS, to the tune of £350 million a week. It was on the side of Boris Johnson’s bus. What’s happened to that promise now the NHS and social care are in serious crisis? It’s already been ditched.
And it’s not just on the NHS. We have had no answers from the government about any of their plans or objectives for these complex Brexit negotiations. At no point since the Second World War has Britain’s ruling elite so recklessly put the country in such an exposed position without a plan.
As a result they are now reduced to repeating ‘ Brexit means Brexit’. They are unfit to negotiate Brexit. That is why Labour has demanded the government come to Parliament and set out their plan before they present it to Brussels and explain what they want to achieve for our country.
But in the glaring absence of a government plan Labour also believes it’s time to spell out more clearly what we believe the country’s Brexit objectives should be. People voted for Brexit on the promise that Britain outside the European Union could be a better place for all its citizens. Whatever their colour or creed. A chance to regain control over our economy, our democracy and people’s lives.
But beyond vague plans to control borders the only concrete commitment the government has so far made is to protect the financial interests in the City of London. Though maybe that’s hardly surprising from a government that has already slashed the bank levy and corporation tax.
In the last budget there was not a penny extra for the NHS or social care but under the Tories there’s always billions available for giveaways to the richest.
As far as Labour is concerned, the referendum result delivered a clear message. First, that Britain must leave the EU and bring control of our democracy and our economy closer to home. Second, that people would get the resources they were promised to rebuild the NHS. Third, that people have had their fill of an economic system and an establishment that works only for the few, not for the many. And finally, that their concerns about immigration policy would be addressed.
Labour accepts those challenges that you, the voters, gave us. Unlike the Tories, Labour will insist on a Brexit that works not just for City interests but in the interests of us all. That puts health and social care, decent jobs and living standards first and a better deal for young people and the areas of this country that have been left behind for too long .First, we will open the way to rebuilding our NHS by ending the under-funding and privatisation of health care. Leaving the EU won’t free up the £350m a week that Boris Johnson claimed but savings in EU contributions could help close the gap.
And we will reject pressure to privatise public services as part of any Brexit settlement. Just as we oppose the attempt to give special legal privileges to corporate interests as part of the EU’s CETA or TTIP trade deals.
This government could have given the NHS the funding it needs but it has chosen not to. Their tax giveaways to the very richest and to big business hand back £70 billion between now and 2022. That is more of a priority for the Tories than elderly people neglected in their homes, patients dying on trolleys or millions waiting in pain to get the treatment they need. Labour created the NHS, and it is only safe under a Labour government. We will give the NHS the funding it needs. The British people voted to re-finance the NHS – and we will deliver it.
Second, we will push to maintain full access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs. But we will also press to repatriate powers from Brussels for the British government to develop a genuine industrial strategy essential for the economy of the future, and so that no community is left behind.
Tory governments have hidden behind EU state aid rules because they don’t want to intervene. They did so again last year when the steel industry was in trouble. Other governments in Europe acted and saved their industry, the Tory government here sat back. But EU rules can also be a block on the action that’s needed to support our economy, decent jobs and living standards. Labour will use state aid powers in a drive to build a new economy, based on new technology and the green industries of the future.That’s why Labour has set out proposals for a National Investment Bank with regional investment banks that will decide the priorities for their areas. A massive programme of investment that will be needed to rebuild regional economies.
This country is far too centralized. So we will take back powers over regional policy. And instead of such decisions being made in Brussels or in London, we will make sure they taken locally wherever possible. Taking back real control and putting power and resources right into the heart of local communities to target investment where it’s needed.
Third, we will use the huge spending leverage of taxpayer-funded services to massively expand the number of proper apprenticeships. All firms with a government or council contract over £250,000 will be required to pay tax in the UK and train young people. No company will receive taxpayer-funded contracts if it, or its parent company, is headquartered in a tax haven. And we will not buy outsourced public services, such as care for the elderly, from companies whose owners and executives are creaming off profits to stuff their pockets at the expense of the workforce and the public purse.
Finally, a Labour Brexitwould take back control over our jobs market which has been seriously damaged by years of reckless deregulation. During the referendum campaign, many people expressed deep concerns about unregulated migration from the EU. In many sectors of the economy, from IT to health and social care, migrant workers make an important contribution to our common prosperity, and in many parts of the country public services depend on migrant labour.
This government has been saying it will reduce migration to the tens of thousands. Theresa May as Home Secretary set an arbitrary political target knowing full well it would not be met. They inflamed the issue of immigration. They put immense strain on public services with six years of extreme cuts and then blamed migrants for the pressure caused by Tory austerity. And last week a Government minister who voted ‘Leave’ told an employers’ conference, “don’t worry, we’ll still let you bring in cheap EU labour”.
Unlike the Tories, Labour will not offer false promises on immigration targets or sow division by scapegoating migrants because we know where that leads. The worrying rise in race hate crime and division we have seen in recent months and how the issue of immigration can be used as a proxy to abuse or intimidate minority communities.
Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out. When it comes to border controls, we are proud to say we will meet our international obligations to refugees fleeing wars and persecution. To those EU citizens who are already here, we will guarantee your rights. And we continue to welcome international students who come to study in this country.
We cannot afford to lose full access to the European markets on which so many British businesses and jobs depend. Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations. Labour supports fair rules and the reasonable management of migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, while putting jobs and living standards first in the negotiations.
At the same time, taking action against undercutting of pay and conditions, closing down cheap labour loopholes, banning exclusive advertising of jobs abroad and strengthening workplace protections would have the effect of reducing numbers of EU migrant workers in the most deregulated sectors, regardless of the final Brexit deal.
Of course migration has put a strain on public services in some areas that’s why Labour would restore the Migrant Impact Fund that the Tories scrapped.
Sarah Champion is leading for Labour on our policies to ensure better integration and more community cohesion and part of that again will be about restoring funding for English language lessons.
Let’s not forget it was this Tory government that slashed funding for learning English as a second language. As we’ve seen with the Prime Minister talking about the need to strengthen mental health care, while cutting funding by 8 per cent it seems the government’s second language is hypocrisy.
It is the ripping up of workplace protections and trade union rights that has allowed unscrupulous employers to exploit both migrant and British labour, and help to keep pay low, and drive down conditions for everyone. But let’s be clear, public services are not under pressure primarily because of immigration – especially since many migrant workers keep those public services going. They are under pressure because this Tory government has cut them to fund tax break after tax break to the super rich and big business. That is the Tory game – low taxes for the rich, low pay for the rest, underfund public services, and find someone to blame , It’s brutal and it’s not working.
Labour will break with this failed model and offer solutions to problems, not someone to blame. Labour will demand that the Brexit negotiations give us the power to intervene decisively to prevent workers, from here or abroad, being used and exploited to undermine pay and conditions at work.
We need a drive to provide British people with the skills necessary to take up the new jobs which a Labour government and the new economy will generate. I’ve already set out at the CBI and TUC conferences that this means asking companies to pay a bit more in tax to fund more and better access to education and skills training, and government contractors always providing decent skilled apprenticeships.
We will end the race to the bottom in pay, working conditions and job insecurity, setting up a new Ministry of Labour to get a grip on the anything goes jobs market free-for-all. Labour will ensure all workers have equal rights at work from day one – and require collective bargaining agreements in key sectors in a properly regulated labour market, so that workers cannot be undercut.
That will bring an end to the unscrupulous use of agency labour and bogus self-employment, to stop undercutting and to ensure every worker has a secure job with secure pay, that’s why we’ll set the minimum wage at the level of the living wage, expected to be £10 per hour by 2020. Those changes should be made to benefit the whole country.
But while we tackle low pay at the bottom, we also have to address the excess that drives that poverty pay that leaves millions of people in poverty even though they work. In the 1920s, J.P. Morgan, the Wall Street banker limited salaries to 20 times that of junior employees.
Another advocate of pay ratios was David Cameron. His government proposed a 20:1 pay ratio to limit sky-high pay in the public sector and now all salaries higher than £150,000 must be signed off by the Cabinet Office. Labour will go further and extend that to any company that is awarded a government contract. A 20:1 ratio means someone earning the living wage, just over £16,000 a year, would permit an executive to be earning nearly £350,000. It cannot be right that if companies are getting public money that that can be creamed off by a few at the top.
But there is a wider point too. 20 years ago the top bosses of the FTSE 100 companies earned just under 50 times their average worker, today that figure is now 130 times. Last year alone, the top bosses got a 10 per cent pay rise, far higher than those doing the work in the shops, in the call centres, in the warehouses.
So what can we do?
- … We could allow consumers to judge for themselves, with a government-backed kitemark for those companies that have agreed pay ratios between the pay of the highest and lowest earners with a recognised trade union.
- … We could ask for executive pay to be signed off by remuneration committees on which workers have a majority.
- … We could ensure higher earners pay their fair share by introducing a higher rate of income tax on the highest 5 percent or 1 percent of incomes.
- … We could offer lower rates of corporation tax for companies that don’t pay anyone more than a certain multiple of the pay of the lowest earner.
There are many options. But what we cannot accept is a society in which a few earn the in two and a bit days, what a nurse, a shop worker, a teacher do in a year. That cannot be right.
This is not about limiting aspiration or penalising success, it’s about recognising that success is a collective effort and rewards must be shared. We cannot have the CEO paying less tax than the cleaner and pretending they are worth thousands times more than the lowest paid staff.
So this is Labour’s vision for Britain after Brexit. Labour will not block the referendum vote when the time comes in Parliament, we will vote for Article 50. But as the Opposition we will ensure the government is held to account for its negotiating demands. At the moment they are in total disarray, on Brexit, on the NHS and social care, on the pay in your pocket. Labour will build a better Britain out of Brexit.
That will start with the refinancing of the NHS and the creation of a more equal country, in which power and wealth is more fairly shared amongst our communities. A genuinely inclusive society with strong and peaceful relations with the rest of the world.
This is Labour’s New Year pledge to the British people.