Dan Jarvis on the campaign trail. (Photo: Getty)
Show Hide image

Labour's path to a stronger society - Dan Jarvis speech

Dan Jarvis addresses Unison

It’s a pleasure to be here.

Thank you for inviting me to come and speak to you today. It’s always good to be speaking on a trade union platform and on a Unison platform.

I’d like to start by thanking Kevin, Simon and the whole Unison team for your tireless efforts to stand up for working people all over Britain. 

At a time when we’ve got record numbers of people stuck on low pay, rights being eroded in the workplace, and still too many people suffering from insecurity at work, strong trade unions have never had a more important role to play in our society.

And I know how much it means to have someone there at your side when you need them most.

When I left the Army to fight my by-election in 2011, it was a leap into the complete unknown. 

I’d experienced a few of those in The Parachute Regiment… though none quite like that.

But I remember when I began my campaign in Barnsley, Unison were there from the start – along with friends from across the Labour movement.

Your support was – and continues to be – invaluable.

When Unison speaks, I know that we don’t just hear a political organisation. We hear the voices of the 1.3 million working people who are at the heart of delivering our public services.

Today, your members understand better than anyone the terrible toll that this government has had on our communities –  

People who have chosen to serve, to try and change their communities for the better.

I grew up in a home where my parents went out to work every day to serve the public.

My Dad taught at college. My mum worked with offenders as a probation officer.

They taught me the importance of community; and the dignity - the pride that comes from public service.

Public service took me into the Army, and kept me there during some tough times.

So I understand that sense of service, that dedication that gets people in your line of work out of bed in the morning. 

Carers, housing officers, charity and community workers, people supporting the most vulnerable in our society. 

Most of them women – hit three times harder by the unfair choices that this Government has made.

Many of them among the lowest paid.

Many of them doing difficult jobs that often don’t get noticed, but that we’d miss the second they weren’t there.

These are the lives that are changed by elections and the decisions we make at the ballot box.

The families who are £1,600 a year worse off since 2010, while the Tories hand out tax-cuts to the richest. 

That’s why there is so much at stake at this coming General Election.

It’s now only 69 days away. That’s just 9 more Friday afternoons.

So let me offer this thought:

We live in a world today that is more complex and changing more rapidly than we’ve ever known.

It’s a world that offers immense promise and potential, but it also means new demands and difficulties too.

Working people know that only too well.

They’ve experienced how our global economy means that their livelihoods can now be thrown into chaos by property speculators on the other side of the world.

How their wages can be undercut by the forces of globalisation.

And jobs replaced by new technologies.

Even the joy that comes from our loved ones living longer comes with greater demands on our public services and the people who work in them. 

In the face of those complex forces, there’s an important duty for government. 

A duty to protect us from the dangers we cannot face alone.

And to give each of us the tools to build a better life for ourselves and our families.

That’s a test this government has fundamentally failed.

Just look at the news we’ve seen this week about the spike in jobs on zero-hour contracts – now 1.8 million across our country.

Look at the fact that Britain is the only country in the G7 where inequality is on the rise.

And then remember how nearly one million people queued up at food banks last year. In Britain. In the 21st century.

Reflect on that, and think back to David Cameron’s promise of a Big Society.

That’s not an expression we hear much from the Prime Minister anymore.

But there’s no clearer example that his party has lost any mandate it ever had to govern.

Five years ago the Tories took office promising to empower organisations like the ones so many of you work for.

He promised ‘a Big Society that trusts in the people for ideas and innovation…’

To ‘use the state to help remake society…’

‘encouraging the concept of public-spirited service…’

But the rhetoric simply hasn’t matched the reality. 

In practice, the Big Society has just proven to be a crude cloak as government has pulled back and voluntary organisations have been left to pick up the pieces. 

From the 816 Sure Start centres that have been boarded up, 

To the home care workers racing between 15 minute visits, with no time to care for our frail or elderly.

Some of our communities have been left to sink or swim.

People have been cut off from the help and support that was once part of their daily lives.

Whilst those left keeping vital services running have seen their terms and conditions undermined.

And that’s not all.

Because David Cameron hasn’t just done damage to our communities, 

He’s tainted the very concept of a Big Society.

Because there’s a lot to like about the idea – it’s a very Labour idea.

The Labour movement has been practicing the good society for over 100 years.

It’s woven into the history of our party – a party built from the grassroots up.

We know the good that can come when people have power and use it collectively – from workers’ rights to the National Minimum Wage.

We understand that putting government and civil society up against one another is a false choice.

They’ve got to work together as partners.

Because the world has changed.

70 years ago Britain elected one of the greatest reforming Labour governments that this country has ever known.

Clement Attlee’s government sought to free people from the ills plaguing post-war Britain.

In 1945, that meant the state taking direct action to give power to people who were out of work, without proper healthcare, or a roof over their heads.

They gave us the NHS and the Welfare State – institutions that we cherish.

Generations on, the days when our problems can be solved by government alone are fading.

Think of some of the great social challenges we face today.

Mental ill health.

Curses like dementia.


Loneliness in old age.

These aren’t issues that can be solved by a single lever pulled from behind a desk in Whitehall.

I see it every day in my role as a Shadow Justice Minister, talking to groups that support young people at risk of falling into a life of crime.

Organisations that support mums and dads, help build stronger communities, and tackle social evils that blight our society. 

Many of them can reach places that Ministers just can’t.

That’s why the community and voluntary sector is so important to Britain’s future. 

A lot’s been said this week about trust in politics.

If we want to repair that bond between people and politicians, then I think two things need to be part of that conversation:

One, people in my job have to be honest in accepting that central government can’t solve all our problems alone. 

And two, if we want the public to trust us, then we need to be ready to let go and trust local people to make good decisions.

The way Labour councils across the country have innovated to protect services shows how we can get better services if we give power to people on the frontline.  

That’s why Labour is committed to devolving £30bn of funding away from Westminster and out into the regions.

New powers so that our cities and communities can grow, prosper, and shape their own destiny. 

That’s part of the government’s role in the modern world – to be that supportive partner for charities, local authorities, and wealth creators, all working together for a better society.

And it’s also our job to give people a platform to stand on.

Because there’s another reason why Cameron’s version of the Big Society failed.

Because the idea of giving people power is meaningless if families can’t use it because they can’t pay their bills or heat their homes.

If Ed Miliband is our Prime Minister on May 8th, you can trust that Labour won’t make the same mistake.

We’ll be the party on your side, the side of the many.

That’s what our movement has always been about.

It’s in our DNA.

We’ll fulfil that duty that the Tories neglected.

To protect people from forces beyond their control.

From raising the minimum wage to at least £8 an hour, to incentivising more firms to pay a Living Wage.

Ending the scourge of exploitative zero hour contracts.

Building 200,000 homes a year by 2020, so more families can live in decent housing.

Saving Sure Start.

Extending free childcare.

Abolishing the Bedroom Tax.

And much more besides.

We know Britain succeeds when it works for everyone, not just a few at the top.

As I’ve I travelled across the country in recent months, I can tell you that there isn’t a corner of this country that isn’t aching for change.

Delivering that change isn’t going to be easy.

It’s going to be hard.

And we might not always agree on the best way to do it.

But we’ll do what Labour has always done at its best - put our party at the service of the nation to face the challenges of the future.

And with your help, and hard work, together, I know we can build that better and more just society that our children will be proud of.

Thanks very much.  

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.

Show Hide image

Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change