Some lost by a lot more. Photo: Getty Images
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I lost to the Conservatives by just 378 votes. Here's what I've learned

Labour didn't have enough to say to businesses, or enough for people on long hours not zero hours. That must never happen again. 

In the month since I lost by 378 votes in Bury North, I’ve spent my time throwing my arms round my family and throwing myself back into my business. 

Defeat, like success, rarely happens overnight. Labour’s explosive loss last month can’t be put down to just one thing or person. One focus since the defeat has rightly been to ask why we appeared to be anti business and said so little on new jobs and job creation. As a Labour businessman myself, I ask, why aren’t we a party with a deference to business? Not just education, but business and starting up in business, should be our vehicle for social mobility. For it is. We need more employers, risk takers and entrepreneurs. Labour needs them and our country needs more of them.  Where the risk in an idea is embraced, an entrepreneur commits their idea to the economy, employs themselves with others and sets to the task of succeeding. Their business, good business, for and with others. Their contribution to the economic wealth of the whole country with a well run company, making money, growing employment, providing social mobility, paying for public services and increasing repeat opportunities for themselves and others.

Social mobility is not just being about equal opportunity but a second opportunity. Everyone having repeat access to opportunity. Much is made of mobility through good education, the arts and relationships with our fellow citizens but good business and sound employment promotes social mobility and makes it possible. Labour should redefine its support for business with a belief in the transformative impact that good business can have on an individual’s social mobility, providing repeat opportunity across society and increasing economic freedoms.

Labour’s political direction said very little about the future economy we’d help create, nothing of the new jobs, or the fresh ideas to deliver the greater equality we demand. On jobs, we’d change minimum wages, laws and taxes but said nothing of our design for decent jobs with an investment and understanding in private job creation. Job creation is not about outsourcing the risk of public services to the private sector either - as the Tories believe. Its about a vision, a white heat revolution in pursuit of better and new. This is as much about about how our universities and technical sectors work with our science industries as it is improving the access for small business to the supply chains of big business. It is especially about helping more of the trigger moments to happen in a small company when they decide they can commit to a new member of the team and another draw on the payroll. 

After some excellent work in government a decade ago, we forgot about skills, and said nothing on future high growth sectors that a Labour government would help bring to their tipping points, back up or spread. These sectors include high tech, creative and green industries along with a a deep commitment to help start ups of all kinds with an approach that helps share the risk of setting up your own business, encourages it, and not just stake claims on successes through taxation.

A prospective Labour government can play a vital role in ensuring the best of British business and new ideas for a fresh economy and greater equality. The model of successful growth funding successful public services is not broken, its just too narrow. So let’s outline a clear, enabling, pro business argument as the prospective government. Articulate a plan that addresses; the needs of priority sectors, talent supply chains for growth industries, offers incentives, shares risk, identifies regional priorities, considers the distribution of industry, improves small business lending, help start ups and their cash flow, and above all show we’ve a deep commitment to business growth and new jobs. In doing so we have a chance to move away from an all too often tendency to present to the wider public as judgemental of success.

At this election, our proposition was all opposition. We spoke of all we’d stop and little of what we’d do. Our offer was a complaint.  We spoke to those in need of a Labour government and said little to appeal to those who might be persuaded to want one. We rightly spoke of zero hours and wrongly said nothing to those working long hours. So as we jostle and jockey for a way ahead let’s make sure, well before next time, that we show we have the interests not just of those in need of a payday but those responsible for making payroll. 

Let’s appeal to those who know the humility and pride of what employing people feels like, creating opportunities for work, looking after a team, developing their talents and raising the bar on the best of British business. Small firms do far more every day to keep people gainfully employed, paying taxes and contributing to our economy, than any professional politician might. Let’s grasp the risk and reward deal of private enterprise, harness it and help spread it as an evangelical, pro worker, business believing, Labour party. And commit to fairness and fortune.

James Frith was Labour's candidate in Bury North. He owns a small business, and tweets as @JamesFrith.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital