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.