“The language of priorities,” Nye Bevan declared, “is the religion of socialism”. Labour’s 2017 manifesto prioritised the abolition of university tuition fees (at £11.2bn, it was the most expensive pledge).
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was one of those who was sceptical of this choice. At Labour’s pre-manifesto Clause V meeting, she expressed her dismay at the lack of priority awarded to early years funding (which evidence suggests makes the greatest difference to life chances). For Rayner, it is Sure Start, which she describes as having “rescued” her, which deserves the greatest attention.
In her speech at the Labour conference, Rayner made her priorities clear. While she only mentioned tuition fees in passing, she devoted a lengthy section to Sure Start, one of the Blair government’s signature achievements.
“When I became pregnant at 16, it was easy to think that the direction of my life, and that of my young son, was already set,” Rayner recalled. “My mum had a difficult life, and so did I, and it looked like my son would simply have the same.
“Instead, the last Labour government, through support of my local Sure Start centre, transformed my son’s childhood, and made sure that his life would not have to be as hard as mine had been. So when I say that politics changes lives, I say it as someone whose own life was changed.”
After revealing that the Conservatives had cut £437m from Sure Start since 2012 (nearly half of its funding), Rayner announced: “I am proud to say that we will give £500 million a year directly to Sure Start, reversing those cuts in full. Because to give every child a fair chance to succeed, we need to give them the best possible start in life.”
For Rayner, the announcement is a significant policy victory. And it is one that will have done her standing among Labour MPs (Rayner is spoken of as a future leader or deputy leader) much good. Rayner, John McDonnell has said, will be the “Nye Bevan of the Corbyn government.” The northern MP spoke the language of priorities today.