“The battle for that [better] world is now, it will be ferocious, & it will require a strength in all of us like never before.”Rebecca Long Bailey MP.
Rebecca Long Bailey MP speech at Fighting Back in 2021 on January 23.
We’ve ended up with some of the worst pandemic management in the world. Why?
What was being prioritised? Many believe it was Money.
But sadly, the choices Government made might have protected some short term financial interests but actually damaged the economy even more in the long term.
Too late to lock down and too quickly to exit, a rickety test track and trace system and then schools.
Let me be clear, the best place for any child is in school but not locking down for longer or effectively enough last year and not heeding the reasonable requests of trade unions to make schools safe has brought us to where we are today.
The Government knew that although the risks to children were low, the risks of transmission were high and instead they chose to gamble.
And even now, in the face of a new dangerous variant, we are locked down and [some are] supported to do it, but not so for huge numbers of non-essential workers who go without financial support – those who have not been furloughed; those who don’t have the right to sick pay if they get ill; the 3 million people in the UK from musicians to freelancers to new starters to businesses who could access little support and just can’t afford to take out a business support loan.
And do you know the Irony of all of this – the Government passed the coronavirus act renewal last year – a sweeping piece of legislation that gives away our liberty but all without standing with us with the support we need.
They then wax lyrical about libertarianism, but I see no liberty here. I see people on the edge of destitution.
It was Franklin D Roosevelt who said that “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
What is soul destroying though is that it doesn’t have to be like this.
The structures and economic plan to ensure we could keep people safe and support those who need it, both now and in the future, had already been developed and the truth is it now needs to be even bolder.
Here are just four examples:
- Firstly, the rights of workers must be strengthened, That means introducing sectoral collective bargaining, restoring and expanding trade union rights, boosting the minimum wage, reducing working hours, and establishing a Universal Basic Income.
- Secondly, the real safety net people need to protect themselves from this pandemic must be provided without equivocation. It means proper financial support, decent sick pay and banning evictions.
- Thirdly a debt jubilee – lifting the scourge of debt that has over the last 40 years propelled those select few within our economy to the heady heights whilst crushing the backs of the poorest.
It’s the option of writing – off some debts for households and businesses who will simply never be able to repay them even at more affordable rates.
Because those bad debts would be sold on in any event by the banks to debt collectors at a fraction of their value who would then enforce them at their full value.
This type of bad debt write off was given to the banks in the financial crash so if it’s good enough for the banks it is good enough for the people
- And finally the biggest catalyst for economic change we have ever had at our disposal – A ‘Green New Deal’
Labour’s own detailed expert report in 2019, showed that it could be done, we had an industrial plan – we could decarbonise most of the energy system by 2030.
This alone would rebuild deindustrialised towns across the UK and at its heart was a plan to restructure and rebalance the economy as we know it using public ownership to drive the change we needed to see and redistribute prosperity to those who needed it.
For example something as simple as taking a majority public stake in new wind farms meant that we would have the power to support local businesses in the supply chain, we could ensure that all workers were on decent pay and we could ensure that the profits from those companies flowed back into our communities.
With just 1.9% of GDP invested each year on energy alone we would have seen £800 billion across the UK by 2030 and 850,000 new jobs. But it now needs to go even further.
So yes, we face one of the biggest economic and health crises we have ever seen but we must use this moment to instigate economic change to build the economy and society people deserve.
Because as a good friend from Salford said to me yesterday on the phone – “Just talking about being fair isn’t the answer to it all, you might win hearts and minds, you might even get into power but the system we have will never allow you to be truly fair, you need to understand what is really going on and you need to change it.”
So friends, this has been one of the most upsetting and difficult 12 months many of us have ever faced. We have felt battered and bruised and we’ve questioned whether the world we know is possible will ever become a reality in our lifetimes.
But the battle for that [better] world is now, it will be ferocious, and it will require a strength in all of us like never before.
And as the late great Bob Marley once said “you never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”
Strong is our only choice.
- Rebecca Long Bailey MP joined 1000s of Labour activists in being part of Fighting Back in 2021 on January 23 – you can watch the whole event at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kj9k_ypCuTY&t=4749s