Caroline Flint

Standing up for Don Valley.

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This election isn’t the end of our debate, it must be the start

I want our ideas to touch on the real lives of those millions of people who for whatever reason shied away from voting Labour in May. I don‘t want us to write off any voters; nor take our loyal supporters for granted. In the discussions, hustings and emails since May, here are a few ideas which I have suggested. I hope they’re helpful. Let me know what you think at caroline@caroline4deputy.com

No Child left behind: For me, education is fundamental to whether children are able to realise their potential. A central concern of Labour's education policy should be to ensure no child leaves primary school unable to read and write. Too many children, for many reasons, arrive in nursery or reception class already 18 months behind other children.  This is tragic.  For that to remain when the child leaves primary is unacceptable.  Reading, writing and numeracy are the first rung on the ladder, without which children are consigned to fail in secondary school.  My upbringing has made me determined that we should not leave any child on a path towards poverty and insecurity. “No child left behind” should be Labour's clarion call.

Real vocational choice: we need real parity between vocational courses and university places.  Vocational courses should be shared between a family of schools to widen choice, rather than all vocational courses occurring just at the local college, with sixth forms only offering a more limited choice.  FE colleges should be fully funded if they welcome back adults who failed to complete courses at 16-19, the first time around. These colleges should access a ‘second chance fund’ and not be penalised.

A foot in the door: If we want to break the class barriers that dominate the elite professions, a radical Labour government would offer bursaries/free tuition to young people from working class backgrounds to study law, medicine etc. – to give them a foot in the door on courses dominated by the children of doctors and lawyers. 

Tax avoidance: Margaret Hodge did brilliant work with the Public Account Committee to shine a light on the 1,100 tax allowances that feed the tax avoidance industry. These allowances should only be used to promote skills, training, employment or investment.  Labour should demand that the vast majority are scrapped, making it fairer for small businesses, and that any “crackdown” on tax avoidance should be used to pay the deficit down. No Government is ever certain how much extra can be gained by the Exchequer by scrapping allowances or closing loopholes. This is “wish money”. So instead of funding new policies, let’s argue for any extra money raised through anti-tax avoidance to be devoted to reducing the deficit, and therefore reducing the pressure for cuts elsewhere.

The quality of housing: We need to build more homes. Years ago, council housing was viewed as inferior, the homes in poorer condition.  Today it is the private rented homes in low income neighbourhoods that are crying out for improvement.  With so many people now living in the private rented sector, I want tougher laws, including registered landlord schemes, to enable councils, for example, to fund inspections from the proceeds of a registration scheme.  This is currently prohibited.  Councils like Newham, who have led the way, need more powers and resources to make an impact, not fewer.

An end to piecemeal devolution: There is no doubt that devolution has left London and other English regions behind.  The Tories are happy to make one offer to Cornwall, a different one to Manchester and happy to play off Scotland’s strong settlement against England.  And why should health spending be devolved to Manchester, but not to London, the North East or any other region?  It’s time we sorted out how we put power back into all communities, not just the most influential. That’s why I want an end to piecemeal devolution, and a Devo UK conference, bringing the whole Labour family together, to thrash out a full settlement, to map out powers that should be devolved across the UK. 

Fair retirement for a lifetime’s work: Jeremy Corbyn has raised concern about workers doing arduous manual jobs being expected to work until nearly 70 to get the state pension. I think he has a point.  As we increase the retirement age, do we really believe that people working on building sites, cleaners or other arduous jobs should really wait until they are nearly 70 to retire?  Forty or so years doing physically demanding work is enough for anyone to retire with dignity.

The test about new policies is do they reach out to those who did not vote Labour at the last election. Ideas like these – on fair retirement, education, fair devolution, social mobility, vocational courses, tax avoidance, private landlords – must be rooted in every day experiences, and the life chances our society offers.

Isn’t this what Labour is all about?  And isn’t it where we need to be to win in 2020? Let the debate begin.

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