Duty calls

Jan RoyallJan Royall on providing our country and communities with a vision for the future

Now that the debates on the dismal offerings of the latest Queen’s Speech have ended, Labour Peers are back to their usual work of scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account.

It is tempting to dwell on the out of touch Tories disarray, the “soap opera” (as The Daily Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan puts it) surrounding their internal battles on the European Union, and what Lord Ashcroft described as the emerging strategy relating to ‘mad swivel-eyed loons’. But the fact that in under two years the electorate will have decided on a new government focuses the mind.  

The 2015 general election countdown has well and truly begun, with now just 717 days to go before polling day. Yet our fellow citizens do not currently see politics as the answer to their daily problems, which is why only 29% of those eligible bothered to exercise their democratic duty to vote in the recent county council elections.

They are angry with politicians who have not listened to their concerns – perhaps one reason for the rise of UKIP, whose attraction I do not underestimate. People do not think that any political party has the policies to enable our country to meet the huge challenges confronting us. Some of these are a result of the global economic situation but many others stem directly from the policies of austerity that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are doggedly pursuing. 

People need hope for themselves and their families, especially at time when living standards are being squeezed so hard. They want to be able to plan for a future in which their children have more opportunities than they did. They want action to get people back to work, to get more affordable homes built, to tackle rising energy bills and to tackle the growing cost of travelling to work. They also want a fair society in which millionaires do not receive tax cuts and multinationals like Amazon, Google and Starbucks pay their fair share of taxes.

Labour already has policies on all of these issues, but I understand the clamour for even more meat on the bone. Our thorough policy-making process is well underway and more announcements will follow. In the meantime, the councils that we run across the country are demonstrating that Labour in office does make a real difference: by paying the living wage, by building more houses, by working with local companies to provide more apprenticeships. Innovation however, can only go so far and like all local authorities they are working within severe financial constraints, dealing with the pernicious bedroom tax and making painful decisions in relation to social care.  

We had some terrific results in the county elections, winning 291 seats – including many in the constituencies that we must win to form the next government. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership we have come a long way since our disastrous result in 2010, and unlike our opponents we have learnt the invaluable lesson that unity is strength. I do recognise however, that we still have a huge amount of work to do and must also change the way in which we do politics. 

It is up to us in the Labour Party to meet the challenges that our country, communities, families and individuals now face, to provide a vision for the future and reconnect with citizens. We have a patriotic duty to do this – and we will.

Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords

Published 20th May 2013

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