Peer pressures

Jan RoyallJan Royall on Labour Lords' role in rebuilding Britain

Labour Lords return this week with a spring in their step, relishing our task of opposing this incompetent, shambolic Coalition government in the coming days and weeks.

Following an amazing summer of sport, when Britain came together to celebrate success in the Tour de France, the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Ryder Cup, we know our nation wants to work together to get through the current economic crisis and provide a better future for their children and grandchildren. That is why Ed Miliband’s terrific ‘One Nation’ speech to Labour Party conference was so important. People are fed up with division between rich and poor, between those who can work and those who cannot, between public and private, between north and south, they want their leaders to understand and respond to the concerns of all. They want one nation.

In his speech, Ed spoke of crucially important policies relating to vocational education and the forgotten 50% who do not go to university, short termism in business and corporate governance; Ed Balls set out policies to rebuild Britain by building houses using the £4bn from the 4G sell-off; Yvette Cooper said we would introduce an Economic Crime Act; Andy Burnham pledged to roll back the iniquitous Health and Social Care Act and to retain the NHS as a national rather than fragmented service; and there was much, much more from my Shadow Cabinet colleagues.

Labour has two and a half years to develop policies that will meet the challenges that our country will face in 2015, but people are crying out for action now from the Coalition.

We have said for months that Ministers are out of touch but it is clear from polling that the squeezed middle, women and the business community (now losing faith in the Tories according to ComRes) as well as the vulnerable have all reached that conclusion. The medicine of cuts and austerity simply isn’t working.

On the way to the Conservative conference the Prime Minister visited a hospital to announce £140m to cut red tape and bureaucracy in hospitals. Of course this is welcome but what about the emergency departments, labour wards, paediatric units and other services that are under threat at up to a fifth of NHS hospitals according to the Telegraph? Tangible proof that Mr Cameron and his colleagues, despite their warm words, are simply not on the side of public services and the people that use them. The Tories say they will ensure the rich pay their fare share, but how does this square with lowering the top tax rate which means that from April onwards millionaires will be better off by £40,000 a year?

Ed spoke last week of this “incompetent, hopeless, out of touch, u-turning, pledge-breaking, make it up as you go along, back of the envelope, miserable shower” of a government – and that was before the revelation of the fiasco of the suspension of the West Coast Main Line franchise at a probable cost far in excess of £100m.

It’s no wonder that Labour’s messages are beginning to be heard throughout the nation, but there is much more work for us to do as a Party to earn people’s trust and confidence. And we will continue to play our part in the Lords by scrutinising legislation, trying to amend damaging policies, holding Ministers to account and seeking clarification about mixed messages on vital issues such as the abortion limit.

In addition to our work on legislation, this first week back will see us focus on matters of crucial importance to this country, for example, Andrew Adonis’s debate on the strength of Britain’s industrial base and Helen Liddell’s debate on UK Trade and Investment and SMEs – a rare opportunity to question and hear the views of Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint.

Ed’s ‘One Nation’ theme was well received because people understand that in difficult times we need to support and sustain each other in our communities and throughout our country, and it is only by working together that we can overcome injustice and rebuild our economy, our society and our politics. Labour in the Lords is proud to be part of that rebuilding project.

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

Published Monday 8th October 2012

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