ED Miliband is right: Labour cannot seek to change the country unless we have the courage to change ourselves.
When knocking on doors in my Barnsley constituency, the most depressing conversation is not when people say that they’ll vote for someone else, it is when they say that they don’t intend to vote at all.
Turnout at election time has steadily declined over recent decades and we all know that the MPs’ expenses scandal of the last Parliament severely damaged trust. And although membership of the Labour Party has increased under Ed Miliband (in contrast to Conservative Party membership having halved under David Cameron), these days people are also reluctant to join political parties.
So how do we re-build public trust in politics and how do we begin to tackle the disconnect between the public and our politics?
Ed Miliband knows that the status quo isn’t working and he is determined to build a more inclusive politics. So when delegates gather for this week’s Labour conference, Miliband will reaffirm his commitment to oversee the biggest Labour Party reforms for a generation, outlining steps to strengthen our connection with ordinary working people.
Since 2010, Miliband has been transforming Labour’s policies on the big issues. On social security, he has said that Labour would reward those who have worked and paid tax for longer; and we that we would bring down the welfare bill and tackle worklessness by making sure that people who can work, do work.
On immigration, he has announced proposals which would make sure migrants learn English as well as banning recruitment agencies from seeking workers only from particular countries or ethnic groups.
At Labour’s conference this weekend, Miliband will further set out new ideas on policy. While David Cameron seems only to stand up for just a privileged few, Miliband will say how he would deal with the cost of living crisis that has seen families on low and middle incomes are worse off (by nearly £1,500 a year on average).
But as well as changing our policies, it is vital that Labour changes the way we do things too.
For more than a century, Labour has had a unique relationship with working people through our relationship with the trades unions. At a time when many people think that politicians are out of touch, having that relationship with ordinary working people is vital. And it’s in contrast to the Conservative Party, still bankrolled by a small number of millionaires, all of whom were given a tax cut in George Osborne’s budget.
But if we’re being honest about the Labour Party, the vast majority of trade union members are hardly involved in Labour at all. Miliband wants to change this by building a closer relationship with the millions of individual working people who are currently affiliated to the Labour Party through the trade union link. That is why he wants to move away from automatic affiliation fees to a system whereby trade union members would choose, as individuals, to join Labour.
Of course, as Ed Miliband has acknowledged, this will be a big challenge. And there are certainly risks involved, including financial risks. Change is never easy. But it does represent a massive opportunity to involve more people in the Labour Party, to open up our politics to the public and to ensure that we are firmly rooted in our communities.
Reforming the trade union link is just one of many changes Labour is making. To restore faith in politics, we know that we must make more improvements to the way we select candidates, go further in involving more members of the public in our decision making and work to take the big money out of politics.
In another move to make politics more transparent and trusted, Labour has also proposed introducing new rules and new limits on MPs having second jobs outside Parliament. How can it be right that some MPs are allowed to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds from outside interests while they are supposed to be working in Parliament, representing the interests of their constituents?
David Cameron’s position has been to argue for business as usual. And he seems to look down his nose at the six and a half million working people who are members of trade unions.
In contrast, Ed Miliband wants to govern for the whole country, not just a privileged few. He understands that to do this we have to build a new kind of politics. That’s why he’s changing Labour into a genuinely One Nation party that is reaching out to everyone. Miliband is right: Labour cannot seek to change the country unless we have the courage to change ourselves.
*Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East, Shadow Minister Without Portfolio and vice-chair of the Labour Party.