ON June 8, the people of Yorkshire will make a decision. Not a decision about whether Brexit should happen – that has already been made – but about how we make a success of it, and how we make a success of Britain beyond Brexit.
The next few years will see our country change its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. As we do so, other challenges will have to be addressed: the challenge of an ageing population; of sluggish productivity; and of new technologies that could make many of today’s jobs obsolete. Above all, the challenge of a country that is too unfair and getting unfairer.
Only a Labour government can meet these challenges.
The Tories came to power promising to balance the books, re-balance the economy, and deliver export-led growth. Yet seven years in, there isn’t a balanced budget in sight, Yorkshire has not recovered to its pre-2008 level, and the only growth we’re getting is built on consumer debt.
Inequality is once again on the rise. This is true along the income scale but it is also true between regions. Yorkshire continues to suffer from under-investment compared to London. Our region is not being developed to its full potential, and the Tories have no plans for a step-change in either investment or level ambition for Yorkshire.
After seven years of Tory rule, our once United Kingdom is also more divided than ever. In Tory Britain it is Leavers against Remainers; rich against poor; young against old; Celts against English; and North against South.
And all the while, 13 years of Labour investment in public services is being undone. The NHS is in permanent crisis. The social care system is close to collapse. Our education system benefits only the privileged. And child poverty is at an all-time high. I see the negative effects of many of these changes on my constituents in Barnsley every day.
The global financial crisis left the country in a difficult position, but seven years of Tory government has not made it any better, and nor will five years more.
Instead, a Tory future will see Britain as a tax haven where investments in public services, infrastructure and education are cut, and we attempt to compete with the world on the basis of lower prices and wages, not on the basis of quality and innovation. This is wrong. Yorkshire and Britain needs to compete through investment in high technology and new industries, not on low prices and falling living standards.
To let us do this, we need a government prepared to commit to educational excellence in every community in Britain. A government willing to work with teachers, business leaders, parents and others to re-think what educational excellence looks like at this stage in the 21st century.
We need a government prepared to tax big corporations and unearned wealth more fairly. We need a government that invests, in partnership with business, in areas of potential growth. A government committed to investing in the skills and infrastructure our economy needs, and a government that will do more to help small businesses thrive.
We need a government with an industrial strategy which no longer rewards a few big corporations but instead sets ambitious public interest goals, like the development of a low carbon North, and co-ordinates actions to achieve them.
We need a government that is prepared to protect consumers who are being ripped off; that enables home ownership; expands employee share ownership; extends workers’ rights; and raises the incomes of those on the lowest pay.
We need a government that is prepared to tackle endemic short termism in Britain’s economy by changing the law to give long-term owners of shares in Yorkshire businesses greater decision-making rights in the way those businesses are run. And we need a government that will make up the investment shortfall in Yorkshire, and that will devolve more powers to it so more of the decisions that impact Yorkshire’s future can be taken here, close to the people they most affect.
In recent weeks, the Labour leadership has set out a range of policies consistent with this agenda. Plans to invest in the digital and low carbon energy infrastructure we need. Plans to limit taxes on small businesses while ending the scandal of late payment by large businesses to small ones. A threat to cap energy prices if consumers need protection.
A commitment to roll back the role of the private sector in the NHS so we can recoup the money currently being skimmed off as profit. A promise to raise the national minimum wage to £10 an hour. Plans to accelerate the building of homes for ownership and to build more council houses. And plans to remove tax breaks for private education and for investments to prepare our young people for the challenges ahead.
This election offers a real choice not just of approaches to Brexit, but of visions of national success beyond Brexit. A choice between a cheaper Britain and a smarter Britain. A choice between a reunited, fairer country, and one plagued by division. Between national renewal or national decline.
Only Labour understands that Britain needs to be re-united and renewed if it is to be ready to meet the challenges ahead.
Because Labour knows that we achieve more together than we ever can alone.
Dan Jarvis MBE is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.