Dan Jarvis: Labour will only change if it becomes a party of reform

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis.
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FIVE years ago in a by-election, the people of Barnsley Central elected me as their MP.

It is an enormous privilege to serve my constituents in Parliament, and in the course of my duties as an MP, I have met thousands of people in every corner of our country.

I have been humbled by their kindness, good humour and decency, and inspired by their desire for a better country.

They have told me that what they care about most is their family, their work and wages, and the community they live in.

They have taught me a difficult truth: many no longer trust the Labour Party because we stopped talking about the things that matter to them.

Having suffered two devastating election defeats, it is clear that we will never form a Labour government again unless we respond to what the public think about us.

Offering up a few new policies won’t cut it. We need fundamental change and that means rooting our politics in the things people actually care about – their family, work and community.

Family, in its different shapes and sizes, is under pressure. Our childcare and social care systems are not fit for purpose. Parents are left to juggle work, the care of children, and older relatives with too little quality time.

We need to invest in family life to ensure that every child receives the care they need. Specifically by investing in the early years which leads to happier, healthier children with more prosperous futures.

We need to demonstrate how we would offer high quality and affordable childcare and social care systems.

And how we would improve the work-life balance by tackling the scourge
of low pay. Working life is changing and we are at the start of a technological revolution. That has an impact on wages, working conditions and the skills people need.

We therefore need a world-leading system of education that equips our young people for this new world by helping them to think for themselves, be creative, and acquire key skills like relationship building and team work.

From thousands of conversations, on the doorstep, in the supermarket and my own advice surgery, I know that too many people’s lives are blighted by low pay and poor prospects.

As the party of work, we need to ensure that our businesses can both thrive and act as responsible employers in order to create good quality jobs. Too often the interests of shareholders and senior managers have taken priority and too often the result has been excessive pay awards at the top and too little distribution at the bottom.

To improve work and wages, we need active and engaged government investing in areas of potential growth and devolving resources down to communities. But creating economic growth also means harnessing the skills and talents of everyone. We need workers on boards, more employer-employee partnerships, more women in senior management and real transparency around corporate tax and pay.

In our communities, the bonds that bind people together have weakened leaving many feeling powerless and insecure. In South Yorkshire, the closure of the pits ended a way of life that had traditionally brought people together. We are still dealing with that loss and grappling with the challenge of recreating that sense of belonging.

Many are understandably anxious about high levels of immigration, which has become a proxy for people’s broader concerns about globalisation and feeling left behind.

More of us now live alone and there are new social evils like loneliness, depression, and addictions, which are largely a result of social and democratic change.

Supporting our young people must be a priority as they will be pioneers of social renewal. We can support them by expanding the National Citizens Service and teaching them that a successful life includes service to others.

Times are tough for many. Despite record levels of employment, growth is slowing and so are earnings. Inequalities are unacceptably high and our country is becoming less fair with each moment of Conservative rule.

Whilst our economy shows signs of improvement and the future offers the chance of a shared prosperity, the Tories are simply not capable of delivering it.

So five years in and thousands of conversations on, it is clear that what is needed is a Labour party that can lead our country into an age of great reform.

A party that can serve to level the playing field and work towards ensuring the daughter of a cleaner in Kingstone, Barnsley, has the same life chances as the son of a barrister in Kingston-upon-Thames in London.

But to achieve this ambition Labour must change and prove it can meet the challenges we face. We must again become a credible and effective movement and renew our proud tradition as the party of family, work and community.

Dan Jarvis is Labour MP for Barnsley Central.