On the wrong side of history

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					On the wrong side of history

The Tories have a “do-nothing” plan for the downturn and no plan at all
for an upturn

29 November 2008

In a fortnight, what John Prescott called 'the tectonic plates' of
politics have moved decisively. New Labour has shown once again
that its home ground is the centre ground.


But Cameron, in a twist that has become the hallmark of the Tory
bid for definition, has ended any bid to stick to the centre in favour
of an approach that can only be described as 'rolling back the
years', back to the 1980s. Cameron's new Labour moment is over.
The Tories have reverted to type. They have left themselves with no
plan for the downturn - and crucially no plan for a fairer society
when an upturn comes.


Cameron can sound different to Thatcher. He draws on different
Conservative traditions. But both Thatcher and Cameron's stories
have the same ending; roll back the state; accept as inevitable
unfairness today and social division tomorrow.


Cameron's one time concern for a broken society may have stood
the focus group test last year but it doesn‟t seem to be standing the
“money where your mouth is” test this year.


This rolling back the state now looks more and more like rolling
back the years, to the uncaring, 'nasty party' we came to know so
well. While Tory backbenchers see Cameron on the right side of
dogma, the world sees him on the wrong side of history. In this
global recession, he stands isolated confronting market failure with
a 'do-nothing' attitude and a plea for a return to Victorian 'self help'.


On the downturn, Tory policy has oscillated between initiative-itis,
inaction and sheer confusion.


First, they set themselves against rescuing the banks or regulating
the mortgage market. When the banks were in trouble Mr. Osborne
went to great lengths to tell the world “I am not in favour of
nationalisation, full stop”. He then opposed the Banking Bill giving
the Government the powers to nationalise Northern Rock. Last year
he welcomed a report from one of his policy commissions which
included the immortal words ”mortgage regulation. We see no need
to continue to regulate the provision of mortgage finance” and
shrugged off short-selling as merely “a function of capitalist
markets”.


Now their position on borrowing is confusion itself. On 1 October
David Cameron said “we will rein in borrowing”. Twenty days later
he said ”Borrowing goes up. That is inevitable and you have to allow
that to happen”. Seven days after that, the shadow chief secretary
was saying ”increasing borrowing is not a strategy for dealing with
the recession”.


But what's also become clear in recent weeks is that the Tories have
no plan for an upturn either, especially when it comes to the core
question about the role of the state.


Continuous public service reform is crucial and must be founded on
a clear purpose for what government should deliver. We're clear.
We want government to help create a strong economy, a country of
strong communities tied together by fair rules and a country of fair
chances. That frames our agenda for government - and what we
want it to look like. And delivering fairness alongside prosperity is
the key to the holding and winning the new centre ground.


A few weeks ago the Cabinet Office published an academic evidence
paper called Getting On, Getting Ahead - which reviews the
evidence about the trends and drivers of social mobility in Britain.


It seems hard to believe now, but the global economy is going to
double in size in the next twenty years creating up to one billion
skilled jobs. That's a big prize – the chance to create new
opportunities for millions of British people to get on in life - just like
the era after 1945, when a similar surge of highly skilled jobs
(professional and clerical) created the room at the top for a record
breaking surge in social mobility.


The wave of globalisation that's coming should therefore set the
terms of our strategy for an upturn - which is why the Prime
Minister is right to talk about a new settlement required for new
times. And the evidence indicates that giving people a fair shot to
get on life, no matter their background, requires action and
investment at every stage of the lifecycle. Action the Tories won‟t
take and investment they would dramatically cut.


Let's start with youngsters. We now know high-quality pre-school
education is a vital leg-up to doing well in the years to come.
Toddlers who enjoy high quality pre-school education enjoy reading
results nearly twice as good as those with only home care by age
10. US studies show a nine-fold payback across a life time for every
dollar on preschool interventions for disadvantaged kids, and in
Scandinavia, links between parental and child achievement
weakened - in some cases massively - for generations enjoying
access to universal childcare.


Good effects are multiplied by parents who take an interest in their
kids: parental aspirations have an impact equivalent to four
additional school terms on pupil progression , and parental interest
in education has four times as much influence on attainment at 16
than socio-economic background.
This is why we spend over £5 billion on early years and childcare
(four times the amount in 1997), doubling the number of childcare
places. Childcare tax credits now pay 80 per cent of formal childcare
that eligible families pay, and parents now get nine months paid
maternity leave, and two weeks paid paternity leave.


The Tories however, dismiss the value of high-quality pre-school
education. David Willets in the Sunday Times suggests the
government is too concerned with early years and contrary to now
widely accepted evidence suggests that “children are resilient and
the early years need not determine their destiny” . If only that were
true for all our children. But worse is their policy to curtail Sure
Start. They want to slice £79 million we've budgeted for new Sure
Start outreach workers - vital to giving young kids a good start in
life - and £121 million from core Sure Start budgets.


Then, at school we know that qualifications remain the best
guarantor of future success. School qualifications at 16 account for
some 20pc of intergenerational mobility. Kids with five GSCE's of
any grade will earn 10 per cent more than those without. And
missing education, employment and training between 16 and 18 is
the best predictor of being unemployed at 21.


But the Tories have a programme of cuts for schools. This totals an
incredible £4.5 billion - that's an amazing one in seven re-build
projects; or 360 school rebuilds across the country cancelled. On
post-16 education, David Cameron himself says he can't give a
straight answer on whether he would support the education
maintenance allowance (EMAs) that have encouraged 16-18 year
olds to stay in education. He told Sky News when asked about his
commitment to EMAs “I can't give you a straight answer on that”.
Worse, the Tories oppose raising the age for education and training
provision to 18. On ITV lunchtime news, Michael Gove called it ”a
stunt” and on 14 January this year, they voted against that part of
the Education & Skills Bill. At 18, Mr Cameron refuses to support a
target to let 50 per cent of youngsters go to university; telling the
Guardian it was “not for the Government to set some target”.


Finally, workplace training. We know that 70 per cent of the
workforce of 2020 is already in work. Analysis shows that those who
get trapped on low skills stay low paid for life and have little access
to training: less than 10 per cent of those without qualifications had
any workplace training in the last three months - where over a third
with Level 4 qualifications did.


The Tories would make vast cuts to successful workplace learning
programmes. On 22 July, they proposed to cut £1 billion from the
government's pioneering Train to Gain service that channels money
to firms to train employees. They were immediately attacked by the
CBI, the IoD and Lord Lietch.


At every stage of the ladder of opportunity, the Tories are found
wanting.


Where the Tories have alternative proposals, they typically propose
letting the market run its course (education) or fail to tackle vested
interests (NHS). But they refuse to countenance government
intervention to halt inadequate standards. They believe the market
should be allowed to run its course. In other words, while our
approach to public services is a „high floor and no ceiling‟, theirs is
„no floor and no ceiling‟.


And all this was before George Osborne's new promise to spend
even less than before. I‟m all for reducing government waste - the
Cabinet Office and Treasury will unite in the months ahead to
champion these measures - but I‟m not for reducing life chances.
This removal of the ladder of opportunity sits ill when a global
financial crisis threatens to hit hardest those who need the ladder
most.


The pre-budget report sets out a clear plan for the downturn. Over
the next few months, we will set out new proposals for real help
now, and for the kind of country we want to see when the upturn
comes.


Crucially, you will see us stick like glue to the centre-ground –
globally applauded economic management alongside absolute
determination to deliver a fairer Britain. That's always been new
Labour's way. Enduring values applied to changing circumstances.
We believe that the life chances of every family and every young
person can‟t be put on hold. We did that in Tory recessions and we
lost a generation.


Tory plans would see us once more lose a generation of opportunity
as an 'inevitable price worth paying'. Talk about rolling back the
years…

Liam Byrne is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and
Minister for the Cabinet Office

				
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