- September 15, 2017
- Posted by: Jeremy Miles AM / AC
- Category: Latest News
The following is a speech given to Labour Students National Summer Training event on 20 August 2017 in Bath.
Thank you Melantha and thank you all for your welcome this afternoon. I have just had the benefit of two weeks in Spain, I landed late last night and haven’t actually been home – I am in transit back to wales – but what more inspiring a way to get back into the post-holiday political swing of things than to join you here today for your summer training.
I use holidays to catch up on two things – tapas and reading. I was in the Cadiz region of Spain these last two weeks and they have a tapas festival this time of year and by the time I left yesterday I had definitely caused a minor tapas shortage.
But I also caught up on my reading. I got into reading a little about Spanish history and in particular the decline of the Franco regime in the mid-70s. Remarkable really to think that during my lifetime a major western European country and culture was a right wing dictatorship, until really the death of Franco in 1975.
What people don’t know so much about is the role of the student movement in Spain in opposing Franco particularly in the latter years of the dictatorship — and in fighting against the pretended legitimacy of the regime.
Students on campuses across the country, demonstrated, protested and organised to undermine the dictatorship, at a time when it permeated all aspects of life and culture in Spain. They fought in an attempt to create a culture of liberal, egalitarian and democratic openness on campus and in the society at large, in the teeth of widespread academic acquiescence with – and in many cases active support – for the regime.
They were met with a policy of brutal oppression, with military repression, mass expulsions from campus — and indeed the loss of life. When the end of the regime came, the contribution which the student movement had made to create a new democratic society was absolutely vital in the journey in which Spain found itself to becoming a modern European democracy.
And what inspiration that provides for us.
A reminder – if we needed one – of the essential role of student activism in creating the kind of society that we should all aspire to live in.
And a lesson – even though we are fortunate not to suffer the trauma of dictatorship – that meeting the challenges of the age, whatever they may be, demands the fusion of ideas, the imagination, the creativity, the boldness the courage and the energy that student political activism – like little else – is able to bring.
So I was delighted to be invited to join you today as the student wing of our Labour movement, to discuss with you where we are as a party and to thank you for all you do for the party, for your activism, for your campaigns — and for your creativity and ideas. And we need each and every element of those contributions you make.
Sadly it’s a while since I myself was a student. I was the first in my family to go. My dad was a painter and decorator and my mum was a secretary and neither of them had the opportunity to go but wanted me to do so. That’s a very familiar story to many.
I went to Oxford University in the late 80s and early 90s. I had joined the Labour Party in my teens and being from south wales –knew something of the brutal effects of a tory government which ripped communities apart, which devastated the life chances of generations.
I had joined the party because of what I saw happening around me, where decent people lost their work, where their families went without, because of the heartless actions of a tory government.
And at university I saw at first hand the huge inequalities of British society, a Welsh working class lad at oxford university had his eyes opened witnessing unimagined affluence and privilege.
I would come home during vacation and reflect on my time there with my grandmother – an immensely cultured and well-read working class woman who I am sure would have loved to have gone to university if she could have imagined the possibility – I know would have loved to have completed her schooling– had she not been brought up at a time when working class women just didn’t have any hope of doing that. And that injustice drove me on as well.
University gave me great opportunities. I went on briefly to teach law in Poland, and then to have a career in international media law in legal practice and working in the media sector.
But those years, my late teens and early twenties were a really important time for me on my political journey and helped shaped my understanding of what our party could and should be — and how we needed to change our country.
I lived in London at that time – and it was a time of great optimism in the party – in the mid-nineties. Optimism that we could sweep away 18 years of dead tory government and replace it with a living, reforming Labour government, which we did – 20 years ago this summer. We campaigned hard for that – and I can still remember the elation we felt when we won.
And I know you know a thing or two about campaigning yourselves, so I want to take this opportunity to say thank you. To all of you who campaigned so hard in the general election this year.
You accomplished great things in seats up and down the UK and we made fantastic gains in the most unlikely of seats. But I know that every one of us in this room knows, that unimaginably wonderful though it is to have gained Kensington and Chelsea and Canterbury, the task at an election is not just to win ground — but to win.
Without winning the power to govern — we simply cannot improve the lives of people who so desperately need a Labour government, and the sooner it comes the better for all of those who look to us for our commitment to social justice and fairness for everyone in our country.
I represent a constituency in the former south wales coalfield where there is a legacy of tory betrayal. So many of my constituents have been hit by cuts driven by tory austerity. They just cannot afford a generation of conservative government.
The difference our party can make in power is clear in wales. In wales, we have a Welsh Labour government — constrained by austerity, yes, in a very real sense — but making different choices within the resources that we have – compassionate choices, and grounded in democratic socialist ideals.
Reversing the tory trade union act in public services, abolishing exploitative zero hours contracts in care, a not for profit rail operator, capping student fees, government-funded apprenticeships in strategic sectors, no market in the NHS, a statutory integration of health and social care, free prescriptions, sustainability principles at the heart of all policy, a social partnership model with unions and employers, proactive support for steel, significant support for the cooperative sector… and big changes in the housing sector which I will talk more about later.
And changes to support the LGBT community which as a gay man is obviously very important to me — the fight to change the law to bring equality rights – human rights, is a core part of my politics.
So I’m very pleased that in recent weeks the Welsh Labour Government has made the anti-HIV drug prep available to all who can benefit across wales.
And we have made the commitment to reducing the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men from 12 to 3 months. There is still some work to do to end a system which is based on crude categorisation, rather than individual risk assessment, but Welsh Labour ministers have listened, and more importantly, have acted.
But there is much more we need to do especially to support our trans friends. The continued lack of services for gender identity is a major concern. I have pressed the cabinet secretary for health to take action to improve the quality and access to life changing healthcare for trans people. The government have set aside funds and I am confident that we will see progress quickly on this now.
I know it is an area that Welsh Labour Students have lobbied on in the past year. It was made all the more poignant by the passing of our friend and former Swansea Labour Students chair Lily Summers who had been a great advocate for LGBT rights.
Josh spoke movingly at Welsh Labour conference not only about Lily but the pressures that trans people face. Josh thank you for what you said. I thought it showed the power that Labour students has within the party — to be our guide and to shine a light on the injustices we have yet to conquer.
And if we need a measure of how far there is to go, we recently witnessed the us president attacking LGBT people for simple political gain – we saw Trump point at trans people serving in the us military and say ‘you are the problem’. Trans service personnel who work every day, often in harm’s way, to keep safe a US president who failed himself to serve his own country when called upon.
It is utterly shameful and is no different to how he vilified Mexicans with a wall or Muslims with a travel ban. Or how he backed the white supremacists in Charlottesville. Fostering himself with the culture of poison and hatred.
This is happening right now in one of our closest allies.
And the failure of Theresa May to disown Trump in explicit terms is a moral stain on her leadership and a disgrace to this country.
I want to turn now to one of the big – but very different – challenges that we face closer to home, here in the UK and where Wales again has taken a different path. Our housing problem.. and it is so clear why you have chosen this as your priority campaign this year, your campaign for “somewhere to call home’.
Housing is the great unifying anxiety of modern society. It is both fundamental to our wellbeing and for many, many people, in different ways, a cause of great insecurity.
Not only do we need more good quality, affordable housing, we need to make sure that the dodgy practices in parts of the private renting sector are ended and that those rogue landlords are brought to heel.
Many of you will know the experience first-hand: you pay a fortune up front, to move into a reasonably presented flat or house. Within days, the fresh lick of paint gives way to the rising damp and the poor insulation brings out the mould. And you are expected to pay for this luxury. Worse still, you are charged for trying to make it more habitable!
The market allows for too many bad landlords to thrive unchallenged. We must tackle this urgently. And one way of doing so is to nurture new models of housing ownership.
I happen to be the chair of the Co-operative group of Assembly Members (by the way we have more co-op assembly members than tory members in the Welsh assembly), so I am always keen to look at cooperative solutions.
And I am delighted that the first student housing co-operatives are now open in Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. With no landlord, students there are paying as little as £40 in rent per week, which includes management fees, maintenance allowance and a guarantee of a full refurb every 15 years.
I want to see us build on this and to see more and more students setting up their own not-for-profit housing co-operatives.
I’m also interested in the idea of modular housing – fast, environmental, quality construction that produces little on site waste which could potentially provide local jobs in an industry which is currently only fledgling in the UK.
In wales, Welsh Labour is taking action.
We are consulting on proposals to remove the ability of lettings agencies to charge fees. We have already introduced compulsory registration of landlords in an effort to drive up standards. We have committed to build 20,000 new affordable homes in the next 4 years and we are legislating to end the Tories’ right to buy that has depleted our social housing stock, meaning that people are waiting longer and longer to access a home they can afford.
The Tories at Westminster have barely even woken up to the scale of the problem. Before the election was called, the UK government had a commitment to build just 40,000 affordable homes across England (population 45m) compared to the Welsh Government’s commitment to build 20,000 in wales (population 3m).
Welsh Labour is showing what we can do in government and providing a model for what can be done in England and Scotland too.
And the opportunity now which devolution of power across the UK brings – whether to nations or city regions also imposes a special responsibility on us as a party. Where we are in power, not only must we govern in the interests of ordinary working people but we must also use our example, our experience to help lead our party back to power in Westminster too.
We must be the innovators, the inspirers, the radicals wherever we govern.
I wish you well with your “somewhere to call home” campaign and I hope that you’ll also keep up the tradition of being thought leaders in other areas too.
Every Labour government has left this country a better place than when we came into government. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
In the aftermath of war, we built the NHS. In the 60s we ended capital punishment, we legalised abortion. After 1997 we brought in the minimum wage, built new schools for the first time in a generation, introduced civil partnerships. And so much more.
Each generation faces its own particular challenges. And the solutions to those challenges demand fresh thinking and courage.
The challenge of technology – taking away work – which has been the mechanism as long as we can remember for people to provide for themselves and their families. How do we make sure the benefits of technology are shared by us all — not by a handful of players.
The challenge of global poverty – and we have seen the consequence in wars, migration and radicalisation. We could make massive inroads for a fraction of the cost we spend on warfare globally.
The challenges of reconciling privacy and security.
The challenge of recreating a society without carbon.
The crisis in mental health in young people and children.
Each generation faces its own particular challenges. And new challenges demand that our party finds different means of expressing our eternal principles.
In the 40s we were the party of common ownership, in the 60s the party of equality, in the 90s the party of meritocracy. Each of those remain important parts of our programme today.
But what will be the guiding vision of our party in the 2020s? How will we reconcile our profound commitment to justice with the circumstances in which, like every new generation, we find ourselves?
You have the answer.
You – we – may not face the challenges that a previous generation of radical student activists faced in Spain. The solutions to the problems of our times are not the same. And yet who could doubt that the challenges we will face in the times ahead — when you will be the leaders of our party — will not at least be as great as those we wrestle with today or which have faced us in the past.
So my message to you today is, don’t be told that your ideas are too radical, and don’t be told that your vision can’t be fulfilled. Don’t accept prevailing wisdom.
Question. Challenge. Imagine. Organise.
The pace of change in the world around us has never been faster, the urgency of the political and economic questions we face, never greater.
And you are at the front line, tasked with making sure that we harness the force of those changes — to make a better life for the many not the few.