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The New Dividing Lines

The Tory leadership battle already tells us where the dividing lines at the next election will be. 

Well, one thing is already clear. The Tories know they’ve failed to deliver on Brexit. It is as Clive Efford puts it a dog’s Brexit. So Kemi Badenoch admits in the Times ‘We have failed to capitalise on that election winning majority of 2019’ while Tom Tugendhat declares ‘The full advantages of Brexit are yet to be unleashed’. To put it mildly. And this may set the frame for the next election: who now has the best plan to ‘Make Brexit Work?’

What will this election battle ground look like? 

Growth Through Climate Security 

Obviously the economy will centre-state where the basic divide will prove the Tories plan for slow growth and insecurity versus a Labour plan for security through faster growth.

Underpinning our case are three simple arguments, around investing in a plan for climate security – not climate insecurity, fair tax versus tax cuts for the richest and our plan for radical devotion of power and resources to ‘level up’ the country rather than the Tories’ hopeless fragmentation of 154 different local spending programmes run from Whitehall.

The Tories current plan for growth is forecast to deliver growth of precisely 0% next year. It’s a no growth plan and insufficient to improve public services and pay down our record debt.

All the leadership candidates so far think the answer is either more tax cuts or more austerity or both. So Rishi Sunak warns menacingly of ‘big decisions’. Kemi Badenoch declares ‘we need strong but limited government focused on the essentials….Lower taxes yes…accompanied by tight spending discipline’. Tom Tugendhat spells out ‘ Taxes, bluntly, are too high ‘ while Suella Braverman declares ‘we need to deliver rapid and large tax cuts’. 

None of them have anything to say about fair taxes or a tax code that reflects our moral code. None of them propose cutting small business rates or raising taxes on digital giants to level the economic playing field or indeed taxing capital income at the same rate as income tax.  

None mention science, industrial policy, manufacturing (apart from Tom who mentions the need to secure supply chains) or Climate Change – apart from Suella Braverman who appears to want to exit the Paris Climate Agreement. As a result, none of them plan to match Labour’s plan to direct £28 billion a year in the investments we need to hit net zero carbon emissions, green energy systems to new boilers to retrofitting for warmer homes with lower bills. 

So Labour’s case is simple: an active state investing more in climate security helps us deliver faster growth, reindustrialisation and helps boost the self employed backed by devolution of industrial policy, high not low infrastructure and science spending, with tax cuts for small businesses secured by abolishing business rates and radical devolution for England. 

Active Government 

The next big divide between the Tory leadership wannabes and Labour is on the role of Government – where we should set out a divide between our approach of ‘Active Government’ and their approach of ‘leave it to the market’. 

We believe in an active state and an active state is the only way to tackle climate change, make sure we turn the climate crisis into climate opportunity – and open those opportunities to all. The active state helps us all work together. We believe in that because Labour is a ‘we party’. Unlike the Tories which is a me, me, me party. Hence, Kemi Badenoch’s call for ‘limited government focused on the essentials’.

How does this dividing line play out in policy? 

Well, we believe in investing in the future not short-changing the next generation. We’re the party of education, education, education while the Tories are shortchanging our kids. They’ve created a gap so big between between public and private education that it would now take £55 billion to fix. Worse, the Tories even refused to fund the £15 billion catch up plan their own advisor said was needed. Labour has a different plan. For example, ending private school tax breaks and using the money to help fund £15 billion for our kids and grandkids to catch up. 

This is part of a bigger story: we believe in high quality universal public services not the Tories philosophy of ‘You’re on your own’. Labour built social security. But we know we now need to rebuild it. We need new things from a social security in the 21st century. Like help with saving, universal child care and social care, retraining, universal second pensions – and getting a home you can afford to call your own. 

And, only an active state can deliver security at work with a decent living wage and rights for workers.

Strong Communities 

Finally, the Tories are ironically divided by culture wars. So Rishi Sunak declares  ‘We’ve had enough of division. Politics at its best is a unifying endeavour’ while Kemi Badenoch takes aims at some mythical ‘entrenched opposition from a cultural establishment’.   

The dividing line here is simple; between Labour which wants strong communities and the Tories preference for divided communities. Their nasty divisive politics pits neighbour against neighbour – and weakens the Union. 

By contrast, we believe communities are stronger, safer and nicer places to live when we invest in active communities.

That’s why Labour will invest more in community policing, tackle online hate by getting tough with tech giants, and invest in youth work. 

Finally there’s the question of our country’s place in the world. Here the dividing line is simple: between a safe, confident country looking outwards and a Tory recipe for vulnerable country looking in 

Here without doubt Suella Braverman is the worst, proposing ‘no backsliding on the Protocol bill’ which will trigger a trade war with Europe, a retreat from the European Convention on Human Rights and an exit from the Paris Climate Agreement (‘we need to suspend’ she writes ‘the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050’). 

The Tories turning inwards is a disaster for our trade and dangerous for our security. We’re now distrusted as a country that breaks it’s promises. The Tories are surrendering our once proud leadership in the world, trashing our moral reputation on issues like aid just as global poverty rises for the first time this century, wrapping our exporters in so much red tape that trade is set to fall 15%, and jeopardising the peace we worked so hard for in Northern Ireland. 

That’s why Labour has to big up our plans to build a new relationship with Europe to ‘Make Brexit Work’, deliver a real focus on stability and peace in Northern Ireland, restore our leadership on international aid supporting fragile states that threaten to become failing states and help the world go green, and support our armed forces with a post 9/11 style lift in defence spending. 

Britain could go to the polls at any point over the next two years. And in truth there’s only two types of elections: ‘steady as we go’ or ‘time for change’.  There’s an opportunity now for Labour to sharpen our story about what that change could be. 

Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill | Chair, Parliamentary Network on the World Bank & International Monetary Fund @ParlNet | Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth | Proud Patron @NACOAUK


  • Liam Byrne

    Liam Byrne MP is the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill. Byrne Liam

Liam Byrne

Liam Byrne MP is the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill.

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