We believe that responsibility cuts both ways. Ed criticised the ‘take what you can' society. The alternative is a society of built on give and take - if you put in, then you can take out. Of course we protect the vulnerable, but everyone who can contribute should.
Yesterday Ed Miliband gave his best speech yet as Labour leader. Not simply because it came after another round of tired, boring, irrelevant, repetitive, backward-looking carping about the Blair and Brown years. But because it was a speech of real substance, with the beginnings of an argument good enough to win the next election.
There is a fundamental difference between the Labour and Tory view of what true responsibility means. When we talk about responsibility we put the word ‘mutual' before it. Tories claim the moral high ground as eighteen millionaires in the cabinet wag the finger at the poor and slash services. Politics by the powerful for the powerful.
We beg to differ. We believe that responsibility cuts both ways. Ed criticised the ‘take what you can' society. The alternative is a society of built on give and take - if you put in, then you can take out. Of course we protect the vulnerable, but everyone who can contribute should. Labour voters are offended by the idea that anyone should be allowed to manipulate the benefits system. But we will also not stand for those who exploit their workers or customers in the market place or don't pay the taxes which are legitimately demanded of them. Politics by the mainstream majority, for the mainstream majority.
The Labour Party was born because the ruling class demonstrated no responsibility towards the workforce. Working people first came together to form trade unions because they believed that work should be safe and rewarding, not dangerous and exploitative.
The co-operative movement has always represented mutual responsibility in action, whether sharing the gains of a successful business among the workforce, or the sorrows of death with the cooperative funeral. It is a movement built on solidarity, one to another.
The welfare state was founded on the same principles of give and take. Beveridge's vision was founded on the idea of social insurance. We all put into the system. We are all protected during periods of ill-health, unemployment or in old age. Ed's speech Ed's speech tapped into these deep-rooted ideas in our tradition: it worked because it was Labour to the core.
These values matter as much today as they did in 1900 or 1945. People feel nervous that others are abusing the welfare state. Many are angry at greed, exploitation and excess in the market place. Follow the argument through and it could lead us to some big reforms.
It would mean a welfare system that is more helpful and more demanding. People would be guaranteed a job rather than thrown on the scrap heap, but also expected to take work when it was on offer. There would be a future jobs fund, in other words.
It would mean a more ethical position on how people make money. Just as exploiting workers is wrong, so too is exploiting customers. You shouldn't be able to get rich by preying on the vulnerable. So alongside policies for a living wage we would clamp down on loan sharks with a cap on interest rates.
The debate about tax would be different. We would rely more on taxing unearned wealth, and less on taxing the wages that people work for. Empty speculation, whether in the housing market or in the City, would be discouraged in favour of productive work and genuine enterprise. This is one reason why I favour a land tax. We are, after all, a party of labour - of those who want to work hard and contribute something to society.
Britain has a government acting deeply irresponsibly. Our first job is to oppose. But the price of criticism is a constructive alternative. Yesterday Ed demonstrated that we have one. More like this and come the next election the Tories will have a real fight on their hands.