This week, Nouse Events hosted Rachel Reeves, Member of Parliament for Leeds West and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who spoke on the ‘Coalition’s failures and Labour’s alternative’. In the course of the evening, Reeves spoke about her motivation for joining the Labour party, the coalition’s failure to address structural economic problems and how a Labour government could help to create a fairer society. Nouse spoke to her after the event.
What attracted you to the Labour movement? Is there a distinction between the Labour Party and the Labour movement?
“I joined the Labour party when I was 17 and shortly after joined a trade union and felt that I was part of the Labour movement as well as the party. The two parts reinforce themselves. The labour party campaigns through politics and parliament for change and the trade union movement does so in the workplace. They complement each other through economic change in the workplace and a campaign for lasting change.”
Looking forward to 2015, in the event that Labour doesn’t attain a majority, is coalition government something you would have to look at? What would the conditions be?
“The Labour Party are campaigning to win and as we are 10 points ahead in the polls that would give us a majority of about 60 seats and we have set out 106 seats that we are focusing on at the general election in 2015, including seats we lost in 2010 to the Tories and Lib Dems. I’m confident that with the right campaigning and under Ed’s leadership we can win in 2015 and that’s what we’re putting all of our efforts in to. If we were not successful in that then we’d have to look at other things, we’d have to look at how the electorate views you. The Labour Party would never go into coalition with UKIP as we are diametrically opposed in how we see Britain’s role in Europe. We don’t want to leave Europe so that would not be a possibility. The Lib Dems are going to have to campaign incredibly hard to keep half the number of seats they’ve got because people feel incredibly let down, most of all students, who voted for a party who said they’d get rid of tuition fees and then trebled them. We are campaigning for a majority at the next election but we can’t be arrogant in politics, because it is up to the electorate to decide who they want to govern.”
What would Labour repeal or reform from the legacy of the coalition?
“That’s really hard because we don’t know what the economy is going to look like in three weeks’ time let alone three years. So we haven’t set out our manifesto and it would be unwise to do so because we don’t know what the economic inheritance of an incoming Labour government would be, so we’ll have to wait until nearer the time. But we’ve set out some of the principles that guide us and our voting record in Parliament is a guide to how we would govern and we would govern as One Nation, where everybody has a stake in the economy and society, and it isn’t just a few at the top who plough ahead whilst those on middle and low incomes are left to fend for themselves. In terms of public services, for example, we’ve been very clear about our opposition to what the government has done to the National Health Service which goes against the interests of patients and the NHS we created in 1948.”
If Labour were in government, how would the party respond to the current EU situation?
“The Labour Party believes that Europe needs to be reformed for British interests and for the wider people of Europe. The first area where we need reform is in terms of the economy. At the moment Europe is pursuing a collective austerity approach which is sinking some economies in Europe further into recession and pushed up unemployment, particularly amongst young people to more than 50% in some countries. We think that should be the priority of politicians, including David Cameron, right now rather than on a referendum in 5 years’ time on some unspecified treaty or constitutional change.”
One of the most pressing issues that students face is to do with housing and landlords taking advantage of them. What would the Labour Party do to combat these things which don’t fall into the sphere of fees and so on?
“Ed Miliband made a powerful speech at the Fabian Society Conference where he talked about some of the problems we face with “rip-off Britain” and one of the areas he identified was in the private rented sector, and this has grown substantially in the last few years, not least because people can’t afford home ownership. People in the private sector need much greater protection than they get currently from rip-off landlords and rip-off letting agencies as well, and Ed has said that he’d like to see a register of landlords with local authorities having power to strike them off those registers, but also much greater transparency on fees and charges that letting agents are allowed to put on tenants. Those things will be a big help for students but also for new graduates, many of whom are going to find that home ownership is a long way in the future, and also many families who are living in the private sector now as well. The average age of buying a house now without parental support is now something like 38, so given that trend and that sort of reality I think this is a very important area. It’s really good that Ed Miliband said this in his speech last week.”