Britain has suffered from 12 years of low-growth, low-wage, high-incompetence conservatism. A key feature of the Conservatives’ disastrous record on the economy is their catastrophic performance on productivity. Output per hour worked in the UK grew at 1.9% between 1997 and 2007 but at a mere 0.7% between 2009 and 2019. It is that lower productivity that has caused the economy as a whole to fall further behind the US, Germany and others over the past decade.
This collapse in our productivity is not an act of God but the result of fundamental political choices. Do we starve businesses of the policy framework and investment they need to get our economy growing while cutting public services to the bone? Or do we pursue smart investment in Britain’s infrastructure, education, skills, research and development, and new technologies such as green energy? The Conservatives have consistently made the former choice over the past 12 years, but what we need for the decade ahead is the latter investment-driven growth model and, more specifically, Labour’s new industrial strategy.
There is a direct link between Britain’s low growth and poor productivity and the decline of our manufacturing sector, which has collapsed from around 30% of GDP in the 1970s to just 9% today. Manufacturing provides good jobs in less prosperous areas—meaningful, well-paid jobs on which people can raise a family—as well as the industries we need to get us to net zero and, perhaps most crucially of all, the foundations of our national security and economic resilience.
It is deeply troubling that the Chinese state holds a 33% stake in Hinkley Point, a 10% stake in Heathrow airport and a 9% stake in Thames Water. The public are opposed to the road this Government are taking. They know we need a Britain that can stand more firmly on its own two feet, and they recognise the need for foundational industries to thrive if Britain is to prosper. Indeed, in one recent poll, 80% of those surveyed declared steel as a strategically important industry that we must maintain in the UK, but the Conservative Government have failed to invest in our manufacturing base.
This September, manufacturing output fell by 2.3% to record the worst performance in manufacturing over three months since the 1980s. That is why the Labour party’s green prosperity plan will marry the quest for sustainable growth and jobs on which people can raise a family with the need for resilience. We see net zero not as a hindrance but as an opportunity for growth and prosperity.
I can assure the House that nobody will have to drag my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) kicking and screaming to COP. He will be leading, not leaving. He will be boldly setting out his Labour Government’s plan to double onshore wind, treble solar power and quadruple offshore wind by 2030 and, in so doing, create as many as 1 million green jobs—from technicians to plumbers and steelworkers.
This is the level of ambition we need for our country: a plan to make sure British industry leads the world again, making us a clean-power superpower. We will also champion sectors of the British economy that are the envy of the world, from the fintech hubs growing in places such as Leeds to the booming video game production in Dundee and chemicals industry in Middlesbrough.
Our green steel renewal fund will secure the future of the steel industry in my Aberavon constituency in south Wales. By greening our steel processing, Labour will ensure our steelmakers can compete in a world in which global steel demand is on the rise. Make no mistake—Britain needs its steel as a foundation of the modern manufacturing renaissance that Labour will deliver.
Labour will, of course, put resilience front and centre of our industrial strategy by launching publicly owned GB Energy to ensure that Britain becomes energy independent. Not only Labour MPs but businesspeople are backing this. Paul Lindley, a successful entrepreneur, recently wrote in The Times about Labour’s investment-based approach, and the CEO of Tesco said that, when it comes to who has a convincing plan for growth, Labour is the
“only team on the pitch”.
Businesspeople across the length and breadth of the country know that Labour will partner with the private sector to drive a new kind of growth that will rebalance the economy, decarbonise our industries and reignite Britain’s potential. Twelve years of the Conservatives have hammered our manufacturing sector and crashed our economy. We need change and we need it now.