Stephen spoke with Total Politics about the direction of the Labour Party, re-nationalising the railways, the NHS and Prime Ministers Questions you can read it here.
How have you viewed the party’s direction, particularly compared to the last Labour government?
I’m certainly somebody that believes during the New Labour years huge things were achieved; record levels of spending on health and education, we also introduced the minimum wage, we repealed some aspects of Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation, Northern Ireland peace process – it was a time of great successes. Unfortunately there was the catastrophic error of invading Iraq, and I think from that time on we were in some ways mortally wounded. What I think we didn’t manage to do was actually change the political weather. The ‘Thathcherite’ consensus that the only route to well-being is to abandon justice and equity and just let the market go unfettered – in my view we did not even really try to challenge it. We went with the grain on it; I think that was a huge missed opportunity.
What I think we see now with Ed Miliband as our leader is somebody who understands that the market should be at the service of society, and not the other way around. We need a type of capitalism that actually creates value rather than just extracts it and which tackles inequality rather than exacerbates it. That’s very exciting; that’s a radical, bold agenda that we must have if we’re going to succeed.
Should the railways be re-nationalised?
I am a fan of the East Coast Model, which is more of a public franchising allowing the public sector to compete in these tenders. The East Coast Model is an absolute role model for the way the rest of our rail network should function. I wouldn’t describe it as a full re-nationalisation in that case, I think it’s them creating public sector run companies that are not shareholder based – the dividend that they make is then ploughed back into the public sector.
Do you believe higher education should be free? Do Ed Miliband’s proposals go far enough?
I think we have moved to a stage where higher education being absolutely free is a very difficult thing to achieve. Those who have a degree we know that the vast majority do end up earning more over their lifetimes than those who don’t. I think it’s right that something has to be put back in, you have got that education and you do need to appreciate and value that and recognise that in either the tax or repayment alone. Let’s see how the £6,000 goes, review it and then see whether sometime down the line a graduate tax is a more equitable and affective policy.
What role, if any, should the private sector have in the National Health Service?
I think that the NHS is the jewel in our crown – there are three things that define what it means to be in a civilised society and they are all what has been created by Labour governments. That’s the NHS, the open university and the BBC. We have to defend those jewels in our crown until our last breaths because if we lose sight of them and what they stand for we will be losing a massive part of our national character and identity. I think we do need to be open to a discussion about the long-term future and long-term financing because there are clear questions about the sustainability of the NHS. I think that there may be very limited areas where the only possible way is to use a private sector provider for some areas and specific services that cannot be provided through the standard NHS channel. But, in principle, my personal view is that should never really be necessary because we need to have an NHS that is properly funded, properly supported and properly able to deliver to patients, so it is free at the point of delivery.
Do you have any concerns over the influence the unions have within the Labour party?
I would like to see a full repeal of Thatcher’s legislation around the trade Union movement so we can create a collective bargaining culture again with a mature, constructive dialogue just like we have seen in the Scandinavian countries, in Germany, in other countries like the French, who often are more productive than we are and we can solve that problem by giving Trade Unions a seat at the table.
The Labour party and the trade union movement are a family; we must never forget that the party came out of the trade union movement and that is where our roots are. If we lose that connection we will lose the connection with the reality of the lives of working people. If Labour doesn’t stand for that it stands for nothing – we must continue to foster that link.
What do you think of Prime Minister’s Questions?
I think people want politics to help them to solve their problems and to get stuff done. I think the problem is when you look at the bear pit of Prime Minister’s Questions it doesn’t look like that’s a group who actually wants to work, to get stuff done. PMQ’s does not look like a place that is about the problems of the day and having a level headed look at issues. It is much more a place of showboating and people shouting at each other. I do think it turns the public off and I would like to see some changes there.
Do you have higher ministerial ambitions?
I hope that I can make a useful contribution to the parliamentary Labour party and I will of course take on any role if any, if the leadership thinks that there’s something I could usefully do. Right now I’m completely focussed on winning here in Aberavon and on helping to get Ed Miliband into Number 10 on the 8th May.