Class Conference 2013 will prove to be the watershed in articulating the left's responses to austerity, says Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The Centre for Labour and Social Studies has taken the important step of holding its first ever conference on Saturday November 2 at TUC Congress House.
The conference will be a platform to fast-track vibrant, fresh ideas into policy and looks set to be one of the biggest gatherings of progressives in the run-up of the 2015 general election.
We are delighted to be welcoming some of the most influential names on the British left to join us, including Owen Jones, Frances O'Grady, Len McCluskey, Angela Eagle MP, Mark Serwotka, Ian Lavery MP, John Hendy QC, Professor Keith Ewing, Lisa Nandy MP, Duncan Weldon, Zoe Williams, and many others.
Five years after the financial crash, it is clear beyond doubt that austerity doesn't work.
Since 2010 our economy has stagnated, unemployment has soared, living standards have plummeted and public services slashed. And yet the Coalition government presses ahead with its ruinous policy, because it works for the rich - in June official tax figures showed that the number of Britons earning more than £1 million a year has almost doubled.
In spite of its obvious failure, austerity has yet to suffer a crisis of political legitimacy. Important protest movements have emerged in the last three years, but as yet no clear alternative policies or economic visions have won popular support.
It's true that the Labour Party is beginning to make important progress and defeat of the coalition looks very possible. But the left still needs an overarching vision - a new political settlement for 2015.
Two years after Class was founded, we have become a leading progressive think tank - the only British think tank to be backed by the labour movement. We benefit from the support of Unite, GMB, Ucatt, CWU, Aslef, NUT, PCS, MU, TSSA and GFTU.
We were established with the clear role of developing policies promoting trade union values and countering the coalition government's austerity agenda - an agenda which has translated into uncertainty, misery and the dismantling of our welfare state.
It is time for the left to start arguing for an overarching vision. The need for a progressive alternative has never been greater. No party post-crash should go to election with a narrow, consumerist agenda. People want the type of change that can only be achieved through new, progressive thinking and radical policies.
The question is - what policies should parties adopt to realise a new political settlement?
This is exactly what we'll be debating at Class Conference 2013. There will be sessions on a wide range of issues from housing to health, education to equality, poverty pay to privatisation amongst many more.
We want trade unionists and working people to play an active role in the debate - who better to discuss how public services should be improved than those who work in and use them on a daily basis?
We're also aware that we have the public on our side when it comes to a number of key issues. Previous polling by Class suggests that 56 per cent of the public want a new 75 per cent top rate of income tax on those earning over £1 million - even more than four in 10 Conservative voters back the idea.
Seven out of 10 people believe that "redistributing wealth from the richest in society" is an important aim in "setting economic policy." While bringing the deficit down was considered "very important" or "fairly important" by 85 per cent, the British public were near-unanimous - with 95 per cent support - about the government's role in creating jobs and reducing unemployment, as well as encouraging economic growth.
In another departure from neo-liberal economics, 74 per cent were behind proposals to establish a publicly owned bank to lend to small and medium businesses.
With house-building at the lowest levels for nearly a century, the British people are willing to back radical action - 64 per cent support a national programme of building half a million new homes a year, including 150,000 new council homes.
These ideas demonstrate how far to the right the political class is compared with ordinary people. It is hard to imagine any of the mainstream parties adopting any of them as policies, for fear of being tarred with the reds-under-the-bed brush.
It is up to the left, therefore, to make the arguments for the ideas the public have already shown support for. We must compel political parties to adopt these ideas as policies by creating the right political space for them.
Class Conference 2013 has invited trade unionists, campaigners, politicians, academics and journalists to come together to create exactly this political space.
Trade unionists and campaigners provide the grass-roots support to influence political debate, politicians provide the power, academics can underpin ideas with evidence and journalists can communicate big ideas to the public.
Together, we can build a vision to challenge austerity and create a new settlement for 2015.
We hope you'll join us.
Ellie Mae O'Hagan is on the national advisory panel of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies. For more information about the event visit www.classonline.org.uk