Rebecca Long Bailey has had a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Labour Party, helped partly by her senior colleagues hurling themselves off the front bench during a series of protests and an attempted coup. Their loss has been her gain.
She is a Labour figure to watch, as she has been touted as a successor to Jeremy Corbyn with the backing of the all-important left of the Party. She was second in command in John McDonnell’s Treasury team for a time, and remains a close ally of his.
Her words, therefore, are close to that of the leadership and her ambitions today could indicate the direction of the Labour Party in the future. Long Bailey re-iterated Labour’s commitment to ensuring the 60% of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030 (arguably a step back from Ed Miliband’s “virtually carbon free electricity” target by 2030) and to support projects like the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.
There were three main themes to Long Bailey’s conference speech:
- The regional imbalance in the UK’s economy – with Long Bailey saying 40% of the UK’s economic output comes from the south east of England
- Rights for workers, especially around the gig economy, and skills
- The future of British industry and the fourth industrial revolution
The subject of the fourth industrial revolution was, however, the dominant theme. She talked about how the economy had changed in the last twenty years and how it will change in the next twenty, with a focus on automation (“half of all jobs could be lost to automation”) and Government’s role in ensuring this change was fair. On the latter, she characterised the Conservative’s approach to the fourth industrial revolution as in the interests of “the few” at the expense of “the many”. Labour’s approach would be different, she said, because it would include a role for collective bargaining. This would include a National Education Service to invest in skills, “creating the right conditions” for business and rejuvenating British manufacturing. Long Bailey also argued that ride-sharing and food delivery apps could instead be owned by their employees.
However, conspicuous by its absence in her speech was any significant mention of energy policy. The energy transition will clearly be a part of the fourth industrial revolution, yet the only commitment in the speech was a relatively modest 2030 without any concrete actions to achieve it. Perhaps this is because there is a challenge here for Labour. Renewables like wind and solar, and distributed forms of generation, often employ fewer people throughout the supply chain than fossil-fuel power stations.
Labour does not say this is a negative per se, but the Party seems to be suggesting that the answer is in upskilling workers and creating better quality jobs that pay more. Labour’s team – especially through Alan Whitehead – does understand energy policy, so their message to industry is perhaps in what they have omitted, rather than what they have explicitly said.
Labour wants to see companies training and improving the lives of their employees, rebalancing the economy away from London and the south east, and giving employees more rights. Labour’s vision of the fourth industrial revolution is, possibly, more of the same.