Category Archives: Philosophy

Interview with Amartya Sen on power to our citizens – Sept 2009

Following today’s speech on Rewriting The Rules, I thought I’d republish an interview I did with Amartya Sen in 2009 on how we put more power into the hands of our citizens….




27 September 2009

Liam Byrne MP interview with Amartya Sen


LB:  Rawls talks about equality of opportunity as a starting point, but you went further than that and you started talking about an argument that centred on a degree of equality and capability

AS:  The opportunities for him are certain external features, and the opportunities – there’s a deep ambiguity about it. If many things are open to me I have opportunity to do them if only I could, but if I’m illiterate and education has been neglected [then] I might not be able to use that opportunity

LB:  And so for you, equality of opportunity was simply not a concept that was meaningful enough?

AS:  Well opportunity could be defined in so many ways. There’s one way of defining it, equality of opportunity, which is in fact the equality of capability, but the libertarians got there first and they have – like the Americans getting onto the moon, naming every crater after something like an astronaut – they have got there and named “opportunity” in a way that we cannot get ownership of now. Some people even tend to think that’s how John Rawls used it, which is not the case at all.

LB:  The second thing though that I was struck by was your take on whether you see capabilities as a static concept or do you think capabilities begin to change over time? Do we need to establish different capabilities as society advances? Or is there a threshold test – once we reach it, we’re done?

AS:  No I don’t think so. Capability is just a concept of what is it we’re looking at. Now how far we can go along that and what new capabilities become possible is something we have to judge. The steps are like this.

Step 1 depends on the income we’re looking at and we’re looking at what it does to human life. Human life depends not only on income but also on social opportunities, [for example] what the state does for educating.

At the moment I’ve just finished writing an introduction to Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiment and 250 years ago we were already talking about the role of the state in expanding the opportunities that the workers have, arguing the difference between the working class human being and those born in rank and privilege, as he called them. He is actually dogmatic on the nurture side against the nature side. This is where the role of the state is, to change that picture. When people don’t read, it depends on what the state does to help us.

Here we’re looking at what it does to human life. Human life consists of doing certain things … to take part in the life of the community; to be able to talk about subjects that interest me and there freedom of speech comes into it.

In all kinds of ways there are different freedoms that effect our lives and you can assess what our lives are like by looking at the various freedoms that we have. And these freedoms, in terms of relations if you like, are the human capabilities that we’re looking at. There’s no mystery about that.

The opportunities, income, schools facilities, the basic income support that the government provides or any of these things .. public transport arrangements we have.. all these are part of the way our lives and freedoms are effected. And capability is just looking, saying don’t try to assess a society in a way that is detached from the lives freedoms of the people.

It’s not that the capabilities in concept change, certain capabilities become achievable in a way that is not. For example when I was giving a lecture in India, the capabilities that I have to be concerned with there, namely the ability of people to go to a school, to be literate, to be able to have a basic health care everywhere, to be able to seek some kind of medical response to one’s ailment; these become central issues in the Indian context which they’re not in the UK, because you’re well beyond that.

So you’re obviously thinking about different concepts, some of them remain important; taking part in the life of the community is important in the UK as it is in India; on the other hand many things are at a much higher level of capabilities and then you know 100 years from now they will talk about many other capabilities.

But the basic idea of what it is doing to human life remains the central question anyway.

LB:  So you would therefore think this is an argument that has application in high-income countries as well as in low-income countries?

AS:  Ah yes totally, totally.  In some high-income countries [there is a need for] elementary capabilities, like in the United States – getting medical attention.

One of the very important ones in the British context is … the kind of more sophisticated poverty relief issues. The fact that people’s income earning ability is less but on top of that people’s ability to convert income into freedom of living is also less for much the same reason for which your income earning capability is less, you’re less able to walk about quickly, you need athletic support…that makes it harder for you to get a job, it also makes it harder for you with the same amount of income to have the same kind of living that you could have had with that income if you were very young.

LB:  You seem to come back to this argument about community.  My weekend job is serving a very poor area in inner city Birmingham where I am an MP in East Birmingham, Hodge Hill, with the 4th highest unemployment in the country. Over the last 4 or 5 years that I have been an MP, a lot of my work has been about regenerating that community.

So I test the law of your arguments in practice, when I go back to my constituency.  I’ve been very struck though, and this is not something I’ve expected, but I have learned the hard way; I’ve been very struck that the ground floor of renewal is creating a stronger community.

It is impossible to get people to work together without a stronger sense of social solidarity, which is harder to muster in modern Britain. But I just wondered to what extent you’ve thought about this question of social solidarity?

AS:  I think it’s very important and the reason that I wanted to come back to it is that community – of solidarity, of let’s save the poor and deprived – that way of talking about community is enormously constructive.

LB:  But why do you think that community and a stronger sense of social solidarity in the way that you define it is important?

AS:  I think that so many of our abilities to do things depend on interaction with each other. Many of these require organisation, which is often difficult at a local level to do, without the help of local organisations and so forth. And that’s so important in a context like town living, inner city existence whether in Europe or America.



What basic powers should all citizens have?


Dear friends,


In my speech earlier today, calling for a #NewClause4, I promised to publish some work we did in Government on the basic powers we want to see in the hands of our citizens.


Today I am publishing these slides for the first time. Click on the first slide below to have a look, it is a fascinating list of powers.


What powers do citizens need


My speech on entrepreneurial socialism, the fight against inequality and a #NewClause4


Dear friends,


I am giving a speech this morning at Policy Network called entrepreneurial socialism – it sets out how the Labour Party can unite around the fight against inequality with a #NewClause4.


You can read my speech here using this link here:


Byrne – How We Rewrite the Rules for Our Economy – and Our Party


What do you think? I want to hear from you – tell me what you would prioritise in a #NewClause4 fill out my survey here.


You can read my Guardian article from yesterday here or below:


My new version of Clause IV charts a way forward for Labour

When Jeremy Corbyn sealed his stunning leadership victory, he boldly promised “real debate, not message discipline”.

Jeremy was right. And now we’re making progress hammering the Tories on tax credits, it’s time for progress with the real debate that was promised. We need to offer voters more than anger. We need to offer an alternative.

But before we get started, let’s remember this: every single part of the Labourparty needs to respect Jeremy’s mandate – and his mantra: the fight against inequality is central. For we now live in a land where we’re multiplying the super-rich and the super-poor. The number of billionaires is up by nearly 50% since before the crash – while 300,000 more children live in poverty. Corporate bank accounts are full – while children’s tummies are empty.

New Labour achieved so much in office. But we all know it’s now time to bury neoliberalism. The old rules aren’t solving our problems. The old rules are the problem.

Once upon a time, we said: deregulate, cut taxes, break down walls to free trade and enshrine “shareholder value” in company law. We prayed it would create good jobs and wealth that was shared. But guess what? Today’s global super-companies, bigger than countries, aren’t honouring the deal.

They’re not investing in creating good jobs – and all rewards are going to the top. Today, private investment is still lower than before the crash – despite £16bn in corporate tax cuts. There’s a mind-blowing £522bn in company bank accounts – and firms paid out £100bn last year in share buy-backs. Result? Three quarters of the “knowledge economy” jobs created since 2010 are in management consulting – while the number of advanced manufacturing jobs has fallen. And while median hourly pay is down some 9%, directors’ pay has rocketed to 120 times average pay.

Inequality is not inevitable. As Joseph Stiglitz argued in last month’s thought-provoking Rewriting the Rules, institutions matter – and right now they’re broken. So we need to rewrite the rules.

In his leadership campaign, Mr Corbyn proposed many things on which we agree: “tax justice”, rebalancing the fiscal burden, “welfare efficiency”, industrial policy, a green plan and devolution. But there are other ideas we should debate in a spirit of mutual respect. For instance, I personally think there’s an alternative to“People’s QE” or printing money, renationalising things and loads more public spending.

I think there’s a better way: rewriting the rules for our economy – starting with the Bank of England, our financial markets, our company boards and the OBR, plus our schools, our science base, and our social security system.

We should give the Bank of England a new mandate to aim for full employment – like the US Humphrey-Hawkins Act. In our capital markets, the average length of time for owning a share is down from six years in 1950 to less than six months today. So, we should give long–term investors a bigger vote – like France’s newFlorange law. And while we’re at it, let’s have a US-style Community Reinvestment Act to channel investment into deprived communities and sort out the rules so pension fund trustees know they don’t have to chase quarterly profits. Because investors hold shares so briefly, we should give long-term stakeholders – such as workers and creditors – more power on company boards as they do in Germany.

And it’s time we had a budget watchdog that reported to parliament on how we close the tax gap. Our inability to forecast tax is hobbling our efforts to budget prudently or to make sure big firms pay up. Indeed, out of George Osborne’s 11 budgets, he has missed his tax forecasts in eight of them.

To crowd in more investment to science and innovation, we should raise science spending to 3% of GDP, to match the Germans and South Koreans. In our schools, we should rewrite the national curriculum to help accelerate a young entrepreneurs’ revolution by delivering enterprise education to every child in every school.

And crucially, we need to re-found our social security system, reintroducing the contributory principle and an earned entitlement to subsidised lifetime loans for college, apprenticeship study – or simply reskilling, a little like the HELP loans in Australia.

I don’t believe that debate is disunity – but I’ve been around long enough to know that unity is strength. So, we need to start this debate by making sure we’re all on the same side. So as we begin debating how we rewrite the rules of our economy, we need to rewrite the rules of our party.

As Yvette Cooper pointed out this summer, it’s 20 years since we updated Clause IV. And today’s Clause IV doesn’t even mention inequality. That’s wrong. We need to say what we mean – and mean what we say. Our aims need to reflect our ambitions. So today, I’m publishing a draft of a new Clause IV, just to get the conversation started. As the great John Prescott once put it, it’s time once more to put our traditional values in a modern setting. And get down to business making the 21st century a Labour century.

The New Clause IV

“The Labour party is a democratic socialist party that believes that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone.

“We believe that we are each other’s equal and each deserve an equal chance to good health, wealth, happiness and freedom.

“We bring together those who thirst for a fairer, ever more equal, democratic, proud and patriotic country. We have joined together to battle for the power to turn our idealism into action, in parliament, in our communities and in the world beyond.

“We seek power for a purpose: to fight inequality and injustice, to make real the right of each of us to live a life of fulfilment, hope and happiness, free of economic, political, social or sexual exploitation by forces beyond our individual control. Where each of us has the power to become skilled and knowledgable; to have a good job and a fair income, a decent place to live and aspirations for the future; where our citizens can move and travel freely and live free from fear; where we support a strong family life in strong, active communities, and where we conserve the beauty and health of our environment for generations to come.

“We seek to build with human hands, a better society where we insist on our responsibilities towards each other and the responsibility of government to do its best with the least it needs.”


EDM on Compassion as a ‘Fundamental British Value’


Dear friends,


Today I tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Parliament calling on the Government to include compassion on it’s list of ‘fundamental British Values’.



‘That this house notes the list of British values published in the Prevent Strategy 2011 includes democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs; believes that ‘compassion’ is a fundamental British value which our government should affirm and our schools seek to actively promote; and calls for the Government to add ‘compassion’ to the official definition of British values.’


Speaking after tabling the EDM Liam Byrne MP said:


In multi-cultural Birmingham, people hold the same values dear as the rest of the country; freedom, equality, diversity ‘tolerance’, and ‘respect’.


‘But all my research tells me, the government is missing something fundamental from the list: good old fashioned British compassion. 


‘In our surveys on ‘British’ values, kindness, compassion, ‘looking after the needy’ – and indeed looking after one another – is something people think makes our country special.


‘It’s why in poll after poll on our favourite institutions, up there with the Queen and our magnificent armed forces is the amazing NHS. It’s compassion in action’.

Byrne challenges Nicky Morgan to add ‘compassion’ to the official list of British values

Immediate Release

News from Liam Byrne MP                                                                           26/10/2015


Byrne challenges Nicky Morgan to add ‘compassion’ to the official list of British values 


Liam Byrne MP today challenged the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to add ‘compassion’ to the official list of British values celebrated nationally and promoted in the nation’s schools.


You can read their exchange below:


Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): This term, schools around the country are rightly being asked not only to respect but to promote British values. Does the Secretary of State agree with the proposal in my early-day motion, tabled today, that it is time we added compassion to that list of values? My constituents think that that is one of the qualities that make this country great. Should we not start to celebrate it as such?

Nicky Morgan: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment and his support for the teaching of fundamental British values in all our schools. He is absolutely right to say that those are the values that make our country great. I am very happy to look at this. We could have an endless debate on which values to capture, but the ones that we have, particularly respect and tolerance, are hugely important and I want everyone to get on with thinking about how best we can promote them.


Byrne backed his question with a motion in Parliament calling for the change after extensive research amongst residents of Birmingham who cited ‘compassion’ as one of the most important qualities they loved about modern Britain.


The government ‘official’ list of British values was set out in the Prevent Strategy 2011 which declared: “…we would consider to be mainstream British values: democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind.”


In November 2014, following the so-called Trojan Horse incident – which Liam Byrne helped expose – the Department for Education required schools  to ‘promote’ British Values and specified a revised list including;


“the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”

Following research in Birmingham, however, Liam Byrne said: In multi-cultural Birmingham, people hold the same values dear as the rest of the country; freedom, equality, diversity ‘tolerance’, and ‘respect’.


‘But all my research tells me, the government is missing something fundamental from the list: good old fashioned British compassion. 


‘In our surveys on ‘British’ values, kindness, compassion, ‘looking after the needy’ – and indeed looking after one another – is something people think makes our country special.


‘It’s why in poll after poll on our favourite institutions, up there with the Queen and our magnificent armed forces is the amazing NHS. It’s compassion in action’.
Byrne will argue that adding ‘compassion’ to the list of British values will also help honour the role of faith – especially Christianity and Islam – in national life and encourage the government to promote integration through ‘Big Society’ style projects.




  1. As immigration minister, Liam Byrne proposed changes to citizenship laws to introduce ‘earned citizenship’. The text of his early day motion in Parliament is as follows:


‘That this house notes the list of British values published in the Prevent Strategy 2011 includes democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs; believes that ‘compassion’ is a fundamental British value which our government should affirm and our schools seek to actively promote; and calls for the Government to add ‘compassion’ to the official definition of British values.’


  1. Liam’s survey of Birmingham residents can be found here:
  2. British values were first specified as ‘shared values’ in the Prevent Strategy: a Guide for Local Partners in England” 2008 (Page 60)


“Shared values including:

  • Respect for the rule of law;
  • freedom of speech;
  • equality of opportunity;
  • respect for others; and
  • responsibility towards others.

The Frontline is Online – my piece in the Daily Mirror


Dear friends,


You may have seen my piece in the Daily Mirror today; you can read it here below:


Whatsapp is a “disaster for the police” – how we are losing the fight against the digital Jihadis


David Cameron should think again about air strikes against Syria and focus on the real threat to British security: the use of social media to pervert young minds. Labour MP Liam Byrne warns that apps such as Whatsapp, Viber and Snapchat are being used by extremists to groom recruits for ISIS and the police are struggling to stop them




The case of Boy S, the 15 year old Blackburn teenager convicted of inciting terrorism, reveals the new truth in the battle against extremism.

The front line is online. Now the Prime Minister looks poised to halt his expensive bombing plans for Syria, I’ve know a better place to put the money earmarked for Tornados and Brimstone missiles: the digital battle-front, where the case of Boy S proves, we’re being hopelessly out-generaled.

In a shocking testimony, the police laid bare the crucial role of social media through which Boy S was first groomed, and through which he planned mayhem.

It’s a change in tactics signalled in a little discussed manual written by Al Queda in Iraq – the group which became ISIS.

A Course in the Art of Recruiting’ was recovered by US forces in 2009 and sets out step by step the methods deployed by Isis groomers on instant messenger apps like Whatsapp, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, Viber and a host of apps few parents have ever heard of.

Today these apps are being used to pervert angry young minds with propaganda produced like pop videos, iconic images of the Knights of Lone Jihad and twisted snippets from the Quran, used to justify murder. And we’re not fighting back.

In my patch of East Birmingham, police, parents and teachers are worried. ‘Whatsapp’ is a disaster for the Police’ one intelligence expert told me. ‘We think 80-90% of our problem is the online world’.

It means the government needs to think again about it’s plans for counter-radicalisation coming to parliament this winter.

In the summer, David Cameron heralded new laws to restrict free speech – and take a tougher line on mosques. But the idea risks back-firing badly when the problem is not radical preachers in back-rooms – but chat rooms.

Before we start supporting military intervention in Syria – we should start supporting parents’ intervention at home.

Lobbing a few Brimstone missiles around in Syria costs around £1 million a mission. Frankly the money would be better spent with charities like Jan Trust’s Web Guardians, which teaches parents to spot the warning signs in their child’s online habits.

Why? Because in Birmingham police were shocked to discover at a community event recently that just 10% of mums knew how to log on – never mind check what their kids were surfing online.
Second, in a world where smart phones can be weapons, why don’t we at least have digital safety locks for under 18s – that prevent young people accessing things they shouldn’t. It’s surely not beyond the nation that cracked the Enigma ciphers to invent one.

Third, we need a huge campaign to flood social media with the counter arguments – theological and otherwise – to rebut the perverted arguments of the digital jihadis – arguments which have barely moved on since the last will and testaments of the 7/7 bombers, but which are now produced to world class standards, often by Brits abroad.

Fourth, it’s time to get tougher with digital giants, to force the rapid shut of what is frankly treason and fifth.

We need new laws to create a safe, supervised, judicial process for targeted intelligence gathering online – now mission critical in keeping us safe.

It is said the Prime Minister sees the war against extremism as a generational struggle. He’s right. But as Boy S proves, the prime minister is in danger of fighting the last war – not the digital battle now at hand.


Liam Byrne is the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill


Redshift – Looking for a new England – 22 July 2015


Dear friends,


England is changing – and to win back power, Labour must change too.

At the last election, England decisively shifted blue. Now Labour now needs a plan for a red shift.

We believe progressive parties win when we own the future.But too many people think we belonged to the past. The electorate is changing rapidly. The world of work is dramatically altered. Communities are changing shape. Generational shifts in values are under way. Many feel left behind. Yet vast new forces of trade and technology are speeding up.

So we need to go back to basics. To draw on the real experience and insights of English people today, inside and outside the workplace. To show how we can re-energise the ways Labour values can transform real lives.

Red Shift brings together a group of English Labour MP’s and activists determined to shine a spotlight on how England is changing, how peoples’ ambitions are changing – and how Labour needs to change to win.

The group will publish its first report – Looking for a New England – on the changing world of work and politics at party conference in September.


You can read the group’s op-ed in today’s Daily Mirror here.

Visit the Red Shift website and tell us what you heard at the General Election here.

Re-shaping the radical centre – lessons from the 2015 election


Dear friends,


You may have seen my piece in the Sunday Times yesterday on lessons for the Labour Party from this year’s election.

You can read it here or below: 



You can access a set of slides which sum up my argument; here.

Reshaping the radical centre




Liam Byrne MP – Sunday Times – 14 June 2015


How Labour rebuilds the radical centre


It was the election that ended one of the oldest myths in progressive politics.

Depressed by decades of Tory dominance, Labour’s 20th century thinkers thought they knew the answer. Reunite the centre left, bring together Labour and Lib Dem visions, voters and voices, and hey presto a new ‘progressive majority’ would be born.

Well now we know the truth. In 2015, the Lib Dems collapsed to the status of a fringe party. And who prospered? Not Labour. But UKIP, the SNP and ultimately the Tories. The jury is in and the verdict is simple. You can’t build a radical centre in British politics around some mythical ‘progressive alliance’ of Lib Dems and Labour. Because it doesn’t exist.

Let me confess I find this a painful conclusion. The notion of the ‘progressive alliance’ has a long and distinguished history on the left. And few were better makers of the case than my predecessor in Stechford, Roy Jenkins. Urged on by Roy, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown chewed the fat for years fathoming what might be possible.

But, as Churchill once said; however elegant the strategy it is wise to occasionally look at the results. And the results of the 2015 election are very clear.

Amongst Labour’s target seats, victories were few and far between. The 22 seats we did win –  like Cambridge, Lancaster, Bradford or Dewsbury – were by and large alike: they were either home to large numbers of ethnic minority voters or what marketeers call ‘urban intellectuals’ – university educated, middle class, and quite possibly enjoyers of the Guardian.

But let’s look at the target seats we lost to the Tories. There were 74 of them in England and Wales. Here the Lib Dem vote collapsed as we knew it would. But Labour’s disastrous ‘35% strategy’ – aka ‘a Hail Mary pass’ – aimed to mobilise a risky, narrow core vote plus a few and had assumed one in three grumpy Lib Dems would come our way. So what happened? Nothing of the sort.

In the target seats we lost to the Tories, the Lib Dem vote collapsed by an average of 6,585 – but more than two thirds sailed right past us and went to UKIP; their vote rising by an average of 4,853. The remaining Lib Dem losses split between Tory and Labour – and the Tories took the bigger slice. We won on average just one in 13 of the fleeing Lib Dem voters. So much for the progressive alliance. Worse, in 33 of the target seats we lost, not only did the Lib Dem vote fall – but the Labour vote fell as well. The Lib Dems quite simply were not and are not a reservoir of closet lefties.

What are the conclusions for people like me who want to rebuild and dominate the radical centre in British politics?

I think three basic ideas stand out.

Number one. There is no substitute to building a bigger stake in what Keith Joseph once called the ‘common ground’ of politics. This isn’t some kind of triangulated, dead centre split-the-difference position between Tories and Labour. As Keith Joseph explained; ‘the middle ground is a compromise between politicians unrelated to the aspirations of the people, the common ground is common ground with people and their aspirations.’  We need to own the common ground – not triangulate with the Tories.

Second, we have got to renew our radical roots and win back support from the radically minded, often collectivist, anti-establishment voters who today see UKIP, the SNP and the Greens as a better home than Labour. They should be ‘our voters’. And unless we make it so, we’ll be in opposition for ever.

This means we need not Blue Labour, but ‘blue collar Labour’. Blue collar workers dominate the seats where both the Lib Dem and Labour vote fell – seats like Burton, Nuneaton, Dover, and Harlow, where I grew up and started my working life in McDonalds, later spending a happy summer as a white van driver. Labour’s share of the skilled working class – once 50% back in 1997 – is now down to just 32%. It barely improved on our disastrous 2010 performance. This is why the Tories blue collar Conservatism is such a smart move. Yvette Cooper is right when she says: we have to win back the towns once again.

To this we need to add ‘Green Labour’, because in 43 of our target seats the Green vote went up by more than the Labour vote. I spent most of the campaign on the road with the Labour Students minibus. Our amazing younger activists were very blunt with me: if we want to own the future we have to become far greener in policy and character.

Third, we have to be the party of older voters and not just the young. I’ll put this as gently as I can: Labour is facing a demographic time-bomb unless we transform our standing with older voters.

We had a brilliant offer for young people at this election. Our Youth Manifesto, co-written by young people, was magnificent. At its centre was our most expensive £3 billion pledge: to cut tuition fees and raise grants. But we had little to offer the over 65s – and what happened? The Tory majority amongst over 65s soared to almost 2 million votes – more than the overall Tory Majority.


We had almost nothing to say to older voters beyond our warnings about the imminent collapse of the NHS. Meanwhile the Tories hammered away about stability, Ed Miliband, the triple lock on pensions and access to pension piggy-banks that sounded like free gold for a golden retirement.


We must never again fail to be the party that speaks for older Britain. And the conclusion for our leadership debate is quite simple. If the next Labour leader does not connect with older people – especially older women – then quite simply we will lose again. Remember at the next election there will be 1.5 MILLION more voters over 65 as the baby boomers retire – and 40% of voters will be over 50.

If there’s one thing I learned from my political hero Tony Blair, it’s that when modernisers stop modernising we fail. We have a mountain to climb to win back power. But Labour’s history tells us that we’re great mountain climbers when we dare to face facts, grasp nettles – and change.  Today, trade, technology, the world of work, and demographics are completely re-shaping the radical centre of British politics. The coalition we need to win back is now clear.


Let Labour’s change begin.


Statement on Universities UK Letter to the Times – 02 February 2015


Commenting on the letter from Universities UK (UUK) to the Times newspaper, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills Liam Byrne MP said:


“The Tory-led government trebled fees and now it is crystal clear that the student finance system is going bust, saddling students with debts most will never repay of £43,500 on average, and costing the taxpayer more than the system it replaced.
According to new UCAS analysis, trebled fees have deterred thousands of potential students applying.


“We will announce our policy in due course ahead of the general election.”




Editor’s note



A recent study by UCAS, ‘Summary of demand factors to 2018′ found that the government’s trebling of student fees reduced application numbers by 5 per cent.


You can access the study here.




Time to Start Backing and Stop Attacking Our Young People – My speech to Burnt Mill – Tuesday 16 December 2014

There has been some press coverage of my speech. You can read coverage from the Independent here,  from the Evening Standard here, and a piece from me in LabourList here.

I am also delighted to say that the visit was covered by YourHarlow – here.

If you have felt exploited by a long unpaid internship then I want to hear from you.

Drop me a line with your story to 



LB at Burnt Mill - 16 Dec 14

Liam Byrne and Suzy Stride PPC outside Burnt Mill Academy with staff and pupils  



Time to Start Backing and Stop Attacking Our Young People

Speech to Burnt Mill [Academy], Tuesday 16th December 2014

Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP



[Thank you very much.]

It’s a big relief to leave the turmoil of the capital and find the calm of your campus.

Back in Westminster, there’s so much doom and gloom it feels like the government wants us to live in some kind of Narnia: always winter and never Christmas.

Everywhere, there’s cynicism when we need a bit of idealism.

Too much fear, when we want hope.

That’s why it’s brilliant to be back in Burnt Mill, the place that set me on my road.

It’s been brilliant to watch your star shine in the years since I left

It’s been incredible to watch your turnaround under the amazing Helena Mills

It’s a really proud moment to speak here in what’s now an Outstanding School

That’s a testament to your hard work, your parents’ support and some amazing teachers.

But what I love about Ms Mills approach is this

She’s ambitious for you to be able to compete anywhere in the world: here in Britain, in Europe, in China, in America

I’m here to say that I think it was time politicians signed up to same ambitions as your teachers and parents – and stopped running you down and started backing you up.

It’s time for a government that stopped attacking you and started backing you.


Right now there’s just too many people who want to tell you that’s nothing possible, when you live in a world of possibility.

The truth is the future is going to be amazing.

But that future is going to be unlocked by you.

Your generation holds the key.

By the time you’re my age, you’ll have seen a revolution in artificial intelligence, robotics, mapping our own genome to personalise our healthcare, generating energy, storing it. They’ll even invent smart-phones that don’t run out of battery by 4pm.

Massive changes in infotech, in biotech, in nanotech will not only change the world, they’ll create extraordinary new products, new services, new jobs, new companies and new opportunities for you.

When I was here back in the 80s, we had one clunky old Commodore PC in the science lab upstairs that you could sneak on at lunchtimes when the physics teacher Mr Dunbar let you.

Today, Britain’s computer gaming industry is £2 billion big and gives jobs to thousands of people.

It’s bigger than our film or music industry.

Its technology is hard-wired into our most advanced products from smart phones to planes to cars.

I’m told the infotainment system in a Range Rover is now worth more than the engine.

Like you, I had some great teachers when I was here.

One of the teachers inspired my love of science. In fact she ended up as head of science here.

Ruth Byrne wasn’t just my teacher. She was my mum.

And when she died of cancer aged 52 she left me with a vivid sense not only of how much science has done – but how much left science has to do.

And beating cancer is just one of the things you’ll see happen this century.

You’ll be among the leaders of this revolutionary change in the years to come – if you get the backing you deserve.

We are amongst the greatest pioneers on the planet.

Here in Britain we cracked the atom, decoded DNA, invented the world wide web.

Today it’s an old Burnt Mill boy, Michael Arthur, who now leads one of the world’s greatest universities, University College London.

He started his education sitting where you are.

If people like me can make it into the Cabinet, if Michael can lead one of the world’s greatest universities, then so can you.

But here’s the BUT.

If our country is to help unlock this amazing new future we need you to do well.

The truth is the prizes in the future are going to be bigger.

But the race is going to be tougher.

You have to compete in a world that is far harder than I did.

When I was here, I don’t think we worked as hard as you.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the fights with Netteswell down the road.

Or how to get served in the off-licence at the Willow Beauty.

Music was as important to us as it probably is to you.

I was totally into the Jam and the Clash – and you’ll find this hard to believe now, it inspired me to get a mohican not long after I left. Those were the days.

You’re in a much tougher race. A race where the competition is global.

This Easter, I was in Bangalore.

I spent a Saturday afternoon with the Chief Executive of a major British manufacturing company on the shop-floor of his Indian joint-venture.

‘Here in India’ he told me ‘I’ve the choice of 850,000 engineering graduates every year.

Let’s say 15% are fit to hire – actually the real number is 50% – but let’s say its 15%. It means I have hundreds of applicants for every job. Quality wise they’re just as good as my apprentices in [the Midlands].’

‘What are they paid?’ I asked.

‘About £5-7,000 a year’ came the reply.

That kind of challenge means we have to work harder to keep you ahead of the game. Because unless we constantly get smarter we will get poorer.

Your head is a great teacher because she’s determined that you’re equipped to win in this world.

But that is why we need to stop running young people down and start backing them up.

With new answers to help them get on in life.

Look at how the cards are stacked against young people today.

Young people today are now more likely than pensioners to be living in poverty.

Young people today are the first generation in a century to be poorer than the generation before them.

One in six young people are still out of work.

There’s over 5,000 fewer apprenticeships for young people than there was three years ago.

It is now harder to get into BAE Systems’ apprenticeship programme than to get into Oxford.

If you get into university, you leave with £44,000 of debt that takes until your early 50s to pay off.

Those lucky enough to get work, have seen their earnings fall by over £1,600 a year on average since 2010.

Young people’s household income is down by a fifth – in effect, they’re working Friday afternoon for free.

When I left school, a deposit for a house took six month’s pay.

Now you have to save every penny you earn for more than two years. A house for a first time buyer cost £36,000. Now it costs £190,000.

Result? Only one in six of under 35s now own their own home when it used to be more than one in four – and there’s half a million more young people living with their parents than in 2010.

Oh, and just for good measure, young people are now expected to work three more years before they get their state pension.

You have to ask yourself: can they make it any harder for young people?

That’s why it makes me so furious when people decide to add insult to injury, and start moaning about young peoples’ attitude.

There’s one writer who calls this generation, Generation Wuss.

Last year, Jamie Oliver, who I generally like, was labelling young people ‘whingers’, ‘wet behind the ears’ and ‘too wet for work’ – and the Mayor of London promptly backed him up.

The Daily Mail is always running stories about companies like Greencore complaining that they have to employ East Europeans because Brits won’t take low paid jobs.

And it wasn’t so long ago a group of Tory MPs actually wrote a book [Britannia Unchained] claiming ‘lazy’ Brits preferred a lie in to hard day’s work.

And a while ago, a Tory minister was saying that our young people lacked ‘grit’

How dare they!

While you’re slogging hard – they’re sloping off putting Parliament on a three day week and playing Candy Crush in committee hearings.

When is this going to stop?

Have you noticed, when you hear politicians slagging off young people, it’s never their own kids they’re talking about? It’s always someone else’s.

I’m sick of it.

Our country needs your rebellious optimism now more than ever before.

We need politicians to stop attacking young people and start backing young people.

I’m someone who’s done every job under the sun.

I started working life frying chips in McDonalds in the High.

I’ve been a white van driver for Johnsons, which I managed to smash up by reversing into some scaffolding. I’ve swept floors. I’ve picked fruit. I’ve sold suits. I’ve sold photocopiers – badly. And I’ve started a hi-tech business that created jobs for others.

I’ve learned that any job is better than no job.

But a good job is better than a bad one.

And right now we need more good jobs – and you need more help getting them.

That’s why there’s one big change that is top of our ‘to do’ list.

The biggest change in the professional jobs market has been the boom in unpaid internships.

There’s now around 100,000 internship opportunities a year; most in London and many unpaid.

And more than one in three graduates employed by firms have worked for the firm before – often as an intern

But here’s the challenge.

The average unpaid internship is three months long and can cost over £930 a month.

If you’re from a low income background you just can’t afford to do that.

The result is that the best jobs are getting locked up by those with the richest parents.

That isn’t right. It isn’t fair. And it needs to change.

This change has got be part of a wider ambition to once more put the power of government behind you – and not against you.

Like a new Tech Bacc, so young people who want take a professional and technical route to work, have got a gold standard qualification.

A Youth Allowance to support anyone under 21 studying at college.

More high-quality apprenticeships so by 2025 as many young people can start an apprenticeship each year as enter university – and new Technical Degrees so apprentices can study up to degree level skills.

More university degrees which cost less to study.

A jobs guarantee for the under 25s so no-one is ever again left to languish on the dole.

A minimum wage at £8 an hour and a ban on exploitative zero hours contracts.

And action to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 so you stand a chance of getting a place to call your own once more.

These are the changes we WILL make if we’re elected next year and they’re changes that will put government back on your side once more.


You might call this an action plan for optimism.

It’s definitely a plan to put government behind you – not against you – once more.

It’s a plan that’ll help you build a future for all of us.

I feel so strongly about this because growing up in Harlow taught me that in politics you need more than anger.

You need optimism.

Here in Harlow I learnt most of the lessons that lasted me a lifetime.

My Mum and Dad came here in the 1970s.

They were drawn by a sense of idealism.

When I talk to my Dad about why he came, he said what he loved about Harlow was that it was a leap of faith.

A new town, built by a can-do spirit.

Our grandparents founded this town while we still had rationing.

It didn’t stop them.

Couples came from the bombed out East End in search of a job and a home and somewhere to raise a family and build a new future.

They were pioneers.

And great public servants like my mum and dad came because they wanted to help build around those families a strong community.

Like the sports scene that gave us one of the best local football leagues where Glen Hoddle, the most famous Burnt Mill boy trained.

Or the arts scene that grew-up around the Playhouse.

Or the incredible voluntary sector that gave the town a real sense of compassion in action.

My mum and dad wanted to part of that great effort to build a better place where people could get on.

A town of ambition and aspiration and compassion in action.

When I was growing up here there was a lot of anger about the government that seemed determined to divide working people.

Everyday I used to hear my parents talk about how tough it was doing their best when the government was cutting everything so hard.

From them I learned my sense of compassion and anger at injustice – and that’s what inspired me to join Harlow Labour party when I was 15.

But back in the 80s, we also had a sense of optimism and aspiration.

Optimism born of a confidence that things can be better.

And that’s what I came to see was the most important thing of all.

But when people give up hope they turn to extremists – as they did in our country back in the 1930s – and which many are doing again today

Today I serve one of the youngest constituencies in Britain.

Everything I learned in politics has taught me that right now, there isn’t anyone better to inspire us than you.

But our job in politics is to match your optimism with a plan.

Practical idealism.

That’s what the builders of Harlow had back in the 1940s.

They had a vision of a better country.

Not just for some.

But for all.

Those dreamers built this town.

They built this school.

And they built a better, richer, fairer country.

A country where people could build better lives.

As they did here in this town.

Today we need to rediscover the optimism, the idealism and the impatience of the people who built this school and built this town,

That is how futures are really built.

That’s how you will build once again a greater Britain.