Category Archives: Philosophy
I have just returned from the West Midlands Labour Annual Conference at Warwick University in Coventry.
It was an excellent couple of days with great opportunities to engage with fellow MPs, members and regional staff.
One of the most important things to come out of the conference was the final draft of Labour’s West Midland’s Economic Plan which I helped work on.
You can download a full PDF version of the plan using the link below.
All the best
You may have read my interview in the Birmingham Post this morning entitled; Midland mayor “could run policing, transport and support for business”
The news that Manchester has got the green light for a metro-mayor is great. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last government, I worked hard to accelerate the devolution of powers to Manchester and its neighbours – and the model Manchester has designed ensures strong accountability of any new mayor to local government leaders.
Birmingham should control it’s own destiny too and a metro-mayor for the West Midlands would make a huge difference.
You can read the Birmingham Post story using the link above. My proposal for a West Midlands metro-mayor and a backgrounder from my time at the Treasury is below:
I’ve been delighted by the response to my pamphlet, ‘Robbins Rebooted’, where I set out the terms for a 21st Century debate on the future of higher education. Below is a short selection of responses so far from higher education stakeholders.
- The Higher Education Policy Institute referred to the pamphlet as ‘wide-ranging and well-informed’. Their full comment can be seen here.
- Million+ stated that ‘Nine months ahead of the general election it is good to see political parties contributing to the debate on higher education policy’. Their full response is here.
- University Alliance ‘welcomed this timely addition to the higher education debate’. See their response here.
- The Russell Group felt that Robbins Rebooted was a ‘…thoughtful addition to the higher education debate.’ See their comments here.
- The University and College Union (UCU) said this ‘contribution…should kick-start the debate’. Their response is here.
- The 157 Group welcomed the ‘the continued emphasis on creating sustainable high-quality vocational pathways for more and more young people’. See their response here.
- The Association of Colleges (AoC) welcomed the review saying, “higher education needs to change…” See their response here.
Liam Byrne publishes ‘Robbins Rebooted’ – laying out a vision for 21st Century Higher Education and university reform – 28 August 2014
Today the Social Market Foundation (SMF) has published my pamphlet entitled ‘Robbins Rebooted’.
You can view an electronic version of the pamphlet here.
In it I set out options for reform of Britain’s universities to boost the country’s knowledge economy and open high paying technical and professional jobs to the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’.
These options draw together hundreds of conversations that I have had with university and college leaders, academics and students over the last six months in Britain, Europe, India and China.
Invoking the ‘white heat’ message of Harold Wilson’s government, elected 50 years ago this year, I argue that reformed universities are now key to fostering more high paid jobs in the ‘light speed’ global digital economy.
The following are the ‘big five’ ideas which university and college leaders, students, teachers and researchers want to hear debated:
1. ‘Technical Universities’, a collaboration of employers, major university science and engineering departments and colleges, offering students the chance to study a new ‘earn while you learn’ ‘Technical Degree’
2. A revolution in links between colleges and universities based on the US-style community college movement.
3. Reform of research funding to support British universities in creating global ‘Star Alliances’ of the world’s best scientists with longer term research support.
4. A big increase in university enterprise zones to better link universities to regional growth.
5. A new revolution in access to higher education, with a new national advice service to support young people into higher academic and technical education, support for university-school trusts, an expansion of the Open University’s Massive Open Online Courses and a new partnership between the Workers’ Education Association and UnionLearn.
I would love to hear your reflections on the pamphlet so please do get in touch.
With all best wishes
‘The market is failing – we need a new way forward’ my piece for the Evening Standard – 17 July 2014
Earlier this week I became Chair of the APPG on Inclusive Growth at the group’s inaugural meeting.
To mark the occasion I have written a piece for the Evening Standard which was published this afternoon. See below.
All the best
Liam Byrne: The market is failing – we need a new way forward
A fresh consensus is emerging about how Britain must think long-term to remain globally competitive
The puppets are for the chop. Earlier this week, Wonga’s loveable grandparents flogging payday loans on children’s TV were dispatched in the UK by the firm’s new chairman. It comes at a time when shareholder activism is on the rise, with a number of eye-wateringly large pay deals for top executives shot down by shareholders. The conscience of corporate Britain is rumbling as unease with Britain’s malfunctioning marketplace deepens.
So it should. With this week’s good job news has come fresh evidence of the squeeze on pay packets. Inflation has jumped to a five-month high. Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that the under-30s lost 13 per cent of household income, from 2007 to 2013 — nearly twice the hit taken by the older generation.
It is becoming harder than ever to earn a decent living — and if we don’t fix this soon, we’ll face not just an economic problem but a profound moral challenge. Hard work is hard-wired into Britain’s psyche and our moral code. This was supposed to be the deal: hard work got you on in life. Yet Britain’s families are working harder and going backwards, £1,600 a year worse off now, on average, than in 2010.
It’s not just a question of fairness: it doesn’t make business sense either. As someone who established my own company, I know very well that virtues such as trust, integrity and stability drive consumer confidence. They are the keystone of capitalism.
We can’t go on like this. Nearly 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan spoke for a new generation of neo-liberals, declaring that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem”. Today the market is the problem: together, business and policy-makers are going to have to fix it.
So this week a cross-party group of parliamentarians has come together to find answers to the challenge of how we fix our malfunctioning markets and reconnect hard work with getting on in life. Our goal is simple: to build a new consensus on how we can change the rules of the game.
Since the Second World War we’ve enjoyed two grand phases of consensus that connected business and government in pursuit of the common good. After the war, we called it “Butskellism”, a marriage of ideas epitomised by the calm moderation of the Tories’ Rab Butler and Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell. The second phase was the neo-liberal consensus, born in the storms of the late Seventies and now in its death throes.
It’s time for a new approach: a “third wave” of consensus to reset the rules. There’s already plenty on which we can agree.
First, business and politicians know money markets need to act for the long term rather than the short term. The disastrous behaviour of the interest-rate riggers and the high-frequency traders portrayed in Michael Lewis’s new book Flash Boys epitomises a fill-your-boots piracy that destroys a firm’s ability to think long term.
It’s not just capital markets that need reform — it’s labour markets too. Unless we boost skills, it’s hard to give workers a pay rise. I think there’s wide consensus about what needs to change.
Lord Baker’s work on university technical colleges exemplifies an ambition to build a high-quality vocational route to better skills. Ed Miliband, Tristram Hunt and I have put that at the core of a new offer for a vocational path to degree-level training for the “forgotten 50 per cent”, those who do not want to pursue the traditional academic route.
Third, we can agree that a bigger, better business-government partnership in science and technology is vital to winning the race to the top, boosting productivity and jobs in and around Tech City, the Crick Institute and the spin-outs around London’s universities. The foundations of this “supply side” boost were built by Peter Mandleson and Lord Sainsbury, and were respected by the Tories’ David Willetts, who left government this week.
Abroad, business and government should agree that “good growth” is easier if markets are bigger, which is why we should be at the heart of Europe. At home, there is broad agreement that a radical devolution of power is vital if big parts of Britain aren’t left to languish. “Inclusive growth” is not just about who prospers, it’s about where prospers — an idea championed by Lords Adonis and Heseltine in their plans to return power to our cities.
We cannot avoid some issues where consensus will be harder but where the status quo is not an option: making sure companies pay their taxes and don’t rig markets to short-change consumers and cheat their competition.
Indeed, hard-headed Tories such as Lord Heseltine and Richard Harrington, who have real experience of running large businesses, recognise that the market needs to work in a more sustainable way. It needs to respect its consumers and its employees, making a profit while not becoming immersed in a race to the bottom that, in the end, hurts most businesses as much as it hurts working families.
From boardrooms to Westminster, we need to crystallise this “new consensus”. For a decade and more, the price and prize of globalisation have not been fairly shared. Yet we risk a new era of inequality if we don’t get our act together. The new potential of trade and technology is accelerating the “second machine age”, where from driverless cars to automated checkouts, technology wipes out both blue and white-collar jobs, concentrating riches in the hands of a tiny global elite.
The founders of the greatest traditions in British capitalism — leaders such as George Cadbury, William Lever and John Spedan Lewis — knew that “enlightened self-interest” was always the best way to do business. If we want to build a great society in a global economy, reformers need to join together now: we’re running out of time.
Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP is chairman of the newly formed All Party Group on Inclusive Growth.
I wanted to let you know about the Royal Society’s excellent Vision report for science and mathematics education. You can access the full pdf copy here.
Published on Thursday, just two days after our science green paper, this is an insightful reminder of the kind of ‘supply line’ of science which our country needs if we’re to see science and innovation-based growth.
Just like our science green paper (which you can read here) this report sets out a number of concerns that the Royal Society has about the state of science in our country. Research for the report highlights some of these concerns. For example; in 2011 57% of university science staff reported that practical skills of new undergraduates had declined in the previous five years and just 13% of young people in the UK study mathematics beyond the age of 16.
Great Britain has a glorious scientific history. Many of the scientific discoveries and innovations that have shaped our modern world were made here in the UK. But this status as a world-class player in science and research is now under threat.
As Sir Paul Nurse sets out in his introduction; if we are to continue shaping the world in the centuries to come we need a plan for science and maths education which can; “…enable people to make informed choices, empower them to shape scientific and technological developments, and equip them to work in an advanced economy.”
I am pleased to say that the Labour Party is already committed to maths education until 18 and I am sure we will be looking very closely at some of the other recommendations that this report makes.
I met with Prof Jim Al-Khalili, one of the board members behind this fantastic report, earlier this week. We discussed the report as well as our science green paper; ‘Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science.’
My speech to Parliamentary Links Day 2014 – Launching Labour’s Green Paper on Science – 24 June 2014
It was an honour to launch Labour’s Science Green Paper, entitled: Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science and Innovation, this morning at the annual Parliamentary Links Day 2014.
You can read the paper here.
My speech is in full below:
Strengthen British Science and Strengthen Britain
Launch of Labour’s Green Paper, Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science and Innovation
Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP
Speech to [Parliamentary Links Day], House of Commons, London. Tuesday, 24th June 2014
Check against delivery
It is a tremendous honour to help mark the greatest day of the year for science in parliament.
I want to pay an enormous tribute to Dr Stephen Benn and the Society of Biology for helping bring the day together.
I want to commend you all for the way so many people and so many organisations have come together from across the worlds of science and engineering to talk, debate, speculate and lobby and leave us here in parliament with fresh impressions, fresh analysis and fresh evidence of how important both science and engineering are to the future of our world.
I want to thank you above all for the inspiration of your example.
I count myself as very lucky to have known an extraordinary scientist from a very young age.
She was a biologist and a teacher and a head of science at comprehensive schools including my own.
She was someone who inspired in me a lifelong wonder for science, a curiosity, and an admiration.
Ruth Byrne was not only my teacher, she was my mother.
And when she died at the age of 52 from cancer of the pancreas, she left me not only with a sense of scientific possibility but a sense of how much work still lies ahead.
Science and Parliament
Your theme this year is about Parliamentary links to Science and Engineering. I want to offer you a view about how we cement science and engineering centre-stage in the run-up to the General Election. As we are in Parliament I thought it would be apposite to reflect on the way science and engineering, industry and politics come together today and the relationship that lies ahead.
Around 300 years ago, a very great writer left London on his travels around the country to write a book, which is today one of our finest records of Britain on the eve of the industrial Revolution.
Daniel Defoe’s ‘A plan of the English commerce, being a complete prospect of the trade of this nation’ paints a portrait of a country amidst tremendous change.
‘The most flourishing and opulent country in the world,’ he called it and the cause he said was clear; ‘Trade’ and its two daughters, ‘Manufacture and Navigation’
Defoe suspected that for all the advance he saw, something bigger was coming.
And he was right.
By the time ’A Plan’ was published in 1728, the Royal Society, founded in Gresham College, was 50 years old. Sir Isaac Newton, its great master, had died the year before and in Birmingham, one of founders of the industrial revolution, Matthew Boulton was born.
Over the next six decades, Boulton, together with his friends in the Lunar Society in a story wonderfully told by Jenny Uglow, took the traditions and methods of those great founders of the Royal Society and fused them to industrial method, helping trigger the industrial revolution.
A nation of explorers and traders quickly became a nation of inventors and industrialists. The worlds of science and industry were irrevocably connected.
Back in the early days of the Enlightenment, the French writer Diderot had observed that uniquely in Britain:
‘philosophers are honoured, respected; they rise to public offices, they are buried with kings’.
Well, it wasn’t long before we were putting great inventors and industrialists like James Watt alongside our philosophers and our kings.
But it was to take another century before science and industry were really fused with the dirty and difficult business of politics.
From the 1850s and 1890s, concern with the state of our science base, and the state of our schools gathered pace until under the burning pressure of world war one a real partnership came together;
- The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was founded in 1915.
- Universities came to play a mission critical role in the work effort and crucially a new alliance between science, industry and government was hard-wired together.
And we’ve been trying to get the relationship right ever since.
Now that alliance has never been more important.
The scale of the problems, which I realise are merely solutions in disguise and which we are tackling today, are simply too big for one scientist, one university, one company, or one government to tackle alone.
The new partnerships that you see in such spectacular collaborations like the Gaia One Billion Star Surveyor, or the Hadron Collider are gigantic incarnations of the same ethos and approach that drove the Lunar Society, but they are global in scale.
These journeys of curiosity, exploring the endless frontier, are rightly your principal concern.
But there is a second reason the alliance is so vital.
Your country needs you.
Searching for some inspiring words for today’s speech, I stumbled across these in the House of Commons library last week;
‘the position of Great Britain as a leading industrial nation is being endangered by a failure to secure the fullest possible application of science to industry; and second that this failure is partly due to deficiencies in education’
Those were the words of Lord Percy, Rector of the Newcastle Division of Durham University, reporting to the government in 1944.
They could have been written last week.
Two years later, Lord Barlow agreed;
‘If we are to maintain our position in the world and restore and improve our standard of living’ he wrote ‘we have no alternative but to strive for that scientific achievement without which our trade will wither’.
What was true back in 1945 is true again today.
The Challenge Today
Our old enemy, ‘British disease’ is back with a vengeance.
That traditional crisis, of extremely low productivity while other nations streak ahead, now scars the recovery and haunts industry, making it even harder to escape today’s cost-of-living crisis.
Producing more with less, as every business owner knows, is the key to doing well and the fastest way to give your workers a pay rise.
But look at the figures today.
Since the last election, output for every hour worked has not gone up; it’s actually gone down. Equally, output per worker has not gone up. It’s gone down. We’re actually less productive than we were four years ago.
This appalling record is far worse than the last years of the 1970s, long deemed the moment when ‘British disease’ reached its peak but a period when output per worker, and output per hour worked actually rose by over 5%.
Worse, we’re now falling rapidly behind our competitors. The gap in productivity per hour between the UK economy and G7 average is now 21 per cent – the widest gap there has been since 1992.
This is absolutely fatal for any escape from the cost of living crisis. If companies can’t produce more then it’s not easy for firms to give their staff a pay rise.
As someone who started work behind a fry station in McDonalds, I know that any job is better than no job.
But I also know that a good job is better than a bad one and right now we’re simply not producing enough good jobs.
Today, the average full-time worker has to work an extra one hour and 52 minutes a week in 2013 to earn what they earned in real terms in 2010.
Look at our ‘knowledge economy’ and it becomes clear what is going wrong.
Economists and scientists now know that science and research is the key to growing productivity.
As the breakthrough report from Research Councils UK put it;
‘The greatest long-term productivity advances come through breakthroughs in basic knowledge’.
In the US, the authors of the Gathering Storm remind us that 85% of growth in wealth per capita is driven by innovation.
The knowledge economy is the powerhouse of productivity growth, creating better jobs with better wages.
Yet, with the honourable exception of automotive and aerospace, which Labour did so much to save during the global crash, the story isn’t good.
Getting innovation policy right is not actually rocket science. It is about people, ideas and money. You need great people, great institutions and strategic investment.
Yet, look at what is happening in the UK.
In 2012, the last year data is available, UK investment in R&D by government and business together has fallen by nearly £1 billion – (£923M) – the largest annual fall since consistent records began in the mid-1980s.
Amongst advanced Western nations, Britain now ranks 23rd out of 33 in the league table of R&D spenders.
In our most important research industry – pharmaceuticals – which accounts for a quarter of all UK R&D spending, research budgets have fallen by a huge £467 million since 2010, that’s a 10% fall.
In telecoms, one of our other leading R&D sectors, budgets have fallen by 20% – that’s £240M.
Look at our great institutions.
In our universities, the great epicentres of science and knowledge, we have the world’s best thinkers.
But their labs and classrooms now rest on a mountain of debt. University borrowing will reach £7.3bn worth of debt by 2015, an increase of £1.8 billion from 2012. That’s £45.6 million for every university in the UK.
Vice-chancellors tell me that falling research budgets now mean that the brain drain has been gathering pace for at least the last 18 months.
And that’s nothing when we consider the black hole that’s been created in the finances of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills by the Government’s unsustainable funding system.
The Public Accounts Committee now estimates that at current rates, students will be borrowing nearly £200 billion over the next twenty years to fund their studies and 45 per cent of this will be written off. It’s universities and our researchers of the future who will be paying the price.
And let’s not forget that other great institution that is important here.
The European Union.
European policy makers now understand that innovation is the only way out of austerity.
And the creation of the Horizon 2020 programme is proving crucial for the strength of British science, as UK universities, research centres and businesses can expect to receive £2bn in the first two years of the new funding round.
Leaving the EU, as some propose, would be absolutely catastrophic for science funding.
Third we must address human capital. The skills gap across the country grows worse. A fortnight ago, KPMG reported that skills shortages are bringing to a halt the plans of manufacturing firms to ‘re-shore’ work.
Since 2010, the number of people working in ‘Scientific research and development’ has fallen by over 12,000.
The Migration Advisory Committee has now added 117 high skilled roles to the shortage occupation list, which employers can fast track onto visas, because there are not enough skills in Britain.
The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that we’re currently 36,000 short and at the rate we’re going there will still be big gaps to fill.
In our schools, Michael Gove’s disastrous School Direct scheme for teacher training has produced a huge shortage of physics teachers.
Half of state schools now send not one girl to do A Level physics.
Practical experiments have been taken out of the exam curriculum. The careers service has been destroyed. Apprenticeships for the under 24s are actually falling.
We cannot go on like this.
That’s why today I am pleased to be launching our green paper on science and innovation.
Our message is simple.
We need to strengthen British science – because British science will strengthen Britain.
We want to start a big debate on how business and government come together to grow the strength of science.
We want to work with the science and engineering community, in all parts of Britain to get the answers right.
We want to work across parties – because wherever we can maximise cross-party consensus we will.
We know that predictability and certainty are important; that they help make your work easier.
We want a new culture of science and evidence in public policy.
We want stronger universities with a bigger share of global science budgets and a bigger role in their regional economies.
And crucially we want to strengthen every rung on the ladder up into a science and engineering career for our young people.
As NESTA argued two weeks ago, the debate around science and engineering is seen by the public as vitally important.
In part, that’s because the public knows science, engineering and the business of innovation is key to the development of new cures for diseases, earlier diagnosis, greener, cheaper energy and crucially the jobs of the future.
The public knows that if we are not the pioneers then others will be.
If we don’t develop the jobs of the future, then others will.
And that will irreparably damage the opportunities of our children and our grand-children.
After all they are the very people for whom we want better chances than the chances that we enjoyed.
I think we know how futures are really built.
I think we learned that lesson a long time ago.
And now is not the time to ignore the lessons of history.
  http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11463&page=1. The 85% refers to the work of Robert Solow and Moses Abramovitz published in the middle 1950s demonstrated that as much as 85% of measured growth in US income per capita during the 1890-1950 period could not be explained by increases in the capital stock or other measurable inputs. The unexplained portion, referred to alternatively as the “residual” or “the measure of ignorance,” has been widely attributed to the effects of technological change
This morning I will be sharing our Green Paper on Science entitled – ‘Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science.’
If we are to build an opportunity economy with high skilled jobs and the wages to go with them then science and innovation have to be central to our strategy. Britain needs a long-term vision for science and this paper intends to start a discussion about what that vision should look like.
Please do read the document here and share your views.
With all best wishes
This morning Shabana Mahmood and I have written to the Bishop of Birmingham on the subject of a inter-faith panel on education in Birmingham.
You can see the text of the letter below:
Inter-faith Panel on Education in Birmingham
Further to conversations on Friday with yourself and Mark Rogers, we write to ask whether the Birmingham Inter-faith panel might consider creating a special task-group to advise the city’s education leaders, at all levels, on how excellence in standards and strength of faith can be coupled better in our state schools.
We believe that faith can play a crucial role in educating the children in our city for whom faith is an essential element of their lives. The divisive nature of the debate around the so-called Trojan Horse allegations risks damage to this view, damage which must not be allowed to go un-checked.
In particular, thousands of Muslim parents feel under seige. Values and practices associated with their faith are being incorrectly defined, in our view, as extremist.
This cannot be right.
The Birmingham Inter-faith panel is a unique group with a unique capability to offer advice and crucially set about the task with a spirit of unity that is desperately needed.
We stand ready to offer whatever support we can to such crucial work.
Yours, in hope and solidarity.
Liam Byrne MP
Shabana Mahmood MP
See below for a message from myself and Shabana Mahmood MP:
Don’t Lose Faith
Liam Byrne MP and Shabana Mahmood MP
The allegations made about some Birmingham schools are incredibly serious. From the word ‘go’, we demanded that nothing be swept under the carpet, that parents have the facts – and fast.
We want specifics; has gender segregation taken place in mixed schools, yes or no? Have extremist preachers been invited to give assemblies, yes or no?
Why is this necessary? Because Michael Gove’s education policy has left our city with a fragmented school system over which no one has control. Michael Gove and the DfE are theoretically responsible for the numerous academies in our city but how on earth can they do that from Whitehall?
The fact is they can’t and everyone knows it. This has allowed claim and counter claim to flourish – in this context the truth is hard to find.
As the net has widened, these investigations have left local parents with an anger-making sense that schools have come under suspicion merely because they serve a population that is predominantly Muslim; that state schools which make reasonable accommodations for local needs – like allowing a day off to celebrate a religious festival, or allowing pupils to use a school room to pray during the lunch break – might be fine for some – but not for Muslims.
Schools take these steps because they respect students with strong religious convictions and recognise that faith plays an important role for those students in driving their aspiration and every child we inspire helps make our city a richer and better place.
Yet now thousands of Muslim parents feel that they and their children are automatically under suspicion, and that the education they receive will be viewed through the prism of counter-terrorism.
We simply do not accept this.
For many people faith is an integral part of their daily lives. It is a strength to be harnessed which is why today we call on the city’s faith leaders to come together to show the city just how excellence in standards and strength of faith can be coupled better in our state schools.
At the same time we hope that the lessons will be learnt. Ofsted must ask some searching questions about how it so misjudged standards in the past. Michael Gove has to tell us how he let things get out of hand. Of the five schools allegedly bound for special measures, four are academies for which he and no-one else is accountable.
Faith has inspired greatness in our country – and has done for centuries. Let’s build an education system in which it can flourish.
Not just for some. But for all.