Tristram Hunt

Working hard for Stoke-on-Trent Central


Recent Activity

Tristram Hunt MP recently visited the Michelin tyre factory on Campbell Road, Stoke to tour the factory and meet with local business leaders to discuss growing the local economy, job creation and support for local employers.


After touring the factory, meeting with employees and management, Tristram met with Michelin Tyre plc leadership to discuss the local and national business climate as well as the effects of cheap foreign tyre imports are having on UK businesses.

Tristram commented: "It is always great to meet local businesses and employers within my constituency to discuss growing the local economy and expanding employment in Stoke-on-Trent."

"We also discussed the impact that cheap foreign tyre imports, especially from China, are having on our own domestic tyre manufacturers and what actions the European Union could be taking to protect UK businesses in this area."

"I think this speaks to the vital importance that our membership of the EU plays in supporting British business; not just through regional investment, but also by protecting UK firms and consumers from poor quality imports flooding our markets- this helps improve consumer safety and safeguards jobs."

Tristram visits local Michelin factory

Tristram Hunt MP recently visited the Michelin tyre factory on Campbell Road, Stoke to tour the factory and meet with local business leaders to discuss growing the local economy, job creation...



Thank you. 


I usually begin by saying what a pleasure it is to be here - yet given the rather grim nature of today’s topic that somehow doesn’t seem appropriate for this speech. 


Nevertheless, it is certainly a pleasure to be speaking from a Policy Network platform. 


Arguably, no organisation has done more to observe and document the collapse of mainstream European social democracy since the 2008 financial crash. 


We will only recover if we can understand. 


So we should all be very grateful for the work that Roger, Patrick, Michael and everyone else here is undertaking. 


It is like a Davy lamp in the darkest recesses of our despair!  


Similarly, it is fantastic to be sharing a platform with Sunder from British Future, an organisation which is doing so much to explore the essence of modern, inclusive British identity. 


And to be hosted by the Barrow Cadbury Trust – heirs to arguably this country’s greatest civic philanthropists and still doing so much to tackle social deprivation in Birmingham and the Black Country.


Ladies and Gentleman, in May I argued that our crushing loss was more than a conventional defeat for the Labour Party.


Because what I saw on the campaign trail, in Stoke-on-Trent and elsewhere, felt like a more profound collapse in confidence.  


Even in the places we were winning, you could almost feel our electoral coalition beginning to fragment; 


our cultural reservoirs drying up; 


our traditional loyalties withering upon the vine.  


In Scotland that sentiment found a lightning conductor in the SNP, support for which still seems to be on a high-voltage power surge.  


And whilst it would be wrong to discount the unique factors of what happened in Scotland, it would be equally wrong to assume similar forces of insurgence and identity politics could not be replicated in other parts of the country. 



Make no mistake: to think an increasingly unjust electoral system or England’s traditional disdain for populism will guarantee Labour protection from what is called “Pasokification” would be to indulge in a dangerous and potentially fatal complacency.  


After all, you do not need to go as far as Greece, Spain or even Scotland to find members of hollowed out centre-left parties which all but disappeared overnight. 


You just need to find a Liberal Democrat…


And good luck with that.


So, I agree with Jon Cruddas and others who argue that this unprecedented political volatility means we face the biggest crisis in the history of the Labour Party. 


What we need is a summer of hard truths. 


A debate which asks the big questions - about globalisation, climate change, productivity, welfare reform, radical Islam and the move towards a digital society. 


And a contest which eschews the obscure concerns about policy in favour of answering who and what a 21st century Labour Party is for? 






First and foremost, I believe Labour must be about tackling inequality. 


The task of helping communities like Stoke-on-Trent to thrive in an era of intense global competition and rapid technological change requires a clear and unambiguous focus on reducing inequality. 


And in May I argued that we can become the party of family, work and community as long as we demonstrate to the public that we see those institutions through their eyes. 

But my argument today is that we also need to look and learn from the experience of other European social democratic parties. 


Because the depressing truth is we are not alone. 


Normally, when you are suffering, that idea provides a comfort of sorts. 


But in this case it provides no relief whatsoever. 








The Netherlands… 

…no matter the political context the retreat of the traditional centre-left is total.  


And in the few outposts where we do wield power we are either on the back foot - as in France or Sweden - or have been absorbed into a coalition dominated by a hegemonic centre-right party, as in Germany. 


Broadly speaking, there are three elements to this electoral squeeze across Europe. 


First, there is a resurgent and intellectually triumphant right. 


Second, we have seen the hollowing out of traditional centre-left parties such as Pasok in Greece. The process there is now so complete it has gained a name – Pasokification.


And third there is the threat of the new populism - populist parties like Podemos in Spain, which combine grassroots community movements, with resistance to austerity and an aggrieved sense of nationhood. 


Let me be clear at the outset: a Podemos policy prescription would be electoral and economic suicide for the Labour Party. 


Such populism has so far only benefited the centre-right at national elections, with the exceptional case of Greece only serving to prove the rule. 


And yet I do believe there are some important lessons the Labour Party can learn from such parties and the emotional connection they have made with their public. 



Our challenge is to decouple the good from the bad. 


To ally that sense of patriotic identity and grassroots engagement - with a more traditional modernising, or ‘Blairite,’ approach to regaining trust on the public finances. 


A politics which is patriotic and prudent. 


Compassionate and competent. 


Emotionally intelligent and economically literate. 


In short, an approach which is neither Podemos nor Pasokification.


Because when I look at the state of the current conversation in our party, I know it needs shock treatment: we need to place a defibrillator upon the leadership debate. 


We must widen what is, at the moment at least, a rather narrow and parochial discussion about Labour’s future. 


For the hardest of hard truths is that we need so much more than micro-target policies and a change in personality if we are to arrest our decline. 











Friends, I draw three lessons from the social democratic wreckage piling up across Europe; 


First, we need to understand how European politics is taking upon an increasingly nationalist character…


… how issues of culture, identity and defending the national interest are as important - if not more important - than material questions of public policy. 


Second, we need to address apathy and the wider mistrust of mainstream politics: it harms us far more than our centre-right rivals. 


And third, we need to address our deep-seated intellectual timidity in the face of economic austerity. 


Let me begin with the new nationalist mood – which is the least well understood and could very well be the most significant. 


Of course, here in what is just about still the UK, we need no discussion of what the rise of political nationalism looks like in practice. 


And as Scotland shows, sometimes culture, emotion, history, values, politics and economics align to create the perfect nationalist storm. 


To tell the truth, the SNP is actually something of an outlier when we consider other European nationalist parties. 


The likes of Podemos, Syriza and the myriad of new far right populists tend to feed upon a simmering resentment towards the European Union. 


In contrast, EU concerns play practically no role in the SNP’s populist appeal. 


However, the impact of the SNP upon the Labour Party’s general election campaign perfectly captures the challenges mainstream social democracy faces with nationalism. 


In Scotland and England, for different reasons, too many voters felt Labour was not standing up for them or their national interest. We were to Scotland, like the EU is to Greece: a foreign technocratic elite telling them they could not be trusted with their own affairs.


This sort of national struggle between identity politics on one hand, and technocracy on the other, is increasingly the prism through which European voters refract their politics. 


Even some of those of us who have been dismayed by the antics of Syriza felt some sentiment towards their defiance – their sense of national endeavour - in the referendum.


Do not misunderstand me: the EU and the wider ‘European Project’ retains - and deserves - strong backing. 


Indeed, do not misunderstand Greece: even in that crisis-ravaged country, a European future commands huge levels of support 


And yet when it comes to the electoral crunch this commitment does not translate into votes for the most consensual, pro-European parties. 


In fact, quite the opposite: voters appear to be actively punishing social democratic parties for those conciliatory instincts. 


The Eurozone crisis is creating new confrontations and shattering old coalitions of support. 


Cultural issues, such as identity and immigration, are now questions that increasingly dominate. 


And whether it is Finland pursuing its creditor debts to the point of a self-defeating Grexit; 


Or Greece electing Syriza to protect the Euro to the point of obvious intellectual contradiction… 


…European voters now want their parties to demonstrate a completely new level of aggression against distant elites when it comes to pursuing the national interest. 


And it is hurting us twice over.


Not only because our party came into being to represent the people not the elite.


But also because right-wing, conservative and nationalist parties appear to have a deeper and more emotional affinity with the national culture and interest. 





Such forces have now clearly arrived in the politics of our own fragile union. 


And, as far as I can see, they will not be leaving soon.


For whilst the SNP surge was not necessarily a decisive shift in the Scottish peoples’ attitudes towards separatism, it certainly does represent a greater faith in the SNP to fight for the Scottish interest. 


A faith which is deeply grounded in the emotional appeal of patriotism.  


Because for all the work of Gordon Brown, the BBC, Team GB, the British Museum, and other cultural and political actors, the natural and instinctive ties of Britishness are fraying. 


When the two defining edifices of Britishness – the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace – are both declared unfit for human habitation, there might be something rotten in the body politic.


And that means the Labour Party here in England - and Wales - needs to catch-up fast.


The Tories ruthlessly exploited concerns in England about the SNP during the election campaign. 


We were beaten by a tag team of Nicola Sturgeon and David Cameron. In Scotland voters were told we would sell them out to the Tories. In England, voters were told we would sell them out to the SNP.


Neither was true, but we were feeble in our response.


If Scottish Labour needs to rediscover its cultural and emotional ties to the Scottish identity, then the Labour Party in England  needs to embrace our English identity. 


Emphasise our English culture. 


And rediscover the history of radical England. 


It is time for an English Labour Party to complement our Scottish and Welsh counterparts. 


Time too for an English ‘Devo-Max’ settlement which, alongside radical city and combined authority devolution, should reform the constitution to account for how Scottish ‘home rule’ will shape England and Britain. 


But most of all it is time to create a culture where our party is proud to celebrate its patriotism and love of country.  


The vast majority of Labour Party supporters and members I know are deeply patriotic. 


Indeed, their patriotism provides one reason why they want to make this great even country better.  


Yet, as the Emily Thornberry furore shows, this is just not currently how we are perceived. 


We seemed uneasy with the modern landscape of Englishness – of St George’s Flags, music festivals, soap operas, Premier League football, shopping, gardening and baking.


In any climate – let alone the current one – such reticence would be an absolutely toxic perception. 


But what makes it all the more frustrating is that there is a rich English historical tradition which has always stood in fierce opposition to Conservatism and inequality. 


From Thomas More, to the Levellers, Thomas Paine, the co-operatives, William Blake, George Orwell and the great 20th century achievements of the Labour Party and trade unions – there is clear cultural strand of radical patriotic Englishness. 


Indeed, arguably this is what Danny Boyle drew so deeply upon - albeit to bolster British identity - in that pageant of progressive patriotism three years ago. 


Labour should remember this culture. 


And give it far greater seriousness of intent.  


And because of the plural character of Britishness, I do not see it existing in tension with Englishness. 


More importantly, I also do not believe a culturally English Labour Party will undermine solidarity with colleagues in Scotland in the face of the separatist challenge. 


Remember, the story the SNP tell about the English is extremely clever - far removed from a traditionally nationalist politics of grievance. 


Rather, it is far more an account of how England’s innate political sensibilities continually thwart Scotland’s social justice ambitions – delivered through the NHS, the BBC, pooled pensions and collective redistribution.


Therefore, I believe reclaiming radical England; telling the story of England’s progressive achievements; can in fact help to negate that damaging SNP story. 


To remind us once again that so many of Scotland’s social justice ambitions are shared by the people of England; 


And that in the face of the enormous challenge of globalisation - a strong, common union is the best way of realising them together. 


As well as showing how - for want of a better phrase - a more ‘One Nation’ approach – a genuine One Nation approach - is the most effective way to advance the shared national interest. 








But if anything the more successful target of the SNP’s populist fury was not England but Westminster. 


And by association a Labour Party portrayed as being hopelessly ‘out of touch’. 


Time and again, we see this throughout Europe - mainstream social democrats branded members of a remote and distant political class. 


It is important to say that it is clearly not restricted to social democrats. 


After all, it is not as if the Tory victory has suddenly rendered David Cameron ‘in touch’ with the British public. 


However, the electoral evidence seems to suggest that such perceptions present far more of a problem for social democratic parties; 


that such considerations may even be ‘priced-in’ to the general centre-right brand. 


They came into politics to represent and replicate an elite.


We did not.


So it is not enough for the Labour Party to tackle its own toxic reputation for many voters.  


No, at some level our renewal needs to tackle the toxicity of politics itself.


First, some hard truths: we are out of touch. 


According to research from Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary’s University, around 80 per cent of the Labour Party’s membership is drawn from the ABC1 socio-economic groups.  

Which is roughly around the same level for all political parties. 


Put simply: political participation in Britain is a middle class sport. 


And the Labour Party is doing nowhere near enough to try and change it. 


Now, this is clearly a far bigger challenge than candidate selection. 


But I do feel a more targeted approach there should be part of our solution. 


Tom Watson has suggested we should look at a hardship ‘bursary’ for candidates seeking selection from disadvantaged or working class backgrounds. 


Only 7 per cent of Labour MPs come from C2 manual occupation background. 


Only 14% previously worked in business. 


As Gloria de Piero has argued, we need a national recruitment drive which targets candidates who can help us mirror Britain and reflect the communities we seek to serve. 


I am not saying people like me should never be Labour MPs.


I am not saying former special advisers or TV historians should be excluded from politics.


But I am saying we need more soldiers, farmers, builders, small business owners, single parents, women and care leavers representing Labour. 


Because if we want to speak for the whole of Britain then I believe we should look like the whole of Britain. 





But to widen our politics and refill what Ed Miliband called “the empty stadium” the real challenge is attracting a bigger and more diverse membership in the first place. 


I am sure there are Labour Party members in the audience today - so let me ask: what does the Labour Party do for you? 


Other than political sympathy and leaflets to deliver - what does it offer you? 


It is a question the party has barely begun to ask, let alone answer. 


There is a famous American political cliché about when President Kennedy visited the NASA space centre in 1962. 


According to which the President noticed a janitor carrying a broom and walked over to ask the man what he was doing. 


He replied: 


“Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”


I do not feel this how the Labour Party instinctively approaches its membership or supporters. 


I do not feel we try to empower them or make them feel an important and integral part of our own Apollo project: putting a Labour man or a Labour woman into Downing Street.  


Indeed, every task we ask of them - be that running a local ward branch or canvassing voter intentions - seems to be governed by narrow and strictly applied compliance rules. 


As if we are some sort of command and control military operation not an organisation that depends upon the good will, altruism and incredible energy of its volunteers. 


I think Liz Kendall has asked some of the right questions on this in the leadership contest. 


Like Tony Blair before her, she understands how party reform can demonstrate a fitness for office. 


And how one of the great tasks of politics in the global era is to put real power in the hands of ordinary people. 


But I would argue that this could be where we can learn from a Podemos approach to politics too. 


Indeed, the entire ethos of Podemos is about mass mobilisation and empowerment. 


About understanding that before you can get people to act, you need a relationship with them first.


We need a party structure that rewards participation, new ideas and which nurtures a sense of pride at being a member of Labour; 


And a local analysis that political activity must be about far more than fighting elections;


After all, an engaged and committed activist base can be an enormously valuable resource in helping to changing local communities; 


And could demonstrate the power of politics in a way that might cut through the Left’s great enemy of cynicism and mistrust. 












Finally, the third reason for social democracy’s collapse is its intellectual timidity in the face of austerity. 


It is often said that mainstream social democracy has failed to offer an argument about how it can deliver its ambitions in an era when money is scarce. 


I do not subscribe to that view. 


The Labour Party did not lack for radical ideas to change the shape and structure of the state during the last Parliament. 


Reports like the IPPR’s Condition of Britain or Labour’s Local Government Innovation Taskforce prove the centre-left still has answers. 


What we lacked was the political courage to advance them.  


And we have seen in some of the government’s recent land-grab – on a higher national minimum wage; on the gender pay gap; on an apprenticeship levy – the political cost of such failure.


But our real timidity was a failure properly to take a stand against economically illiterate populism. 


We saw this throughout the election. 


How our body language and rhetoric seemed to imply that cutting the deficit was a begrudging concession to electoral expediency. 


That, given the choice, we would rather not support the principle of balancing the books.  


And, as the Red Book reveals, pay out £36 billion a year on debt interest payments – more than we spend on housing and the environment; or police and the courts; or industry and employment.


This is nonsense. 


Now, Jeremy Corbyn is a humane and genuine advocate of our party’s left-wing tradition. 


I actually believe we may need to extend the hand of friendship to progressive traditions outside of the party - so we certainly need to be less sectarian within it. 


But rebuilding trust with the voters requires humility and honesty.


So here is some truth for Jeremy.


His argument against balancing the books is politically and economically bankrupt. 


We are not Greece; we are not Spain.  


In fact, we are not even Scotland where - as the IFS pointed out - the anti-austerity spin masks a far more pragmatic approach. 


So the political calculation for fiscal expansion does not add-up. 


But more important the economy is growing and the deficit stands at around five per cent. 


Even John Maynard Keynes would be arguing for retrenchment in this context. 


Now, if Jeremy has identified tax rises to square his circle, then I apologise, but I haven’t seen them.


Without them he seems to be saying that inequality and social justice cannot be delivered without borrowing and a big budget deficit. 


That is an argument we cannot accept. 


I believe social democracy must back our ingenuity and be far more intellectually confident. 


I mean – it is not as if Sir Stafford Cripps’s austerity budgets stopped the 1945 Labour government creating the NHS or building the welfare state. 












The nature and potency of the encircling populist challenge makes a traditional ‘moderniser’ response to Labour’s political crisis inadequate.  


What worked in 1997 fails to take account of the new populist dimension of European politics.


And ignores the need for party, constitutional and devolution reform which might begin to revive people’s faith in politics. 


However, the basics of a centre-ground strategy remain absolutely essential.


And the ingredients rarely change. 


Economic competence. 


Strong leadership. 


Social justice. 


An acute antennae for the country’s concerns – from immigration to public services to housing. 


And a tin-ear towards partisan preoccupations. 


It is remarkable that the party which Tony Blair led to three straight election victories should need this to be spelt out. 


The lessons learned in the hard yards of Opposition through the late 80s and early 90s have been forgotten.


But our party’s selective memory also seems to have forgotten much else besides:  


the national minimum wage act; 

the energy windfall tax; 

Sure Start; 

Civil partnerships; 

A revolution in international development; 

A more redistributive welfare state; 

new schools; 

new hospitals; 

devolution for Scotland and Wales;

Millennium Goals;

the Decent Homes programme; 

a tax rise for the NHS; 

child poverty slashed;

and the biggest sustained period of public service investment this country has ever seen. 


Many of Tony Blair’s achievements seem impossible in today’s political context. 


But in choosing not to debate – or even misrepresent - his legacy, our party forgets that when you occupy the centre-ground you wield power. 


And when you wield power you begin to reshape the country’s political centre of gravity.  


Tony Blair controlled and reshaped that centre for a decade. 


To deny that is to deny our history. 


But more important it shuts down the full debate we need to create Labour’s future. 


So let’s learn from Podemos. 


Let’s learn from the dangers of Pasokification. 


But let’s also learn from our recent past. 


After all, European social democracy has been hauled out of the wilderness once before. 


We have come back before from a crippling defeat in an election we expected to win.


We have managed to rebuild our connection to the British people before.


And we can, must and will do so again.


Thank you. 





A SUMMER OF HARD TRUTHS   Thank you.    I usually begin by saying what a pleasure it is to be here - yet given the rather grim nature of...







Let me begin by paying tribute to Ian, Ty, Nathan and everyone here at the Education Foundation who have worked so hard to build this summit into something so important in our education debate.

Its success speaks to the extraordinary appetite for comparative analysis about education which, over the last few years, has mushroomed into something of a cottage industry - both globally and domestically.

It reflects, I think, the unmistakable sense of possibility, social entrepreneurship and potential emerging across our schools and colleges.

From the Head-Teachers Roundtable and its proposals for a genuine National Baccalaureate curriculum for upper secondary pupils;  

to the Teacher Development Trust and its work on quality assuring professional development;

and the National Association of Head-Teachers’ peer-review inspection pilot…


… we have ample evidence to show how the most exciting school reforms always emerge from the bottom-up.



In part my speech today is about spreading this spirit more evenly across the English schools landscape.

In particular, to the new areas of acute educational disadvantage - our coastal towns, coalfield communities and poorer rural boroughs.

However, I also want this speech to begin a broader and far more inclusive debate.

I want to find a way of giving ordinary heads and teachers - not just their representatives - the opportunity to articulate their own vision of schooling; 

I want parents to feel comfortable proposing new ideas that could advance their children’s learning;

Industrialists to explain the strengths and weaknesses of our skills system; 

Academics to voice their higher ambitions;




business owners…

…I want to hear everyone discussing their hopes for English education.


In short: I want England to be as engaged, passionate and committed to education reform as are its educationalists.

Now, I expect this may sound like wishful thinking.

Yet it is not without historical precedent.

In October 1976 Jim Callaghan went to Ruskin College in Oxford and gave one of the great Prime Ministerial speeches about education.

I reread it occasionally - if only to remind me of the stubborn prehistory to so many of our biggest educational challenges.

Our lack of respect for technical education…

Our inability to persuade enough girls to study science and mathematics at a higher level…

Our persistent failure to address the long tail of underachievement…

…all were deeply engrained some forty years ago!

However, it was less the content of that speech and more what followed next which made it truly significant.

Callaghan - a politician unusually resistant to hyperbole - called it the ‘Great Debate’.

And across the county special ‘Great Debate’ meetings were set up.

Meetings where people of all backgrounds came together explicitly to discuss the future of state schooling.

It seems extraordinary to the sensibilities of a more cynical age…

…but even more remarkable - this process actually led to lasting change.

Historians now look back at the ‘Great Debate’ as a crucial turning point in our educational history.

The starting point for a new consensus which advanced in the subsequent years irrespective of the political tide’s ebbs and flows.

A consensus for more and better standardised testing.

For more prescribed standards and a minimum curriculum entitlement.

For more data-driven accountability.

And perhaps most marked of all: for more central state powers to direct classroom activity.

I am sure some people here today may well reflect rather ruefully upon that historical sweep.

Yet there can be little argument against the powerful and positive transformation this consensus has brought about.

Standards are higher.

Teaching has improved.

Parents are more informed.

And generations of pupils have been given a far better start in life.

Yet my argument today is simple: that era is over.

As this summit illustrates, leading education systems are reviewing their most cherished first principles in the light of 21st century challenges.

And I believe we need to embark on similar process here.

The challenges we face - of  globalisation, stagnant productivity, a volatile labour market, rising communal intolerance, rapid technological disruption - surely demand we work together to forge an education consensus for the modern age.

And in an age of near transcendent social media there are almost no limits to organising an inclusive discussion.

So as part of the Labour Party’s internal and external analysis of our recent election loss, I would urge the next leader of our party to initiate an ‘Open Conversation’ on education.

A 21st century version of Callaghan’s ‘Great Debate’.

Because I believe that relentlessly raising the challenging long-term questions facing the country is the main job of a responsible Opposition.

Furthermore, all mainstream political parties - but particularly the Labour Party - have a democratic duty to explore new approaches to political participation in a time of acute mistrust, apathy and anti-politics.

If we believe in democracy then education reform is far too precious to be left to the civil servants, technocrats and politicians.

 “How we prepare our children for the future” is one of the most basic questions a democracy can ask of itself, after all.





One of the reasons why we need an updated Great Debate is to respond to the startling evidence presented in Professor Robert Putnam in his new book Our Kids.

A book that anyone interested in education, social justice and the long-term future of this country simply must read.

Equality of opportunity may not be hardwired into our national mythology to quite the same extent as it is in America.

Nevertheless, it is the common thread - the shared value - which unites mainstream political parties of right and left throughout the western world.

And what Putnam shows over three hundred pages of depressingly forensic longitudinal analysis is that this most precious ‘British value’ is on life support.

First went the secure jobs and the broad-based, working and lower middle class prosperity.

Then went the social capital - the churches, the trade unions, the community associations - which bound people together, providing common life, informal safety net and wider cultural horizons.

Finally, even the stable family unit - the most powerful institution for early child and, as such, long-term wellbeing and achievement - began to creak under extra stress too.

It is a trajectory we all recognise.

Particularly those who, like me, are familiar with deindustrialised communities where poverty, social deprivation and low attainment are so prevalent.

Of the twelve countries surveyed in the OECDs last major social mobility report, Britain had the strongest link between an individual’s earnings and those of their parents.

Now, clearly we cannot possibly hope that education reform alone can reverse this hopeless decline in upward mobility.

In fact, if anything we have over-stacked our chips on the supply side of the mobility conundrum in recent years.

The Government’s solution is to abolish the methods by which child poverty is counted – a Whitehall sleight of hand which will do nothing to lift children out of poverty in Stoke-on-Trent.

Whilst we can oppose such measures, we also have to elevate tackling educational disadvantage above petty oppositional bickering;

to stretch our analysis beyond two sides determined only to advocate their chosen half of an incomplete equation.

After all, in the real world there is no argument between, say, reforming school structures and improving teaching quality.

And no effective social mobility strategy which can afford to downplay either family breakdown or material circumstance.

So we need to embrace debate and conciliation. 

And at least try a new approach to developing an alternative vision for the future.

Our values and Our kids may just be dependent upon it.




However, there is another reason why I want to re-new ‘Great Debate’ on education.

More nakedly political.

Because I cannot see any way that a proper, wide-ranging discussion of 21st century educational challenges would fail to expose the paucity of the current Tory prospectus for English education.

As painfully revealed in their latest Education & Adoption Bill.

You know, before the election I lost count of the number of head-teachers - including many in Outstanding schools - who told me that something simply had to give.

For example, there was the ironic note I received from a brilliant head-teacher in Birmingham.

 ‘A headteacher’s most common advice in the last 3 years has been:

Make sure the kids are doing iGCSE English;

Narrow your curriculum at KS4 to study the easiest / most data valuable courses;

Focus on Progress 8 and the three buckets;

Put your intervention resources in Year 11 and on those students on the cusp of passing and show compassionate realism with those who have no chance of passing.’

His frustration was clear.

Similarly, there was the conversation I had with a head-teacher in East London who complained to me that when he meets his peers the chatter is always about this or that target.

About how to raise standards in this subject by half a level;

In that cohort by five per cent.

Like me, he believed in transparent pupil data;

believed in intelligent accountability;

believed in minimum standards;

believed too that an interventionist inspectorate tasked with rooting out underperformance is absolutely vital for social justice.

But his argument was that somehow the cumulative effect of all this had begun to choke something precious.

It’s as if, he said, we have buried the joy, wonder and beauty of schooling beneath an avalanche of bureaucracy.

I came to the conclusion that he was right.

That outstanding heads were doing great work despite the system rather than because of it.

And it convinced me that - God forbid - should Labour lose the election then the national interest would force the Conservatives to change direction quite markedly.

To meet to the demands of the emergent digital economy by charting a course away from the narrow, ‘exam factory’ vision of recent years.

To devolve power.

Broaden the curriculum.

Respect technical and creative education.

Invest in teacher quality.

Understand the importance of emotional wellbeing and attachment theory.

Reduce the burden of standardised testing.

Reform inspection.

And encourage innovation.

Yet, we see today a government determined to move in precisely the opposite direction.

They continue to pursue a target-driven, structural approach to school improvement.

And with an unhealthy, aggressive and at times wholly arbitrary acceleration of their centralism too.

This is profoundly wrong-headed;

As Sir Michael Barber wrote recently, even in the top-performing systems in the world the target-driven model of school improvement has hit its ‘performance ceiling’.

And the next chapter of education reform is about unleashing excellence not mandating adequacy.

That is why we see so many jurisdictions reviewing their reform principles and updating them for the modern, digital age.

It’s what we see in Singapore where a concerted effort is being made to carve out time for character building ‘co-curricular’ activities, whilst project work and creativity are now a component of upper secondary assessment.

Its what we see in Hong Kong, where school-based assessment has expanded the range of outcomes expected in level three qualifications.

And its what we see in the new 21st century curriculum frameworks introduced in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.



Ladies and Gentleman, I believe a renewed Great Debate can help us to break out of our parochial, myopic and backward looking approach towards 21st century rigour.

To remember that the business of education is preparing young people for the future not the past.

And to escape the narrow confines of the Tory analysis by asking ourselves what knowledge, skills and competencies our children will need to thrive and flourish in the global digital economy.

No reform should be left off the table which can place a defibrillator upon our faltering upward mobility.

One issue I hope would be covered is upper secondary reform - which both myself and the Director General of the CBI have called for in recent weeks.

You only has to read that Callaghan speech to see how long this area has bedevilled English education.

A Great Debate should look at whether we need a proper National Baccalaureate qualification for all secondary school and college leavers.

A framework which could balance important specialist academic, technical and creative qualifications, including traditional A levels, alongside a common core for all learners.

Which could speak to crucial knowledge, skills and experiences that all young people need to succeed…

Such as English, Maths, a proper work experience placement, advanced research and project skills and perhaps a basic understanding of critical digital skills like coding.  

And why not discuss whether we should make - as part of a new baccalaureate qualification or otherwise - all pupils take the ‘Life in the UK’ British Citizenship Test before leaving school?

Surely it is only fair to expect our young people finishing full-time education to possess the same grounding in our history and common values as incoming migrants?

Because if we are serious about nurturing a sense of national solidarity alongside pluralism and diversity, then it would seem sensible to me to recognise that formally in an educational setting.

However, once you begin you realise there are so many issues the traditional debate prefers to leave unaddressed.

Issues like the six-week summer term.

We know its impact on the poorest pupils is profoundly damaging and that the attendant childcare and holiday costs can present a real financial burden to parents.

So why not use a Great Debate to build a consensus for a more progressive educational calendar?

And what about the role of the state in parenting.

There is now so much evidence which shows how critical early attachment and child development is to social mobility.

So perhaps there the state must begin to be far more prescriptive about explaining what good and bad parenting looks like in the early years?

Then there is assessment.

With the wealth of technology now at our disposal I find it exasperating that assessment is still totally dominated by written examination.

Surely there is a better way to assess the breadth of outcomes required by a proper 21st century education?

Peer-review inspection.

Collective accountability.

Breaking out of the classroom and reshaping the learning environment.

We could go on and on.

And, you know, we in the Labour Party would welcome a less partisan debate on school structures too.

With our calls for more competition between chains, a Bosman ruling for schools and an extension of autonomy and freedom to all schools, we believe we had a far more radical agenda for reforming school structures and encourage bottom-up innovation at the last election than did the Conservatives.



“I do not join those who paint a lurid picture of educational decline because I do not believe it is generally true, although there are examples which give cause for concern. I am raising a further question. It is this. In today's world, higher standards are demanded than were required yesterday and there are simply fewer jobs for those without skill.”

So said Callaghan thirty-nine years ago.

But whilst in some respects that analysis feels as vital as ever - on one fundamental point I think today’s context is different.

Our condition is worse.

It is not that standards are slipping.

But in the globalised era you have to run so fast just to stand still.

The rest the world is moving on and as a result Britain is now going backwards.

Sadly, this government is not in listening mode on this.

Only a massive push by civil society has a hope of making them open their ears.

That, I believe is an important part of Opposition.

As well as being the best route to developing a credible and radical alternative.

So I call on you all to help me – and the Labour Party - start a 21st century Great Debate.

And I like to think that here at the Education Reform Summit, we have made a small but important start. 

'THE GREAT DEBATE II': Tristram Hunt's speech to the Education Reform Summit

TRISTRAM HUNT SPEECH TO EDUCATION REFORM SUMMIT. WEDNESDAY 8th JULY THE GREAT DEBATE II     INTRODUCTION. Let me begin by paying tribute to Ian, Ty, Nathan and everyone here...

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