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SOPHY RIDGE: Listening to that interview, and the more serious elements of it as well, was the Labour Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, she’s in her constituency in Salford. Good morning, thank you for being on the programme. Well we’ve just heard from Boris Johnson who said that if Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister after this election then we’re going to have two referendums, one on Brexit and one on Scottish Independence. Is he right?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: No, what we’ve said is that we’re taking a sensible approach after three years of what has been quite shambolic negotiations and the conduct of the Conservative party which has turned on itself. What we have said is that we’ll renegotiate a deal, a sensible deal, with the European Union that puts our economy, working life standards first and we will put that deal to a public vote so that people can decide whether that was what they voted for and whether they’re happy to accept it.
SR: So that is a referendum then isn’t it?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well it’s a referendum of sorts, it’s certainly not a re-run of the original referendum, I think the position of that referendum is perfectly clear. Where we are now is determining whether the country is happy with the final deal and they will have that say in that final vote.
SR: So in that final deal that you are promising, will you campaign for leave or remain?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well we’ll make an assessment of the deal at the time, we’ll try and get the best deal that we possibly can. We’ve set out clearly what our negotiating strategy would be, a customs union, strong single market, alignment, a floor under rights and protections and standards. If we get all of that then we’ll have a conference with our Labour party members to determine how we will campaign in that. It could be the case that we’ll get 70% of that and we have to make a judgement on whether we think the final deal is good enough for us to take forward but ultimately that decision will be taken at the time.
SR: So just to be crystal clear then, it seems pretty obvious from what you’re saying that Labour is campaigning for a second referendum and in that referendum it is entirely feasible that Labour could campaign to leave the European Union?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well we’ll have to make that judgement at the time based on the deal that we manage to garner from the European Union but ultimately our priority has always been to put our economy first, to respect the result of the referendum, get the best deal that we possibly can and ensure that we leave in a way that doesn’t damage our manufacturing industry, that doesn’t strip away workers’ rights and protections, that doesn’t take away our environmental and consumer standards and that’s why we will examine the final deal very, very closely to make sure that it underpins everything that we’ve been setting out for the last three years.
SR: So I’ll ask the question again because it’s pretty clear, so you could campaign to leave the EU in that referendum? That’s right isn’t it?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well that will be a decision that will be taken at the time by our party, we are a democratic party and that’s why we’re having a special conference to determine the final position but ultimately underpinning our final decision will be how good that deal is. We will try to get the most credible and economically supportive deal that we possibly can so that the British people have the opportunity to choose upon a deal that’s credible as opposed to the deal that they’ve got at the moment from Boris Johnson, which would strip away workers’ rights, which isn’t economically credible. We want to give them the full choice.
SR: The question at the beginning as well was also talking about a Scottish independence referendum. Could you rule out a Labour government ever granting another Scottish independence referendum?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well it’s certainly not something that we’re advocating under any circumstances, we want Scotland to be part of Great Britain, we think that we’re fantastic partners but ultimately what we have said is after the next Scottish government election, if the Scottish government determine that they want to pursue another referendum and they go through the legislative process within their own government to push that forward, then as a government we wouldn’t stand in their way, we wouldn’t try and stop it but we certainly wouldn’t be campaigning to advocate that Scotland leaves the United Kingdom at all.
SR: Okay, interesting stuff, a pretty clear answer there I think. Now I’m keen to talk about your policy announcement today because Labour is saying that if you won the next election you want to insulate every home within the United Kingdom. Just tell me exactly what it is that you’re proposing.
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Yes, well it’s the largest upgrade to UK housing since the post-war period and it is not just insulating homes, it’s also introducing new renewable technologies like keep pumps, solar, so that you can heat your hot water with solar panels for example and other renewable technologies. What we’d be doing is offering that opportunity to every single home in the UK, we estimate that it would cut cases of asthma by 500,000 by 2030, it would eliminate fuel poverty by the mid-2020s and every single household bill would go down and the interesting part – because ultimately you’ll be wanting to talk about costs – there is no upfront cost to anybody who wants to take part in this scheme. Those who are on low income salaries or incomes, they will not have to pay a penny, they will receive a grant to be able to carry out this work on their homes. Those who are able to pay won’t pay any upfront costs, they will have decreasing bills and a small portion of that decreasing bill will be used in the long-term to pay for the work that’s been carried out, so nobody will be out of pocket as part of this scheme.
SR: Right, I do want to talk about the money It’s interesting that you say there is going to be no upfront cost to the individuals, which may be right, but there clearly are going to be upfront costs. You have to pay for this, you have to pay for the people who come into the houses to do the work, you have to pay for the materials and those upfront costs have to be met by somebody. I have to say, when I looked at the figures for this, it is quite staggering. I mean this policy is going to cost, you estimate, £250 billion. You are going to provide £60 billion of government funds, now that’s 50% more than the entire defence budget, it’s two-thirds the size of the Department for Education’s annual budget – I mean how on earth are you going to find that money?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well £60 billion will be the direct capital government investment that will come out of our national transformation …
SR: I’m talking about …
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well the remainder of the 250 will be from the …
SR: I just want to talk about the 60 billion first because this £60 billion is an awful lot of money and I’m asking you, where are you going to get it from?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: So it will come out of our national transformation fund, which is the £250 billion pot of capital investment expenditure that John McDonnell set out at the last general election …
SR: So borrowing.
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: So yes, it would be but ultimately what we’ve factored in to all of this, we’ve done financial modelling that shows that that £60 billion will be the government’s outlay in the initial stages but overall we are looking at generating over 400,000 jobs and supporting businesses throughout the economy so by 2040 the increased tax take, VAT, corporation tax, national insurance, income tax, more than recoups that £60 billion outlay, in fact it creates a surplus. The interest free loans, as I say, that will represent the remainder of the expenditure and that will be repaid over time through savings on bills themselves.
SR: So that’s the £60 billion. £190 billion of it is going to come from energy savings, just explain to me how that’s going to work because clearly energy savings will only come over time, it could be a few years until you manage to get that money back.
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: So bills will go down, every home will be different, some homes will need double glazing, some homes will only need loft insulation, some homes will need the full suite of things that are on offer from floor insulation to loft insulation to cavity wall insulation to all of the renewable technologies that we’re installing to bring heating bills down and bills will go down very, very quickly and there will be a portion of that bill, that saving if you like, that will be allocated to repaying the interest free loan. The rest of the saving will be enjoyed by the bill payer so they won’t be paying anything extra at all on top of what they’re paying now, I’ll be perfectly clear about that.
SR: Okay, now while we’re talking about money, a Labour MP this week Lloyd Russell-Moyle said: “I don't think that anyone in this country should be a billionaire.” Do you agree with him?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well I think in terms of where our economy’s at at the moment, we’re seeing inequality increasing on an unprecedented scale. A group called the Economic Justice Commission a few years ago brought out a report into prosperity and economic justice within the UK, that was made up of experts right across the UK, academics and business leaders who stated very, very clearly that our economy was fractured and unless we changed the way that we operated the economy wasn’t sustainable going forward and we were not going to address the inequality question. So what we need to see happen, and this is certainly a central pillar of Labour’s economic offering, is a rebalancing of our economy and that goes all the way through from investing in areas that haven’t seen investment for many decades, rebalance the way our economy works in terms of corporate governance, installing workers on boards for example so that executive remuneration and the pay of workers is increased, so that that’s fairer. It’s also about making sure that our benefit system and social security is fit for purpose and it is also about making those critical investments in industrial strategy that improve productivity and I believe industrial revolution is one central pillar of that, a huge economic lever that we’re going to use to kick start the economy and deal with the climate crisis.
SR: At the same time it’s very different, isn’t it, talking about the need to rebalance the economy and saying that nobody in the whole of the country should be a billionaire, particularly when you are taking into account that the top 1% of earners actually pay 27% of the country’s income tax. To many people listening they’ll think this just sounds like the politics of envy.
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: It’s not the politics of envy. I think that Lloyd Russell-Moyle was highlighting the staggering inequality that we see in Great Britain that makes many people angry. There’s nothing wrong with working hard and we advocate that, work hard, do well but ultimately we’ve got a moral responsibility, all of us, to pay taxes and to improve the communities in which we live. What we also can’t see is an economy which sees people sleeping on the streets and homeless, those that are going to food banks just to receive food many of whom are actually in paid work at the moment. I think you must recognise that there are fundamental problems in our economy that have to be addressed. Of course we want people to do well and we want to celebrate that but we also need to recognise that something fundamentally has to change so that we’re not seeing this inequality which quite frankly is akin to Victorian times at the moment.
SR: Just very quickly, John McDonnell says he wants the next leader of the Labour party to be a woman, have you been lined up?
REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: [Laughs] Well at the moment we are getting Jeremy Corbyn elected as Prime Minister so that on December 12th we can absolutely transform our economy and deal with the inequality that we’ve just been talking about but not only that, offer a transformational programme that offers hope for the future, looks for a green industrial revolution that will upgrade every single home and usher in a new era of public luxury that we haven’t seen for many, many decades and that’s quite exciting, I’m excited about it and I’ll be doing everything I can in this election campaign to make sure that that happens.