The first real electoral test for this Conservative-led government has revealed people's deep sense of unease about the direction in which our country is being led, and their anger at promises so solemnly made and yet so casually broken, writes Ed Miliband in the Guardian.
“I believe that unease stems from misgivings shared right across Britain on the three arguments that will dominate the year ahead: the economy; the damage being done to the next generation; and the way we conduct politics. From the trebling of student debt, to capitulation on bankers' bonuses and a VAT rise squeezing working families, this government is showing it shares neither their values nor their hopes for the future.
But Labour would be wrong if we thought the result in Oldham meant that the next election will somehow fall into our lap. Across Britain I know there are many who need to be convinced that Labour can offer Britain the progressive future they want. But I am also confident that Labour can again be the standard bearer for the progressive majority at the heart of British society.
We lost the general election last May, but David Cameron did not win it. Most people cast their votes for parties that talked about the need to make Britain fairer and more equal; that warned against the dangers of cutting the deficit too far and too fast; that promised to protect health and education; that called for a more responsible financial sector; and that urged a deepening of democratic reform. It's easy to forget today, but the brief bout of Cleggmania last year was animated by this hunger for change. Even the Tories have sometimes sought to drape themselves in this mantle.
There is a progressive majority in Britain. The great Labour governments from 1945 to 1997 all won power because they became the voice for that progressive majority. Last May we failed because we were not that voice. As a result, we have a government of the neoliberal right with a reckless economic agenda. Labour's response must be to understand where we lost our way and how we can rally all those who share our values in other parties and in none. To do that, we must be willing to change.
Thirteen years in government saw us too often defending an economy that squeezed too many on middle and low incomes. We will learn the correct lessons of the financial crisis so we can offer Britain a new economy. We will become the voice and hope of those who feel squeezed by an economic system that promised to liberate them.
On occasions we put too much faith in the wisdom of the centralised state, and on others, in the power of an unfettered market. We must now stand up clearly for our values of equality and social justice. We must also rediscover some of our lost traditions: mutualism, localism and solidarity. The living wage was a policy that arose out of the community-organising movement. It is being implemented by local authorities, argued for by trade unions and citizen campaigners, rooted in people's lives and their capacity to make change happen.
And if we are to bring the progressive majority together, we must also be more open to other traditions, such as liberty. Labour, at its best, has always drawn inspiration from outside the party. William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes, both lifelong Liberals, dug the foundations on which the Attlee government was built.
Labour also needs to understand that in an era of free-market fundamentalism, we are the party best placed to argue for conserving institutions and relationships people value. From post office branch closures to the impact of out-of-town retail development on high streets, we need to be a party that supports communities.
Liberal Democrats will come to their own conclusions about the result in Oldham. My strong advice would be that they should not derive false comfort from borrowed Conservative votes. People in Oldham told me of their anger that the Lib Dems had chosen a coalition of power and convenience rather than an alliance of values and principles.
Many Lib Dems already see Labour as the main progressive hope in British politics. But there are others who have decided to stay and fight for the soul of their party. I respect their choice and understand how painful it must be to watch what is happening. We do not doubt that they hold sincere views and we want to co-operate with them in parliament and outside it to fight against the direction in which this Conservative-led government is taking our country. We will work with those who have the courage of their convictions.
Britain's progressive majority needs a voice now more than ever. It is Labour's duty to be their champion.”
Ed Miliband is leader of the Labour party