THE BLOG

Aspiration Is, and Always Has Been, at the Root of What Labour Stands For

08/06/2015 17:35 BST | Updated 08/06/2016 10:59 BST

This blog is a written response to John Bird's recent blog, 'Why We Need to Defend Aspiration', which can be read here

Dear John,

I read your recent Huffington Post article with real interest, but also with surprise at some of your comments about what I said in my Guardian interview on aspiration.

I think you may have slightly got the wrong end of the stick as regards what I did or didn't say on aspiration. You appear to be suggesting that I am somehow against aspiration and that I was chastising the Labour leadership contenders by telling them to stop going on about aspiration.

I'm afraid that this simply isn't the case. What I am concerned about is accepting an argument that the Labour Party had somehow forgotten about aspiration over recent years. Well, I can tell you categorically that I hadn't forgotten about it and I never will do. My whole life story, as you rightly refer to through your piece, is underpinned by aspiration - that of my parents, and my own.

My parents aspired to a better life when they came to London from Karachi. My dad aspired to owning his own home, working all hours to save up for a deposit, while looking after his family. Both my parents aspired for their children to go to university or get good apprenticeships. They saw this as crucial to their children fulfilling their potential.

It's why I scrimped and saved my way through university and law school because I aspired to be a human rights lawyer. And I succeeded with the support of a stable and secure home as a child, going to a good local state school, and benefitting from free higher education.

By aspiring to do well in my career, I became a partner and helped run a successful legal firm. It helped me put a roof over the heads of my own family. It's why I became a local councilor and eventually an MP, because I wanted to put something back into the community that has given me so much. It's why I want to be Mayor of this fantastic city that has allowed my family and me to prosper.

What concerns me is that the fulfilling of potential that many of mine and older generations have benefited from is becoming more and more difficult, not just in London but across the country. That's why, as Mayor, I will ensure more affordable homes are built, and establish a Living Rent, why I will push the Living Wage and encourage enterprise, and why I will make sure people can afford to get to and from work on reliable affordable public transport. Without these things, aspiration simply gets crushed from the reality of living in London.

No one I know in the Labour Party wants to warehouse those on social security, and I take umbrage at your suggestion it is something I would want to do. Yes, I will defend to the hilt the crucial importance of a welfare system that helps those most in need, be it the unemployed, the sick and disabled, or the elderly. It should be a safety net for those in need.

Where I am critical of Labour in recent years is that we didn't make the case as well as we should have done on why tackling inequality benefits everyone and not just those at the bottom. Tackling inequality is precisely what aspiration is all about. It's helping people and communities break out of the cycle of deprivation and poverty. It's giving them the routes to a higher standard of living. It's about rewarding hard work and risk taking. If more people are in work, earning wages and living in housing that doesn't need subsidising by the state, then society as a whole benefits.

You and I know John that life should be a deal, not a lottery, and that if you put in, I put in, we all put in, we all benefit from our collective effort. And that's how we should tackle inequality too, which affects all of us, dividing our city against each other, when we should be united. That's why I will tackle inequality: because it locks out talent, prevent people fulfilling their potential, blocks aspiration and drives us apart.

My problem with some of the recent talk by Labour politicians is that it is as if aspiration belongs only to those who shop in Waitrose. I know it's the families who can only afford to shop in Aldi and Lidl that are as aspirational as anyone else, and they deserve some help to get on too.

So, I am happy to discuss with you aspiration, and why it is, and always has been, at the root of what Labour stands for. But, I would hope you of all people won't wrongly characterise me as someone who wants to prevent people from bettering themselves and their families. Because what I believe in and stand for is precisely the opposite.

Yours sincerely,

Sadiq Khan MP

Sadiq Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting, and is seeking nomination to be Labour's London Mayoral candidate in 2016