Speech ArchiveJump to comments
Leader's speech, Blackpool 1965
Harold Wilson (Labour)
Commentary:The focus of Wilsonís speech was the economic crisis that Labour had inherited from the Conservatives. He diagnosed the causes of the crisis as the Conservativesí industrial policies, and pledged to harness developments in technology to broaden Britainís industrial base. This move, together with Labourís fiscal reforms and its programme of industrial expansion, would tackle the crisis at its roots. Wilson then spoke about Labourís other achievements, which included the abolition of prescription charges, the restoration of security of tenure, and a Bill to increase pensions. Other key issues at the time were housing and the assimilation of immigrants from the Commonwealth.
Mr. Chairman and fellow delegates, I present to Conference the Parliamentary Report. The delegates here, and those whom we represent here today, were responsible by their unremitting and dedicated efforts for the election to Parliament, for the first time for 13 years, of a Labour majority. And it is entirely right and fitting that in the name of that Labour majority I should today report back to you. In every phase of the tough year through which we have gone, we have never for one moment forgotten those who put us there, the ideals for which they fought, the sacrifices they have made: for every one of us realises that not one of us would be in Parliament today as a result of his own efforts, but that we are there as representing a determined people.
When the country voted a year ago, it was not just a decision to replace one group of men and women by another, as in the long history of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ which characterised an earlier phase of our Parliamentary history. The country took a decision. It was a decision for a New Britain, for a more positive and purposeful Britain - a Britain in which our economic resources would be planned and mobilised for the welfare of the British people as a whole – yes - but more than that, for the strengthening of Britain's influence in the world. It was a decision that our latent economic strength, measured not in terms of industrial buildings, and plant and machinery, but in terms of the innate skills and energies of our people, should be purposefully developed year by year, in fulfilment of an economic and social plan - and not contemptuously and fitfully organised on a stop-go-stop cycle directed less to Britain’s strength and wellbeing than to the electoral success of the Party of privilege. It was a decision that the economic strength, which has so long lain dormant and only partially realised, should be used to build a New Britain - a Britain that cares - a Britain that rejects the distortion which Tory policies and Tory philosophies had created. It was a decision - last October - springing from a sense of frustration - of shame even, at a distortion of our society which had come to exalt private gain and purely material affluence and which had sacrificed to that scramble for material affluence the social priorities - social affluence as opposed to private affluence - which is the hallmark of a civilised society.
It was a decision that the old closed circle of opportunity based on family connections and school connections should go and should yield place to a land of opportunity for every boy and girl - for every man and woman - equal opportunity in our schools, equal opportunity to the right to higher education in all its forms, equal opportunity for the keen and thrusting and trained men and women in industry to get to the top. It was a decision that not only our industrial system, but every aspect of our national life that has been corrupted by the doctrine of a self-perpetuating establishment, should give way to an open society where knowing your job would mean more than knowing the right people.
It was a decision that national purpose should override sectional interests and that just as social good should take priority over private gain, so earning money should take precedence over making money. It was a decision for change, not change for its own sake, but change, radical and dynamic, for economic and social purpose. It was a decision that this second industrial revolution (which Harold Collison has just referred to) should be tempered with a humanity that was lacking from the first industrial revolution, a lack indeed that led to the creation of this Labour Movement.
It was a decision, in short, that Britain should have a government and that that government should govern.
For Britain for a long period before the last election had had no government. Whatever limited ideals and policies had animated the incoming Tory Government of 1951, had long ago lost their fire. The Conservative Government had remained in office in a posture of almost total abdication, content to leave the basic decisions that affected Britain's economic life to the irresponsible and faceless controllers and manipulators of the centres of economic power. And drift and lack of purpose at home had led to drift and lack of purpose abroad.
It was this abdication, this refusal either to take the decisions that had to be taken, or to make way for those who would; it was this sacrifice of decision to electoral manipulation that more than anything else created the formidable problems which have dominated the past 12 months - the first year of this new Labour Government.
One thing I think, Mr. Chairman, you will allow me to say.
For nearly a year now, Britain has had a government, prepared to tell the nation the facts, prepared to talk in the gritty accents of reality, to tell the nation what had to be done, and unafraid to take the decisions that have to be taken, regardless of their short-run political popularity or any long-run electoral considerations.
We said it would not be easy. We said, in the spirit of the imperishable philosophy of Nye Bevan, first proclaimed here in Blackpool, that our actions would be governed by the language of priorities.
Time and time again before the election, we warned that our entry into office would be dominated by a deep-lying industrial and trade crisis. A crisis which in the event, was made immeasurably graver by their postponement of the day of electoral decision, and their failure in those humiliating months to take the decision that had to be taken.
When we issued those warnings, and I can take you back to a whole series of speeches beginning in Swansea in January, 1964, we underlined three things.
We underlined first, that we should be facing this crisis with a limited range of financial weapons which would be all that they would bequeath to us, but that we should use these weapons to the full, if necessary, to make Britain strong and sterling strong, whatever it meant, and however this might appear contrary to our broad long-term policy. We said that long before the election.
But we said, secondly, that while we were doing this, we would be taking every measure open to us not only by refurbishing and modernising the financial weapons, but also by creating new and more selective weapons of economic policy, to ensure that Britain should no longer be fated to plunge into a trade and payments crisis every time we dared, fitfully, for a few months, to break out of economic stagnation into a short period of expansion.
For we said that the condemnation of the Conservative stop-go-stop cycle was not merely their emphasis on stop. It was their failure all the time to build up our economic strength, to broaden our industrial base with more and modern equipment, to speed the training of skilled labour - so that we could break out of this cycle of crisis.
And the third thing we said - and all this was said before the election - was that if we faced a crisis, we would not, as happened in the bitter years that have followed each Tory election victory - seek to solve our problems by placing the greatest burdens on those least able to bear them; on the old, the sick, the disabled, the children. And neither would we hold back in a general freeze, the urgent task of bringing work to those areas where work was needed.
Although the Parliamentary Report I am presenting today has been dominated throughout this past year by the economic situation we inherited, it would, I think, be wrong for me to deal in detail with either the crisis and its causes, or with the action we have taken because the First Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if they catch your eye, Mr. Chairman, will be dealing with this on Thursday.
It is for me only to draw out one or two central themes. One - we have met the successive developments of this crisis by decisions, by measures, that have been taken, measures which were not only relevant to the current need and the current problems and the current state of sterling, but were also relevant to the deep, underlying, longer-term problems we are facing. And equally, and no one would question this, the measures we have taken to rid this nation not only of the economic crisis that we inherited but of the industrial inadequacies, the industrial distortion which underlay and caused that crisis - those measures that we have taken have been opposed, misrepresented and irresponsibly misused by the very men who bore the responsibility for the crisis and who, for their own unworthy reasons, had failed to take the decisions which they knew, and which they know, to have been necessary.
My second point is that while we have had to use the rusty and outworn weapons they left to us, we have from the outset been making an attack on the root causes of our economic problems. We have attacked irrelevant and costly prestige defence projects. We have attacked the problem of our uncontrolled capital exports. We have attacked the problem of our unbalanced investment programmes and the problem of government expenditure. But above all through the National Economic Development Council, through the separate councils for individual industries, through the Ministry of Technology, we are engaged now on a great campaign to make this country technology-conscious and to speed the application of the fruits of scientific research to our industrial processes.
And, Mr. Chairman, they fought us: they fought us on the aircraft cuts - the Conservatives, aided and abetted by the Liberals in their Censure Motion on the aircraft cuts; they fought us on our attack on the debilitating freedom of the City to export abroad capital which we needed at home; they attacked us on our policies to modernise industries - all the things we have done have been resisted and opposed by day and by night by the Conservative Opposition.
The long process of filibuster and delay on the Finance Bill has been presented by certain sections of the Press as though all that was involved was a cliff-hanging exercise in Parliamentary majorities and a long drawn-out Tory selection conference. But what was really at stake was this: the most fundamental reform of our system of taxation which Parliament has seen for over half a century - and we did it with a majority of three. And let it be noted that in this Finance Bill battle, there were 107 divisions in which the Liberals - shades of the 1909 People’s Budget - voted 13 times with the Government for fiscal modernisation and 94 times with the Opposition against fiscal modernisation.
There they were, Conservatives and Liberals alike, with modernisation on their lips, voting with their feet against urgent measures of fiscal reform. And what they were fighting against was the Government's attack on the expense account racket; against an effective capital gains tax; against the Corporation Tax, which when it is stripped of all its technical detail was a measure to get industry to plough back more of its profits into expansion and re-equipment and modernisation and to distribute less of those profits as dividends; and when it is stripped of all its detail was a measure to ensure that less of our investment capital is exported abroad and more of it is kept where it is needed, here in Britain. For that Budget and that Finance Bill were directly relevant to our industrial problems. But they were more than that, they were an essential part of the task of creating a fairer Britain, of eliminating economic and fiscal privilege, they were an essential element in creating the climate of social justice that we always said would be necessary if we were to appeal to all sections of the community for restraint, for sacrifice of personal advantage in the matter of prices and incomes and productivity. How could George Brown have gone to Brighton if we had not carried through the Finance Bill first?
Fourthly, we have the whole relevance of the National Plan to our future policies for industrial expansion. As George Brown will be dealing with this on Thursday, I don’t propose to say anything about it now. This is a breakthrough in national economic policy. It is more than that. It is also a breakthrough in the whole history of economic government by consent and consensus. In a very real sense, the publication of the Plan marks the beginning of phase two of the work of this Parliament and of this Government.
Because, after a year in which our first preoccupation was how to weather the storm, the whole world realises that despite the sour pronouncements of our opponents, we are now getting within measurable distance of balancing our overseas payments. The economy is strong. Sterling is strong. Employment is strong. But let no one under-rate the weight that we have been carrying in facing this economic problem over this last year. Indeed, because our first year, which is the period covered by this Report, has been utterly dominated by the economic situation they left us with, it would have been perfectly understandable if I had had to stand before you this morning and to say that because of that economic situation I was sorry but we had lost a year in starting the attack on the problems we were facing last October: if I were to stand up and say that we have not been able to build the New Britain because we had a demolition job to do first, to clear away the damage left by the Tory economic crisis. If that were what I had to report, I would not have apologised to this Conference.
But, in fact, this has been one of the most productive years in British Parliamentary history. It has been a year of Government. It has been a year of active and progressive legislation. The Parliamentary Report lists - and I am not going to go through the whole list - the massive legislative programme that we have carried through the House of Commons, or will have carried into law by the time this session finally ends next month. As one reviews this record it brings back to me all that they were saying a year ago, when they said that Labour would not be able to form a government. ‘The chaps weren’t there.’ All right. Man for man, woman for woman, I challenge comparison between every member of the Labour Front Bench and their predecessors. I will go further. Man for man, woman for woman - I challenge any Tory editor to answer this (I hope you will pass this message on), and to make a comparison between every Labour Front Bencher and his Tory Shadow Cabinet opposite number - always supposing that any single Tory editor even knows at any moment of time who the opposite number is.
Indeed, I would go further. Even if - and heaven forbid - all of my colleagues and I were to get under an illuminated tram tomorrow - every one of us - you could form out of our present second-eleven, our Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries, a Cabinet and top Ministerial team at least as good as we present to you now, and far better than anything our opponents could put forward. You don’t win either the F.A. Cup or the English cricket championship unless you have got good reserves.
So, ‘Labour could not form a government.’ That was one of the things they said a year ago. Another thing they said was that we would not have firmness of purpose, that we would not govern with authority, that we should be pushed around. We have not been pushed around. We have not been pushed around abroad, and we have not been pushed around at home - and we are not going to be. This is government of the people, it is government by the people, it is government for all the people. And the accent is on government.
Let me remind you of something else they said. That with a majority of three we could not get through major legislative programmes. And certainly all the time, while we have been doing this, there has been this anxious pulse-taking about our majority by pollsters and by Press alike. Day to day medical bulletins in the national Press. It has, in fact, been a diversionary Opposition tactic to concentrate attention on the size of our majority and not on the measures that that majority was systematically carrying through the House.
Let me give you the figures. In this session so far, there have been 268 divisions. Thirty-nine of these were free votes - an unusually high proportion. Two hundred and twenty-nine, therefore, were straight confrontations between Government and Opposition. Three of these we can dismiss. They were lost when the Tories were playing their midnight game of Cowboys and Indians in the houses of Smith Square and Lord North Street - which Tony Benn generously connected up with a telephone so that they could know what they were voting about. And they talk about proxy voting for sick MPs! The other 226 we won and our average majority was more than 13. In only a handful of divisions did we have a majority below our nominal three. And just to put Scarborough into its perspective, perhaps it is right that I should record that the Liberal Party - what Mr. Grimond quaintly calls the Radical Left, voted 68 times with us and 157 times with the Conservatives. To be fair, on four occasions, they abstained.
Five years ago, Mr. Chairman, you told Conference that you did not join the Labour Party to become a left-wing Liberal. To judge from the right-wing Liberal voting record in this Parliament, you would have been a lonely man if you had.
It would be utterly wrong in presenting this Parliamentary Report to Conference if I did not now pay tribute to the magnificent work of the Government Whips, led by Ted Short, Sidney Irving, and if I might draw the veil aside a little further, our pairing whip, John Silkin I do not believe any team of whips has ever done such a magnificent job in the history of Westminster, but it would be equally wrong not to pay tribute to the tremendous morale and loyalty of our Labour Members, not least the new Members whom you returned to Westminster last October. Our new Members are already veterans. They have already been through what is one of the greatest Parliamentary ordeals in history and they have enjoyed it. I don’t know how many times I have talked to some of our new Members during the small hours, even as dawn approached, talked to them a little anxiously perhaps, to be greeted with the rebuke ‘this is what we came here for.’
And if the House adjourned at 3 am or 3.30 am you could see them gaily claiming that they had been lucky - they had got a half day off. But day by day, and night by night, as the small majorities ticked their way across the scoreboard, we were carrying through a fundamental reform of our tax system. And the Finance Bill they said we couldn't get through, and that we wouldn't get through, is now the Finance Act.
But, sir, you would agree that no tribute to the unity, the morale and the loyalty of the Parliamentary Labour Party could possibly be complete without a tribute to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Party, that great and ever young veteran, Manny Shinwell.
In a lifetime of service to this movement, nothing has surpassed or will surpass his contribution in this past year.
So, despite the economic crisis, despite the obstructive time-wasting manoeuvres of the Tory Party on the Finance Bill, the Rent Bill and other measures, we succeeded in a little over eight months in carrying through the Houses of Parliament 65 Bills. That is two more than the Tories managed in the previous session with a majority of 100; it is 14 more than the average for the 13 years 1951 to 1964. What is more, many of these were major Bills and we had to produce them without having had the time or the opportunity before we came to power, of course, to get them drafted. So that with the usual delays that an incoming government has, we have still been able to present a formidable legislative programme.
I am only going to say a word or two about some of these Bills. The first one was referred to yesterday by Peggy Herbison. It was a small one but there are many here who know what it means in terms of real humanity when we carried out our pledge - in our first Bill - to introduce a Bill to give old-age pensioners on our housing estates and elsewhere the right to free or concessionary bus fares - the Bill the Tories refused to introduce, the Bill the Tories blocked for years.
2. We said we would take urgent action to raise pensions, and as Peggy told you yesterday, within a fortnight of Parliament meeting, we introduced the Bill.
3. We had given a pledge to abolish the earnings rule for widows and to increase the pension of the ten shilling widow. We honoured the pledge.
4. We said we would abolish the prescription charge. We abolished it.
5. We said we would provide security of tenure for families in their homes. Without waiting for our main Rent Act repeal measure, we put an immediate stop to evictions.
6. We had promised to repeal the Tory Rent Act, to provide new machinery for fixing fair rents, and to give Government and all others who required them, the powers they needed to fight the evils of Rachmanism. That Bill is through the Commons despite Tory obstruction. It is in the Lords - within a week of Parliament meeting again, we intend it to become law. It was on the Bill to restore security of tenure, and it was on the Rent Bill that our new Members, not I imagine to their surprise, saw the full virulence of Tory Opposition tactics when the Tories were fighting for something near and dear to them, the rights of landlords and property interests.
7. We had said that those who lost their jobs as a result of industrial changes should receive, as of right, severance pay. In the Redundancy Payments Bill - which you carried through Parliament, Mr. Chairman, we have kept that pledge.
8. We said we would take action to bring new life to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The Highlands and Islands Development Act - what they call the ‘Marxist measure’ - is on the Statute Book.
9. We gave a pledge about the Trade Disputes Bill. We have honoured that pledge.
10. We have introduced a new Monopolies Bill to curb the abuses of monopoly power.
11. We said we would provide machinery to overhaul our archaic and obsolete system of law. The Law Commissioners have been set up and they are at work under Labour’s Act of Parliament, and the Lord Chancellor is now due to present to Parliament the detailed and imaginative programme of law reform to which the Commissioners have set their hands.
12. We said we would get rid of the restrictions on the right of railway workshops and other nationalised industrialised undertakings, to do work for export or for strengthening our industrial base. That was our pledge and the Minister of Transport has already acted. And we shall introduce a further measure to remove those restrictions which require statutory repeal.
This is just part of our record for one Parliamentary session. We have begun to lay the legislative foundations of the New Britain, though - I must repeat this - it takes time, it necessarily takes time, for the legislation to bear fruit. Dick’s Rent Act, when it becomes law, will take time to work through but, at this, stage we cannot put it to Conference.
When I talk about phase two, if you like, session two of this Parliament, I am not only referring to the improvement in our economic position, I am referring to the fact that starting with the Plan a fortnight ago, we shall now have a steady flow of new Government measures and new Government Bills.
Yesterday, Dick, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, told you something of our plans in the field of housing. Let me say that he did not tell you a half of it. He cannot yet, but he will soon, and he will have a great deal more to say when the National Housing Plan is published in a few weeks’ time. You see, we have had to spend so much of the first session in clearing up the festering debris of the Tory Rent Act legislation. Now we can go forward.
The housing problem, as every one of us said in the election, is the greatest social problem of this age, comparable in its impact, comparable in terms of human misery, to the problem of unemployment in those pre-war years. We said in the election that we would treat it as a priority operation. We said that if it were necessary to hold back any form of less essential building so that the Housing Programme could be increased, we should not hesitate to see what was necessary and to do what was necessary. Yesterday, Charlie Pannell, the Minister of Public Buildings and Works, gave you details of what this meant.
Dick told you what the programme was. Five hundred thousand houses a year by 1970, and a rising proportion of houses to let, but within that total is more to let and more for the owner-occupier. This is the only answer to the over-crowding problem in our towns and cities. The only answer to the problem of the slums, the only answer to the problem of Rachmanism - the evils of which the Tories, when they were in power first denied and then minimised - evils which were dramatically highlighted by the Milner Holland Report last autumn.
Last week, we announced our plan for London Housing and Dick yesterday rightly paid tribute to Bob Mellish who has worked day and night to get this London housing programme launched - and it has been a labour of love.
But you cannot build houses without land. Last week, the Minister of Land and Natural Resources published our White Paper with our proposals for a Land Commission. This, and the Bill which is to follow, make a reality of one of the central promises of Labour in the last election - our promise to deal once and for all with the problem of racketeering in the price of land, our promise to see that land is available when it is needed both for local authority housing programmes and for owner-occupiers; our promise that we would do this because otherwise Town and Country Planning is meaningless; our promise - a basic theme of Socialist belief - that profits arising through the action of the community should accrue to the community.
I call that a Socialist theme; yes, I should have thought a Liberal theme, too. That great ‘modernising’ Party on this theme at least at Scarborough last week carried through an exercise in recidivism which places its present leadership some years behind the Liberals of 60 years ago. In 1909, in 1910, they filled the land with song, ‘God gave the land to the people.’ Now, in 1965, we have the first fruits of Liberal revisionism: while they would not intend to throw doubt on the Almighty’s intention in this respect, their researches suggest that He did not intend this declaration to be taken too literally.
The Conservatives, predictably, condemned the proposals out of hand. The umbilical links between the Conservative Party and the landlords and property interests are too close to permit of much objectivity. But it is interesting to see in their first statement that they now support a levy on land profits. Since when? In Government, right to the last minute, they rejected all our proposals for a radical solution. On television, and throughout the election, their leader proclaimed his determination to die in the last ditch in defence of the free market in land.
Let this be clear. We regard our land proposals, worked out after an infinity of care and study, as essential to our housing programme and to our programme of rebuilding Britain. These issues cannot be discussed in the vulgar currency of Press comment about deals with this, that or the other political Party. Our land programme is a categorical imperative for this movement, for this Government, and for Britain.
We will not trade this or any other principle with those who may be faint of heart or infirm of purpose. We shall insist that all these measures go through. To take any other course would be an abdication of the responsibilities of Government.
As with land, so with financial provision. Dick referred to this yesterday. We shall announce our proposals for the long-term relations between the central Government and local government in the matter of finance. We shall announce our new and revolutionary proposals (that Dick was hinting at yesterday) for the finance of local authority housing. We are hard at work on rating reform.
And let me say to our friends from Wales - I opened the General Election campaign just a year ago last Saturday in Cardiff - to our friends from the Midlands, from London and other areas, we are pledged in this forthcoming session to deal once and for all with the leasehold problem.
Having referred to housing, I think it is right since this is referred to at length in the Parliamentary Report - and you would not want me to burke it - that at this point I should say something about immigration.
I do not propose to anticipate the debate which is to take place on Wednesday about the Government’s White Paper and our proposed legislation. But I want it understood that this is a decision, not of one Department of State, it is a Government decision, collectively taken and after the fullest consideration, by the highest authority in our system of government. But it is right, first, that I should stress our insistence on the positive attack on the problems presented by immigration. This is a positive White Paper. There has been too much talk about the negative side of it. We have legislated against racial incitement and against racial discrimination in public places. A number of senior Ministers have been, and are, spending, and will continue to spend, a lot of their time, and an energetic junior Minister is spending practically his whole time, on the practical problems of assimilation and integration of Commonwealth immigrants in our big towns and cities, especially in the fields of housing and education. We have sought to deal with the problem of immigration in consultation with other Commonwealth countries. But we must face the fact that largely because of the widespread evasion of the Act, in the concluding months of the Conservative Government - and, of course, the loopholes remain - there are towns and cities in Britain which are being asked today to absorb a degree of immigration on a scale beyond their social capacity to absorb, without serious risks, having regard to the time required for absorption.
There have been those - and we all know there have been those - who did not scruple to play on issues of race and colour for squalid and ignoble political motives. I want to say to you, with all the emphasis at my command, that the Government takes the view that we have a duty to act here and that failure to fulfil that duty might lead in a very short time to a social explosion in this country of the kind that we have seen abroad.
We cannot take the risk of allowing the democracy of this country to become stained and tarnished with the taint of racialism or of colour prejudice. I want to make it clear that in the positive policies set out in the White Paper for assimilation, for absorption, for integration, we proceed from the proposition that everyone living in this country, everyone who has come in or will come in is a British citizen, entitled to equality of treatment regardless of origin or race or colour.
Time will be required for assimilation and this is why we must have restriction, particularly having regard to the widespread evasions. But I repudiate the libel that the Government’s policy is based either on colour or on racial prejudice. We repudiate, and let me say for my part, I resent, the accusation of illiberality or of any desire whether on the part of the Home Secretary, or of the Government as a whole, to act in an arbitrary manner. Our concern was with evasion, and the new power - which I know has caused anxiety - in respect of repatriation relates only to those who have illegally or fraudulently entered this country.
Mr. Chairman, I have referred to the last session of the Commons. Sixty-five measures in the last session: and it would not be right or proper for me to indicate all the measures which we can expect to see passed in the session which is due to begin on 9 November. We have already announced that we shall. legislate to give effect to the forward looking measures in Fred Peart’s White Paper on Agricultural policies. Before Parliament meets, we shall be publishing our proposals for a Parliamentary Commissioner, the so-called Ombudsman, to investigate the grievances of individual citizens where a prima facie case is made out involving injustice or culpable neglect by great Departments of State. We shall be laying before the nation the reforms necessary in social security and our detailed plans for relating benefits to earnings.
And we plan to introduce another measure of which we gave notice in the Queen’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament last November. As part of our proposals to reform Company Law, so as to give shareholders greater information about the activities of the companies they own, we propose to introduce a statutory obligation on the part of members of boards of directors to give full details of any contributions of their shareholders’ money towards the funds of any political party, or of any front organisation which exists for political purposes. I think that it will be generally agreed and here I confidently count on the unanimous support of the House of Commons, that this will not only be a valuable reinforcement of existing statutory provisions within the field of Company Law and the protection of shareholders, but it will also provide a necessary cleansing agent - cleaning up one of the seamier sides of British public life and improving the standard of our democracy.
The Parliamentary Report I have just discussed gives the record of our achievement in our first session. By the end of our second session, we shall have carried into law almost the whole of the specific pledges which we laid before the country last October, and on which all of us fought that great campaign. Our manifesto was designed for a full five year Parliament. It was not our final programme: it was the first of a broadening series of Socialist programmes, and yet, though it is designed for five years, in two sessions the greater part of it will have become law - to say nothing of a great programme of social reform which we have introduced or shall be successively introducing outside the specific pledges we made a year ago.
I beg you, in your humanity, to consider what all this means for the Conservative Opposition. For their stock in trade is based on the repetitive use of two dying assets. One is their unscrupulous political use of the measures we have had to take to deal with their economic crisis. The second is their pathetic complaint that we have broken our election promises, and this complaint which, as we have seen in Parliament and outside, has taken the form of a newly discovered Conservative concern for many groups of people - or should I say groups of voters - whose needs they scorned for 13 years. They are suddenly concerned about aid for owner-occupiers, about aid for ratepayers, about the doctors, about the teachers. As I said on television last week, nothing is more pathetic than this repetitive complaint that in less than a year, we have not yet done everything that they failed to do, or neglected to do, or hadn't the humanity to do, or refused to do, or didn't know how to do, in 13 years.
And now, as the economic deficit moves slowly but surely into economic surplus, and equally, as we put into effect measure after measure in fulfilment of the mandate for which we asked in our election manifesto - as these two things happen - so will this discredited Tory Party be reduced to a querulous and impotent irrelevance, because during all this period they have not put forward a single positive proposal.
I call as witness 300 Labour Members of Parliament. In a year of almost unprecedented Parliamentary, activity, with measure succeeding measure in its passage through the House, we have not had from the Conservative Opposition, a single statement of alternative policy on any of the issues on which we have legislated. Negative opposition to one Bill after another, whether they are Bills for which we have sought and obtained a mandate, or whether they are corrective financial measures made necessary by the crisis they had bequeathed to us, on all these things their record has been not only negative, it has been nihilist. We have had from them no proposals, and, of course, anyone who looks at the political scene - even the Press will be admitting this in their leaders very soon - will say that when a country has to judge it is not judging between two parties on the record of how negative one of them has been in Opposition: it is judging between a government and an alternative government, and the Conservative Party have destroyed any claim they might have had to be regarded as a credible alternative government.
And so it goes on. Most measures they have denounced out of hand as soon as they have seen them. They have now set up a department in the Conservative Central Office to divide all our Bills and White Papers into two classes: those they attack on sight and those they attack before they have read them.
Month by month; we have been promised the new statement of Conservative principles. It was ready in January, it will be ready in March. It was ready for a spring election, we should have it in July. Now we are told it is going to be available before, during, or after the Conservative Party Conference. For my part, I shall neither praise nor condemn its contents until I have read it. But I will say this. In so far as it calls for changes in Government policies, or improvements in our system of society, or improved quality of management in industry - which they now keep talking about - or reforms in trade unions, in so far as it calls for a fairer distribution of our social services, then the publication of this policy statement will be a more eloquent and damning indictment than any words or comments of mine could be, on the Conservative record, of their failure to do all the things they now say are necessary, when they have just ended responsibility for the conduct of the nation’s affairs and the shaping of our social system - which lasted for 13 years.
Nye had a word for it, as always: Why look in the crystal ball when you can read the book? Thirteen volumes of it.
This is one reason why their efforts to produce a policy should command our sympathy; they can produce nothing new without utterly condemning their own record.
Another reason for sympathy - and I am sorry that I am not getting the sympathetic expressions on your faces that I hoped for - is that they are trying to produce a policy in a Party which is fundamentally divided not only on means but also on its basic philosophy. Weasel words cannot bridge the gulf between those who slowly and reluctantly have come to accept, at any rate, some measure of economic planning and those among their leaders - recently promoted some of them - who claim a policy of economic and social anarchy, a policy, a philosophy, which had already been repudiated by some of the more progressive Tories in the 1860s.
But there is something more serious than this. We are told that under their new leadership, the old slogans will go and that new and more inspiring themes will lie at the heart of their policies. What are these themes? Partnership? Co-operation? A combined operation to modernise Britain? None of these.
We are told, with authority, that the keynote is to be ‘conflict.’ That is to be the philosophy – ‘conflict.’ That the Conservative Party should now consciously ally itself with management against all other groups in the community.
That management must be set against labour, that equally, labour must be set against management. This apparently is what is meant by the fashionable new word ‘abrasive’ - a return to the bitterness of Taff Vale and to the class-war philosophy of Galsworthy’s ‘Strife.’ This is the modernisation. The Conservative Party, always materialist, is now logically getting itself ready to adopt a Marxist posture.
I warn these men that they are playing with fire for electoral purposes. Some of them showed that they were not above unleashing the evil passions of race and colour hatred, and none of them, even yet, has denounced what was done in their name a year ago.
But now, it is clear that in the top leadership of their Party there are men who will not scruple for electoral purposes to unleash a new source of conflict in Britain, in British industry, by incitement and provocation in industry. This Government of ours has not been slow to condemn nor slow to act where industry has faced paralysis through sporadic unofficial disputes and our condemnation, through your words and actions, Mr. Chairman, is directed against any - be they feudal managements, or irresponsible strikers - who have jeopardised our industrial recovery.
Now the Tories, who for 13 years did nothing, claim to have discovered the problem of industrial relations. Let them realise that the course on which they now appear to be set, so far from reducing industrial problems, could set industry ablaze.
The truth is that the new Conservative appeal to professional management is a diversionary tactic to conceal their basic preoccupation not with the functions of management and industrial efficiency with which we are concerned, but with ownership (following their tradition), with the rights of a privileged minority, by those who own money and make money out of that ownership, or those who own land and hold the rest of the country to ransom through the ownership of land. That was the inspiration of their Finance Bill fight when the Shadow Chancellor and his cub tycoons, that assembly of city acolytes, were fighting not for industry but for finance. It was also the spirit that informed the two successive Conservative leaders in their attacks on the Highland and Islands Bill and all other land legislation.
For what they are engaged on is not a question either of measures or of men. It is a desperate attempt to provide the admen with what they call the new image.
I have said before at this Conference that I don't think much of this image stuff. For us men at any rate, our shaving mirror tells us what the image is. It is something never very far removed from the face that we present. Nikolai Gogol, so far as I am concerned, has the last word on these Colman, Prentiss and Varley techniques in his foreword to his play, ‘The Government Inspector,’ a century and more ago when he quoted this Russian proverb: ‘NA ZERKALO NYETCHA PYENYAT KOLI ROZHA KRIVA.’ For the benefit of any who are not familiar with that, in the words of the authorised translation, ‘Don’t blame the mirror if the mug is ugly.’
Enough of them. We have more important things to talk about. We are building the New Britain, and with this I close my introduction this morning. We do not claim to have built it yet. In our first year, we were building with the brokers’ men looking over our shoulder. We have had to clear from the building site the debris of wasted years. What we can say - it is a modest claim, perhaps - is that this year has been spent on the foundations, on putting the footings in. But in all we have done, whatever the difficulties, whatever bottlenecks we have had, and the two principal ones have been money and Parliamentary time, in all this difficult year, we have kept our eyes raised to the great design of the structure that we are seeking to build.
I began this morning by saying what I felt was the vision of the New Britain for which our people voted a year ago. I have shown how in this unprecedentedly difficult year, we have started to move towards that new Britain. The years that lie ahead will see our forward march.
Soon, we shall be announcing our plans for a great productivity drive, a great technological revolution, which will turn into a reality the vision that we proclaimed at Scarborough.
This new Britain that we are building will be a Britain of opportunity. An opportunity for the young; an opportunity under the forward looking proposals which Alice Bacon has worked out in the Home Office for children, deprived of a fair chance in life, to have that: chance. And opportunity to us means for every boy and girl, the right to the educational development which will enable him or her to develop their innate talents and qualities to the full.
This is why educational expenditure is running at a record level, why school building has been exempted from the restrictions of the past year, and why it is planned to raise it at so rapid a rate over the next five years. This is why we have made the purposive start on the ending of the 11 plus selection and on the creation of a truly comprehensive system. This is why the Secretary of State for Education and Science has moved to give effect to the plan set out in Signposts for the Sixties and approved by conference for the integration of the public school system.
But equally, if there can be no arbitrary selection at 11 plus, there can be none either at 18 plus hence our drive to build up the universities and to establish parity of esteem between those universities with a technological background and those founded on older disciplines. And I am proud to speak as the. Chancellor designate of Bradford University.
But this must be the Britain which releases the energies of our people at every age.
We do not regard the battle for production as a limited private war confined to Ministers and Government servants, and top industrial managers and trade union leaders. It must be a battle in which the whole British people is mobilised. That is why we have called for the establishment of production committees in every factory, allowing all who have contributions to make to increased production to play their full part regardless of outdated ideas about the sacred preserves of management.
We want to see - and here our great new regional councils can give the lead - the service of our young technologists and scientists mobilised in an assault on the technical problems of industry and I should like to see our junior chambers of commerce mobilise keen young business men, exporters, salesmen, marketing experts, for the attack on the export markets. We promised you two years ago it would be our aim to release the energies of the British people and we meant it.
But this cannot be judged in industrial terms alone. The new Britain must be related not only to the quantity of production but to the quality of life. At Scarborough, I said the automative age would at once make possible these facilities and create the demand for increased facilities for the use of leisure.
And even with the limitations which the last year has imposed, we all of us are proud of what Jennie Lee has achieved in providing for increased expenditure and increased investment in our national arts and amenities and especially for the extension of this programme to the provinces.
And she is working with equal determination to make a reality of another cherished Labour proposal - the University of the Air, to provide for our people an opportunity of higher education, perhaps a higher education they missed through no fault of their own, whether vocationally or in pursuing more liberal studies. Jennie and those advising her have already studied in depth all that will be involved in creating a new national university of the air, with its vice-chancellor, its system of degrees and diplomas, its courses, using television and radio, particularly local broadcasting stations, bringing into the service the work of colleges of further education, making use of residential and correspondence courses, the W.E.A., and the extra-mural departments.
There are those who are disappointed that we have not done more to alter the external trappings of our society. Frankly, we have been more concerned with the citadels of effective power than with its external embellishments. It has been more important to assert national and social responsibility in our economic and social life. This may be disenchanting, but we are more interested in the monthly trade returns than in Debrett, more preoccupied with reading what is said by the industrial correspondents and economic editors than what is said by William Hickey; more concerned with modernising the machinery of government, including the vitally necessary creation of modern regional machinery, much more with the action that will need to follow the Report of the Estimates Committee on the Recruitment, Training and Structure of the Civil Service than in altering the layout of Burke’s Landed Gentry. In the language of priorities, we are more concerned with the work of the House of Commons - a newly nationalised House of Commons - than with the future of the House of Lords. Though I should perhaps mention that since last October, there have been no hereditary peerages created, and no baronetcies either, nor has the Labour Chief Whip followed the example of his Tory predecessors who regularly used the Honours List as a means of rewarding, and corrupting, their Parliamentary Party.
That is our Parliamentary Report to you. We intend to get on with the job you gave us to do. I believe that is what you want. I believe that is what the country wants and for once, I find myself reinforced by the unity of the two public opinion polls - I have not seen an Express one lately - which show that an overwhelming majority of our fellow-citizens are sick and tired of manoeuvring, of Press gossip about an early and unnecessary election, and want to see what Labour can do with the mandate they gave to us.
Others may manoeuvre. We have a job to do. We have not been approached by any other Party with a view to a pact, a deal or a coalition. It is entirely right and proper that a Party leader should be concerned to show the fullest respect, as he does, to those who elected their 10 Members; it is equally right and proper for us to show our equal respect for the views of those who elected our 300. We are clear what our mandate means in terms of our Parliamentary programme and in terms of executive Government. I hope that others will feel able to support these measures which we put forward because we believe them to be in the national interest. If they can, we shall welcome their support. If they cannot, we shall have to go on without them.
So, if others find themselves unable honourably to support the measures we put forward - and I intend no reflection on their motives - this must be a matter for them. But if this leads to a seizure in our Parliamentary government, or a situation in which effective government cannot be carried on, then let this be understood - this will not then be an issue to be settled in the back corridors of the Palace of Westminster, it will be an issue to be settled by the sovereign and independent decision of the British people.
For the power you conferred on us is not a gift, but a trust; it belongs not to us but to the whole British people; and it will not be the Parties or the pressmen; the pollsters, the principalities and powers who will decide: it will be the people, who alone can refresh and reinforce our mandate, and it will be to the people that we shall render the account of our stewardship in carrying out the task they gave us of building a new and fairer Britain.
You can submit a comment to us about the above speech using the form below.
Please note that at present, comments are not automatically displayed publicly on the site.
There are currently no comments available for viewing for this speech