Speech ArchiveJump to comments
Leader's speech, Blackpool 1994
Tony Blair (Labour)
Commentary:This was Blairís first speech as Party Leader following the death of John Smith. In May 1995, Labour had achieved considerable success in the local and European elections, and had won four by-elections. For Blair, these achievements were a source of optimism, as they indicated that the Conservatives were in decline. In this address, he criticised the record of the Thatcher and Major governments, and committed his party to the wholesale reform of the economy, public services and the system of government. He also reminded delegates that 1994 was the 50th anniversary of the UN, which was especially relevant in the light of the civil wars in Bosnia and Rwanda.
David, Conference, friends, today I set out my vision for our party and our country: what we are, where we stand and how we will govern. We meet in a spirit of hope, hope that change can come, hope that we can rid our country of this Tory government, their broken promises, their failed policies, their discredited philosophy, and elect in their place a Labour government for Britain. (Applause)
We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard that John Smith had died. Together, one nation, all parties, united in mourning and in celebration of his integrity, his honesty and his decency. We were proud to know him and proud to be led by him. We will honour his memory best by ensuring that the party he loved becomes once again the government of the country he loved. And we have begun our task. The people have already elected us to control 175 councils. In May we won over 2,500 new seats. We have won four by-elections this year, and three of our new MPs are women. In the European elections too we gained record numbers of seats. My friends, these were not opinion polls. They were elections, and we are winning them.
We are proud too that one of our MEPs, Pauline Green, is the first woman leader of the Socialist Group in Strasbourg. (Applause) And, if you will forgive me, there is one other representative in Europe to whom we pay tribute: Commissioner Kinnock, a credit to our party here, as he will be to our country in Brussels. (Applause)
We had our own election too. One million people took part in a leadership contest that was a tribute to our democracy and from which we emerged with our unity and strength enhanced. I would like to thank John Prescott for his magnificent contribution to our party and, on behalf of us all, to pay tribute to Margaret Beckett for the credit she brought to our party in picking up the reins of leadership and leading us with such dignity. (Applause)
We celebrate too the record growth in our membership - 14,000 new members in August alone. I can announce today that by the end of this month we will have passed the 300,000 mark. I am glad too that we have again an active Young Labour section, three times as many members as the Young Tories. I think I can safely say I am the first leader in a generation who can say with confidence to our youth section, ‘I want to see an increase in your influence.’
Friends, one other debt of gratitude. Larry Whitty is to leave the post of General Secretary of the party and take up a new and important job co-ordinating the party’s links with Europe. Larry is one of the best, most genuine and least self-serving people I know, and we thank him for all the loyalty and dedication he has shown us. (Applause)
We are a party proud of our international solidarity, and I am delighted to welcome representatives here today from the government of the new Republic of South Africa. (Applause) I was 10 years old when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island. Since then, the words ‘Nelson Mandela’ have been an inspiration. But are not the words ‘President Mandela’ even more inspiring?
We welcome too representatives of the Israeli government. We applaud Yitzhak Rabin’s Labour government and Yasser Arafat’s PLO for breaking new ground to help the Palestinian people towards self-government. We congratulate our sister parties in Sweden, Australia, Denmark and Holland on their recent election successes; and we wish success to socialist and social democratic parties in Austria and Germany in their forthcoming elections.
Colleagues, 50 years ago the British Labour government helped to form the United Nations. We will continue to work for it to be stronger, more cohesive, more capable of bringing new order to a world no longer dominated by the cold war. In particular, in Bosnia we urge acceptance of the peace plan now on the table to avoid further brutality and bloodshed.
We live in a world where a quarter of its population lack drinking water and a fifth starve; where civil war, in Rwanda and elsewhere, is rife. We should not forget those people. I can tell you that overseas aid and development will always be a central part of the Labour Party that I lead. (Applause)
We should show courage too over a quite different sphere of international relations -Europe. Britain’s interests demand that this country be at the forefront of the development of the new Europe. Of course Europe should change; of course we should stand up for British interests, as others stand up for theirs. Indeed we should be taking on the common agricultural policy, which costs the average British family £20 a week and about which the Tories do nothing. But the Tories are playing politics with Europe and the future of this country. Let them. Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated, cut off or left behind in Europe (Applause)
The tide of ideas in British politics is also at last on the turn. For the first time in a generation it is the right-wing that appears lost and disillusioned. No longer believing in their own language, they turn to ours. You will hear Ministers trying out ‘community,’ ‘partnership,’ even the odd one talking of ‘fairness.’ Indeed some are now talking of ‘civic conservatism,’ a contradiction in terms. Most absurd, ‘full employment’ was tried out by Mr David Hunt at the TUC. His reward was the most humiliating demotion imaginable: one day counting the unemployed; the next he is counting traffic cones.
Today politics is moving to our ground. Across the nation, across class, across political boundaries, the Labour Party is once again able to represent all the British people. We are the mainstream voice in politics today, back on the side of the vast majority, to speak out for them and against the entrenched interests that hold them back.
To parents wanting their children to be taught in classrooms that are not crumbling, to students with qualifications but no university place, we say the Tories have failed you, but we are on your side: your ambitions are our ambitions. To men and women who get up in the morning and find the kitchen door smashed in, again the video gone, again, to the pensioners who fear to go out of their own homes, we say the Tories have abused your trust, but we are on your side: your concerns are our concerns. To the banks, employers burdened by government failure, to employees living in fear of the P45 and, above all, to those men shamefully laid off at Swan Hunter and the thousands of others insecure in their jobs in every part of this county, we say the Tories may have forgotten you, but the Labour Party never will: your anxieties are our anxieties. (Applause) And to middle and lower income Britain suffering the biggest tax rises in peacetime history, we say the Tories have betrayed you, but Labour is on your side: your aspirations are our aspirations.
We are back as the party of the majority in British politics, back to speak up for Britain, back as the people’s party.
Just look at Britain 15 years after Mrs Thatcher stood on the steps of Downing Street. Do you remember that? Where there was discord, is there harmony? Where there was error, is there truth? (Delegates: ‘No.’) Where there was doubt, is there faith? (Delegates: ‘No.’) Where there was despair, is there hope? (Delegates: ‘No.’) Harmony? When crime has more than doubled. Truth? When they won an election on lies about us and lies about what they would do. (Applause) Faith? When politics is debased by their betrayal. Hope? When three million people are jobless, nearly six million on income support and one in three children grow up in poverty.
They have brought us injustice and division but these have not been the price of economic efficiency, because tax is also up - £800 a year extra for the average family. Spending is up and growth over the last 15 years is down. And look at what they wasted on the way: billions of pounds gifted by nature, the God-given blessing of North Sea oil, billions we could have invested in our future, squandered - £118 billion, £5,000 for every family in this country, gone, wasted, vanished. And to hide the truth of the nation’s problems they have sold our nation’s capital assets, built up over many years, and used the proceeds not to invest but to cover current spending - £70 billion gone for ever.
I say it is time to take these Tories apart for what they have done to our country not because they lack compassion - of course they do, they are Tories - but because they are the most feckless, irresponsible group of incompetents ever to be let loose in government on Britain. Their time is up. Their philosophy is done. Their experiment is over. Their failure is clear. It is time for them to go. And why are they incompetent? It is not just because of the individuals, incompetent though they are. It is not this or that Minister that is to blame. It is an entire set of political values that is wrong. They fail because they failed to understand that a nation, like a community, must work together in order for the individuals within it to succeed. It is such a simple failing and yet it is so fundamental.
Go and look at a company that is succeeding. It will not treat its workforce as servants but as partners. They will be motivated and trained and given a common purpose. Of course sweatshop conditions in the short term can make do, but in the end they fail. The quality, the commitment is not there, and it is the same with a country. It can be run on privilege and greed for a time, but in the end it fails. And this is not theory. We have living proof of it here in Britain today. At the end of 15 years we are taxing and spending not to invest in future success but to pay for past failure. I do not mind paying taxes for education and health and the police. What I mind is paying them for unemployment and crime and social squalor, and that is what the British people are being taxed for today. (Applause)
Is it not extraordinary that after 15 years we spend more of our national income on unemployment and poverty and less on education? If the share of national wealth invested in housing was the same as in 1979, we would spend £11 billion more, but next year we will spend £11 billion on housing benefit; and now they want to cut the benefit. Instead of cutting the benefit, why not cut the homeless queue, cut unemployment and build houses for people to live in? And if it needs an initial capital investment, release the money tied up in local authority bank accounts, put it to work to start the house building programme.
Tory economics is based on a view of the market that is crude, out of date and inefficient, and their view of society is one of indifference, to shrug their shoulders and walk away. They think we choose between self-interest and the interests of society or the country as a whole. But in reality self-interest demands that we work together to achieve what we cannot do on our own.
More and more I believe that, though of course ability plays a great part in life, what most distinguishes those at the top from those at the bottom is their life-chances. So much talent is wasted, so much potential under-developed, and I do not just mean the unemployed: I mean those who just have jobs, when what they should have is careers with prospects and a hope of advancement. We can learn these lessons from the family.
The Tories have posed as the party of the family for too long. They are no more the party of the family than they are the party of law and order in Britain today. They have done more to undermine stable family life in this country than any other government in living memory. (Applause) The Tory view of the family is the same as its view of the individual: you are on your own. But the essence of family life is that you are not on your own, you are in it together, and families work best when the members of it help and sustain each other; and the same is true of communities and nations. Community is not some piece of nostalgia. It means what we share. It means working together. It is about how we treat each other. So we teach our children to take pride in their school, their town, their country. We teach them self-respect, but we teach them respect for others too. We teach them self-support and self-improvement; and we teach them mutual support and mutual improvement too.
The Tories despise such principles. Their view is simple. They believe in a world where they just have to watch as the hospitals spring up, as the schools rise in green and pleasant playing fields: let’s just sit tight on this planet of miracles, where the free market builds business, trains employees, controls inflation, preserves demand, ensures everlasting growth. Let’s congratulate ourselves, they say, that, thanks to our inspiring inaction, the elderly live in comfort and the young play in safety. And all around, people on this planet sing hymns of gratitude to the invisible hand of the market, as it brings equality and prosperity to all, cascading down from generation to generation. Welcome to Planet Portillo. (Applause) It is the theatre of the politically absurd.
Market forces cannot educate us or equip us for this world of rapid technological and economic change. We must do it together. We cannot buy your way to a safe society. We must work for it together. And we cannot purchase an option on whether we grow old. We must plan for it together. We cannot protect the ordinary against the abuse of power by leaving them to it; we must protect each other. That is our insight, a belief in society, working together, solidarity, cooperation, partnership. These are our words. This is my socialism, and we should stop apologising for using the word. (Applause) It is not the socialism of Marx or state control. It is rooted in a straightforward view of society, in the understanding that the individual does best in a strong and decent community of people with principles and standards and common aims and values. We are the party of the individual because we are the party of community. It is social-ism, and our task is to apply those values to the modern world.
Of course it means changes. It will change traditional dividing lines between right and left, and it calls for a new politics - without dogma and without swapping our prejudices for theirs. It is time to break out of the past and break through with a clear, radical and modern vision for Britain.
Today’s politics is about the search for security in a changing world, and we must build the strong and active society that can provide it. That is our project for Britain. It will be founded on these four pillars: opportunity, responsibility, justice and trust.
A society of opportunity must be built around a strong and stable economy in which all of us have a stake.
Mass unemployment is inconsistent with a civilised society. It is time to state clearly in the words of the pioneering White Paper of 1944 that it is the duty of government to maintain a high and stable level of employment. It is a responsibility we share as a society, and that commitment - the goal of full employment - I reaffirm for the Labour Party today. (Applause) It will take time. The means of doing it will change. But it must be done if this is to become a society of which everyone feels a part.
But above all we must conquer the weaknesses of our economy that hold our country back. It will not be done by state control, but it will not be done either by market dogma. It can only be done by a dynamic market economy based on partnership between government and industry, between employer and employee, and between public and private sector.
Take investment in infrastructure. Only in Tory Britain could the government have tried to build the Channel tunnel without public investment. They even passed a law against it, and then in desperation they had to ask the taxpayer to fork out more than half the cost. Now it is up and running. Trains speed through France at 185 miles per hour, through the tunnel at 85 miles per hour and then go through Kent - at 47 miles per hour. The French got the high-speed link. We got the slow coach link. But then we’ve got the Tories. (Applause)
Government must take the lead, and a Labour government would do that. We would get public and private finance working together in transport, in housing, in capital projects, in health and education; and if there are Treasury rules or antiquated concepts of public borrowing that hold us back, change them. That is what intelligent government is for.
Take technology: there is an information revolution under way. Fifty per cent of employees in Britain now work in information-related industries. In the next century, 70 per cent of the wealth will be created in those industries and 80 per cent of all the information stored anywhere in the world is in English - massive markets, massive competitive advantage, massive Tory failure. We should be investing in the new electronic highways, satellite and telecommunications technology that will be the nerve centre of a new information economy, doing for the next century what roads and railways have done for this one.
The government, as ever, failed to see this revolution coming and, because of that, a new market is operating under old rules which work against our companies, large and small. We will act. We will set the framework which encourages the new investment, so that we can co-ordinate a new national effort to ensure that British companies are at the head of the competition, not falling behind. And we have to invest for the long term. In the Tory years dividends have risen by 12 per cent per year in manufacturing alone, profits by 6 per cent and investment by only 2 per cent. We have to change that.
We have to ensure that those long-term finance agreements between finance and industry are available and we have to invest in economic regeneration. There are areas of the country which are laid waste by the shedding of old industry. The market will not rebuild them on its own. A partnership economy will, and where imaginative Labour local authorities have worked with business it is happening. But we want more of it. That is why we have proposed one-stop shop development agencies for our regions to help create the wealth they need. Small and medium-sized businesses will be the driving force of that new economy. The Tories have done nothing for them. Two weeks ago Labour put forward the most comprehensive programme for small business development seen in this country, welcomed by small business - active government working in partnership.
I see people, some of them occasionally in our own party, falling for the Tory attack that we have no policies. What nonsense! We have a huge body of policy, which we are now developing. The difference is that we now have policies that win us votes at a general election. (Applause)
Above all in this partnership economy we need to train and educate our people. Education will be the passion of my government. I know how important the education of my children is to me and I will not tolerate our children going to run-down schools with bad discipline, low standards, mediocre expectations or poor teachers, and nor should anyone else. If schools are bad, they should be made to be good; if teachers cannot teach properly, they should not be teaching; and if the government cannot see why education matters, then sack the government and get one that does. (Applause)
But education is now throughout life. If you want to earn, you have to learn. The University for Industry, the 1990s equivalent of the Open University, will use satellite, cable and the new information highways to give every home and workplace access to information, skills and teaching to achieve the objective of permanent education and opportunity for all. Switching on your computer to link up with work and education opportunities will one day be as natural as switching on your TV to watch a football match.
Education is just one of the public services we provide together to improve the quality of opportunity for each of us. It cannot be left to the market, nor can our health service, our armed forces or our police; and nor should the railways or the Post Office. These are public services. They should be run for the public and they should stay in public ownership for the people of this country. (Applause)
When these Tories tell us there is no money to fund better public services, let us suggest some cuts they could make. They could save £700 million on the costs and fees and city charges of railway privatisation, £700 million that could have been used to build a high-speed link from London to Manchester and Liverpool, upgrade lines between Hull and Middlesbrough, and still have enough left over to improve commuter services on Network South East.
While waiting lists in our hospitals are past one million, when patients are lying unattended on hospital trolleys, when dentistry has virtually gone out of the NHS, they could save £1.6 billion if they started to spend it on patient care and not on bureaucrats within the national health service. (Applause) Or let the £30 million spent on turning police authorities into quangos go on putting police on the beat, where the public actually want to see them.
While students scrimp to get through college, a university vice-chancellor gets a huge vote of no confidence and is rewarded with a £500,000 pay-off. We could have bought half a million exercise books with that. It is their system, their dogma, their shambles, but our children who always suffer as a result.
We should start a new campaign with our public services; get the money to the front line on public services. It is time to change. I want hospital resources released from the administrative chaos of opting out, so that nurses can actually nurse again, which is what the public want to see them do. I want schools released from form-filling and red tape, so that teachers can teach again. And I want our uniformed services freed from paper pushing, so that they can go and catch the criminals terrorising our society. That is what we should be providing - a society of opportunity for all, guaranteed through a strong economy and strong public services.
But with opportunity must come responsibility. For the Tories, the language of responsibility is what those at the top preach to the rest, while neglecting it themselves. But the left have undervalued the notion of responsibility and duty too, and it is time we understood how central it is to ourselves. Parents should have responsibility for their children, and that means fathers too. Companies should have responsibility to their employees and their community. Ministers should have responsibility to the truth, and citizens to each other. It is at the heart of our message about crime.
The Labour Party is now the party of law and order in Britain today, and quite right too. Only one in 50 crimes ever goes punished; sentencing is haphazard; victims are given short shrift. Meanwhile, that Home Secretary, Michael Howard, protests that he has been attacked week after week for being too tough. He is dreaming. He would love to be attacked for being too tough. He is attacked because he is long on rhetoric and short on policies that work. Michael Howard, the man in charge of prison catering, last year told the Tory Party Conference that he was building six tough new prisons. Butlins would not win the contract, he said. He was right. The Savoy got it. (Applause)
We can all get angry because crime hurts, and it hurts most the people who are least able to fight back. But it is not enough to get angry, to stamp your feet and shout from the Tory Conference platform. That is the soft option. We need a new approach, one that is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Over the past year we have put forward a range of detailed policies to fight crime, policies that are tough on crime, measures to tackle juvenile offending, to crack down on illegal firearms, to punish properly crimes of violence, including racial violence, to give victims the right to be consulted before charges are dropped or changed; and policies that are tough on the causes of crime - a comprehensive crime prevention programme, an anti-drugs initiative, long-term measures to break the culture of drugs, family instability, high unemployment and urban squalor in which some of the worst criminals are brought up.
Responsibility means a recognition that there is no divorce from the outside world - social responsibility for all. The unemployed youngster has no right to steal your radio, but let us be just as serious about catching the people in the City with an eye on your pension. (Applause) This is where the Tories fail.
Responsibility is a value shared. If it does not apply to everyone, it ends up applying to no one. It applies to those who defraud the state of benefits; it applies to those who evade their taxes; and it also applies to those water, gas and electricity company bosses running monopoly services at our expense and awarding themselves massive salaries, share options, perks and pay-offs. They have a responsibility as well, which they are not achieving. (Applause) And it applies in the health service. Do you remember how those reforms were sold in the name of better and quicker patient care? We would all be able to get the doctor I want at the time I want in the hospital I want. Who have those reforms benefited? Not the patient, but the pen-pusher, getting the carpet I want and the wallpaper I want and the nice big company car I want - and can we get the wife on the board too?
Responsibility applies in the financial services. The big bang is now exploding in the faces of pensioners who were cheated of their pensions, crime victims who cannot get a pay-out from their insurance claim, home-buyers ripped off by estate agents, and small businessmen pushed to the wall by banks who have lost all sense of their role and responsibility to the nation. A society without responsibility is the enemy of the society built on merit and hard work. It creates an economy in which enterprise is just another word for the quick buck.
The Thatcherites used to boast that they were anti-establishment, but the trouble with them is that they never wanted to bust the establishment, just buy their way into it. And the new establishment is not a meritocracy; it is a power elite of money-shifters, middle-men, speculators, people whose self-interest will always come before the national or the public interest. If they are allowed to go on running the country in their interests, is it any wonder that it is not run in ours? So it is hardly surprising if, after 15 years, sleaze in high places has given birth to the yob culture. Tory philosophy is the most effective yob creation scheme ever devised. (Applause)
Colleagues, we have one further proposal to make here. There are nearly one million young people in this country who have no work or training or education. This is not just a waste of talent but the breeding ground for resentment, crime and drugs. The Social Justice Commission has called for a new civilian service, a voluntary national task force of young people allowed to do constructive tasks - I support that; I think they do as well - working for the community on environmental projects or caring for the elderly, something useful to the community and personally fulfilling, to instil that sense of responsibility, self-discipline, self-respect and a sense of achievement.
Responsibility and opportunity both require fairness and justice, the right to be treated equally as a citizen. That means we take a strong stand against discrimination on grounds of race, sex, creed or sexuality. But justice is about much more than fighting discrimination. It is about our lives at work, the laws we live under and the tax we pay.
If you ever want to know whose side the Tories are on, look at the tax system. Millionaires with the right accountant pay nothing, whilst pensioners pay VAT on fuel. Offshore trusts get tax relief, while homeowners pay VAT on insurance premiums. Middle-income taxpayers get stung, whilst perks and privileges at the top roll on unstopped. And because the government changed the rules, two million more people now pay the top rate of tax.
We will create a tax system that is fair, which is related to ability to pay, where the abuses end, the perks stop and where ordinary families are not squeezed to pay for the privileged. Colleagues, it sticks in my gullet when I hear Tory MPs, some of whom earn more for a half-day’s consultancy work than some of my constituents earn in a month, denouncing our plans for a minimum wage. Is it not wrong that the taxpayer ends up paying more than a billion pounds on benefits to subsidise poverty pay? A minimum wage exists in every European country, in America too, for the simple reason that it makes social and economic sense. Of course the minimum wage should be set and implemented sensibly, and it will be, but there will be no retreat from its basic principle, because it is right and a Labour government will introduce it. (Applause) And we will sign the Social Chapter because it is right for our country and gives people fairness as well. And we will give the right to people at work to join a trade union and, where they want it, to have that union recognised. (Applause) And let one small but significant act be a signal of our commitment to fairness at work: that is the restoration of their trade union rights to the workers of Cheltenham GCHQ. (Applause)
Colleagues, as part of justice we will make work pay. John Smith put it very simply when he set up the Commission on Social Justice: ‘People don't want hand-outs; they want a chance to achieve.’ The Tories always complain that the welfare state costs too much. The answer is not just increasing benefits, adequate though those benefits should be. But the people on benefits need and deserve better - not more benefits, but help in getting off benefits, because welfare should be about opportunity and security in a changing world. It is about helping people to move on and move up. Because the world has changed, the welfare state has had to change with it, and we are the only people who can be trusted to change, reform and modernise the welfare state, because we are the people who believe in it. (Applause) The Tories will cut benefits and make poverty worse. We will put welfare to work - a nation at work not on benefit. That is our pledge.
But, my friends, there is one big obstacle in the way of all our plans for change. It is the legacy of the Tory years - disillusion with politics itself. If we want to remove it, we must show that our politics is not theirs, not just that our vision for Britain is different, but also that our means of achieving it is different. A new politics, a politics of courage, honesty and trust. It means telling it as it is, not opposing everything every other party does for the sake of it. If the government are getting it right, as over Northern Ireland, we give credit. We welcome without reservation new hope beginning there. We pay tribute to our own government, the Irish government, and Unionist and Nationalist opinion in the north for their efforts in the peace process. And we pay a special word of tribute to John Hume, leader of our sister party - (Applause) - who is coming to address us tomorrow, for his unceasing commitment to that cause. It means speaking the same language to each other as we know we need to speak to the country.
Politicians are looked to by the people for leadership, and leadership is about having the courage to say no as well as yes. Even this week I have heard people say that a Labour government must repeal all the Tory trade union laws. There is not a single person in this country who believes that we shall actually do it. No one believes that strike ballots should be abandoned, so why do we say it? We should not, and I will not. Let us just tell it as it is. (Applause)
I have said, and I mean, that I am committed to the goal of full employment. We will develop the plans to achieve it. But I will never pretend that I can deliver it overnight. I shall not seek to fool the unemployed into thinking that we will walk into power on Thursday and they will walk into a job on Friday. Let us be honest and straight and realistic, because those most in need of hope deserve the truth. (Applause) Hope is not born of false promises; disillusion is. The British people are tired of dogma. They are tired of politicians pretending to have a monopoly on all the answers. They are tired of glib promises broken as readily in office as they were made on the soap box. When we make a promise, we must be sure we can keep it. That is page 1, line 1 of a new contract between a Labour government and the citizens of Britain. (Applause)
But we should do more. We have to change the rules of government and we will. We are putting forward the biggest programme of change to democracy ever proposed by a political party: every citizen to be protected by fundamental rights that cannot be taken away by the state or even by their fellow citizens, enshrined in a Bill of Rights. (Applause) Government will be brought closer to the people. We will legislate for a Scottish Parliament, an assembly for Wales, in the first year of a Labour government. (Applause) And the Tory quangos will be brought back under proper democratic control. (Applause)
We will enact a Freedom of Information Act to attack secrecy wherever it exists, in the public or private sector. We will reform the House of Commons to make its working practices and its powers to investigate more effective, and to achieve through our party the increase in the number of women MPs that we have talked about for so long. (Applause) And we will make history by ending the ancient and indefensible privilege of hereditary peers voting on the laws of this land. (Applause) We will tighten the rules of financing political parties; and since trade unions are balloted on their political contribution, it is surely only fair that in this free country shareholders are balloted on theirs. (Applause)
Colleagues, the people of this country are not looking to us for a revolution. They just want us to make a start, and I want you with me in that task. I want you with me head and heart, because this can only be done together. Leaders lead, but in the end the people govern.
Some of you will think we are too modest in our aims, too cautious. Some of you, I hear, support me simply because you think I can win. (Laughter) Actually, that is not a bad reason for supporting me, but it is not enough. I want more. We are not going to win despite our beliefs. We will only win because of our beliefs. (Applause) I want to win not because the Tories are despised, but because we are understood, supported, trusted. And there is no choice between being principled and unelectable and electable and unprincipled. We have tortured ourselves with this foolishness for too long. We should win because of what we believe. That task of renewing our nation is not one for the faint-hearted, the world weary or the cynical. It is not a task for those afraid of hard choices, for those with complacent views or those seeking a comfortable life.
I want to tell you something. At the next election the voters will have had this Tory government for 17 or 18 years. They may hate them, but they know them. I want them now to know us, our identity, our character as a party, and change is an important part of that. We have changed. We were right to change. Parties that do not change die, and this party is a living movement not an historical monument. (Applause) If the world changes and we do not, we become of no use to the world. Our principles cease being principles and just ossify. We have not changed to forget our principles, but to fulfil them, not to lose our identity but to keep our relevance. Change is an important part of gaining the nation’s trust.
We were right to introduce one member one vote last year, and that change is now done. But look at how the regeneration project being run from party headquarters has begun the task of building our membership and taking the party closer to those communities. Are we not right to reach out to those people in this way, to show them that politics is not some Byzantine game played out over screeds of paper in wintry meeting-rooms but a real and meaningful part of their lives? On Friday we will reach out further. John Prescott will announce the biggest programme of political education undertaken by any party in Britain for a generation, and those efforts will be central not just to building our membership but to engaging those members, new and old, to help shape this party’s future.
Let us have the confidence that once again we can debate new ideas, new thinking, without for ever fearing the taunt of betrayal. Let us say what we mean and mean what we say, not just what we are against, but what we are for. No more dumping, no more ditching. Stop saying what we do not mean and start saying what we do mean, what we stand by, what we stand for. (Applause) Caution will not win us the next election, but courage will.
I believe it is time that we had an up-to-date statement of the objects and objectives of our party. John Prescott and I, as Leader and Deputy Leader of our party, will propose such a statement to the NEC. Let it then be open to debate in the coming months. I want the whole party involved and I know this party will welcome this debate. If that statement is accepted, then let it become the objects of our party for the next election and let it take its place in our constitution for the next century.
This is a modern party living in an age of change. It requires a modern constitution that says what we are in terms the public cannot misunderstand and the Tories cannot misrepresent. (Applause) We are proud of our beliefs. Let us state them, and in terms that people will identify with, in every workplace, every home, every family, every community in our country. And let this party’s determination to change be the symbol of the trust that they can place in us to change the country.
The British people are a great people. We have proud, democratic traditions. We are a nation of tolerance, innovation and creativity. We have an innate sense of fair play. We have a great history and culture. And when great challenges face us, as they have twice this century, we rise to them. But if we have a fault as a people it is that, unless roused, we tend to let things be. We say ‘Things could be worse’ rather then ‘Things should be better,’ and the Tories encourage this fault. They thrive on complacency. I say it is time we were roused as a nation.
Let us be blunt. Our system of government has become out-dated, our economy has been weakened, our people have been under-educated, our welfare state and public services have been run down and our society is more divided than at any time for 100 years. Our politics need not be like this. Our country need not be like this.
Ours is a project of national renewal, renewing our commitment as a nation, as a community of people in order to prepare and provide for ourselves in the new world we face. We must build a nation with pride in itself, a thriving community, rich in economic prosperity, secure in social justice, confident in political change, a land in which our children can bring up their children with a future to look forward to. (Applause)
The next election will be our chance to do that, colleagues. The next election will offer us the chance to change our country, not just to promise change, but to achieve it - the historic goal of another Labour government. Our party - new Labour; our mission - new Britain. New Labour, new Britain. (Standing ovation)
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
We're sorry, but comments are currently disabled