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Leader's speech, Blackpool 1996
Tony Blair (Labour)
Commentary:A key theme of this speech was the forthcoming general election. With this in mind, Blair attacked the record of the Major government and outlined ten pledges that a Labour government would fulfil in its first term in office. These pledges included increased spending on education, the reduction of youth and long-term unemployment, more spending on patient care in the NHS, and the construction of a new relationship with Europe. Following the Dunblane massacre on 13 March, in which a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher at a primary school, Blair pledged to outlaw the private ownership of handguns.
Diana, friends, colleagues, this year we meet as the opposition. Next year, the British people willing, an end to 18 years of the Tories and we will meet as the new Labour government of Britain. (Applause) It is exciting!
But it is also a great responsibility. ‘A chance to serve - that is all we ask.’ John Smith’s final words from his final speech the night before he died. We owe a debt of inspiration to John Smith, and a debt of honour to Neil Kinnock. (Applause) I did not begin new Labour; Neil did. I intend to repay them both in full. All I ask is the chance to serve. And at the time of the next election there will be just one thousand days until the new millennium, a thousand days to prepare for a thousand years.
As a father, as a leader, as a member of the human family, I ask this question of Britain’s future. We live in an era of extraordinary, revolutionary change at work, at home, through technology, through the million marvels of modern science. The possibilities are exciting. But its challenge is clear. How do we create in Britain a new age of achievement in which all of the people - not just a few but all of the people - can share?
For all the people or for a few? That is the difference between us and the Conservative Party that governs Britain today. That is the choice before us. That is the challenge of the 21st century. I want to lead Britain into this age of achievement, and today I want to set before you how.
But first we should welcome all the representatives, the ambassadors from round the world. I would want to welcome in particular at this time the Israeli Ambassador and the representative of the Palestinian people. (Applause) You are here together and you have our prayers that the tears and the bloodshed of the past few days can once again be ended and peace restored.
Here, too, are those from all the communities in Northern Ireland. I would like to say this personally to the people there. No leader with this nation’s interests at heart could do anything other than see this peace process through. With the Irish government, with the parties in Northern Ireland, I can assure you it will be every much a priority for me as for John Major. All the force and energy I have will be bent towards it. We have been responsible in our actions over the peace process from the outset; we will continue to be so now. (Applause)
I say this to Sinn Fein and, after events of the last 24 hours, to Loyalist groups as well. You have your chance to take the path of peace. It is your duty to take it as members of the human race. Honour it and you shall play your part. Fail in that duty and I swear to you, the search for justice and reconciliation will carry on without you. The choice is yours. (Applause)
My friends, I would like, too, to give apologies for one absentee today. The National Executive invited Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma to be our guest here this week. For reasons everyone will understand she cannot be with us. Let us hope to invite her here next year, a free citizen and an example to democrats everywhere. (Applause)
You must be careful with the flashlights, it is making my eyes red! (Laughter and applause) It has been a funny year for me. First, it was Stalin. Then it was Kim Il Sung. And now it is the devil with the demon eyes. Can’t we just go back to Bambi? (Laughter and applause) Or I have a better idea - maybe Kim Il Sung’s official title - the Great Wise Leader, President for Life, Dearly Beloved and Sagacious Leader. Laughter) Why not? It is what John Prescott calls me! (Applause) Sometimes.
I will tell you something. In John Prescott I have the best deputy any leader could have. (Applause) If I am fighting in the jungle there is nobody I would rather have with me than John Prescott, and if John Major is fighting in the jungle there is nobody I would rather have him with than Michael Heseltine!
I ask you, this Tory government - has there ever been a government in this country’s history that has put itself before the British people with less to merit its re-election than this one? Just mouth the words ‘five more Tory years’ and you feel your senses and reason repulsed by what they have done to our country. (Applause) Look at them - the tax-cutting party that gave us the biggest tax rises in peacetime history; the law-and-order party that doubled crime and gave us a Home Secretary in court more often than the people he is supposed to be locking up; the farmer’s party that gave us BSE; the party that set up the Scott Report, then, when it found ministerial deceit, tried to ignore it and would have got away with it but for the brilliance of that man Robin Cook. (Applause)
And then Nolan - cash for questions, and this morning more revelations. Do you know, the Tories changed the law to let Mr Hamilton put his case? Well, we will change the law to make the Tories clean up their act. (Applause)To coin a phrase, we will be tough on sleaze and tough on the causes of sleaze. We will ask that Nolan Committee to investigate political funding, and we will legislate so as to make the Tories tell us where the money comes from for these negative and deceitful advertising campaigns. (Applause)
I say this, too, to John Major. If he wants to be seen as an honest man, fight an honest campaign. (Applause) By the way, Matthew Harding sends his regards. Here he is, this Prime Minister, so weak, so utterly incapable of stamping his authority on the government he nominally leads, that he has given birth to the first ‘ism’ in politics to denote not the existence of a political philosophy but the absence of one. ‘Majorism’ - holding your party together while your country falls apart. (Applause)
Still, he has his secret weapon. And I have mine. Kenneth Clarke! Mr Feelgood Factor! Let us tell Kenneth Clarke and John Major, the real feelgood factor will arrive when the people of this country say goodbye to this government for good. (Applause)
Time to change. The Tories never did have the best vision for Britain. They just took the best words - freedom, choice, opportunity, aspiration, ambition. I can vividly recall the exact moment that I knew the last election was lost. I was canvassing in the Midlands on an ordinary suburban estate. I met a man polishing his Ford Sierra, self-employed electrician, Dad always voted Labour. He used to vote Labour, he said, but he bought his own home, he had set up his own business, he was doing quite nicely, so he said I’ve become a Tory. He was not rich but he was doing better than he did, and as far as he was concerned, being better off meant being Tory too.
In that moment the basis of our failure - the reason why a whole generation has grown up under the Tories - became plain to me. You see, people judge us on their instincts about what they believe our instincts to be. And that man polishing his car was clear: his instincts were to get on in life, and he thought our instincts were to stop him. But that was never our history or our purpose.
I know in my own constituency, the miners in 1945 who voted Labour did so so that their sons would not have to go down the pit and work in the conditions that they had. (Applause) And in 1964 their children voted Labour because they saw the next generation’s chance to go to university and do better than their parents had done. The true radical mission of the Labour Party, new and old, is this: not to hold people back but to help them get on - all the people. (Applause)
Is that not the essence of what we believe? Each generation doing better than the last, the heritage of hope passed from parents to their children - now, for the first time in this generation, at risk under this Conservative government. Our task is to restore that hope, to build a new age of achievement in a new and different world.
Today we compete in the era of global markets, and I say this to our Conservative opponents. There is no future for Britain as a low-wage, low-skill, low-technology economy. (Applause) We will compete on the basis of quality or not at all. This means a stable economy, long-term investment, the enterprise of our people set free.
First, let us get the fundamentals right. Look at the Tories - two recessions, one of which wiped out a third of our manufacturing base; borrowed their way into the record books; the pound devalued; North Sea oil money gone; all the money from asset sales gone. It is sometimes said, you know, that the Tories are cruel but they are efficient. In fact, they are the most feckless, irresponsible, incompetent managers of the British economy in this country’s history. (Applause)
Labour will be the party of sound finance and good housekeeping. World interest rates and inflation rates are low; in Britain we will keep them this way. There will be defined targets set and kept to. Losing control of public finance is not radical, it is just reckless, and we will not do it. Gordon Brown, the Iron Chancellor (Applause) - it can be a tough job and he does it brilliantly. They say it is easier to get past security at our Conference without a pass than to get a spending commitment past Gordon! And in case anyone is in any doubt, that is how it is going to stay.
We need a tax regime, too, though, that is fair and encourages work and business. Sure, the few at the top have become wealthy under the Tories. But they have put up the taxes of ordinary families in Britain by the largest amount in peacetime history. We are not going to add to their burden. Those families have suffered enough. Instead, a new Labour government should be trying to get tax down for the lowest income earners, some of them paying 80-90 per cent marginal tax rates. If incentives through lower tax rates is the key for the director on £200,000 a year, then why should it not work for people on £5,000 or £10,000 a year? (Applause)
Next, in this new world many more people will be self employed or in small businesses, and we are going to help them. The Federation of Small Businesses has just welcomed our programme as the basis of a real partnership between a Labour government and small businesses. So move over again the Tories; Labour is the party of small businesses in Britain today. (Applause)
We will give Britain the modern, integrated transport network, built in partnership between public and private finance, and restoring a unified system of railways with a publicly-owned, publicly-accountable British Rail at its core. (Applause) Good for Britain and good for business.
Leading Britain into an age of achievement means Britain leading in Europe, and for business and for Britain we will build that new, constructive relationship with our European partners. Let me make one thing plain. I will not scrap Britain’s veto in Europe. Our options on a single currency should remain open, to be determined according to our national interest. Any change will only come with the full consent of the people. But make no mistake: leave Europe, or retreat to its sidelines, as these Tories want to do, and this country will lose its influence and its inward investment. It would be a disaster for jobs and for industry. The Tories may glory in perpetual isolation but I say that is not standing up for Britain; that is a betrayal of British interests. (Applause)
With a good relationship in Europe we can get more out of it. Britain has the Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 1998. One of our key priorities in that Presidency will be the completion of the single market. Today, even in opposition, I set a deadline - June 1998, the end of the British Presidency, for the completion of the single market in Europe. And I will begin discussions with other European leaders now so that we can get ready to meet that deadline. New opportunities for our firms and new jobs for our people. Our aim is that by the end of the first term of a new Labour government in gas and electricity, in telecommunications, in public procurement, in financial services, we will have a genuine single market in Europe open to British goods and services. That is the way to get the best out of Europe for Britain. (Applause)
And a new age of achievement in our industry, too. Support for manufacturing as well as for services; support for research and development, for science and engineering; and a new era of industrial relations in Britain. There will be fairness, not favours, for employers and employees alike. The Labour government today is not the political arm of anyone other than the British people. But let us settle these arguments about industrial laws once and for good. There will be no return to the 70s, but there should and there will be basic civil rights for all at work legislated on early in a Labour government. (Applause)
What are they? They are merely the due claim of civilisation - a statutory minimum wage. Like every other industrial country the world over, we will have one under a Labour government in Britain. (Applause) We will be part of the European social chapter, as every other government, Tory or Labour, is in the rest of Europe. There will be a right for any individual to join a trade union (Applause) and if a majority of the workforce wanted, for the union to represent those people. (Applause) Basic human rights.
On GCHQ I hear people say we have changed our mind. I have not. I have made a personal commitment to those people to restore their trade union rights in full and I will keep it. (Applause)You applaud, and rightly. But let me tell you something that I believe in the end is even more important. I make a plea to both sides of industry. A couple of weeks ago I visited the JCB plant in Staffordshire. The man who runs it, in the past at least, donated to the Tory party. I don’t give a damn. He has got good union relations there, the work force is valued and invested in, stakeholders in the enterprise, the product is the best. That is the future. We are on the same side, we are in the same team.
I visited Raytheon Jets in North Wales, too, not so far from here. A plant which the unions helped, with management, to save from relocation to the United States. I ask in the name of this country’s future - forget the past, no more bosses versus workers - we are on the same side, the same team, and Britain united will win! (Applause)
These are the foundations of this new age of achievement. And for all our people it can be made a reality. There is only one lasting route to higher living standards, better wages, more secure jobs in today's world. We will win by our brains and our skills or not at all. In Britain we are still in the 30-30-40 economy: 30 per cent do very well, 30 per cent just getting by, 40 per cent struggling or worse.
When the Tories talk about the spirit of enterprise they mean a few self-made millionaires. Well, best of luck to them. But there should be a spirit of enterprise and achievement on the shop floor, in the office as well: in the 16 year-old who starts as an office girl with the realistic chance of ending up as the office manager; in the young graduate with the confidence to take initiatives; in the secretary who takes time out to learn a new language and comes back to search for a new and better job. These people have enterprise within them. They have talent and potential within them. Ask me my three main priorities for government and I tell you: education, education and education. (Applause)
The first wonder of the world is the mind of a child. I sometimes sit reading a newspaper, watching TV, and you look up and you see your children at a computer, and you marvel at what they can do, using that computer as easily as we would read a book. Yet we are 35th in the world league of education standards today - 35th. They say give me the boy at seven, I’ll show you the man at 70. Well give me the education system that is 35th in the world today and I will give you the economy that is 35th in the world tomorrow. (Applause)
So let us set about this task at every level - radical improvement and reform for our children; a teaching profession trained, able to stand alongside the best in the world and valued as such. No to Tory nursery vouchers, yes to proper nursery places for all our children. (Applause) Tomorrow David Blunkett will set out how to ensure that every primary school child leaves school able to read to the adequate standard. (Applause) A literacy guaranteed by establishing three-week intensive literacy summer schools for all those falling behind, with the aim of ensuring that every 11 year-old is up to the standard in reading and adding up that they need.
It is a choice of priorities, isn’t it? The Tories choose to spend those millions of pounds on the assisted places scheme to subsidise a small number of children at private school. Under Labour that scheme will be phased out, that money will be used to make sure that every five, six and seven-year-old is in a class of a size of 30 or under. Those are the priorities for us. (Applause)
There will be no return to the 11-plus. The comprehensive system will stay, modernised for today’s world. (Applause) Modernised, taking account of children’s different abilities but not setting them apart. Continual assessment, targets set, instant action where they are not met. There should be zero tolerance of failure in Britain’s schools. That is if we want to be serious about our task. I will tell you my vision of the future. I would like a state education system in Britain so good, so attractive, that the parents choose to put behind us the educational apartheid of the past, private and state, and I do not believe anything would do more to break down the class divides that have no place in a modern country in the 21st century. (Applause)
Education should not be about wealth. And the age of achievement will be built on the new technology. Last year I announced an agreement with British Telecom to cable up schools, colleges, universities, libraries to the information superhighway for free. To their credit, the cable companies have followed suit. That was an historic beginning. But it was only a beginning. Today we go further. The cable industry and British Telecom have now given us a commitment to keep costs to our schools for access to the Internet and superhighway as low and as predictable as possible, and they have given a commitment to achieve real reductions in prices for those schools.
We have agreed with them to put this into practice. So we have got the wires, we have got the low-cost connections. But now we need more - the hardware, the computers themselves. In January, again even in opposition, we appointed Dennis Stevenson, a leading businessman in the country, to chair a commission of independent experts to examine how we get that computer hardware and the training for teachers to use it. His final report, to be published later this year, will lay down the third building block to show how in time no child will be without access to a computer and no school unable to use them properly.
The cables for free, the connections at low cost, plans for computers, and then the final piece. What matters in the end is the educational material that comes down from those cables into those computers and into the mind of the child. Just as schools have to buy books, they will pay for the various courses and services on offer. But we are going to make sure the quality is high. Competition will ensure that prices are low. In government we will be inviting bids for a franchise to provide the specialised education network that the superhighway needs. Our aim is for every school to have access to the information superhighway, the computers to deliver it, the education programmes to go on it. With the university for industry, for adult skills, this adds up to a national grid for learning for Britain. That is the age of achievement come alive. (Applause)
Just think of it - Britain, the skills superpower of the world. Why not? Why can’t we do it? Achievement, aspiration fulfilled for all our people. Because a great people equals a Great Britain. Run a country where a few winners take all rather than all of us as winners, and see what happens. It is not right, it is not in people’s interests. Huge costs of unemployment, crime, social decay, higher taxes to pay for it. Welfare bills doubled under the Tories, even as poverty rises. And the type of society we have - what kind of world is it where fathers who do not work have sons who do not work, where the young take to drugs and the debased culture of despair because no job beckons on leaving school? What kind of world is it where there are more second homes but more homeless and the streets paved with fear? (Applause) What kind of world is it where the best education, jobs and skills are available only to the few? It is a world in which some can succeed. But I ask you, is it a world of which anyone can be proud? That, Mr Major, is the moral question of our times. (Applause)
When I was growing up the family was strong, the sense of social responsibility was strong, crime was low. There was a national ethos and spirit that had won us the war and stayed with us in peace. What was strong then is fragile now. National purpose faltering, our feeling of collective responsibility starved of expression, the family unsupported. It is right to want to get on. It is right to want to do well. But if all we have is what we own, not what we share, we are all the losers for it. (Applause)
Today I offer you, and we offer the country, a new vision. If we are to build this new age of achievement, you and I and all of us together must build first the decent society to deliver it. A society in which every individual is valued, every person given the chance to fulfil their potential; a society to which we contribute and which then contributes to us; a society based not on outdated prejudices but on the common duty of humanity, our belief that we owe an obligation to each other to improve the lives of us all; a society of opportunity; a society of responsibility; a society which gives to us because we give to that society. History will call it the decent society, the new age of achievement in Britain.
These will be its principles. We will respect family life. We will develop it and encourage it in any way that we can, for strong families are the foundation of strong communities. We will provide opportunities for those without. As a first step, we will implement a Programme to take 250,000 young people off benefit and into work, funded by a one-off windfall levy on the excess profits of the privatised monopoly utilities. (Applause) We will put a roof over the heads of the homeless by releasing those capital receipts from the sale of council houses and let homes be built for our people. (Applause) We will cherish and enhance the environment, ease congestion, reduce pollution, develop our quality of life, and in the countryside as much as cities and towns.
In return for those opportunities, responsibility. I am proud that new Labour has taken the mantle of the party of law and order in Britain today. (Applause) I began that process, Jack Straw has carried it on. I simply say to people who tell us it is wrong to want to crack down on violent crime, drug pushers, anti-social neighbours, hooligans - try living next door to them. (Applause)
It is the weak and the vulnerable who suffer most from crime. So we will be tough on the causes of crime, but tough on crime too. You saw in that film review of the year the day when John Major and I visited Dunblane together. It was a searing, chilling and dreadful day. Conservative MPs complain that our response has been emotional. If they had been in that gym, if they had talked to those parents, sitting on those tiny chairs where once their children had sat, they would have been emotional, too. I believe that we should ban the private ownership and possession of handguns. (Applause)
We will do more. We will give the disabled the civil rights that the Tories have denied them. Nobody should be excluded from this age of achievement. We will work with the voluntary sector, and tomorrow David Blunkett will announce our plans for a national network of millennium volunteers.
We will provide security in old age. Let me say this to you: previous Labour governments did their duty by British pensioners, and so will the next Labour government. (Applause) The review that we have announced will be set up under a Labour government on the terms we have announced to see how we fulfil that duty for modern times. It will review also the whole issue of community care where those elderly people have to sell their homes to pay the cost of nursing care. (Applause) That I can say. But I will not make promises on money until I know they can be kept. That is our guiding rule; there can be no exceptions to it, and I ask you to understand that. Making promises we do not keep does not help anybody. (Applause)
One thing I can promise to pensioners and to everyone else gladly - gladly. The next Labour government will scrap the Tory internal market of the National Health Service and will improve and renew the health service as a decent public service for the people. (Applause) Now you can see why it is worth winning, why it is worth making a difference. No more hospitals fighting hospitals. No more doctor competing with doctor. No more bogus red tape and expensive bureaucracy, and, in place of a Tory who does not care about the health service, Chris Smith, who does. (Applause) And we will improve it, not just keep it as it is. Of course things will be done in a different way. It is a new world. There is no switching the clock back on anything. New challenges, new ideas. But ours can be, and will be, a great radical, reforming government, giving Britain the welfare state it needs in the 21st century.
The great reforms should not stop with the welfare state. Let us modernise government itself so that it serves the interests of the people. (Applause) Not bigger government; better government. So local people decide how to run local services. A parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales, legislated for in the first year of a Labour government. And let me say this to you - achievable precisely because we will have the clear consent of the Scottish and Welsh people before doing it. (Applause) A directly elected authority for London, our capital city. (Applause) Local democracy reborn, the quango state in the dustbin of history where it belongs. (Applause)
More than that. Today I can make another announcement on our plans for the National Lottery. It has been a great success, but has all the money gone to good causes? No. We want to fund specific environment, education and public health projects through the proceeds of the National Lottery. I want the people’s money to go on the people's priorities. (Applause) Equipping all our teachers to use the new technology that will improve children’s education; working with the voluntary sector; insulating homes; supporting national talent and potential; reclaiming public space for pedestrians. The millennium stream of lottery money, one-fifth of the total, should be focused on giving Britain a head start in the 21st century, and under us it will be.
There is more that we can do with government. If Clem Attlee came back today he would think pretty much everything was changed, including a few things about this, I suppose. But not the way that we run government or Parliament. We spend £300 billion a year in the public sector. But a lot of what government does is not about helping us achieve; it is actually stopping us achieving. If you are a young person, for example, leaving school, leaving home, looking for a job, you have to contact 11 government offices, not one. Finding care for an elderly relative can take four stops, not one. It can take you two weeks to get your first Income Support payment, and then one in seven will be wrong. It takes a month to get your first Child Benefit cheque. A small engineering firm in Blackpool spends as much on dealing with inspectors as it would hiring an extra member of staff. And it is getting worse.
The fraud in the system? Probably as much as £8 billion a year or more. We will therefore make it a priority to introduce a programme to reform this system of government. Our aim is to co-ordinate services across government departments, using the advantages of the technology now available to provide a modern and up-to-date service for the customers of the state. Government for the people, not government for government. (Applause)
But we should reform Parliament too. One reform we have already achieved - more women Members of Parliament than ever before. (Applause) Another we can - reforming Prime Minister’s Question Time so that it actually does Parliament credit; ending the greatest symbol of privilege of any democracy in the world by ensuring that hereditary peers are not voting in the House of Lords. (Applause)
We will clean up the political funding in Britain. It is surely right we know where these types of money come from. I simply say that it is important that we ensure that everyone recognises their responsibility to make our politics better.
The age of achievement, at home and abroad. We will be strong in defence, in NATO, with our allies the United States; we will be the bridge across the Atlantic between them and Europe. But we will also fight for democracy and civil rights the world over. (Applause) There is no greater pride to me than our total unequivocal, unrelenting battle to end apartheid and see Nelson Mandela freed from his chains. So we salute the Bob Hugheses, the Joan Lestors, the Neil and Glenys Kinnocks who played their part in that, and we put to one side the nausea we felt at those Tories who had propped up apartheid and worn shirts calling for Nelson Mandela to be hanged - yes, hanged - then flocked to be seen with him. (Applause)
Imagine Britain a leading player in Europe once more, a force for good promoting democracy and civil rights and free trade between nations, dealing with the debt burden at the heart of any strategy for overseas development, helping fashion the United Nations and the institutions of international co-operation for a new world.
It can happen. It can happen. The British people want change; I am sure of that. But they need to trust us. I want them to trust us.
Recently, the boss of one of Britain’s biggest and most successful companies said to me that companies do not just have prospectuses, they have performance contracts too: a contract that sets out targets and priorities and allows public and company to measure success or failure. And he dared me to publish a performance contract for a new Labour government. Today I do that. These are the vows that I make to my country.
By the end of the term of a five-year Labour government:
- I vow that we will have increased the proportion of our national income we spend on education
- I vow that we will have reduced the proportion we spend on the welfare bills of social failure
- I vow that we will have reduced the spending on health service bureaucracy and increased it on patient care
- I vow that we will have cut the numbers of long-term unemployed and cut by over half the number of young people unemployed (Applause)
- I vow that we will have halved the time it takes young offenders to get to court
- I vow that we will keep government borrowing and inflation within the low and prudent targets we set within the economic cycle
- I vow that the promises that we make on tax we will keep
- I vow that class sizes will be down in primary schools and standards up in all schools
- I vow that, with the consent of the people, we will have devolved power to Scotland, Wales and the regions of England and
- I vow that we will have built a new and constructive relationship in Europe.
This is my covenant with the British people. Judge me upon it. The buck stops here. For the future, not the past, for the many, not the few, for trust, not betrayal, for the age of achievement, not the age of decline - that is my covenant with the British people.
I can make this promise - I can make it because you have helped me transform our party into a great party of reform for the modern age. Four hundred thousand members, and growing! A new constitution that we can actually, leader included, quote in our speeches. A party open and in touch. New Labour, new members. And I am proud of them. But let me say this to you. I don’t forget that this party only survived for new members to join because the old members stuck with it through thick and thin. (Applause)
Let me try to explain this to you. I was not born Labour, I became Labour. When you look back on your past you try to think of the things that shaped you. My father was a very ambitious man. He was ambition personified, successful, he was a go-getter. One morning I woke to be told that he had had a stroke in the middle of the night and might not live through the day. My whole world then fell apart. And it taught me something. It taught me the value of the family, because my mother worked for three years to help him talk and walk again. But it taught me something else too. When that happened the fair-weather friends went; that is not unusual. But the real friends, the true friends, stayed with us; they helped us and they stuck with us for no other reason than that it was the right thing to do.
I do not pretend to you that I had a deprived childhood; I did not. But I learned a sense of values in my childhood. A year ago or more, John Prescott and I went up to Sam McCluskie’s funeral. A lot of you will remember Sam McCluskie, he was a great guy, great stalwart of the Labour movement. I think it would be fair to say that we did not always absolutely agree on everything! And as I left the church service, one of the sisters came up to me and pressed a little strip of red ribbon into my hand - it is something I keep with me still - and said this is a keepsake that Sam used to have and I want you to have it. I was embarrassed and I turned round to her and said look, I didn’t know Sam that well and, quite honestly, a lot of the time we didn’t see eye to eye. And she said to me I know that, but in your souls you want the same thing, a better world.
That is it. That is what we believe in. Yes, we are a democratic socialist party. Indeed, it says so in the words of Clause IV, the new Clause IV, the one I drafted and the party overwhelmingly supported. (Applause) But it stands in a tradition bigger than that - bigger than European social democracy, bigger than any ‘ism,’ bigger than any of us. It stands in a tradition whose flame was alive in human hearts long before the Labour Party was ever thought of; a tradition far above ideology but not beyond ideals.
We are not a sect or a cult. We are part of the broad movement of human progress, the marriage of ambition with justice, the constant striving of the human spirit to do better, to be better. It is that which separates us from the Conservatives. And it was there long ago, there even when the ancient prophets of the Old Testament first pleaded the cause of the marginal, the powerless, the disenfranchised. It was there when Wilberforce fought the slave trade against the vested interests of Tory money. It was there when the trade union movement began as an instrument against abuse in the work place. It was there when the young Jack Jones went to fight in the Spanish civil war for another people’s freedom out of nothing more than the goodness of his heart. (Applause)
It was there when we said, having conquered the evil of Hitler, that the welfare state must be built so that the destitution of the 30s never returned to our country. And it is here now, in this room, as we build around the Labour Party the new force for progress in British politics to bring in the new age of achievement for all our people. A thousand days - yes - to prepare for that thousand years.
Consider a thousand years of British history and what it tells us. The first parliament of the world, the industrial revolution ahead of its time, an empire, the largest the world has ever known, relinquished in peace, the invention of virtually every scientific device of the modern world, two World Wars in which our country was bled dry, in which two generations perished but which in the defeat of the most evil force ever let loose by man showed the most sustained example of bravery in human history.
This is our nation, our characteristics - common sense, standing up for the underdog, fiercely independent. But the outstanding British quality is courage - not just physical bravery but the courage to think anew, to break convention when convention is holding us back, to innovate while others conform; to do it our way. I say to the British people: have the courage to change now. We are coming home to you. We are back as the party of the people, and that is why the people are coming back to us. When Alan Howarth has the courage to tear up the ties of a lifetime because he can no longer stomach today’s Tory party and he sees his home as new Labour, I say welcome to him, and welcome to those others. (Applause)
When businessmen say to me, ‘Tony, I never thought I’d be doing this but here’s a big cheque to help you beat the most dishonest, negative campaign in history,’ I say thank you to them. We need that. (Applause) And when former Tory voters write and tell me they never thought in a million years that they would vote Labour but they hate the Tories and they think we are worth more than a shot, I write back and say welcome, thank you. Thank you for giving us that chance. Thank you for seeing the changes we have made are real. Thank you for having the courage to change your vote. And when a 76 year-old widow from Liverpool, a party member since before I was born, sends me a Christmas card that says ‘Tony, please, for me, win,’ then I tell you we have a duty to win, a duty for her and millions like her. (Applause)
I don’t care where you are coming from; it is where your country is going that matters. If you believe in what I believe, then join our team. Labour has come home to you, so come home to us. Labour’s coming home! (Applause) Seventeen years of hurt never stopped us dreaming. Labour’s coming home! (Applause) As we did in 1945 and 1964, I know that was then, but it could be again – Labour’s coming home. (Applause) Labour’s coming home.
The people are coming home. Because Britain is their team and they are part of it, and they know that if we unleash the potential of our people Britain comes alive with the new energy, the new ideas, the new leadership, and Britain can take on the world and win. We will be envied throughout the world, not just because of our castles and our palaces and our glorious history, but because we gave back that heritage of hope to the generations, we turned round this country by the will of the people in unity with the party of the people, and we built this age of achievement in our lifetime.
This is our mission for Britain today. We knew we could do better. And we did. We knew we could be better, we the Labour Party. And we are. Britain, too, can do better. Britain can be better than this. A thousand days to prepare for a thousand years - not just turning a page in history but writing a new book, building the greatness of our nation through the greatness of its people. Think of the possibility of change. No more squandering the nation’s assets. No more sleaze. No more cash for questions. No more lies. No more broken promises. I say to the Tories: enough is enough! Be done, be gone! (Applause) The glory days of Britain are not over, but the Tory days of government are. (Applause)
We have the programme. We have the people to make decent change in our country. Let us call our nation now to its destiny. Let us lead it to our new age of achievement and build for us, for our children, their children, a Britain - a Britain united to win in the 21st century. (Prolonged applause)
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