LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE SPEECH 2008

Check Against Delivery

 

I want to begin by paying tribute to every person who has taken part in the policy process over the past few years.

 

Your input - locally, regionally and of course through the National Policy Forum itself have all helped to shape the documents before us this week.

 

And I also want to thank the NPF officers – Debbie Coulter, Billy Hayes, Simon Burgess and Ann Begg - for their hard work and support over the past year.

 

When the Policy Forum met in July we began to set out our future course:

 

  • Support for the new green collar jobs which will come through changes in the way we produce our energy and respond to climate change.
  • better support for families,
  • a better deal for low paid workers
  • tough new community payback schemes with a stronger local voice in fighting crime.

Many more issues and we are already taking them forward.

 

John Hutton and I announced that we would change the rules on tips and the minimum wage to bring fairness to restaurant workers and other service workers up and down the country.

 

Because when we leave a tip in a restaurant we expect it to go to the staff who have served us in addition to their pay, not to be used to make up the minimum wage.

 

 

Wider Agenda

 

But when I look at the policy agenda more widely, what strikes me about the issues facing us is how much things have changed since we came to power and how our response must do so too.

 

The world today is far more connected today than it was even a decade ago. 

 

We have seen that as bank collapses and the credit crunch have rippled across the world.

 

People concerned about their savings, about how to get a mortgage;

 

Homeowners worried about the falling value of their homes;

 

Pensioners asking how to pay for energy bills driven up by global forces beyond the control of any single government;

 

And the security agenda has changed too as we face a merciless terrorism which despises our way of life and seeks to use victimhood as justification for mass murder.

 

Yet also, in the midst of this, we are a stronger more confident country;

with better funded public services;

an improved NHS;

a revolution in choice and empowerment driven by technological change meaning more people can do what they want when they want, not when it suits whoever is providing the service.

 

All of this changes things - it changes profoundly the government’s job description. 

 

 

Our Record

 

Our record is good and there are many things we can be proud of.

 

More people in work.

 

1 million benefiting from the National Minimum Wage.

 

Many of our cities renewed and revived.

 

For a new mother today, a package of support worth £3,000 more than a decade ago.

 

And yet we know that however strong our record, it is not the scorecard of yesterday that the country wants to know, it is the promise for tomorrow.

 

 

The challenges

 

 

Extra investment has gone in to our public services but in an age of empowerment, we have to make sure they are truly responsive not only to what people want but when they want it too.

 

We have raised the average standard in schools, but now we need more opportunity for young people in communities where poverty of ambition still exists.  The places where the schools don’t even achieve the national average in results, let alone exceed it. 

 

Crime has fallen but we know that sometimes it doesn’t feel like that to people. 

 

And because security is so essential to freedom and opportunity, the task now is to go further to ensure that people are safe from crime - be it the knife crime on the streets or the grinding pattern of disrespect that can destroy quality of life.

 

Millions more are in work, but now even in these tougher economic times we have to get the right to work to more people, because it’s not enough to ensure welfare when we want to give people is the chance of a better life that comes with having a job.

 

There are still too many people held back from being all they can be because they were born on the wrong side of the tracks.

 

And as believers in not standing by, as believers that each should contribute for the common good, we need rules of entitlement that are fair so that we can keep alive that priceless commitment to the common good in the times to come.

 

The Tories

 

Friends, our opponents look at the polls and believe they are set to win. 

 

Have you heard them talking about not mending the roof when the sun was shining? 

 

Well I remember the state of the schools when they were in power.  Run down buildings.  Children being taught in portakabins.  Yet in just one ward in my constituency there is £30m going in for a new college campus, a new primary school and a new special school. 

 

Now that is mending the roof.

 

Time after time when it comes to the big questions, they duck the test of leadership. 

 

On energy security - one of the most critical questions facing the country - they voted against the Bill that paves the way for a new generation of nuclear power and renewable energy.

 

On personal security, they have voted over and over against tougher measures to crack down on crime. 

 

What they show is not leadership - it’s tactics, and people can see the difference.

 

And when it comes to government’s role, they seek to withdraw help and responsibility in the name of support for society.

 

Friends, that is not a new Tory prescription.  It’s not a new Conservative story.  It’s an old one, and we know how it ends.

 

There is so much we have done that they would never do. 

 

And the documents before us start to show the direction for the future. But we also know there is more to do to show the country that just as they looked to us a decade ago for a new beginning, so they can again in these more testing and very different times.

 

 

Conclusion

 

You know, when you’ve been in power for a long time, sometimes it’s tempting to be on the defensive, justifying the status quo instead of challenging it, getting caught on the wrong side of people’s hunger for change.  But we won’t allow that to happen because for us the comfort zone would be opposition’s waiting room.

 

Our belief in the great causes that called us is just as strong today as it ever was. 

 

We’re still the party of opportunity in Britain today.

 

We’re still the party that wants to foster success and help people get on.

 

And we’re still the party that strives for the good society and seeks justice for those denied it.

 

So can we lead with the open mind, the energy and the new responses that this age demands?

 

That’s what our policies have to be about.

 

Friends, I believe we can.  And if we do, we really can win the fight for Britain’s future when the time comes to choose.

 

 

 

Ends

 

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