Leader's speech, Brighton 1964
Harold Wilson (Labour)
Commentary:This conference was the first since Labour won the general election of October 1964 with a majority of three. In his speech, Wilson described the challenges facing the new Labour government - most notably the economy and the need to increase Britain’s exports - and its achievements in Parliament. These included legislation to restore security of tenure, and ‘special provisions… to help those on National Assistance with their fuel costs’ until welfare increases came into effect. Wilson also pledged to strengthen the United Nations and its peacekeeping capacity, to work towards the collectivisation of NATO’s nuclear power following the recent talks in Washington, and to introduce measures to tackle racial intolerance.
Mr. Chairman, Prime Minister of Sweden, Lord Attlee and fellow delegates, the section of the report we are now discussing records the main events of the General Election. But I want to spend my time this afternoon not so much looking back over that exciting and hard fought contest but looking forward to the work of the Labour Government.
Before I do this, however, let me add my tribute to what has been said by you, Mr. Chairman, and by other speakers this morning about the tremendous efforts made by every member of the Party in the historic weeks that ended on 15 October, and indeed, over all the months which preceded the campaign.
First, may I pay my tribute to Transport House, to the General Secretary and the National Agent and all who worked with them at headquarters, in the Regions and in the Agency Services; to the Publicity Department who, it will be generally agreed, provided a service such as we have never seen before in any general election; to those responsible for the broadcasts and for the organisation of the meetings. But, most of all, I pay my tribute to the workers of this great Movement throughout the country, in safe seats, in marginal seats and in Tory seats, not yet marginal, for their efforts and for their dedication.
Let me make this clear. None of us, whether as Ministers or as Members of Parliament are here through our own efforts or our own virtues. We are here because of the countless thousands of our supporters, animated not by thought of personal advantage but by devotion to a great ideal: we are here because of millions of our fellow countrymen who look to us to provide a strong Britain, a healthy Britain, and to create and maintain a new and just order of society.
We shall not fail them nor shall we forget our debt to them in all we have to do.
The Report refers to our narrow majority. But let us not understate the achievement in having reversed in one campaign an adverse trend that had been at work with increasing force over four previous elections, and in having turned the Conservative majority of over 100 seats into an overall Labour majority.
Let me say how, in the light of that narrow majority, we have decided to fulfil our responsibility as a Government. At the first meeting I had with my colleagues, I expressed the view - and this was the position of all of us - that while the narrow Parliamentary majority was undoubtedly a headache for the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, while it would require the more regular attendance of Ministers in Parliament than is usual (we are welcome there, not for our blue eyes, but for the pair of feet we take to the Division lobbies) it must not affect our work as a Government.
I certainly do not underrate the tremendous load falling on members of the Parliamentary Party who by day and by night are working to carry through into statutory effect the principles for which they fought.
If Members’ salaries have now at last been brought to an adequate level, we can certainly say that they are geared not only to time worked, but to a substantial increase in Parliamentary productivity.
But so far as the function of Government is concerned, we were resolved - let me make it plain - and we are resolved, to fulfil the duties of Government irrespective of short-run Parliamentary - still more - electioneering considerations.
For two years, Britain has been without a Government because two successive Prime Ministers so conducted the nation’s affairs as to think only of the electoral consequences of any decision they might be contemplating. For 12 months, up to the election, the Government was operating under the instructions of a Prime Minister, who on taking office said:
From this moment on, the fact that there is a general election ahead of us must never be out of our minds. Every act that we take, every attitude that we strike, every speech that we make in Parliament or elsewhere must have that in mind.
Having been entrusted by the nation with the duties of Government, we intend to govern. No decision will be burked, no decision will be trimmed because of the possibility - however remote in our own minds - of an early election.
If we are to look down at our feet the whole time, picking our way through some real or imagined electoral mud, we shall not be able to see the road ahead, still less shall we be able to see the stars that should guide our path.
To proceed any other way would make good Government impossible. I believe quite frankly that it would be bad electoral tactics too, because I think the people of Britain want to see a Government acting with firmness and taking the decisions, popular or unpopular, that are called for.
We have not, of course, lacked advice. From the moment we took office a beguiling temptation was presented to us. The suggestion was that because we had no overall majority of votes in the country, we had no mandate to act in accordance with the principles we had put before the country.
On this argument, no Tory Government from 1951 to 1964 would have had any mandate whatsoever - no mandate for Suez, no mandate for the Rent Act, no mandate for Selwyn Lloyd. But I cannot recall this new doctrine of ‘a majority without a mandate’ being put forward in those years by those same Conservative sources which suddenly discovered it to be a fundamental provision of the British Constitution.
But, of course, things have changed: we have a Labour Government so the constitution is different. And now we are told that while the majority does not give us a mandate the twin claims of statesmanship and democracy require us to adopt the policies, in so far as they were identifiable, of a Conservative Opposition which has neither mandate nor majority and whose policies had been decisively rejected by the British electorate.
In our legislative programme for the present Parliamentary session, set out in the speech from the Throne on November 3, we made clear our intention to bring before Parliament the measures which we had promised to carry out during the election. Indeed, practically every major proposal set out in our Manifesto is included in the programme which is now before Parliament. I can understand the disappointment, even rage, which this programme produced. It was well expressed by a Vicky cartoon showing two Blimps in a club, one of whom said to the other, ‘I always said you couldn’t trust that fellow Wilson - he is doing exactly what he said he was going to do.’
Let me repeat: there is no major item of policy, and few if any minor ones which were set out in my own speeches and broadcasts during and before the election campaign - and I said quite a lot myself in those days - which is not before the House today in the form of legislation or is not in preparation for introduction, or is not going through the legislative and administrative machine.
Legislation: from steel to the measure - designed to stop land speculation and profiteering - to take urban building land into public ownership. Action is in hand to extend the workings of democracy in British industry, so that shareholders will be informed of any hitherto secret political donations made in their names and with their money.
Our programme is honest because we believe it to be related to the needs of this country in the 1960s; it is democratic because we sought and obtained the mandate for it; it is socialist in its inspiration, its conception and its formulation.
In the few words with which I wound up our last conference at Scarborough in October 1963, I said then that we should put before the nation a programme designed to restore a sense of economic purpose to the conduct of our national affairs, to restore a sense of social purpose and social justice to our national life, and to increase Britain’s influence and standing among the nations of the world.
Through our domestic policies, there run three golden threads: dynamism, compassion and concern for the liberty of the individual. Let me turn first to the problem of galvanising and dynamising the tired and spiritless economy which we inherited.
First priority indeed, overlying all our policies, is urgent action to deal with the economic position.
No one will now underestimate our economic inheritance, the worst in that its gravity was denied and denied again for political purposes before the election. In January I warned the country of the growing gap between our imports and exports and drew attention to the ominous rise in imports - not materials required for industrial expansion - but, in the main, manufactured goods that we ought to be perfectly capable of making for ourselves on a competitive basis. All we got in reply was a Premier proclaiming pathetically from platform to platform that ‘the economy has seldom, if ever, been stronger.’ The then Chancellor knew the facts at any rate. He pleaded desperately for an early election. This being refused - and we all know why it was refused - it was the plain duty of the Government which decided to cling to office to take relevant and adequate action to deal with the economic situation. Action taken then would have averted the need for the much tougher action we have had to take. But, of course, to have done so would have been to confess their failure after 13 years’ responsibility for the nation’s affairs. And so the situation got worse, though in the election itself every attempt was made to make light of it. I was attacked by the Tories for drawing the country’s attention to the fact that we were keeping going only by borrowing to the tune of £1 million a day. Even I was guilty of understating the position. The deficit was then running at £2 millions a day. And this was the reality behind the election posters which boasted of Tory prosperity.
It was symbolic that only an hour or two before Labour was asked to form an administration, the September trade figures were published showing one of the biggest monthly trade gaps of the year.
From the start we treated the economic problem as one of the highest priority. We had to act quickly and relevantly to stop the bleeding. We introduced a system of charges on imports, necessary if imports were to be kept within bounds but doubly regrettable to us. I say ‘doubly’ regrettable because we were and always have been committed to vigorous action to remove restraints on world trade and to get a freer trading world; equally we were anxious that no one should feel that these temporary charges provided still more protection or encouragement to slothful attitudes in industry.
These charges had to be imposed: we regret their effects on our friends in EFTA and the Commonwealth and the rest of the trading world. I repeat they will not be kept on a moment longer than is necessary, that we do not regard them as providing more than a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
But at the same time we began an urgent attack on the endemic problems of British industry, and above all the problems of increasing our exports. New and powerful departments of State were created: the Department of Economic Affairs under our Deputy Leader to take over responsibility for physical planning, responsibility for the preparation and implementation of a development plan aimed at an increase in those sectors of the economy where strength was imperative, particularly those most relevant to exports and to capital investment.
A Ministry of Technology under Frank Cousins to mobilise our scientific resources and, more to the point, to see that the work of our scientists - as good as any the world can produce - was more quickly and effectively applied to industrial processes. This was quick Government action to redeem the pledge I gave at Scarborough when we last met.
While our scientific effort is as good as that of any other country, we are still far too slow in applying technology to industry: in far too many cases new industrial processes which stemmed from British discoveries and inventions are worked out by keener and more practical industrialists overseas and Britain left in the humiliating position of paying royalties on a British invention.
We are planning an urgent attack on the problems of those sectors of industry where Britain not long ago led the world and where our failure to innovate meant not only that we were losing our impact on export markets but that we were rapidly becoming major importers. We are planning - this is Frank’s job - to redeploy our scientific and technological resources so that scientists and engineers who have hitherto been working on costly research and development projects for defence can be turned over to R and D in civil industry to produce new processes, new inventions, new industries with which we are once again going to lead the world.
But no one expected - or at least I hope no one expected - the export factories, the investment, the modernisation, the innovation all to become effective in a matter of six or seven weeks. Even with George Lowthian you cannot build a new export factory in seven weeks. What we have to tell the world is that this work has begun, and begun with a will and a purpose, and that before long we shall have a dynamic, robust, thriving, competitive economy.
We reinforced the measures to redeploy our physical resources, to streamline our industry, with a tough budget to ensure that action in the physical field was not frustrated in the financial; and I would pay my tribute today to the courage of our Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I am not going to speculate into the reasons which led to a withdrawal of sterling. Nor is there any profit in condemning those who for any motive were willing to put political prejudice above what should be their first loyalty to this country and to the economic strength of Britain and the sterling area.
But just as import charges were imposed because they were relevant to an import drain, so the increase in bank rate was imposed because it was relevant to a financial movement of this kind and this order. This was reinforced by the massive concentration of financial resources by the world community. We had always envisaged that this would be necessary. In my speech in Swansea, which some of you heard, I said then that with a growing export-import problem, stripped of the ability to introduce quick measures that would be needed in the industrial sphere, we should not hesitate to use the reserves and to use interest rates ruthlessly to protect the £. Let no one be in any doubt about our willingness to take every measure that is necessary.
But let me make this clear; this is not a return to Selwyn Lloyd. We do not believe, as our predecessors did, that the way to deal with a kind of crisis which is endemic in the industrial structure with which they left us, is to bring the whole economy shuddering to a stop.
The way to a strong £ is through a strong economy, not by creating unemployment, not by holding production down, raising costs, deterring investment and creating the insecurity which breeds restrictive practices on both sides of industry.
The answer to our problem is to make industry dynamic, to stir more of our manufacturers out of their slothful preoccupation with the easy home market, and it is what we are doing. The answer to our problem is the measures we are taking to increase industrial efficiency, to build up our exports and to substitute home production for imports wherever this can be achieved competitively and economically; to broaden the base of our economy with capital investment; through the training of skilled manpower and the encouragement to accept change, which this Government is providing, to enable us to expand without running into strains and stresses such as have revealed themselves in past periods of expansion.
The measures we have taken, the further measures we shall be taking in the coming weeks, will create the conditions in which these problems are going to be solved. I believe that our people will respond to this challenge because our history shows that they misjudge us who underrate our ability as a nation to move, and to move decisively when the need arises. They misjudged our temper after Dunkirk, but we so mobilised our latent and untapped strength that apparent defeat was turned into a great victory. I believe that that spirit of Dunkirk will once again carry us through to success.
For as I told the American people in a ceremony on the White House lawn earlier this week, we have great reserves of skill and craftsmanship, of science and technology, of talent for production and design and sales, which now they have been called into battle will produce a result which will delight our friends and surprise the world. This is the mood of Britain today, the determination, the readiness, the eagerness for change which swept Labour to power, and which will now sweep our country to victory in the economic field.
Let us be clear what this means. It means new aggressiveness, a new cutting edge in our export drive. It means a new willingness to modernise and to innovate. It means readiness on all sides of industry to sacrifice short-term gain for the longer-term future. It means an end of ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitudes wherever they may be found. It means a determined attack on restrictive practices on both sides of industry. There is no room in modern Britain for Luddites, be they trade union Luddites or boardroom Luddites. This country cannot afford now - if it ever could afford - unofficial strikes, wasteful stoppages, long, weary arguments about industrial demarcation, any more than we can afford out-of-date industrial methods, industrial promotion based on influence and connection rather than technical ability, or management attitudes which give a higher priority to tax avoidance or the earning of quick, uncovenanted capital profits than to modernisation and innovation in industrial production methods, or aggressiveness in exports.
Above all, whatever our role in industry, our approach must be not what we can take out of the national pool, but what we can put into it. For only by a massive sense of dedication, by every individual can we get the national sense of purpose that we need. And with economic purpose, social purpose, based on a nation which cares. I quote again those words of President Roosevelt, which I used in my final Party Political Broadcast on 12 October, three days before polling day: ‘Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of compassion, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.’
The first Bill we introduced in this Parliament was a small one but one close to my heart; one for which I and the Chief Whip and others have been fighting for years - a simple little measure to restore to local authorities the power to allow old age pensioners and others to travel free on municipal transport undertakings. (Applause) Not much, perhaps, but the whole force of the Tory Party was mobilised against it for nine years. But our major decision in the social field was to raise the level of retirement pensions and other benefits and war pensions, and to abolish prescription charges. And together with that, that long overdue act of social justice - to abolish the earnings rule for widows. For the election we promised early legislation to take our old age pensioners, the long-term sick and disabled out of the rut of poverty in which after 13 years of Conservatism they still remained.
I share your disappointment that although the legislation was quickly introduced, and quickly passed through the Commons, it is not possible to start the payments when they are most needed - in the winter; though special provisions have been made to help those on National Assistance with their fuel costs. But for heaven’s sake, don’t let us get on the defensive about it. Some remarks I have read suggest that this Government, which was prepared in the midst of difficult economic circumstances to act where our predecessors had not acted and - if they had been returned - would not have acted, is a Government of unfeeling Scrooges. Let us put the responsibility where it clearly lies. If the Conservative Government of Sir Alec Douglas-Home had decided that pensions should have been increased, and if they had started the preparations in July or August, we could have had these increases in force by Christmas. Even without such an unrealistic assumption; if the Conservatives had only bequeathed to us a machine - perfectly easy to devise given time - which was more flexible and resilient to a Government decision of this kind, we could then, from the moment that Peggy Herbison was authorised by the Commons to go ahead after 16 October, have still had speedier implementation.
Let the country know where the blame lies and let them see for themselves - when we have to face and Peggy has to face Conservative questions and speeches in the House - the nauseating hypocrisy of those who, when they could have acted, did not. Let us .ask the country what it thinks of a Party that has not the courage to vote against the pensions increase, but seeks unworthy electoral capital from voting against the provision of the money to pay for it. Because if you vote for the pensions increase and against Jim Callaghan’s budget, you acquiesce in the end while rejecting the necessary means. This is an example of the irresponsible approach of which they wrongly accused us in the 1959 election, and which Hugh Gaitskell had to face.
Again, our decision to introduce the repeal of prescription charges shows how different our conception of social justice is from that of the Conservatives. In successive economic crises, Tory Chancellors - Mr. Macmillan in 1956, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd in 1961 (aided and abetted by Mr. Enoch Powell; a formidable combination) insisted on placing additional burdens on those least able to hear them, the old and the chronic sick. This was their reaction to economic difficulties. Neither did they, as the economic position improved in preparation for successive elections, remove these burdens even though hundreds of millions were being handed out in tax concessions on the eve of each planned election. We have introduced these wide-ranging increases as a right, and as a right of all our citizens, which is due to them because of what they have done for us and the nation; not in any patronising, condescending Tory spirit of ‘donations.’
We have acted firmly and decisively on housing. In every election speech we pledged the Labour Government to repeal the Rent Act and to restore security of tenure to those who had been robbed of that right by the Tories. Here, again, we acted quickly. To prevent a rush of evictions, the Minister of Housing and Local Government introduced immediately a measure to provide security of tenure. Equally, and this is an issue of great importance to our people in our older cities, he has announced to Parliament our intention to fulfil our pledge to proceed with leasehold enfranchisement. I said that our third objective is not merely to maintain but to enhance the freedom of the individual: We are democratic socialists, our Movement exists because we fight for people, not in the mass but as individuals. Because we believe in planning, and precisely because we do, we have to ensure that not only does Socialist planning not infringe freedom but that in everything we do we extend and make more real the freedom of the individual in an increasingly complex society. And, if anyone wanted proof of our determination, they could not find it better than in the widely welcomed appointment of Gerald Gardiner as Lord Chancellor, or our law officers, and the Minister in the Commons who will be occupied full time on working with the Lord Chancellor on measures of law reform.
It was the post-war Labour Government that initiated the right of the individual to sue the Crown and which introduced legal aid. In that spirit, our appointment of law commissioners to cleanse the legal system of the mustiness and fustiness of centuries and our proposal for a Parliamentary Commissioner to examine the grievances of individuals against organised society, are conceived.
You will expect me to say a word about the Parliamentary Opposition. I do not intend to spend much time on them - there are more important things to talk about. But at a time of goodwill, let us spare a thought for them. Let us not condemn them too harshly, for remember that these are men who thought that at birth they were ordained by Providence to rule over their fellow citizens; and to find themselves rudely deprived of the powers they exercised cannot have been easy for them. There may be some who would condemn the tactics and extravagances of individual Conservative leaders, but let us remember that they are in a competitive situation. It may take a little time while the machinery of the Conservative Party evolves out of the existing democratic system of leadership election a new and more shining example of democracy in action, but even though it may take some time there are already on the Conservative Front Bench some who are turning their minds to the problem of the succession.
Let us, therefore, in judging, recognise the pressures to which they are succumbing. Do not let us be too surprised about the total disunity they are showing on some of the most urgent issues of national policy. Mr. Maudling’s conscience impels him to support our diagnosis of the economic situation and the remedies which we decided were essential; Mr. Heath condemned both. And should these two, after the succession has been decided, ever come to agree with one another, there will always be Mr. Enoch Powell, the Savonarola of modern Conservatism, to burn his leader’s sacred relics. It is a fact that within one month of the Tory Front Bench preparing the fatted calf, or at any rate the shadow fatted calf, for his return, he succeeded in brusquely dismissing any idea of an incomes policy which has been a main theme of Tory economic arguments for so long, in rejecting any idea of economic planning to which we thought the Tories had claimed to be converted - to say nothing of his anti-Commonwealth principles. Between them they have already destroyed any claim of the Tory Party to provide a responsible and united Opposition, and we need a responsible Opposition in this country. Do not let us get away from it. But some day, when there is time from more urgent work, we will have to ask the Leader of the Opposition where he stands, with Mr. Maudling, Mr. Heath, or Mr. Powell, on all these questions. Because a Party aspiring at some distant day to act as an alternative Government should really have a fairly clear idea of where it stands on such fundamental issues as economic planning, incomes policy and our relations with the Commonwealth.
Thirdly and finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to make clear to the Conference our ideas for increasing Britain’s strength and influence for peace. Next week in Parliament we shall be having a debate on the Washington talks and on wider aspects of foreign affairs. I will not anticipate now the speech I hope to make then if in fact I am successful in catching Mr. Speaker’s eye. I shall, of course, present to the House a full report of our Washington negotiations. Perhaps I had better make one thing clear. There were two conferences in Washington. There was the one that Patrick Gordon-Walker, Denis Healey and I attended and there was the one that I read about in certain sections of the British Press. The House of Commons will, I think, expect me on Wednesday to deal only with the one I attended.
You know, I cannot understand why, since this Government came to power, we have had this long succession of Press stories presented - not just speculation or theorising, and that this may be happening or that Minister may be considering or even rumour about what we have said or done, but stated as a fact and in terms which might lead an innocent reader even to believe the stories to be true. In a period of seven weeks I cannot tell you how many Cabinet meetings I have read about which never even took place, or how at those which did take place we discussed subjects which have never been on the agenda; or how in these discussions which did not take place this or that Minister expressed a particular view on these undiscussed subjects and disagreed violently with another Minister, both having attributed to them views which they do not even hold, on subjects which were not discussed at meetings which had not taken place. Apart from those minor qualifications you can take the stories for the rest as being broadly accurate.
But there is a more serious thing: yesterday a London evening newspaper ran in successive editions as a main headline, as a ‘fact’ - no suggestion of rumour or anything of that sort - a flat story that I had given the President of the United States a secret pledge that we were prepared to participate in a mixed-manned surface fleet. This story is a lie. No such pledge was given. I had myself already stated flatly to the Press, and on television, on my return to this country on Thursday night, before this story ran in the paper concerned, that we had totally reserved our position on this question and yet despite that the editor of that paper on Friday disdained to print the truth and chose to headline the untruth.. It is not for me to remind such editors or journalists - and thank God, they are in a small minority - of their code of conduct in these matters, because there is a code of conduct relating to just this question. All I can say is that we shall not hesitate to state the truth which we know to counter the lies which they print.
Having dealt with that let me now outline to this Conference the principles on which our foreign and defence policies are based, and I say foreign and defence policies because they must proceed in unity. We must not get into the situation again where short-sighted considerations of so-called defence make impossible a foreign policy which can lead the nations to peace. And, equally, there must be a unity between our defence and our economic policies. What was wrong with the Tory defence policies was not only that they were misdirected but that they did not add up. They were not related to what this country could afford whether in terms of money or in terms of real resources.
Britain’s authority, as we have heard, depends far more on our economic strength and independence than on nostalgia or nuclear pretence. From now on, defence expenditure at home and abroad must be strictly related to what the country can afford. I am glad to say that this realism dominated the approach of every single participant in the recent Chequers Conference on defence policy and dominates the approach of the Government to the preparation of a new realistic and effective defence posture. Equally, I was glad to find that in Washington, President Johnson and his colleagues as well as the British Ministers were concerned to relate defence policies to the economic realities of both our countries. And let this be clear. An approach based on cost-effectiveness, value for money and a hard reappraisal of some of the sacred cows that we have inherited will, so far from weakening the efficacy of our defences, make them stronger and more relevant to Britain’s task in the world.
But turning to the broad lines of our world policy let me say first that we place at the centre of our approach to world problems the strengthening of the United Nations and its ability to keep the peace. Our new Government has had to live down the suspicion of those who have associated the name of Britain with Suez or with flat defiance of the United Nations at the time of the Katanga crisis or with the anti-internationalist speech of a then Foreign Secretary who went on to become Prime Minister. I believe there is a new realisation in the world today that Her Majesty’s Government believe in the United Nations and will work for the rule of law in world affairs. I believe that our appointment not only as Ambassador to the United Nations, but as a full member of the Government, for the first time, of Hugh Foot - a great internationalist - is taken by the whole world, and not least by our friends in the Commonwealth, in Asia and in Africa, as a pledge of our sincerity. We have imposed an embargo on the shipment of arms to South Africa - we were obliged to do it - we have had to face the most vicious campaign of opposition and incitement by our opponents, led by the Leader of the Opposition. I believe this decision has been taken as an earnest of our desire to place ourselves again with our Commonwealth colleagues in conformity with the United Nations’ decisions and in a posture of resistance to racialism in all its forms.
But this is not enough. We need to strengthen the peace-keeping powers of the United Nations. We shall co-operate with our friends and allies in any steps that can be taken within the Charter to strengthen those powers, and we shall seek the opportunity wherever it may occur to improve the Charter wherever this is desirable. I believe that in the years immediately ahead of us, the world is presented with an opportunity and a challenge such as we could not perhaps have hoped for even a few years ago - an opportunity of which our fathers, the pioneers of this movement, dreamed - and that is: an opportunity to create a genuine international peace-keeping force powerful enough to bring peace and order out of chaos, powerful enough to stop small wars from escalating into big ones. We, the Government, are hard at work to see that this opportunity is not allowed to pass by and we are prepared to contribute not only ideas but resources to provide a practical British contribution to the peace-keeping forces of the United Nations.
Secondly, we seek to strengthen our alliance. This has been one of the main subjects that we have discussed in Washington. Over the past two years, particularly since the Nassau agreement, stresses and strains have developed within the Alliance, and there has been dangerous talk - if not intention - of the development of nuclear status by one or other member of the Alliance. The biggest danger the world faces today, and I put this beyond all other priorities in international affairs, is the danger of the spread of nuclear weapons. Heaven knows Britain under the previous Government never took the opportunity we then had to give a lead in internationalising the bomb. Heaven knows the previous Government, at the very moment when a lead had been given which could have led to an effective ban on nuclear proliferation, was prepared itself to resist that ban, to ignore that lead, and to encourage nuclear separatisms in others. And it is precisely because of this danger to mankind, which rests in the spread of nuclear weapons, that in the vitally important talks in Washington this week, the emphasis was laid by both of us on collectivising NATO’s nuclear power, and above all to do it in such a way as to stop the danger of any more fingers on the nuclear trigger.
If that were all that had come out of our Washington talks - the united and fixed determination of the President of the United States and ourselves to do everything in our power to stop the spread of these horror weapons - that of itself would have provided enough justification for our meeting. But the great theme of our discussions was the fact that we were looking outwards, not inwards, outwards to ensure more effective peacekeeping forces, outward in our determination to seize any opportunity - and if none exists to create one - to put forward new initiatives towards arms control and disarmament. And here again, we have in Britain’s Labour Government, for the first time a Minister of Disarmament working full time on the initiatives that Britain will be proposing.
You know we heard a lot at the Election designed to suggest that a Labour Government would not be in on these international discussions - we would not have a ticket. Let me make it clear that within seven weeks of taking office we have not only been partners - and I mean partners - in one of the most important international discussions since the war; we have for the first time for many years tabled a distinctly British initiative for which our friends and allies have been waiting. We shall be there at the Conference table and we shall be wanted as long as we have anything to contribute. The years of sterility are over and we now have a Government ready and able to take initiatives for peace.
And our third objective, Mr. Chairman, is to work with the overwhelming majority of mankind towards the objectives with which mankind is concerned. This is why our membership of the Commonwealth is of such fundamental importance for world peace, and I am glad that our American friends emphasised, as never before, their recognition of Britain’s world-wide role, their realisation of the importance of Britain in the Commonwealth as a force of peace. In terms of modern economic and military strength, Britain alone can never exert the influence which Britain in the Commonwealth can exert. That is why it has been so important that with our decisions on South Africa our Government quickly and decisively showed its clear determination to rejoin the Commonwealth and to quit our position of abject isolation. This is why by the creation of a Ministry of Overseas Development with a voice in the Cabinet - and a pretty powerful voice at that - we have shown our determination to play our full part in what I described in Washington as the only war we seek - the war against poverty and hunger, illiteracy and disease. This is why too in the great world struggle between those who believe in racial freedom and equality and those who side with their oppressors, the voice of Britain must be unequivocally heard on the side of freedom and equality. In my speech at Scarborough I said:
There is no standing aside, no comforting refuge in abstentions or vetoes, we are either against oppression, or we condone it. In these issues, there can be no neutrals, no escape. For in this shrinking world, while political isolationism invites danger, and economic isolationism invites bankruptcy, moral isolationism invites contempt.
We gave our pledge and as a Government we are fulfilling that pledge. Just as President Johnson fought his campaign on the issue of civil rights and won because of the courage he showed, so we have ranged ourselves clearly against racial incitement, racial discrimination and the evil exploitation of racialism which still goes on in our own country. For it would be hypocrisy to condemn racialism and colour prejudice and apartheid abroad if we tolerate it in Britain - or in our own Party. There have been those who have criticised my actions at the very outset of this Parliament in making this a major issue of challenge between our two Parties. I do not apologise. The section of the report we are debating relates to the general election. And every delegate here today knows that while the Conservative Leader had finally dragged out of him on television an assertion of the principle of equality in this country, a condemnation of racialism, nevertheless on the doorstep there were Conservatives, to say nothing of their near-Fascist allies, who were prepared to exploit primitive and ignorant passions for the squalid purpose of winning unworthy votes.
Your Labour Government has announced its intention to legislate against racial intolerance. Your Labour Prime Minister has challenged the Conservative Leader to come out of his shell and to associate himself with that group of courageous Tories, Sir Edward Boyle and others, who were prepared in the election to lose votes rather than deal in the sordid currency of racialism.
But if we are to condemn, our hands must be clean. And in your name I have condemned and will condemn every so-called Labour Club which operates colour discrimination and every group of misguided workers who try to operate colour prejudice in their working relationships.
‘He hath made of one blood all nations to dwell upon the Earth.’ This Labour Party of ours is more than a political organisation: it is a crusade, or it would be better that it did not exist.
So, Mr. Chairman, I present Conference with our blueprint for the future. It is not the result of feverish activity of seven weeks in office, though there is plenty of that going on. It is the result of patient work in the National Executive, in the Parliamentary Party, in working parties and advisory groups which have employed the long years of opposition to good purpose, even at times when it seemed that we could not see an end to those years: men and women who were prepared to dedicate their abilities, their experience, their enthusiasm, their idealism to building for the future.
But it has been far more than that. The purpose to which we have now set our hand is a distillation of the thinking and the idealism of the democratic traditions of this country over a century past.
It is easy to be a Socialist today. It no longer means victimisation, eviction from one’s home, persecution or worse. But the founders of our Movement, men of courage, men of infinite faith, were prepared to face persecution and even death that a generation still to come might realise their ideals, might be permitted to create that new and just society which their vision could see gleaming above the squalor and exploitation and ugliness of Victorian industrialism. Now, as a result of the faith which they bequeathed to us, as a result of the courage of men and women in this room today, who have kept the flag flying - 33 years ago when our enemies thought this movement of ours was destroyed - as a result of the efforts of everyone in this hall and countless others in these past few months, the day for which we and those that went before us have waited is here. It is our task to be worthy of the torch they have handed on to us.
For we meet today in these exciting first weeks of what is only the second Labour Government to be elected with power. Never in our history has Britain stood so greatly in need of the principles which our faith can generate: rarely in world history has this country been given such an opportunity to give a lead towards peace and disarmament and world brotherhood.
Sustained and inspired by our great people, I give you this pledge: that we shall not fail, that from our endeavours we shall build a fairer, a more just society, that from our faith and. our ideals, we shall contribute our full meed towards creating a world of peace.