Leader's speech, Brighton 1971
Harold Wilson (Labour)
Commentary:A key theme of Wilson’s speech was the increase in the unemployment since the Conservatives took office, with figures approaching one million. This increase was attributable to a number of factors, including the abolition of the Prices and Incomes Board, the dismantling of the Industrial Expansion Act, and the scrapping of investment grants. Underpinning these factors was the Conservatives’ belief in free market economics, which Wilson claimed was also to blame for the continued rise in prices. As regards foreign affairs, the Heath government had taken Britain into Europe on terms that Wilson described as ‘humiliating.’ He also condemned its internment operation in Northern Ireland and its approach to negotiations on Rhodesia.
The Parliamentary Session on which I have the grim duty of reporting to Conference today covers a period, only 16 months since the Labour Government lost power, such as we have not seen in this generation.
For the first time since the 30’s, it is anger, it is fear that dominate the nation’s life. Anger that the men who climbed to office with a pledge to reduce unemployment at a stroke, have, by their actions, their coldly, calculated policies, headed Britain back again towards the unemployment of the 30’s. Nearly a million are in the queue for an inadequate and dwindling number of jobs. Millions more are wondering when the axe will fall on them. Millions in regions where there has been no unemployment for 30 years. Millions of workers who, unless they are over 45, have never known unemployment for themselves or their mates. Not industrial workers only; thousands of white-collar workers, supervisors, staff, design or development teams, salesmen, have suddenly learnt to fear, and many, many more fear to learn; learn what it means for them and their families when everything they have taken for granted - their home, their standard of living, their car, their holidays - are suddenly at risk, and commitments which did not seem burdensome when the monthly salary cheque was coming in, now become overwhelming.
Last month’s official figures showed 929,121 registered as unemployed. In fact, an understatement. Thousands of men have been prematurely retired by their employers to avoid or reduce redundancies; tens of thousands, especially women workers, have simply withdrawn from the labour market. Over the past year, the numbers employed have fallen far faster, even than the numbers unemployed have risen. The numbers out of work, seeking work, failing to find work, are in real terms now well over a million.
The number of men registered as out of work, not temporarily stopped but totally unemployed, stands at 5.2 per cent, far above any figure which has been accepted at any time, by any political party, since the war, since the nation resolved never again to return to the dismal and divided 30’s. Worse, this figure wins for Britain the accolade of being top of the league for unemployment among the industrial nations of the world. Proud of that, Mr. Heath?
Apart from the South East, no region of Britain shows an unemployment rate for male workers - men, boys, school-leavers ‑ below 4.2 per cent. Scotland, Wales, the North, the West Midlands, the North-West are over 6 per cent. Regions which have not known unemployment in this generation now have unemployment rates which would have earned development area status under the Labour Government.
There are regions, wide areas, more and more towns having more than 10 per cent of their men out of work; what I saw on the street corners at Clydebank is becoming more and more the symbol of our older industrial towns.
The development areas, to which the Labour Government brought help, to which the Labour Government brought hope, are now faced with intolerable levels of unemployment. Refused help, denied hope - the direct consequence of doctrinaire Tory decisions.
Graduate unemployment is the worst since pre-war days, and we are told it will get worse in the years ahead.
But what we condemn most of all as the first-fruits of Tory rule is their treatment of school-leavers. School-leavers without jobs - 34,500 this September. And this figure is, as we all know, a gross underestimate. Unwanted youth - and as the 15-year olds turn in frustration from the Labour Exchange, can’t you see the pompous and the pundits preparing and polishing their pontifications about juvenile crime two and three years hence? We warned Mr. Heath that his invocation of the law and order issue after Selsdon would perish in the divisive social tensions of Conservative policy. And eighteen months after, all he has to offer to 35,000 of our young people is the realisation that at the very moment when they seek to leave school to venture into the wider world, there is no place for them in the Tory market economy.
That over and above those for whom there are no jobs at all there are many who have worked for their technical and scholastic qualifications in what they thought was a land of opportunity - and now they can find no jobs to match those qualifications.
Is this the spirit in which they were encouraged to meet the challenge of a competitive world, where Britain will survive and prosper - inside the Market, outside the Market - only to the extent that every one of our younger citizens is encouraged to develop his talents, and given the chance to use them?
Not a Tory but realises that there is more unemployment to come this winter. If only there was one of them who showed he cared.
We have seen Mr. Robert Carr expressing his surprise at the figures he was announcing and seeking to excuse a state of affairs for which he and his colleagues bear the unique responsibility. The other day I heard his speech when he opened a training centre to add to the pool of skilled unemployed by training bus drivers as tool room operators, while unemployed tool room operators queue up at the Exchanges for jobs driving buses. His one contribution to the unemployment problem, and I charge you not to discount it as a statistical achievement, has been to perfect arrangements with the German Government for Britain’s unemployed craftsmen to sign on to work for German employers.
Mr. John Davies, who, if I can paraphrase Lloyd George’s critics, brings to the conduct of the Government’s industrial responsibilities all the qualities of a pettifogging Welsh accountant without the redeeming quality of a Welshman’s compassion, blames it all on tea breaks. Were there no tea-breaks when Mr. Heath blithely promised that he would reduce unemployment at a stroke? But Mr. Davies could perhaps be excused. After all he’d made his undeniable contribution to the jobs crisis. He found a job for the Treasurer of the Tory Party in Scotland; he appointed him Chairman of the wreckage of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, the firm which, in accordance with long-planned Tory policy, Mr. Davies and his colleagues had butchered.
Less excusable was the ineffable voice that breathed from Sir John Eden speaking in Sheffield - 4 per cent unemployed - 9,700 men, 5.4 per cent, unemployed and 4,500 jobs threatened in a steel closure.
‘There is an enormous obsession,’ he proclaimed, ‘with unemployment. It is all too easy to talk oneself into a position of gloom and despondency.’ Enormous obsession with unemployment? I wish the Government shared it. Will they never learn? Do they not realise that for the man who is unemployed, for his wife as she shops to make limited ends meet, for his anxious family, the unemployment percentage is not a statistic; it’s not 3.6 per cent seasonally corrected, or 8 or 10 per cent. It is, for him, for them, 100 per cent.
The redundancy fund we created to cushion men who inescapably lose their jobs through the process of technological change is unnecessarily facing bankruptcy because of the vast numbers who have been thrown out of work, not by technology but by Toryism.
They admit they have no answer. Sir Keith Joseph, speaking in Macclesfield, said, ‘I have to tell you that jobs in this country depend on joining Europe.’ Could not Mr. Heath draw Sir Keith’s attention to the words of Mr. John Davies a few weeks ago, expressing pessimism about the early years of entry into Europe - and his forecast of a short-term appreciable down-turn in exports? And that must mean in jobs. If they can’t co-ordinate their policies, you’d think that at least they’d co-ordinate their alibis.
Then we had Mr. Anthony Barber - in July - telling us that his panic mini-maxi-mini Budget measures would show results within two months.
Carr, Davies, Eden, Joseph, Barber. But what of the man who presides, ruthlessly presides, over this tragedy that we are seeing played out?
The million unemployed are the legatees of his deliberate testament.
For his policy is based on an obsession with a free market policy. It is to be noted that in this obsession there is one exception: the free market he stubbornly pursues excludes one element - collective bargaining. For the Tory free market cannot work unless the freedom he proclaims is denied to the workers. They decided to destroy what civilised men had accepted for a generation and replace it by a state of war. He decided on taking office that he would use the weapon of unemployment against the unions, when the nation was strong enough for sustained expansion and the achievement of full employment.
And in pursuance of this free market obsession we saw the calculated destruction of the Prices and Incomes Board, the action we warned would be as bad for employment as for prices.
We saw their doctrinaire dismantling of the I.R.C. - the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation - and of the Industrial Expansion Act, both desperately needed for industrial modernisation and the fight against unemployment. Even forward-looking men in the City of London and industry knew that this was a death-blow to industrial expansion.
We saw their scrapping of investment grants, an essential weapon in getting new factories built and jobs created.
All over the country, businessmen are blaming the slump in investment on this wilful decision by the Conservative Government.
The stubborn refusal, in one Budget or mini-Budget after another, to accept our demands for more rapid expansion. Each time they told us the pick-up in industry was beginning. Each time they were badly wrong.
Their successive acts of spite against key industries, forcing into bankruptcy firms absolutely strategic in our fight for full employment.
This is Conservatism in action. Action mocking the words of Conservatism in prospect, the words of Mr. Edward Heath as Leader of the Opposition. Just two years ago, on 9 September, 1969, these were his words:
We cannot tolerate the waste of human and economic resources brought about by their uneven use in different parts of the country. We refuse to condemn large parts of the Kingdom to slow decline and decay, to dereliction and to persistent unemployment in pursuit of old-fangled nineteenth century doctrines of laissez-faire.
What he has tolerated is something the nation has refused to tolerate since the days of the 30’s, the remorseless increase in unemployment month by month - 350,000 since the General Election.
I could not have believed, his hearers could not have believed, that faced with the prospect of a million unemployed his calculated policies had brought about, a British Prime Minister in the 70’s could make frozen indifference, in the face of human suffering, the hallmark of his style of Government. (Applause) Or that, as he tours the country, on the Common Market, his achievements had been to preside over an industrial situation, where, to quote the Economist newspaper, British manufacturing industry was working at 65 to 70 per cent of capacity.
This obsession with the free market doctrine has made Conservative promises on prices as much of a deception as their pledges over unemployment.
Last October, on TV, I asked you to list the prices you were then paying, and put them behind the clock on the mantelpiece. Take them out today, and you’ll think you’re reading the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Laughter and Applause.)
Every housewife knows how prices are rising, and what the Tory record has been in such a short time. Small wonder her fear for the standard of living of her family; small wonder her fears about Mr. Heath’s plans for her future and that of her family.
Here was the man who had the effrontery to try to frighten the housewives of Britain by warning them that if the Labour Government were returned to office in June 1970, they would have to face price increases on everything they bought. Bread - he tried to frighten them with the bogey of a three shilling loaf. Now we have read forecasts of a 15 pence, three shilling loaf, as the direct result of his own import levies, the Tory food taxes we warned the country they would introduce.
He importuned them with talk of cutting down on the family’s weekly joint, forced to buy cheaper, smaller cuts of meat. In the year following his pleadings, beef prices rose by 22.5 per cent, by over four new pence in the pound. And if he couldn’t get his cut off the joint this way, this ardent suitor pressed his cause with eggs. ‘Standard eggs from the supermarket, instead of large ones.’ Eggs are today 14 per cent, over three new pence, higher than a year ago. And we are told that present Tory agricultural policies will lead to lower production, higher prices, as month succeeds month - even a famine is threatened.
But, he said of the housewives, ‘we will fight on their side. We are determined to put the brakes on price rises.’
He preached on rates, pontificated on fares, and perorated on the cost of running a car.
Rates - the biggest increase millions of householders have ever known.
Fares - here was a scare that misfired - he tried to frighten them by telling of a shilling minimum fare; within two months of his taking office, in August, 1970, the Tory G.L.C. and his Government achieved this for London Underground at a stroke, and last week we read that at the next stroke the minimum was likely to go up to 2 shillings - ten pence.
This is not all. The housewife’s choice he offered you - announced since I reached Brighton - is full fares, no cheap fares, for children in the rush-hour. But when else are they supposed to go to school? Even Mrs. Thatcher hasn’t announced night-shift in the schools yet. Has he any conception of what this means for our families, for the worries it means for everyone who is concerned with balancing the household budget?
As for cars, increase after increase in petrol and garage charges and now the PR men of the insurance trade are conditioning you for the second major increases in car insurance since the Tory Party took power.
And, scarcely credible to recall, he even tried to frighten the housewife about the money she has to take out of her purse every week to pay for school meals. One of his Government’s first acts was to announce that school meals would go up by 15 new pence per week per child to 60 pence now, and later to 70 new pence per week, for every child. A million fewer children taking school meals, and how many more subjected to Mrs. Thatcher's class-room inquisition?
And - you won’t credit this - Mr. Heath, when he sought the housewives’ votes, even referred to school milk. A Government which rushed to hand out nearly £40 a week in tax relief to the £20,000 a year man, decides, in defiance of the school doctors and everyone who knows and cares about children’s health, to stop free milk to the seven year olds.
Labour councillors trying to discharge the human obligations they felt to supply milk in the schools for which they carried responsibility found the whole power of the State arrayed against them. The smack of firm Government was invoked, and Selsdon Woman herself gloried in brandishing the meanest little Bill Parliament has seen since the war, a Bill whose effect was to impose pains and penalties on any who presumed to make milk available to young children.
Of course, there’s always Mr. James Prior to season the Tory record with levity. Apples scarce? Buy peaches. Meat dear? You can always shoot a pigeon. (Laughter) He was the first to crack the Tory sick joke that we must rely on competition to bring prices down.
And he never gives up. He was the first Minister to turn Queen’s evidence when he went on the BBC to say that Mr. Heath didn’t expect anyone to take him seriously with his election-eve pledge on prices. Now he’s done it again. Traders cheated over decimalisation, he now tells us. But it had been his Government which - to create that free market of theirs - had instantly scrapped the Consumer Council, who stood ready to watch consumer interests on and after Decimal Day. Labour had decided to use the machinery of price controls which we had created against anyone who exploited the public through decimalisation. But to make doubly sure that in a free market there was no nonsense about interfering with traders’ rights to charge what they liked, this Government scrapped all that machinery on taking office.
What does their free market philosophy mean, for instance, in housing? What has it meant for young people, newly-married, or with a growing family, who want to buy a house? House prices this year are rising by 10 to 15 per cent per annum, the greatest increase in prices ever recorded. And to build a house you need land. So land profiteers were set free. And on 9 September, the Financial Times with the headline, ‘Soaring land prices shake house building recovery,’ asserts, ‘In some areas land prices for private housing have risen 15 pet cent in the last four months alone, compared with a national average of only 2 per cent in 1970.’
And the young couple in the queue for a Council house, and every family living in a Council house. From next April the rent of every house goes up 50 new pence, 10 shillings a week, and that is only a beginning - from all over the country reports are coming in showing that the full working out of the Tory plan will mean doubling Council house rents. And as with school milk, the law will be drawn so tight that Labour councillors who have given a lifetime of service for the housing of the people will be powerless to do anything about it.
There is just one price increase which causes me concern, and I know that this is shared by everyone here.
It’s the price of newsprint. It has risen inordinately under the Conservative Government. And honest Conservative newspaper proprietors, bursting to maintain their traditional neutrality in political reporting as between the Conservative Government and their Labour predecessors, are finding difficulty with space. I ask you, as a compassionate Conference, to spare a passing tear, for, let’s say, the Daily Mail. On 21 May, 1970, just after the General Election began, the Government announced the Retail Price Index, with an increase mainly due to blighted potatoes, rates, and rent increases imposed by the then Tory-controlled Councils, of 2.1 points, 1.5 per cent.
Properly outraged, the Mail exposed this news in acres upon acres of cheap newsprint, Labour Government newsprint. Thus… I’ve obtained a black-market copy.
Now this May, exactly a year later - though I notice the Tories always announce cost of living figures on a Saturday morning, when they hope you’re not looking - the Retail Price Index rose, not 2.1 points, but 3.2 points, not 1.5 per cent, but 2.1 per cent. You can imagine the editorial conferences, the frenzied transatlantic telephone messages as editors fought to secure more newsprint in order to provide the same coverage for a Tory price-rise of 2.1 per cent, as, in the first week of the General Election, they had devoted to a 1.5 per cent price-rise under a Labour Government. And - you can imagine their disappointment - the newsprint barons, the Director of Cash-Flow Analysis at Associated Newspapers, issued their ukase, as to the amount of newsprint available. Imagine the mortification of those pillars of journalistic integrity, when Tory newsprint prices dictated that the whole story had to be confined to this, on page 9. Lest I be suspected of giving an exclusive commercial to the Daily Mail I have to record that the same anguished suffering marked those who earn their bread on the Daily Express. Calls to the Canadian newsprint producers. In their desperation, communication was established with the other world - Lord Beaverbrook was called on his special hot line. All in vain, he could not help. And strong men in the Express office laid aside their quills and wept.
I ask you in your compassion to spare a thought for these frustrated Conservative newspaper proprietors, so anxious to maintain their political objectivity.
For it still goes on. For example, a fortnight ago, honest journalists on one of the papers I am commending sought space for a story which read that there had been, I quote, ‘a rise of only 5.65 per cent so far this year,’ and in May-August (when prices are usually stable), ‘a mere’ - they said – ‘a mere 1.37 per cent.’ Well, I’m glad to say the story was printed. But there just wasn’t enough news‑print to say that in the same months of last year prices rose not 5.65 per cent but 4.4 per cent.
And that is the end of my brief commercial.
But I have glad tidings for Fleet Street. I am prepared to arrange through that impartial organisation, Aims of Industry, who served the nation for a brief period in the Spring of 1970, at great cost and sacrifice, with that single-minded educational campaign - as they were claiming last week - to inform the nation that private enterprise was the best guarantee of low prices. Recluses as they are, they were totally ignorant of the fact that a General Election was taking place at the time. When the Conservatives were restricted by election law, the impartial non-political organisation flooded press and poster headings with their great campaign on prices. It stopped around mid-June. Now I understand they haven’t been running a poster campaign since, even though there hasn’t been an election. But I know that you and I can ask them with confidence to provide the newsprint, at whatever cost, to help Fleet Street to run a series from 14 to 18 June, 1970 - after I’d got the newspaper strike over - proving beyond doubt how Mr. Heath, no matter how many strokes he had to have, would bring prices down. And I’d like all those who, at great personal cost and inconvenience excavated the prices of 1970, should now set out - on every poster site in the country - prices then, 1970; prices now, 1971. I know this appeal will not go in vain.
The housewives who trusted Mr. Heath have been betrayed. And now he asks them to believe that entry into the European Common Market will not mean an unacceptable further increase in prices. If by that he means that Conservative policies - especially food levies - are designed to bring British prices up to the indefensible levels in the market, that is one thing. But this he denies. So he bows out - conscious that the would-be Casanova appealing to the housewives in June, 1970, whom they were so ready then to believe, is no longer credited, he invoked, in this very week, a new Don Juan, incredibly Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, to renew the seduction. Prices will rise a half per cent a year, he says. Do not trust him, gentle maiden. (Laughter and applause).
Conference yesterday took a clear and unequivocal decision about the party attitude to entry into Europe on the humiliating Conservative terms.
This is the decision of the Labour Party, the Labour Movement. The Parliamentary Labour Party, a fortnight hence, has to take its decision about how Labour members vote in the Parliamentary division on 28 October.
Conference does not dictate that decision, but every Labour member before he votes in the Parliamentary Party meeting will give full weight to this Conference decision, as also to the views of his constituency.
I am not going to go over yesterday’s arguments. The decision has been taken - and put beyond all argument and all doubt.
We have not apologised and we do not apologise for the fact that on an issue so fundamental to the future of this country this democratic Movement has been deeply divided; nor do I apologise for my call for a great debate within this Party, within this Movement. The Conservative Party is divided no less deeply – the difference is that in the debate within the Conservative Party, any who hold views opposed to that of the leadership have been subjected to all the pressures, direct pressures, constituency pressures, of which the Chief Whip of Suez is a past master. Labour, Conservative, Liberals - the whole country has divided on this issue.
But now that we here have taken the decision, I have the right, I have the duty, to enjoin this Movement now to close ranks. I respect those who have, all along, argued that this country’s destiny lies within Europe; just as I respect those who have argued all along that Britain should not join on any terms. And certainly no less I respect those who, following declared Party policy, in the Commons, in Conference after Conference, could see advantage in entering the E.E.C. on the right terms, but who have decided that they cannot endorse the terms that the Conservative Government fell over themselves to accept, which we believe can only mean crippling Britain’s strength.
And it was on that basis that Conference yesterday took its decision. And Conference having decided, all those whatever part they have played, whatever views they have accepted, must now join as one, as members of a Movement greater than any of us, to fight as never before against the cynicism of this essentially backward-looking Government.
I call for a united Party. What has divided us is an important policy issue, not an article of faith. I reject reprisals. I do not believe in recriminations. I do believe in a united Party which evaluates and evokes the talents of each member, on the basis of the part he can play in the future in this Socialist Movement of ours. (Applause)
In taking leave of yesterday’s arguments, there are just one or two things I want to say.
The first relates to the Government’s unscrupulous and improper use of the taxpayers’ money for a political purpose. A great and democratic debate is one thing. To rig that debate, however unsuccessfully, by the use of public money on an issue which Parliament has not yet decided is indefensible and, I believe, unprecedented. Previous Governments have had the long-standing ground-rules outlined to them and have accepted them; told that the expenditure of Government money for a political - or even educational - campaign when the principle at stake still awaits determination by Parliament is inadmissible.
Yet Conservative Ministers have not scrupled to breach the long-standing rules. They have admitted to the House of Commons that their propaganda campaign advocating those terms, together with blatantly political supporting arguments, through the Post Office, and in other ways, had cost £647,550 up to 27 July.
They have gone further. They had admitted in Parliament handing over to the Conservative Party machine 837,910 copies of the propagandist short version of their White Paper - together with 5,074 and 3,180 copies respectively to the Labour and Liberal Parties. We sent them back.
The 837,910 copies they supplied to the Conservatives on the basis, it was said, of one for each member of the Party, cost over £25,000 to the tax-payer. And at that very time they were railroading through the House the legislation which laid down that any Labour Councillor involved in a Council decision to supply free milk to seven-year-olds was liable to be surcharged for the whole of the expenditure.
The second thing is to emphasise a point made yesterday. The Resolution called for a general election on this issue. Mr. Heath committed himself in the Election to the proposition that a Conservative Government would not go forward into Europe against the wishes of the British people. In the circumstances of October, 1971, this can only mean a general election.
In default of that he must expect no help, no aid, no support from any Labour Member of Parliament in getting through Parliament the necessary instruments and legislation, on which he has refused to seek the views of the British people in a general election. (Applause)
And as our great debate nears its end, there are clear issues on which none of us here can be divided from each other, but where we all are fundamentally divided from Mr. Heath and his Government. Britain is finished, is his argument. It has been the central theme of Mr. Heath’s archdiaconal intonations, as week by week he has campaigned widely first in Bexley, then in Bexley, and finally with a great flourish in Bexley, and with diminishing acceptance, in favour of the doctrine that the man who, in June, 1970, knew all the answers to Britain’s problems, now says there is no answer, unless you join a particular commercial set-up in Europe.
He negotiated from the strength we bequeathed to him. Last year I warned this Conference that there was one argument we would never accept - that, whatever the terms, we have to go in because we cannot solve our own problems without doing so. But that is precisely what the Conservative Government are arguing today - the same escapist doctrine they peddled in 1962.
All of us here reject this defeatism about Britain, about the British people. I reject, too, the Conservative argument that while you can undermine Britain’s industrial strength by this obsession about creating a free market, a European policy is based on accepting without question any terms dictated to us by an autarkic, high-priced, agricultural and food cartel for joining a rigged market in Europe.
We reject the growing suggestions for joining a European nuclear deterrent. We have warned time and time, again against such a divisive policy, utterly destructive as it must be of any hopes of easing tension between East and West.
This is a bad time to appeal to the Conservatives about East-West relations, though the Macclesfield election is now over.
The trouble about this Conservative Government is they’re always seeking for a virility symbol - and always at someone else’s expense, whether it’s the shipbuilders of Upper Clyde, or a world that stands to gain so much from Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik.
Because of the way the Conservatives have conducted it, this has been a costly debate because it has meant the subordination of every British interest to it, as long as it lasts. The utter subordination of every essential British interest to the Conservative Whips’ tally of Common Market votes.
The House of Commons recently debated Northern Ireland. The official Opposition vote against Government policy, and Mr. Heath’s self-appointed role as P.P.S. to Mr. .Faulkner, was not withheld, but deferred until the Queen’s Speech in November. Then it will certainly be registered unless Mr. Heath has answered the questions he evaded last month, particularly the questions I put about internment.
And unless he provides, too, clear evidence that it is his policy to assert, as I have demanded, the clear paramountcy of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster over Stormont, over every issue that involves human rights - the deployment of British troops in near-intolerable conditions.
And the open-ended financial contributions of the British taxpayer to pay for the consequences of what the British Government lamely defends but does not have real powers to control.
But this is not all.
A fortnight ago there was a devastating analysis in the Sunday Times of the internment operation leading to the conclusion that, and I quote:
British parliamentarians anxious to pull British troops clear of this ancient morass will first need to ask how the Heath Government stumbled so deep into it. Last week’s signing of internment orders on no fewer than 219 IRA suspects gave the clue. Partly out of sloth, partly out of barrenness of ideas, partly out of a care that nothing should make waves for the Market boat, the Government’s prime concern has been to keep the Stormont system in being at almost any cost; and that has meant agreeing to virtually anything the Northern Ireland Premier of the moment might ask as the means to keeping his followers’ hands from his throat.
For eight Ulster Unionists - who have asserted their threat in a day’s provocative abstentions on domestic issues - are not to be discounted when the Common Market tally is counted.
And is not this true of other issues as vital to Britain’s place in the world?
The protracted negotiations on Rhodesia have been clearly designed for the Tory Conference next week and the Commons and Lords’ votes on the Southern Rhodesia Order. While there will be no announcement on a sell-out before the Commons votes on Europe, hopes will be raised, and one or two more sheep may be persuaded to tread the Europe Lobby.
Security is tight, but the Financial Times hinted very clearly, three weeks ago, at a settlement based on an African majority ‘in a few decades.’
The Labour Government refused - and this Labour Party will always refuse - to contemplate any settlement that did not fully honour the six principles we laid down.
And the first principle laid down is the requirement of unimpeded progress to majority rule.
If rumour, and the Financial Times, are right, Mr. Smith appears to have found a formula capable of persuading the British Government to accept his repeated demand ‘not in his life-time.’ When we said it must be related not to clock or calendar, we still asserted it must be in measurable time, in 10 to 15 years: clock time, calendar time - not geological time.
And any such settlement, based on the present Rhodesian racialist so-called constitution, will be totally resisted by the British Labour Party, inside and outside Parliament. (Applause) It is intolerable that these questions, vital equally to British influence in the Commonwealth and the world, should be related to the vulgar timetable of Conservative Party Conference or the cynical arithmetic of the vote on Europe.
It is our duty to oppose, and no less to expose, the realities of Conservative economic policy, its consequences in human terms, the cynicism of their broken promises on prices and consumer standards, as it is to bring home to our people the subordination of vital British and world interests to an obsessive determination to get into the Common Market on any terms.
And that stubborn determination, and the national preoccupation with it over these past months, has distracted the country and distracted our Party from the basic problems which should be our concern. The basic problems whose solution must now become the prime aim of the Labour Party’s forward planning, ready for Government after the next election.
On health - the new priority we accepted but did not have the chance to make a reality - the priority for mental health, among the young and the old, as claimant imperatives.
The priority of the environment, as last year I stressed the unspoken problem, of psychological pollution - for you can pollute a man’s soul, a child’s dreams, just as you can poison the water and the air around him, if every decision affecting his future is taken by more and more remote, less and less accountable beings.
Priorities in education, too - and, as Tony Crosland has rightly urged, in housing. The priorities of the 60’s cannot command the 70’s, and the Tory priorities still less. We have a hard job of work to do, and immediately and urgently, and we shall need to listen to all those who are labouring in the same vineyard. Shelter, the Society for the Mentally Handicapped, the Child Poverty Action Group. Their objectives are our objectives. In Government it will be our task to work Shelter and the other protest groups out of a job.
And central to all this is the problem we learnt at so dear a price - you can have all the best social objectives and the most clearly thought-out policies for obtaining these objectives in the greatest detail and clarity. But at the end of the day, within the society you live in, you will need the full co-operation of each section of the community to be able to pursue the right economic policies. Without this you will be willing the end without providing the means. The National Executive Committee have placed before this Conference our first thoughts in the Conference Document on economic strategy, unemployment and growth, which we shall be debating tomorrow. It does not provide all the answers, but what it does do is to provide the questions to the answers, and clear guidance to Conference on how these questions will have to be answered. Few countries have solved the problem of how to reconcile higher production, higher real incomes, and strong balance of payments at the same time. For Britain this means strongly increasing investment.
During six years Labour succeeded in transforming the biggest balance of payments deficit in 150 years of history into the biggest surplus. (Applause)
Our condemnation of Mr. Heath and the Tory Government he leads is that they have refused to use that strength to make Britain a better place to live in - with full employment, and rising standards in private expenditure and social expenditure.
We never regarded economic strength as an end in itself - for us it was the means to a better quality of life for our people, and for the creation of a socially just, a Socialist, society in Britain. A socially-just society based on mutual co-operation means this. It means the achievement of a policy which holds inflation in check while ensuring full employment and higher real incomes. It means increasing real incomes both by rising family wages and by a rising social wage, both of them.
When we came to power in 1964 we had, ready worked out, policies which would go far towards curing our social ills. But, because the facts had been concealed from the nation, we had not realised the magnitude of the economic problem we were to be left with, how it would dominate our lives and, for many years, almost every act of Government. We did not realise how much longer it would take for our policies to be effective.
And we did not have a prior agreement between the incoming Government and the wider Labour Movement on our mutual responsibilities one to another.
With such an agreement, whatever the difficulties, we would have been in an immeasurably stronger position and the international brotherhood of money-makers would have found it difficult to penetrate the joint front of Trade Unions and Labour Government working together.
This is not a problem for Britain alone, even if Conservative divisive politics in Britain have driven it further and further from realisation.
It is a problem which now dominates the life of every advanced industrial country.
Behind the world currency crisis this is the dominant problem. At an industrial relations conference in New York last May I tried to lay down the conditions of a solution, namely,
… a voluntary compact between Government and industry - both sides of industry - in which the Government can go forward boldly with economic policies necessary to increase production, knowing that this need not lead to inflation so long as it could count on industrial co-operation and restraint.
This is a reality we all recognise as fundamental to the future. When we, as we are pledged, assert the repeal of the Conservative Government’s legalistic, inhuman and fundamentally unworkable Industrial Relations Act, we are pledged equally to discussions between the political and industrial wings of our Movement on the voluntary means of strengthening industrial relations, and eliminating the causes of industrial tension.
It means more. Last year at Conference I said that before long we should have to get together to work out a mutually agreed policy. I said ‘the time is not yet’ - the trade union movement had a difficult confrontation to face. And I know how difficult it is for them to think in these terms when they are facing the day-to-day problems and the day-to-day injustices of the free market economy. Of course we recognise that their first responsibility is to defend their members in the problems created by this free market economy. But if we as a Labour Government are to get rid of these injustices, we have to begin now to reach an understanding.
A year ago the time was ‘not yet’ - this year we must accept that the meetings must soon begin. Those of us on both sides charged with this responsibility will fail Conference, and still more the millions whom we represent as delegates, if we are not soon meeting and working out the conditions of that essential mutual compact between us. This means Party and Trade Unions working together, speaking as one. We have not always succeeded in this. If we are to succeed, if we are to make a reality of the Socialist society which is, and always has been, our common objective, it means not only that the Party in Opposition and in Government must understand the problems of the Unions and their members. It means equally that the Unions must accept the economic realities and understand the political responsibilities we face in Government.
For, as we have learnt, there are not only trade union members, there are their wives. And if the harsh realities of Conservative Government have driven them into a common determination to get rid of the Tories, we have to use that determination to forge a common policy, Party and unions, to ensure that higher wages are reconciled with stable prices, that we do not set the worker as producer, the worker as consumer, at one another’s throat, that they are one family. Again, and here the Document we debate tomorrow charts the way, we have to establish the parameters of our policy for extending public ownership.
Let one thing be clear. The Conservatives fall over themselves to hand over public assets to provide profits for their friends.
Where they pillage, we will restore.
In making their petty calculations let them realise that every publicly-owned asset the Conservatives sell off to their friends will be restored to the public and every speculator who enters the field, attracted by quick profits, will burn his fingers. They have been warned. (Applause)
But to restore the status quo is not, of itself, advance.
It’s a sad thought that so much of the legislation of the first two years of the next Labour Government will be of an anti-vandalistic character - but it will be carried through simultaneously with measures to extend the area of public ownership, as the N.E.C. document makes clear.
Just as - if we are to attack our endemic problem of declining investment - we shall reassert the principle of industrial intervention.
We shall establish a State Holding Agency on the lines of the I.R.C. - but writ large this time, and with a clearer power to ensure that where society invests in private industry, society will stake a claim in the profits.
Just as we shall re-enact the Industrial Expansion Act, the Shipbuilding Industry Act, and the investment grant system for industrial regeneration and regional regeneration alike.
This Conference begins, and next year’s will carry forward, the Movement’s preparations of the policies the incoming Labour Government will carry through.
We are proud of what the Labour Government of 1964-70 achieved, in the face of what our opponents left us with, and their continuing irresponsibility in the face of all we had to do.
We are proud that we made so much progress in mobilising the resources of Britain, for Britain as a nation, for the people of Britain as a community, and for those who needed our help abroad.
Now we have seen all we sought to achieve put sharply into reverse with a Government seeking not the welfare of a people but a system of society characterised by the smart young men of the unit trusts, in a land fit for profiteers and speculators to live in.
For, as we have seen, the free market philosophy has meant the devaluation of the family, of its standard of living, its security, the well-being of young and old.
Consider it: free milk abolished; school dinners dearer; the threat to abolish children’s half-fares; and the dole for the school-leavers. What have they got against children? (Laughter).
For the young married couples wanting to buy their own home: rocketing prices placing a new house ever beyond their grasp.
For the average family in Britain which rents a home, a future of soaring rents, beginning in April for Council tenants.
For the middle-income families too; higher health charges, fares, the insurance stamp and the rest have ensured that the gain from direct tax cuts has been more than wiped out by the loss through indirect tax increases.
And all this does not take into account that scandalous rise in food and other prices since the Tories came to power.
For the old, pensions totally inadequate to meet living costs; last month’s belated increase already nearly wiped out by Tory inflation.
It is more than just a truism to call our nation a family, because a stable society is a family composed of families.
Place the individual family under strain and stress and you impose those strains and stresses upon society.
This is what we have to fight. And we shall not fight it by speeches in Conference; or on the multi-tasselled fringe of Conference, by resolutions, or amendments or card votes.
This Movement must now unite. Still more it must fight as it has never fought before - not just against the consequences of Tory rule, but against the whole basis of Tory policy, a policy based on a doctrine which is essentially evil.
That is why I am calling this Movement, now, to fight back and to fight back as one people, against all that we have condemned this week, and those who created it.
First, I call on all my colleagues in the Parliamentary Party to unite, spearhead the attack on the Conservatives on the wide, exposed front of Tory policy and administration. We have no room for passengers or faint-hearts. It has been said many times at our Conferences, but it is as true now as ever.
There is not one Labour Member of Parliament who could have been elected by his own efforts. He is where he is because of the efforts and dedication of thousands upon thousands of those represented by delegates here today. And he is elected to be in his place and to do the job he was sent to do.
Reading about this Conference you would think it’s only about one thing. How X or Y or Z is going to vote on 28 October. Conference has declared its voice on that by ‘inviting’ members to follow its decision.
But 28 October is not an end but a beginning. And the whole Parliamentary Party will fight against the mass of consequential legislation, main legislation, subordinate legislation, statutory instruments, Orders in Council which the Government will endeavour to force through.
I cannot imagine a single Labour Member who, faced with this legislation, will not be in the lobbies against the Government. Every bill, every clause, every order will lay down the conditions under which every family in Britain will live, work, shop for its needs, sell its labour, for years, generations to come. And that same spirit must inspire the fight against every measure the Tories rely on to fashion Britain along the lines their selfish philosophy requires.
Second, I call on this Movement through the constituency parties to carry this fight to the people. Not in local or by-elections only, but all the year round. Educate, teach, argue, organise. Get rid of our reliance on exclusive and select groups. Reach outwards. In every constituency create an integrated relationship with the trade unions and their members. We want an active political/industrial fighting organisation in every city and town, every constituency, every ward and village. Fight back there and feed back here.
Third, I call on our trade union members to ensure that what we are seeking by consultation and comradeship at national level becomes equally a reality at local level. There is a Tory legend that we don’t need an electoral organisation because we’ve organised the factories. We need both, and above all I want to see our industrial movement, through branches, lodges, factories and workplaces, part of our local Labour democracy.
Fourth, I call on our councillors to recognise that they are members of one movement. To that small minority, described 16 years ago in the Wilson Report, whose active electioneering occurs once every three years - and they are a minority - I offer you the luxury of otium cum dignitate - the dignity and respect of a leisured, but early, retirement. But to the majority, preoccupied as they must be by local problems, remember that the immediate battleground in the fight against Tory social policies lies in the council chamber, the education, health, housing committees.
When the Tories took control of the councils in the late 60’s they set up a high command in Central Office to enlist their local representatives in a co-ordinated fight against the Labour Government.
I do not ask this; we believe in local democracy. But we have the right and the duty to co-ordinate. As a first step, I propose to call to London the leaders of all the major Labour local authorities to work out together our strategy.
After that, the leaders of Labour groups in the other major boroughs. More effective regional organisation must be established for the smaller councils. Parliamentary Labour Party, Constituency Parties, Trade Unions, Councillors - all united, as never before.
This Movement is arrayed against power, not popular, but the power of wealth and privilege, the power of the press and P.R.; an insolent power, asserted now as it has not been in our lifetime for the perpetuation of economic power.
This Movement was created by humble men, proud men, who in their generation fought a more powerful and cruel - though not a more arrogant - establishment, and fought it because they dreamed of a better world. We, who exist only through the heritage which was their gift to us, are here to express our resolve to fight back against a vulgar establishment, effete in all save their ability to manipulate the levers of power.
To fight with one asset greater by far than all they control, the power of people who care, who care enough to go forward from here, united, militant, determined to insist that those who create the wealth and influence of this nation, shall inherit that wealth, and, inheriting it, use it to create a greater Britain than we have ever known.