Leader's speech, Blackpool 1975
Harold Wilson (Labour)
Commentary:Wilson began this speech by outlining some of Labour’s achievements during the past twelve months, which included Pensioners’ Payments and the introduction of Child Benefit. Other Bills currently going through Parliament were the Sex Discrimination Bill, Equal Pay legislation and the Capital Transfer Tax. The key issues facing Britain at the time of the conference were inflation and unemployment, and Labour was taking steps to address them. With regard to foreign policy, Labour had halted the sale of arms to South Africa, held a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EEC, and strengthened relations with Europe, the USA, the Commonwealth and the Soviet Union.
I present the Parliamentary Report, a report on the implementation of the Manifesto we put to the people in the election of February 1974, and the one on which we fought the October election a year ago.
The word ‘Manifesto’ is constantly heard these days, and that is right. No new Party grouping, over the whole spectrum of Party thinking, now considers itself respectable if it does not include the word ‘Manifesto’ in its title.
We are all Manifesto custodians now. Never has there been such unity in the history of the Party in supporting the Manifesto - or such diversity in its interpretation. (Laughter)
As Leader of the majority group in Parliament, the MPs elected by your efforts and by a groundswell of national opinion last year, I have from 4 March, 1974 onwards regarded myself as a full-time, one-man Manifesto group. (Laughter)
The Parliamentary Report gives solid backing to my claim that no previous Prime Minister - no Labour Prime Minister and certainly no Conservative - has been able to present a record of a Government which has carried through so much of its Manifesto, by legislative and executive action in so short a time.
In the four and a half months in which the House was sitting during the Short Parliament of last year, 35 Bills became law, and I ask you to bear with me for a moment while I list them.
We passed the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act which repealed the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, preserved and extended existing unfair dismissals provisions and extended trade union immunities; the Health and Safety at Work Act setting up the Health and Safety Commission; the Prices Act which abolished the Pay Board, provided £500 millions for food subsidies on key essential foodstuffs and strengthened the Price Code; we ended the sticky labels racket by prohibiting upward re-pricing of goods already on the shelves in the shops, and we restricted the frequency of implementation of price increases. In the National Insurance Act 1974 we fulfilled the Manifesto pledge to raise pensions to £10 for a single person and £16 for a couple; the Finance Act introduced major changes to eliminate tax dodgers. The Rent Act gave security of tenure to those in furnished accommodation. We doubled the Regional Employment Premium which Labour had introduced in 1967 and which the Conservatives were committed to abolish.
That was the Short Parliament. With a minority Labour Government. (Applause)
Now the Manifesto on which we went to the country a year ago.
First, Bills which have already been placed on the Statute Book in the terms of the Manifesto:
Child Benefit, creating a new scheme of child credits; those are on the Statute Book; Finance (No. 1) introducing the Capital Transfer Tax; Finance (No. 2) tackling the lump; the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act, replacing the Tory Rent Act with a new financial system for public sector housing; the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Act nationalising land for oil construction sites; the Oil Taxation Act, fulfilling the Manifesto proposals for taxation of oil companies’ profits on the North Sea; Pensioners’ Payments; the Referendum Act fulfilling our pledge to give the British people the final say on membership of the EEC; the Social Security Benefits Act maintaining the real value of pensions and creating the new non-contributory invalidity benefit, invalid care allowances to help those families with disabled members, and increased family allowances; the Social Security Pensions Act totally reforming the whole system of state superannuation, and introducing the mobility allowance for the disabled. All those are on the Statute Book. I thought I would mention them just in case you might have forgotten any of them. (Applause)
Now the Bills introduced, but not through all their Parliamentary stages:
The Community Land Bill, providing for the public ownership of development land; the Employment Protection Bill providing new rights for workers at work; the Industry Bill turning into legislative form the White Paper on which we fought the election, creating the National Enterprise Board and the system of Planning Agreements; the Petroleum and Submarine Pipelines Bill creating the British National Oil Corporation and providing new powers of control over the pace of depletion and for the provision of pipelines; the Scottish Development Agency and Welsh Development Agency legislation establishing these two important new institutions in Scotland and Wales; the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill removing unacceptable Lords amendments forced into the previous year’s Act in the conditions of our then minority Government; the socially redistributive budgets of November and April; the Sex Discrimination Bill asserting new rights for women and creating the Equal Opportunities Commission. All these measures are before Parliament now.
I clearly cannot anticipate the Queen’s Speech opening the second session of this Parliament, but a commitment has been given to the re-introduction of the Bill already published to take the aircraft and shipbuilding industries into public ownership; work is advanced - in some cases involving the drafting of the necessary legislation - on:
Devolution; ending the 11-plus; abolishing agricultural tied cottages; the Development Land Tax; the transfer of New Town housing assets to local authorities; liberalising official secrets legislation; introducing an independent element into the procedure of complaints against the police; and a Race Relations Bill, to strengthen the existing legislation protecting minorities.
Work is also going on on legislation to phase out pay beds; to bring the ports into public ownership; to create the Co-operative Development Agency; on weights and measures legislation to provide for unit pricing.
Our outline proposals for a wealth tax have been published, and are being studied by a Parliamentary Select Committee in advance of the introduction of legislation.
The Government has announced its policy in respect of our pledge on industrial democracy and is setting up an enquiry to prepare the way for legislation.
That is a breathtaking list. It is a record of which the whole Party should be proud. But it is too easily forgotten, as many of our Party members may already have forgotten it.
It is a record made possible only by Ministers working full-time, MPs working full-time, and above all the Whips working full-time, all of them long into the night.
But it is made possible by something else too. The Manifesto we are fulfilling provided the best programme on which this Party has ever fought a General Election.
And that programme itself was made possible only by the fact that its preparation, in those Opposition years, was one which involved the whole Party, constituencies, affiliated organisations, the NEC and its sub-committees, and the 1973 Conference which spent the whole week on ‘Labour’s Programme,’ in readiness for the preparation of the Manifesto which was agreed three months after that Conference, in accordance with Clause 5 of our Constitution, by the Executive and the then Shadow Cabinet.
This legislative achievement, representing over half of our five-year programme commitments in the first twelve Parliamentary months since March 1974 (and it should be three‑quarters implemented by next year’s Conference) is enormous by any standards, historical or international.
Everyone in this Conference can be more than a little proud, as I have the right to be proud, as we recognise how much your Ministers have achieved in such a short period of time and in the most difficult economic climate for over 40 years.
It is not just a question of quantity, of scores of bills and hundreds of clauses sweated through in days of committees and long nights in Parliament itself.
This record of pledges fulfilled is rooted in the philosophy and beliefs of the Labour Movement. It was constructed in consultation with MPs, trade unions and representatives of the Party in the country. And it reflects those themes and priorities which the Party established in opposition and which we believe are the ones which should now most concern a Labour Government. Let us take, for example, our industrial relations policy under Michael Foot which has replaced conflict with co-operation and, as we promised in the election campaigns, has healed the unnecessary wounds inflicted by the Tories on industry and, in so doing, has reunited the nation. From the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, to our new Employment Protection Bill. The Health and Safety at Work Commission. The ACAS which has been playing such a positive role in ending disputes.
Just pause for a moment to contrast this wise and constructive attack on the problems of industrial relations with what we saw in the early 1970s. Cast your minds back: the then Conservative Cabinet - yes, all of it, not just those who are now on the Tory backbenches - approaching the sensitive and intricate system of human relations in industry with all the sense of purpose and sublime delicacy of a mob of football hooligans approaching a mainline railway station.
It seems almost impossible to believe now, that so recently, the T& G were mulcted for £50,000 by an Order of the Court; to recall those bailiffs skulking round the back door of an Urban District Council in Durham to seize an AUEW investment.
Or the expensive farce of a railway ballot when a Minister of the Crown was required by his legalistic-minded colleagues to spend public money printing and distributing ballot forms to 170,000 railwaymen for the purpose of asking them to give an answer to a totally convoluted question which in plain terms simply sought to inquire whether, after due consideration, they agreed with their General Secretary. They did, in the event, agree by 6 to 1.
Or to recall without disbelief that a Cabinet, to the chagrin of the then Secretary of State for Employment, actually sat in Downing Street, duly pooling their collective Cabinet ignorance of the coalmining industry and the coalmining community to reach a decision - already decided by the Courts of the land 70 years earlier - on the question whether time spent by mineworkers bathing off the coal dust was or was not properly to be regarded as taking place in their employers’ time. But all this did happen, and less than two years ago. It all seems like a different age. Neolithic.
Our budgetary and social policies, have been governed by the pursuit of greater economic and social equality which has always been an ideal and objective of this Party. Redistribution of income. Restoration to the people of the wealth from land development; control of, and a fair share of the profits of, the oil beneath the North Sea.
In the tax field, ending the loopholes in the taxes on wealth by the introduction of the Capital Transfer Tax. Our proposals for wealth tax and our strong action against the lump.
Major resources have been devoted to the expansion of the social services. These reflect our concern for the pensioner. Concern for the disabled and the under-privileged. The one-parent family. The long-term sick. The widow.
Perhaps most dramatic, the Sex Discrimination Bill which will come into force before the end of the year. Its radical proposals are in advance of anything in the world and will ensure equality of opportunity in all aspects of employment, education, housing, services and facilities. This means that that half of our population will no longer be treated as second class citizens.
Nor will they be paid as second class citizens. By the end of this year the Equal Pay legislation carried into law by the Labour Government in the late Sixties becomes 100 per cent effective. (Applause)
But above all we have placed concern about housing, about building homes and protecting tenants in every section of our society, top of our list of priorities.
Housing finance based on reflecting and covering rising costs, tempered by the recognition of housing as a primary social service, and emphatically rejecting the Conservative 1971 doctrine that municipal housing should be a means of making a profit out of the tenants, for the municipal budget.
These are the human, socialist values which underlie the legalistic titles of our Parliamentary legislation. Conference will see that we have kept faith with those values.
Another thing: three weeks ago the Cabinet and National Executive met together to review what had been achieved, and to identify our priorities and to discuss the nation’s most pressing problems - above all, inflation and unemployment.
You did not read much about that meeting. It was entirely harmonious and constructive.
But I felt it right on that occasion in giving my Parliamentary Report to the NEC to go beyond the Government’s achievements in legislation and economic and social policies and to refer to Britain's role in world affairs.
We all remember, and anyone studying the records of the NEC, and of Conference since the war, might estimate that the NEC has probably spent 60 per cent of the time it devotes to policy discussions, and Conference 40 per cent, on overseas affairs.
In some years these discussions were directed towards a very friendly and always constructive criticism of the Labour Government of the day. In other years, long years of opposition, we were trying to shape Party attitudes about what we thought the then ruling Conservative Government should be doing in foreign affairs.
The fact that there have been less deep and fundamental arguments about overseas affairs in the last 18 months of Labour Government is not a reason for ignoring foreign affairs this week.
On the contrary, what I can point to is a record of achievement and influence in significant areas of world affairs which I believe to have been unparalleled by any Government, Labour or Conservative, at any time since the war - and indeed long before that.
Let us take, first, relations with the United States. I know that not everyone here is equally enthusiastic on this subject, though during the Referendum campaign I thought I detected a new-found insistence in certain quarters - unexpected quarters - that we must do nothing to endanger our transatlantic relations. I am sure this enthusiasm was not a passing phenomenon. (Laughter)
What I was able to tell the Executive three weeks ago was that relations between Britain and the United States are now closer, are now more constructive, both in political and economic issues, than at any time in the political life of most of us. And that judgment is not mine - it comes from American leaders.
Over the years we have had many debates about relations with the Soviet Union and other East European countries. The situation in 1975 has been described as ‘historic.’ Not my phrase - it is that of one of the top Soviet leaders during my visit last February.
The Commonwealth. Anyone who was present at the meeting of 35 Commonwealth Heads of Government in Jamaica last May would have concluded - as my Commonwealth colleagues did - that Britain’s relations with the Commonwealth, again both political and economic, had never been better in our history.
This is partly because Rhodesia no longer divides the Commonwealth. Tragically it divides only the African parties within Rhodesia, to the immense satisfaction of the white regime.
It is also because South Africa does not divide us. The Commonwealth was torn apart a few months after Labour lost office in 1970 by the Conservatives’ insistence on supplying arms to South Africa.
On taking office in 1974, as in 1964, I gave immediate instructions that arms to South Africa should be stopped forthwith. (Applause) The arrangements to end the Simonstown Agreement followed soon after. And your Government it was that declared the South African presence in Namibia to be unlawful and called upon them to withdraw.
Again with Europe. Following renegotiation, the Government gave the people the final right to decide, as we had promised in our Manifesto.
The people decided.
And the way we conducted the campaign - particularly the then much-criticised ‘agreement to differ,’ within the Cabinet, within the Executive - fulfilled my very confident prediction at the time, which many doubted, that the Party would come out of that campaign not weaker but stronger, not divided but more united.
That is what happened. The issue was settled by the people themselves and it has now been virtually accepted.
The argument is over.
We are using our influence, Jim Callaghan at the Council of Ministers, both of us at the regular Summits, not only to assert British economic interests and those of a wider Europe but on political matters too. Remember it was the Commonwealth Prime Ministers who recorded - on their own initiative, not mine - that ‘British membership of the Community was of value in encouraging the Community to be more outward looking towards the rest of the world.’
Take one issue - Portugal. The Community’s joint decisions, at Council of Ministers and Heads of Government level, our Declaration offering aid to Portugal on the basis of the restoration of pluralistic democracy, and only on that basis. Our decision to approach Eastern European powers at Helsinki to assert the right of freedom, democracy and socialism in Portugal.
This was supplemented by the emergency meeting in Stockholm last month of Socialist Prime Ministers and other leaders, followed by the meeting I convened earlier this month in London of Socialist Prime Ministers.
Conference should not underrate the part Britain’s Labour Government has played in what we hope will be a lasting, peaceful, democratic, socialist settlement. Nor should it underrate the contribution of this week’s Conference to history, in what was said here and what was done here, yesterday, on Spain.
Relations with America; with the Soviet Union; relations with the Commonwealth; relations with Europe, particularly directed towards democracy in Europe.
That was my report to the National Executive three weeks ago.
Following that report I felt justified in asking my colleagues, some with 30 years in Parliament, some with a record of political activity going back well before the War, if they could recall a time, and if they could to name the year, when relations with the United States were better.
If they could recall a time, and name the year, when relations with the Soviet Union were better.
If they could recall a time when relations with the Commonwealth were better.
If they could recall a time when relations with Europe were better.
Still more, could anyone name some halcyon period when relations with America, with the Soviet Union, with the Commonwealth and with Europe were better than now - and all at the same time?
Not one such era was recalled by my very experienced colleagues on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government; not one year was nominated.
In twenty-two years on the Executive this was the first time that we could record a measurable period of absolute silence on the Executive. (Laughter and applause)
Today, to this Conference, I put the same thought - is there anyone here, however long their apprenticeship and work in the Labour Movement, who can answer those questions, who can name a comparable period? You do not need to answer now. Take your time, I will give you notice of the question and you can let me know.
There are many reasons why I can make this claim, but you cannot exclude as a major one the conduct of our foreign and commonwealth affairs by Jim Callaghan and his team, nor the remarkable and widely-acclaimed record of our two successive Ministers for Overseas Development at a time of great financial stringency.
But not only in the political aspects of world affairs, but in advancing those ideals in world economic relationships which have inspired Socialists, and so often illumined the work of Conference.
The proposals, for example, which I tabled at the Jamaica Commonwealth Conference represented the biggest international economic initiative ever put forward by a Prime Minister of this country.
It incorporated ideas frequently debated here, ideas which were incorporated by some of us in War on Want 23 years ago, which led to the creation of the ‘War on Want’ Organisation.
But they were recognised by Commonwealth leaders last May as relevant to the acute problems facing the Third World today. The old division between advanced industrialised, importing countries and developing countries, which are primary producers, food and raw material exporting countries, a division which has been revolutionised by the economic cataclysms of the past two years.
The increased cost of oil - now increased again - the increased cost of many raw materials and food have certainly hit advanced countries such as Britain and other European and North American countries.
But how much more has it hit developing countries? Developing countries fall into two general groups: the new rich, or potentially rich, who have gained from the higher oil and commodity prices, and the rest - right down to some already on the very margin of starvation who have suddenly found themselves forced to pay vastly increased amounts for their oil, their oil-based fertilisers, their feeding stuffs, their raw materials and their agricultural implements.
The old poor and the starving within the world are now the new very poor.
Our proposals, therefore, calling for stabilisation not only of commodity prices, but of stabilising developing countries’ earnings from their exports, were deliberately directed to this problem.
More than that, they recognised the deep and undeniable desire by Third World countries to get a fair division of the world’s resources and prosperity.
In my initiative I made it clear, and I quote: ‘the British Government fully accept that the relationship, the balance, between the rich and poor countries of the world is wrong and must be remedied. That is the principle on which my proposals rest: that the wealth of the world must be redistributed in favour of the poverty stricken and the starving. This means a new deal in world economics, in trade between nations and the terms of that trade.’
I called for the recognition of the ‘interdependence’ of producers and consumers. I said that, especially in the General Agreement we proposed, there was a need to ‘lay heavy emphasis on the special needs of the poorest countries.’
Now that initiative was given a warm wind by my fellow Commonwealth Heads of Government in Jamaica. It was warmly welcomed - welcomed indeed as being directly designed to achieve some of the principal aims of those many Third World countries there calling for a New Economic Order.
The report of the Commonwealth Experts’ Group on those proposals and others played an important part in the special session of the UN General Assembly earlier this month.
Our proposals were welcomed by the US Government immediately after Jamaica. They were reflected in the decisions of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Community on 22 July. Now they go forward for further action by the UNCTAD Conference in Nairobi next spring.
I remember previous Party Conferences 20 and more years ago, when some of us put forward some of these ideas, when there was great enthusiasm for them in this Party, qualified by a feeling that this was never going to happen under what proved to be 13 years of Tory Government; and that when we looked at the reactionary attitudes of the Parliaments and Governments in power in so many advanced countries, there was a bit of cynicism, a feeling all this would remain a pious Socialist vision, a blueprint, never likely to become a reality.
But now those ideas are the policy of this Government, widely acclaimed in advanced and developing countries alike and occupying the centre of the stage for the world economic discussions of the next few months.
The issues this Conference faces, above all, are inflation and unemployment. I am not today going to apportion the blame for successive phases of inflation. Whether it be the Tory free-for-all under Barber or the oil price rise or the rapid growth in pay settlements or the decline in the exchange rate - or all of then.
But inflation is our great enemy. The threat to our objectives and ideals. It is inflation which has stopped us re-expanding the economy and getting rid of unemployment. In this sense inflation is the father and mother of unemployment.
We are in, and we all recognise this, for a harsh winter. The toughest part lies ahead. We have to face up to the consequences of the situation in which we and the world find ourselves. The worst world recession since the thirties. Our inflation more than twice that of our competitors. Because of this and the five-fold oil price increase, we spent abroad last year 14 pence in the pound more than we earned abroad. Less this year - a great narrowing of the gap - but still a formidable total and a serious addition to our already heavy overseas debt.
The country recognises, and the world recognises, the Labour Government’s determination to conquer the problem of inflation.
The Conservatives kept telling us that either we had to have a legally binding incomes policy or we had to abandon ourselves to the free market, to the rigours of monetary control and the dismantling of our social services, including housing.
On this they agreed there was no middle way. The only thing they were incapable of seeing was the only sensible course in a modern democracy: the course of agreement and consent.
While our opponents pursued their barren alternatives, with increasingly tedious repetition, we were in the process of reaching an historic agreement with the TUC. The policy was based on consent, endorsed by the trade union movement, and overwhelmingly accepted by the country.
The months immediately ahead, I have said, are going to be hard. But this tough period, so far from providing an excuse for relaxing our attack on inflation, is itself a reason for pressing it home. It would be fatal to relax now - fatal to this country, this Government, this Movement. This is the only means, this is the one way only, by which we can bring unemployment down as the world recession gives way to expansion; the only means to moving forward to full employment.
And the way forward now is to build on our negotiations with the TUC and all sides of industry. This will inevitably be a constantly developing relationship in which not just the TUC but trade unions and management will become more involved in the fight against inflation and the wider management of our economy.
Reflation cannot start before we are certain that inflation is stopping.
The Government last week announced our measures for dealing with the immediate threat of increased unemployment this winter and especially to deal with the problem the school leavers of 1975 are facing.
The steps we have introduced are direct, immediate, relevant. They will not sustain any further growth of inflation. They will not involve any lasting increase to local government or to national government expenditure, other than specific help to industrial investment, restructuring and modernisation. They are directed to fulfilling social objectives, for example in urban renewal and other urgent programmes; they are directed to providing not only jobs but training, by apprenticeships and in other ways, for our young people.
These are emergency measures for the period immediately ahead. The way we must drive towards full employment, once inflation is dealt with, will require different methods, and every one of us knows that one of the biggest long-term problems we have had to face for a generation past has been the total inadequacy of new capital investment. The amount of our annual national dividend ploughed back into capital investment for the future. And not merely the amount, but the quality of that investment.
But that is not all.
We have been getting less out of the investment we have made. Over the last 20 years, for every extra unit of output that we have obtained in this country from a given amount of investment, France and Italy have gained half as much again, Japan twice as much and West Germany well over two and a half times as much.
And we cannot get the benefit of increased investment in industries or firms if strikes are to condemn the equipment to idleness, or if over-manning cancels out the gains from the new investment. But more than that. If we spend our time arguing how to work less and spend more we shall end up having to work more and being able to spend less.
Our policy for industry was set out a year ago in the White Paper ‘The Regeneration of British Industry,’ on which we fought the October Election and on which the legislation on the National Enterprise Board and Planning Agreements now before Parliament is based.
What we promised in that White Paper we have carried through.
I repeat, Britain’s failure is that we have constantly not invested enough throughout the post-war period. But particularly not invested where we need it most: in the markets that are expanding, on which future jobs depend. We have to make the products for which there is a demand both at home and abroad. For this, it is not enough just to invest in our traditional industries. We have to be ready to support new initiatives and to seize opportunities. And this is the importance of the NEB and the direct support now given by the Government to industry.
The urgent action which we had to take to deal with areas of industrial and social policy neglected by the Tories caused us to increase the real volume of public expenditure by nearly 8 per cent in the first year of this Government.
It was a catching-up exercise to reverse three-and-a-half years of increasing inequality, and to provide the help that we promised, as a priority, to those in greatest need.
But the very speed and determination with which we acted means we are close to the limit now, and for some time ahead, for public expenditure as compared with take-home incomes.
The Chancellor has made it clear that he rejects panic cuts in public expenditure this winter. Indeed, as I have said, we have increased the funds for training and short-term work to meet social and industrial priorities.
But in the regular reviews which we undertake each year of the programme, into the period when full employment and high industrial activity may cause production problems, in the reviews we have to make, up to five years ahead, long after the immediate recession will have ended, we shall make sure that our expenditure is strictly related to our priorities.
Once those decisions on priorities are taken - and they will not be easy decisions - our methods of control will ensure that spending is strictly controlled within the objectives we have chosen.
Faced with these vast economic problems, I propose to reflect the political realities of this country by sparing only a very few moments to refer to her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Not personalities, of course. Every time I look at the anonymous characters who from time to time rise from the Opposition Front Bench, I can discern there no more than the occasional retreads (Laughter), relieving the otherwise drab landscape of the failed young Conservatives of a succession of non-vintage years. (Laughter)
I bet not one delegate in fifty at this Conference, not one in a hundred at next week’s Tory Conference, not one in ten of our skilled and omniscient press correspondents, could name the top 12 Conservative spokesmen on major subjects, without access to the reference books. (Laughter)
So I will not deal with personalities, but policies, and clearly that will not take long either. (Laughter)
On none of the major questions of our time have they put forward an alternative economic, social or, for that matter, foreign policy. We have not heard from the Shadow Foreign Secretary. The deep divisions on almost every issue which we now know to have dominated the life of their 3½ years in Government, have persisted, deepened and become articulate.
The country knows the depth of their scarcely disguised divisions. Half of the last Tory Cabinet could not run fast enough to dissociate from the policies they agreed with when they were in government - policies on which, let us remind them, they so strongly fought the two general elections in 1974.
But on the major issues of 1975, the Labour Government’s attack on inflation, both on the White Paper and the legislation, on these we have had this summer a humiliating spectacle across the floor of the House. The Opposition timidly moving an ineffective and totally unspecific form of words by way of amendment. Then, when the moment of decision came - twice, in successive weeks, first the vote on whether to accept or reject the White Paper, and, a week later, whether to accept or reject the legislation - Her Majesty’s Opposition collectively sat on their collective hands. Nothing to say. Nowhere to go. No alternative. No guidance to their own people, still less to the country.
In fact, all we get, week in week out, is their reiteration of their demands for swingeing cuts in public expenditure, by which they mean, of course, social expenditure.
But what they still have not learned is you cannot demand massive expenditure cuts without committing yourself to devastating decisions on policy, including some of the main spending programmes of the last Conservative Government. As the Conservative Party now hurdles backwards - and it is a very difficult athletic feat (laughter) - as it now hurdles backwards over two centuries to Adam Smith, let me remind them of the words of the now discarded Disraeli, in the House of Commons:
Mere abstract and declaratory opinions in favour of reduction and retrenchment are of no use whatsoever. I have so often maintained it in this House that I am almost ashamed to repeat it, but unfortunately it is not a principle which has yet sufficiently entered into public opinion - expenditure depends on policy.
That was Disraeli, 1862. But more. The Conservative Party are, in fact, committed to vast increases in public expenditure.
They voted against the cuts of £600 million in defence which the Government announced. This means they must obviously want to add £600 million to the Government’s expenditure. They opposed us when we cancelled Maplin. They opposed us when we stopped work on the Channel Tunnel. This was the Party which last October sought a meretricious electoral bonus by their promise of 9½ per cent mortgages - and, what is more, by Christmas, at a cost of £180 million. The Building Societies’ own estimate was £300 million.
Let our people not forget that their means of paying for this electoral bribe was their carefully prepared plan - never, fortunately, put into effect - to confine local authority houses, and no doubt new town houses, to particular limited social groups, ghettoes for the old, the sick, the disabled and handicapped. That was their policy.
To pay for increased defence expenditure, for Maplin, the Channel Tunnel, 9½ per cent mortgages and the abolition of domestic rates, they would have to reduce the social services and all other Government expenditure by many thousands of millions of pounds even to get back to where they started from.
Ask them to be specific, ask them what they would cut, and their only reply is: ‘slash or abolish the housing subsidies and abolish the food subsidies.’
They are specifically committed to increasing the cost of the shopping basket by 76p per week to an average family, 46p to a pensioner. They are specifically committed to forcing up housing rents to undreamed-of figures. Their answer to inflation and rising prices is to put a surcharge on the shopping basket of every family and a further surcharge on the rents of millions of households. The basic needs of every family are shelter and food, and the Tories’ sole prescription for tackling inflation is to put up the cost of both. At last they have told us why. I want you to mark this. The Party which a century ago Disraeli committed to the doctrine of ‘One Nation’ is now proclaiming across the world their resentment at what they regard as ‘the rich becoming poorer and the poor becoming richer.’
They talk about class politics. Who is it now who is insisting on introducing class policies into England’s green and pleasant land? For 18 months we have challenged them to produce an alternative economic policy - apart from putting up food prices and rents.
In Parliament, in the country, we have had no answer. Now the message has been flashed to the people of Britain, even if it has had to be bounced off a transatlantic satellite. The political philosophy of a once great Party has now been asserted. Not a claim to unite the nation, but a policy to divide it.
We have been told, on impeccable and undeniable authority, that the pursuit of inequality for its own sake is now to become an end in itself. It is now to become the altar, the deity, before which they seek to prostrate themselves - and the country.
The hard-faced doctrine - proclaimed last week - is that to get taxation down we have got to cut spending on the social wage - now £20 for every family in Britain.
What is this social wage? It is the Health Service, the kids’ education, the people’s housing, the help for those in greatest need, including the unprecedented provision we have made for the disabled and those least able to help themselves.
That is their social philosophy. Their economic policy, at least, is more specific. After two months’ lucubrations their Shadow Chancellor has emerged into the light and suddenly announced their fiscal policy: a demand for immediate changes in the tax laws to enable us to keep three distinguished pop groups safely within the three-mile limit. (Laughter)
Your Government, with I believe a great swell of public support going far beyond our own Party, has taken and is taking the action necessary not only to bring Britain through the world crisis, but also to create, in the words of last year’s Manifesto, ‘a fairer, more democratic and more socially just society.’
Recent years have seen a great change in the role of this Party. After spending the greater part of our 75 years of history in Opposition, from being the Party of protest we have now become the natural Party of Government in this country. (Applause)
Given that this present Parliament runs its full term, then, of the 15 years from October 1964 to October 1979, we shall have been in office for nearly 11½ of them.
And let us have the humility to recognise that this is so not because of the merits of any of us, but because of those in the Party nationally and locally, to the trade union movement and the co-operative movement, who, over 75 years, in a vastly more daunting and difficult political environment, fought on with that unconquerable optimism that ‘these things shall be.’
It is now our task to see that these things shall be. And, as the Party of Government, we have to ensure that simply because we are the Party of Government we are still able to fulfil the role of protest. All of us. Ministers, Members of Parliament, constituency parties, affiliated organisations, Executive, Conference, the wider Party.
All those who have reason to protest should recognise our Party as the natural voice to express that protest; for there is none other.
That is why I want to stress today the responsibilities falling on this Party, and every member of it, in the new historic role we now occupy and will continue to occupy for the foreseeable future. I have spoken of the role of the whole Party in creating and preparing the policy which this Government is carrying out.
What I call for now is nothing less than the regeneration of the Party in this role, the regeneration of the Party on the basis of mutual tolerance and respect.
We have an unprecedented national consensus, the trade union movement, Party and Government.
At national level we have given the lead. We need the stimulus of support and constructive criticism from the Movement throughout the country.
What is appalling is that so many of our Constituency parties, particularly in safe seats, are so small in number and in some cases so unrepresentative.
This was a fact which was emphasised in the Wilson Report on Party Organisation debated at Conference 20 years ago this week, together with the specific proposals we put forward for creating mass membership. This has not happened. We drew attention then to parties, particularly in safe Labour seats, deliberately kept small for the purpose of concentrating power and local authority seats in small cliques. This has not ended.
But there is also the fact of some Labour seats, not always strong Labour seats, where there is great public support for the Party, but where membership is kept abysmally low mainly because those who would wish to join in the Party work come once, come twice and, feeling unwelcome, come no more.
This Party needs to protect itself against the activities of small groups of inflexible political persuasion, extreme so-called left and (Applause) in a few cases extreme so-called moderates, (Applause) having in common only their arrogant dogmatism. These groups, equally the multichromatic coalitionist fringe or groups specifically formed to fight other marauding groups, these are not what this Party is about. (Applause) Infestation of this kind thrives only, and can thrive only, in minuscule local parties.
We have all talked at one time or another about City sharks who lie in wait until they can make a take-over bid for some small company which has some rich asset or large liquid funds.
But in our democracy, in our Party or any other, there is no richer asset than a seat with a five-figure majority. As Socialists we should do all in our power to control and sublimate predatory instincts in all situations.
However, this happens, whether through laziness and apathy or by infiltration, often migratory infiltration - what in Yorkshire we used to call ‘comers-in’ (Laughter) - the result can too easily be groups of little exclusivities insisting on a monopoly of doctrine, thriving on noisy debate reflecting some esoteric theory which has nothing in common with a century of the political idealism and purpose of this Movement. Because what has proved possible is a take-over bid for a 20,000 majority seat based on an incursion of little more than a dozen.
Nor does the answer lie in the formation of the kind of anti-party group which has been disporting itself in Blackpool this weekend (Applause) leaking, as is their wont, their smears to an ever-ready Tory press. We have seen them at it before, a coup executed a few weeks before the last February election, a coup designed not to help the Labour Party, a coup designed to make it impossible for some of us to carry on.
The success of this Government depends on two things. First, the participation of the whole Movement in our programme and our Manifestos as in these recent years. Second, a determined Government, a determined Parliamentary Labour Party, such as we have today with well over 300 Labour members, there with the backing of 11.5 million Labour voters.
Can anyone in a broad democratic movement such as ours assert the claim that a man or a woman elected by 25,000 Labour voters one week, should be given his cards the following week by a small group of 50, who in themselves represent only 1 in 500 of the Labour voters who elected him and who, only last year recommended such a man to the electorate? (Applause) We need bigger membership, a membership fully representative of our people. Even a Party with a thousand members might embody only 1 in 25 or 1 in 30 of those who voted Labour.
At local level - I make this appeal - while the record of some unions is good - we need much more popular trade union identification not only by the fact of affiliation but by active work and influence. (Applause)
I am expressing here, of course, a personal view, as Leader of the Party. But it is based on a little experience, of having, for my sins, chaired the Organisation Committee of the National Executive for longer than anyone else since the War.
But there is another consideration. I have led this Party, so far, for 12½ years in unprecedented and difficult times for all of us.
During those 12½ years – and this is without precedent - I challenge anyone to dispute this - not one of the near 600 Labour Members of Parliament who have served in Parliament over these years has had the Party Whip withdrawn. I am proud of that. I am proud, too, that almost my first act on being elected Leader was to insist, against a more than resistant Shadow Cabinet, that the Whip be restored to six Members of Parliament, one of whom is now in the Cabinet. He replied to the economic debate yesterday, with the full acclamation of Conference. (Applause)
I therefore have the right to ask who are these self-appointed Samurai who seek to assert a power of political life and death which the leadership of this Party and the Whips’ Office and the Organisation Sub-Committee of the Labour Party have not in modern times sought to assert. (Interruption) I did, not ask anyone to identify themselves; it was a rhetorical question. (Laughter and Applause)
As a Party we are committed to real industrial democracy. What we say should take place in industry, we cannot deny to our own Party members.
We demand more participation; if we mean what we say then democracy means the full participation of every Labour member in the biggest decision a constituency Party is asked to make - the decision who shall, or who shall not, represent them in Parliament.
Still more, when a candidate has received the stamp of electoral support, extremely grave cause is required, and the fullest participation of party democracy is needed, if the electorate is to be denied the right to re-elect him as an endorsed Labour candidate.
Our strength lies not in enforced uniformity of Party doctrine. It is based on tolerance, and argument, on the ferment of political ideas and political passion - not regimentation. I do not want to lead a Party of zombies.
For those who arrogantly seek to impose their doctrine, other than by the democratic machinery of the Party or the Party institutions, including the Parliamentary Labour Party, would, if they succeeded, strike a great blow not only against our Movement, but against democracy in this country.
What we are seeing is not the means of creating democracy and socialism. The strength, the support, the stimulus, the democratic criteria, the Executive, the Conference, the Government need in a democratic Party can only come from Constituency organisations much more representative of those who vote and those who work for Labour victory.
I call then for the regeneration of our Party, as a requisite to the regeneration of our country. Active, lively discussion in all our constituent organisations, national and local, political and industrial, acting not only as a stimulus and spur to Government, and Government’s keenest critic, but as a source of fresh ideas for the Manifesto we shall all before long be involved in - when this Parliament has spent its course.
Let none forget that ‘Labour's Programme, 1973,’ which provided so rich a quarry of material for our Manifestos was projected not for one Parliament only but for the years ahead in this decade and the next. The Manifesto on which we fought last year’s elections, put before the country a programme for one Parliament, for five years. I understand, indeed I welcome, the impatience of so many in the Party who are disappointed that we have not in fifteen months carried through to the last dot and comma, everything we promised the British people as our programme for a whole Parliament - not to mention those who are just disappointed that we have not carried the whole 15-year programme through in 15 months.
But it is not too early now, in the light of our experiences, to be testing and developing that 15-year programme for the years ahead.
Conference knows that on the four occasions when I have received the commission to form a government, those appointed have joined together at a service of dedication in the Crypt Chapel in the Palace of Westminster.
Taking the service some years ago - nine years ago - Lord Soper, one of our Socialist peers, expressed the spirit of dedication in words which have now been embodied in successive services and which will be invoked again as each successive Government is formed. I do not think any words are more appropriate to express the ideals of this Movement as we celebrate the 75 years of Socialist endeavour and achievement. This is what he asked:
Grant us a vision of our land, fair as it might be;
A land of righteousness where none shall wrong his neighbour;
A land of plenty where evil and poverty shall be done away;
A land of brotherhood where all success shall be founded on service, and honour shall be given to excellence alone;
A land of peace, where order shall not rest on force, but on the love of all for the common life and weal;
Bless our efforts to make the vision a living reality;
Inspire and strengthen each one of us that we may give time, thought and sacrifice to speed the day of its coming.
At this grave testing time for our nation, I shall be content that we be all judged not only by those whose trusteeship we keep - the British nation - but by history, and judged by what we together, each of us, contribute to turning that ideal into a reality. (A standing ovation)