Leader's speech, Blackpool 1978
James Callaghan (Labour)
Commentary:The key theme of this address was the forthcoming general election, and Callaghan outlined four conditions that were necessary for the success of the next Labour government. They were: ‘that we do not throw away the gains of recent years’; to invest the proceeds of North Sea oil in programmes to modernise both industry and society; to increase Britain’s productivity; and to respond to the rapid changes in technology while protecting the public from the negative effects of these developments. The government’s industrial strategy was to have a key role in realising the fourth condition. Other important issues were high prices, which Labour proposed to reduce by capping pay increases at five per cent, unemployment, housing, and devolution.
Madam Chairman, comrades, thank you very much. I present the Parliamentary Report for the past year. It has been 12 months of real achievement. I am able to report on behalf of the Parliamentary Party - and I thank them for their work, and I thank especially the Whips for their work during the last year - I am able to report, what I think everybody knows, namely, that there has been an improvement during the last 12 months in the nation’s standard of living. There has been an improvement in our provision of care for those in need. There has been further progress in improving our financial position with other countries, further progress in carrying out our programme and an improved standing for Britain throughout the world. To say that is not to say that we have finished. We have hardly started. But it is as well that these things should be put on record. We shall shortly embark on the last session of Parliament - this Parliament - and therefore it is a suitable moment to look back and see where we came in. In those dark and candlelit days of the last weeks of the Conservative Government, the question that was being posed was: ‘Is Britain governable?’ In our 1974 manifesto we gave the reply, and I quote: ‘Labour does not go along with the prophets of doom. Give us your backing over the difficult two or three years ahead. We shall get back on the right course. We have confidence in the British people.’ ‘Give us two or three years,’ we said, ‘and we shall get back on the right course.’ The people did, and we have.
But why was there such gloom about Britain’s prospects at home and abroad in those days? I give you the answer in two words - runaway inflation. Week after week, month after month, prices zoomed up, wages chased after them. Indeed, wages, you may recall, were indexed in order that they should keep up with the cost of living. Both wages and prices still went on going up, and the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer printed pound notes by the trunkful in order to keep pace with the increase in wages that was being paid out, and in order to keep pace with the rising prices. Inflation threatened to submerge not only our personal standards and our family living standards - it threatened our very institutions. And at the end, nobody was a penny piece better off. Most people were worse off.
So we rejected it - we rejected the pessimism that underlay that approach. We entered into arrangements with the trade unions before the Labour Government was elected which gave us a firm foundation on which to build. We did not under-rate in that manifesto the significance, or the difficulty, or the magnitude of the job that we had to do. Indeed, let me remind you what the opening words of the election manifesto were:
‘Britain faces its most dangerous crisis since the war.’ The words were sombre, they were true. And that, Madam Chairman and fellow delegates, is the pit from which we have escaped and to which we do not intend to return.
Today nobody denies that the Labour Government and the people, working together in partnership, have confounded the pessimists. There is no room for complacency - we could slip back into an inflationary situation, and, Madam Chairman, it is the Government’s responsibility to prevent that - and I call on everybody, we need support from everyone as we do so.
The ultimate test of a Labour Government is how far it fulfils the needs of those who put their trust in it. As long as there is a family without a home, as long as there is a man or woman without a job, as long as there is a patient waiting for a hospital bed, or someone who suffers from discrimination because of his colour or because of his race, or because of his creed, then our Government has work to do. It is in that spirit of challenge that I invite you to look forward to the next five years of Labour Government. This Conference comes at one of the most crucial moments in Labour’s history. Not for the first time, a Labour Government has cleared up the chaos left by the Tories. The difference this time is that we have also been able to begin the process of improving the condition of our people. The importance of securing another term of office for the Labour Government is that for once we will not have to waste the first three years clearing up behind the Tories. So now it is for the Cabinet and the National Executive Committee to prepare a decisive and relevant programme to put to the people. Work has been going on for some months on this in joint subcommittees between the two bodies. And last Friday the National Executive Committee agreed at my suggestion that this work should be intensified so that we will be ready with a full programme Our purpose as a party will be to present a bold, creative, socialist challenge to all those forces that perpetuate injustice, class division, racial bigotry and poverty, and so injure the true freedom of the individual to develop his qualities to the full.
In the next Parliament, how will we set about it? First let me quote to you the underlying thought in the document Into the Eighties, which was agreed by you yesterday, although not much discussed. It says: ‘We reject the notion that we must choose between a stronger economy and a fairer, more just society. The two can and must go hand in hand.’
That is where Labour stands. We totally reject the harsh doctrines derived from the 19th century to which the present Conservative leadership has now reverted one hundred years late - doctrines that give a low place to fairness and justice, doctrines that defend the rights of the strong and neglect the needs of the weak. I put before you, and I put before the people of our country four necessary conditions for the next Labour Government’s success. First, that we do not throw away the gains of recent years. Next, that we use the benefits of North Sea oil wisely to adapt and to modernise our society and our industry, to provide new jobs and steady growth. And that means -and let us stand on this when we go to the people - that we do not intend to blow the proceeds of North Sea oil in an election orgy of tax bribes. Third, Britain must become even more productive to match up to some of our principal competitors, including the Germans. Fourth, we must be ready for big industrial change, whilst at the same time the Labour Government safeguards our people from the ill-effects of that change. The present international economic climate necessitates large-scale Government programmes of job creation, co-operation with private industry and industrial and social reform. Today’s serious unemployment problems are caused by world recession, by inflation and by competition from newly developed industries in the Third World. Tomorrow’s employment will depend on our response to unprecedented technical change, as was referred to yesterday during our debates - a rate of change that seems to be ever more rapid, and we must move fast to keep up. Reference was made to the micro-processor revolution which is beginning to make many of our long-established mechanical processes hopelessly out of date. Thousands of tasks, both simple and complicated, will vanish. The next Labour Government must respond boldly and with imagination. A Government that turned its back on these developments would impoverish its people. Instead, we must harness them to produce cheaper and better products, to generate extra demand, and thereby to build extra jobs. This is the important role for the industrial strategy, now three years old. It involves a partnership between Government, the National Enterprise Board, the nationalised industries, private industry and the trade unions, to carry Britain to the forefront of this new industrial revolution.
Nothing illustrates better the relevance of the present Tory leadership than their attitude to the industrial strategy. They sneer at it. They try and block active Government intervention and partnership. They vote against measures that protect jobs. They begrudge money spent to ease the burden of unemployment. In a time of such rapid change, comrades, I say to you that the Tories are as out of place as a penny-farthing on a motorway, and they are just as dangerous. Sir Keith Joseph’s way would turn whole regions of our country into industrial wastelands. Recent events, or more accurately, non-events have smoked out the Tory Party. We now know how they intend to misrepresent these problems of unemployment, as well as a number of other issues, when the General Election comes. Now we have to use, as Michael Foot said yesterday, the next period to expose the hollowness that enables their advertising agents to use the television and cinema screens to proclaim that they will increase Government spending on pensions, on defence, on housing - anything you like, you name it - and at the same time that they will cut taxes.
Some of our opponents do not seem to be very happy because we are exercising our constitutional right to carry this Parliament into a fifth session. They seem to espouse a new constitutional theory, that General Elections should be called to suit copy deadlines of advertising agencies. (Applause) I hold a different view. Elections are best held when a Government has completed the full phase of its work. The country can then make a proper judgment both on the Government’s record and on its plans for the future. It might be argued - indeed it was argued - that we had reached such a stage this autumn, a year before Parliament’s life expired. It is certainly true that we have achieved a most remarkable turn-around in the country’s fortunes. But progress under a Labour Government is never good news to our opponents. Their attitude is summed up by the Daily Mail on the day that that paper had decided - and announced - that I was going to call a General Election, and indeed that even the date was known. They said: ‘James Callaghan, the greatest fixer of them all, is now engaged in his biggest fix ever, the rigging of a temporary economic boom designed to win for him the forthcoming General Election.’
Notice the technique. Do not deny the success - you cannot, it is too obvious. So present it as something temporary. Present it as something rigged. Present it as something dishonest. Well, they are wrong. Our success is genuine, it is real and we shall use all our strength to make it lasting.
I said in my broadcast on that day that I could see, difficulties looming ahead. Well, I was not wrong, was I? (Laughter and Applause) I am a better forecaster than some of the economic astrologers. But what I also felt, and felt genuinely and sincerely, was that I would prefer a Labour Government to see it through, and if we run into bad weather, it is more important than ever for our people that there should be a Labour Government to protect them. (Applause)
That brings me to the question of prices and pay. Let us start with prices, because keeping prices down is what Government intervention in pay policy is about. The Government continues its attack on rising prices on three fronts. The first is a vigorous Price Commission, with powers to investigate prices and profit margins, and powers to recommend the Minister of Prices and Consumer Protection to order a price freeze, which he can then decide to introduce. We propose to step up this attack on prices. The next Labour Government will further strengthen the powers of the Price Commission if it is shown that they are needed. And let us advertise much more how the nationalised industries have helped during recent years. Gas prices will have remained at the same level for two years, telephone charges for more than three years. And I say now that it looks - and Sid Weighell made his contribution yesterday - as though next year’s increase in railway fares will be significantly lower than this year’s increase. Our thanks go to the management and to the unions in these nationalised industries.
Next, we have continued, and we will do so, to batter away at the excesses of the Common Market’s Agricultural Policy. (Applause) This was designed to protect the producer and not the consumer, and our objective is to change that, and our colleagues in the Common Market must know that. (Applause) The financial burdens on the housewives, whether they live in Bonn or Paris or London, grow every year. Indeed, some of the founding members of the Community are beginning to protest at the excessive cost. This year, thanks to the stubborn work of John Silkin, we secured the lowest price increases ever. (Applause) Milk, beef, pork and bacon had the lowest price increases since Britain joined. That was a good start, but there is a lot further to go. At the last meeting of the Heads of Government of the Common Market countries held in Bremen last July, two other heads of Government out of the nine joined me in calling for changes - that is, three of us now. All nine countries then agreed to ask the Commission to bring proposals before us to reduce expenditure, especially on unwanted surpluses, at our next meeting. We shall want to know in December how far they have got, but I can assure you that the Government will not let this issue rest until we get the changes that are necessary to put the CAP on to a healthy footing. Let me say, too, that the Common Fisheries Policy, in its present form, just will not do. (Applause)
Now I come to yesterday’s debate. I think we will all agree about this, that there is no more knowledgeable or authoritative forum in the United Kingdom to discuss the issues that were talked about yesterday. I believe that it has a wealth of experience, it embraces a wealth of interest that cannot be equalled in any other political or other forum throughout Britain. We have got to argue the matter out ourselves, because if we cannot solve it, I do not believe there is any other group in the country that can. When I hear yesterday’s debate, when I hear the difference of opinion that was expressed, who else is going to resolve it, if we do not? Of course the unions would work with the Conservatives, but can you see that kind of dialogue going in the Conservative Party? Of course not. We know it could not. So we have the responsibility, and there is a responsibility upon Government, upon Party and upon the unions, and I think it is a responsibility that is generally accepted.
One feature struck me as I listened to every speech yesterday afternoon - and if it doesn’t sound masochistic - in a detached way, I enjoyed them. (Laughter) As one foreign visitor - one of our socialist colleagues from abroad - said to me: ‘Where else would you get such a depth of debate, such a clash of view, without personal venom, conducted at that kind of level?’ Where else? I think it was a lesson in democracy yesterday. (Applause)
One of the features - and I think you will agree with me - about yesterday’s debate on economic policy was the concentration on pay. Apart from Denis Healey’s speech, there were some scattered references to inflation, but that was all. The great emphasis was on pay policy, was it not? Well, I understand that. But the beginning of pay policy for the Government is not - to use Clive Jenkins’ words - to introduce artificial curbs on people’s increases in pay. The beginning for the Government is not that. The beginning for the Government is: how do we keep inflation down? That is where we start from, and therefore the beginning of our consideration of these matters is: how do we live up to the undertaking that we all entered into a year ago - more than that - that we would get inflation down into single figures and keep it there? Yes, it was facing us more starkly then than it is now. It was closer to our recollection. It was within our experience. It is a measure of the success that the Government, the trade unions and the people of this country have had, that it is now further back in our consciousness, that we talked more about pay and less about inflation. The Tory spokesman said at that time that we could not get inflation down into single figures and that if we got it there for a month, it would go up again. Well, Denis will correct me if I am wrong - afterwards, please, Denis (Laughter) - but I think I am right in saying that it has been there now since last April. And he has forecast - and I put the responsibility on him - that it will stay there for at least another six months. That is 12 months and it is the result of the policies we have followed.
This year’s pay increases, as we were reminded, have exceeded the figure that the Government thought would keep it down into single figures. This year’s pay increases have exceeded that. It is having an effect. But as was pointed out yesterday, because of other circumstances that I have always acknowledged - the influence of the level of the pound sterling, the influence, obviously, of the cost of the products you have to import in order to feed into your manufactures - these have helped us. Adventitiously, but they have helped us to sustain and restrain the more adverse impact that otherwise there would have been on the cost of living index, if we had relied on wages alone because, as we pointed out, we did not stick to the 10 per cent.
Now I want to put this to you. The Government’s best assessment this year - and we have to make these assessments like everybody else - is that earnings over 5 per cent are likely - I will not say ‘certain,’ because once again we do not know what the adventitious factors will be - but increases in earnings over 5 per cent are likely to carry inflation back into double figures. It is 8 per cent now. You can get into double figures of earnings over 5 per cent.
This is the Government’s preoccupation, and I say with respect to everyone who spoke yesterday that I got no guidance from Conference on how you would expect the Government to react to that situation. This is very important, because we all have to take decisions. The trade unions have got to take their decisions, the Government has got to take its decision. We said in the White Paper that we think 5 per cent is an ambitious target. This may seem an ambitious target, we said, 5 per cent. Well, we were right, were we not? (Laughter) But, in many of our competitor countries, settlements have been at or below this level. Yes, that is true. I certainly do not want to say anything about current industrial disputes, but I think I am entitled to point this out. In Germany, the Metalworkers’ Union made a settlement last April for all the metalworkers in the Federal Republic, which included the German motor-car Ford workers. And it was 5 per cent - 5 per cent. Now, I draw no comparisons. I leave others to do that. But what I do ask is that those who are going to bargain responsibly should take into account not only the domestic situation, but the competitive situation, too. I recognise and acknowledge that the German rate of inflation was below the British rate of inflation - 8 per cent here, 4 per cent or thereabouts in Germany. So the German worker will be better off with his 5 per cent than we would be with our 5 per cent. But what is the objective of this? It is to get ourselves into a position where our workers can have the same standard of life as the German workers, without inflation. That is the objective. (Applause)
I do not want to go on paying tribute to them, but I really sincerely believe in the sincerity of the trade union movement. I believe them when they say that they intend to bargain responsibly during the, next 12 months. I always have believed in that. But unfortunately there is no agreed arithmetic definition of the word ‘responsible’ when you are making pay claims. Indeed, I have never yet known a union put in a pay claim that it thought was irresponsible. So I repeat my question - the question that the Government faces. Supposing that all these responsible pay claims in the end add up to inflation moving back into double figures, with all that implies. What then? You heard the delegate yesterday telling me: ‘If inflation goes back into double figures, we shall demand full compensation.’ Yes, just like you did in 1973 and 1974, and we had to call a halt. We all agreed we had to call a halt. But supposing inflation does go back into double figures - what then? Do we desert our determination to keep down inflation? Does the Government stand by paralysed and watch helplessly? No. It is the Government’s inescapable responsibility to keep down inflation, not against anybody, but in the interests of the whole of the people of this country. (Applause)
I would like just to make this clear. If yesterday’s decision resulted in a weakening of the impulse that pay policy has had in helping to keep inflation in single figures - not doing it on its own - and, if as a result, inflation starts to move up, then the Government will take offsetting action to keep inflation down through monetary and fiscal measures. That is our responsibility. It is necessary that the country should know that the Government accepts that responsibility and that we shall not seek to evade it, and no one can relieve us of it. These alternative measures that we shall then have to take will be taken. I still rely upon the trade union movement as far as they can possibly go. I have never asked the trade union movement to separate themselves from their followers. I have never said that a trade union leader can lead his people in a voluntary free trade union movement - I am not talking about those behind the iron curtain - where they do not want to go. That is why I have always said that incomes policy depends on acquiescence - it depends upon support. We have failed this year. The Government has failed. We have not got it.
So I still look to you, all of you, to make the maximum contribution that lies within your power. You have a job of education to do with your members, just as we have with the country as a whole. The alternatives that we shall take will have an impact, you know. I should not say alternatives - I hope they will be additions. I hope pay policy will still have a part to play through the responsible level of the settlements. They will have an impact, for example, if the Chancellor decides, in order to keep inflation down, that he is not going to permit the monetary supply to increase at the level that it would have increased at otherwise. That will have an impact on companies’ liquidity - indirect, not obvious - but it will be there. It will have an impact on the level of wages they can pay. It will have an impact on the number of employees they can take on their books, or keep on their books.
I do not want to follow this path - I do not think anybody else does. But until you tell me: ‘Go back on your policy of keeping down inflation,’ I regard that as totally - totally - my responsibility and that of the Government. If you tell me that is not so, then I understand - I shall understand. But I do not believe that is our view. The Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union said yesterday: ‘We undertake to help the Government to keep down inflation.’ I understand - I accept and I am ready to see how we can carry that further.
What next, therefore? We have been left with these decisions. I have indicated the path that the Government will continue to follow, for we cannot leave it there. I took note of what was said - no, not what was said - I took note of the passionate feeling of the Conference about low-paid workers yesterday. I ought to point out that although you may not regard it as satisfactory, the White. Paper - and I am sure you all know it by heart - made provision, though probably not satisfactorily, in respect of low-paid workers. It is not enough perhaps, but it does make provision. There is nobody sitting here - not even me sitting here, as one newspaper said this morning, lonely and forlorn. I must say I felt at some stages yesterday like the old Scotsman who died and went up to heaven and as he got to the pearly gates he was met by St Peter. He thought he had been pretty good in life and St Peter reeled off a whole set of sins and said: ‘You are condemned to outer darkness.’ And the old Scotsman said: ‘I didna ken that I had sinned.’ St Peter replied: ‘Well you ken the noo.’ (Laughter)
Well, all right, I ken the noo. (Laughter) (Applause) Now look, how are we going to help the low-paid workers and prevent that from feeding all the way through the wages structure? I am talking practical trade union negotiating, and we all know what we are talking about. How do we do that? How do we prevent it feeding through and at the same time keep inflation down to single figures? Help me do it. Do not just throw all the responsibility on the shoulders of the Cabinet and say: ‘That is your job - you go ahead and do it.’ We have got to have some assistance, you know, or flexibility. Is it to be one way? There is a whole paragraph on flexibility in the White Paper, in the most perfect Treasury English. It could not be better phrased. Is flexibility to be one way? Yes, I am in favour of flexibility, that is what we said. Is it to be one way? I always thought it meant you went two ways. Well, how do we get there?
I would like to make absolutely clear that just as Into the Eighties said, when talking about low pay in paragraph 43:
'We do, however, believe that there must be each year a thorough discussion with the trade union movement so that there is a broad understanding in this as in other areas of our national economic life.'
We said in the White Paper rather similar words:
'It’s the Government's view that the country should aim at a long-term approach, in which collective bargaining is based each year on a broad agreement, with a view to keeping inflation under control in the following 12 months.'
Well, we have not done it this year. But I do suggest that I am very - not only ready, but anxious - to take up with the trade unions, if they wish to do so at any time, the longer-term approach to this problem to see how we are going to avoid in future the difficulties that have arisen during the course of the current year. We all have our responsibilities to fulfil. But I do not believe - and I hope you will pardon me for saying this so dogmatically - that when you are asking, and we accept that the Government must control the economy in order to try and get back to full employment, that we must not use whatever means we can in the economy to secure our social ends. I do not believe, and I do not think you believe, that wages can be left out of that calculation as though it is something that does not affect it. So let us have some more talks about it, by all means. I would welcome any approach - indeed, I am ready to make an approach myself - if the unions care to take it up, to see where we move from here.
I think the position is plain. The Government will carry out its inescapable obligation to prevent inflation by whatever means are at hand to it, relying as much as we can upon the responsibility of the trade unions and upon our fixed policy, which I will try to interpret as easily as possible within the limits that are laid down in the White Paper. We are ready for long-term, or indeed short-term discussions, but we must find a better way to resolve the issue of pay levels. The power of the organised worker in society today demands that we do. We heard them yesterday - Sid Weighell promising that Joe can dig the coal, but he will not move it. Oxygen workers, who are the next on the list, will be able to take out much of Britain’s industry over a matter of weeks. The power workers can shut off our lights. The sewage workers can stop work, too, with all the consequences. Yes, society today is so organised that every individual group almost has the power to disrupt it. How is their power to be channelled into constructive channels? That is a question for the Government, but it is a question for the trade union movement, too, and I hope that we can begin to talk about it.
Now I will move on, because I still have some things to say and I hope you will bear with me for a little while longer, because that - if you do not mind - was just a parenthesis in the speech. (Applause) Let me return to a most important and significant question that concerned Conference so deeply yesterday. That was how to reduce the high level of unemployment - a level that has been the scourge of the industrialised world - especially, as somebody pointed out, since the oil price rises of 1973. Our Government has devised new measures on an unprecedented scale to reduce the impact. Over a million individual men, women and young people have benefited from special Government schemes, like the temporary employment subsidy, the Youth Opportunities Programme and others. As a result, unemployment in Britain is hundreds of thousands lower than it would otherwise have been. Yet week by week in the House of Commons we have listened to Conservative Members attacking these job schemes. They know that if their attacks on our schemes had been successful, hundreds of thousands would have been added to those people who are out of work.
The Government’s programme for giving assistance to the unemployed, although it has not met our objectives, has no equal in the Western industrialised world. We still have to find jobs, as was pointed out yesterday, not only for those out of work, but for the 170,000 extra every year coming on to the workforce - a daunting task.
Let me outline to Conference some of the initiatives we shall take to restore full employment. I will go into some detail on this, because I think it is something that cuts at the heart of our movement.
The young: By next Easter, every young person leaving school this year - and how thankful I was to see in the August and September unemployment figures the number of young people who were gaining jobs - including the physically and mentally handicapped, will either have the offer of a job, or be offered a training place or work experience. (Applause) As soon as we can, we intend to offer all 16-18-year-olds at work the opportunity to continue in relevant education and training. And Shirley Williams proposes to publish our proposals on that in the form of a White Paper during the next session.
On work training, we have, as you know, fostered the biggest training system by Government, and by aids to industry, in our history. We intend to sustain and expand this, and in the case of small firms, in addition to the measures we have already taken, we intend to extend the Small Firms’ Employment Subsidy next year to encourage growth and job prospects in this very important and growing area of the economy.
The National Enterprise Board was set up in the teeth of opposition from the Conservative Party. Along with the Welsh Development Agency and the Scottish Development Agency, it has become a major force at the very heart of our economy - in motor vehicles, computers, machine tools, aero engines, engineering and electronics. The NEB is a lynchpin in firms with a combined total of 300,000 jobs. We intend to strengthen the financial resources of those bodies and expand their key role in the national industrial strategy. They will use their powers wherever necessary to improve industrial performance and therefore to safeguard jobs. We shall encourage the NEB to increase the scope of its regional boards in the north and north- west. It is rapidly acquiring a reputation for bold initiatives in the industrial sector. It demonstrates the practical relevance of our philosophy of intervention and partnership in industry.
On shorter hours, we have listened to the advice that has been offered, and I think we should respond in this way. We ought to be in the forefront of discussions within the European Community. Our aim would be to try to secure agreement to progressively reducing the working week throughout Europe during the 1980s. Such a move needs international co-ordination, if we are to remain competitive. It cannot now be used as a means to earn extra overtime, and indeed people said they would not use it in that way.
Now I come to a group that perhaps has not had as much attention paid to it as it should have had - the long-term unemployed. This is a group that has been concerning us very much. Over 300,000 have been out of work for 12 months or more. The majority of them are willing and ready to work, but through no fault of their own they cannot find a job. Every single one of them I regard as a standing reproach against us all. It is our major priority to overcome this problem. I spoke about plans to give every school-leaver an opportunity. Now we intend to try something that is even more difficult - namely, to begin the preparation of a similar scheme for the long-term unemployed. It will have to be introduced, it will take time to work out, so as to avoid disappointing hopes. We would propose to introduce it during the lifetime of the next Labour Government, and I am asking the ministers most closely concerned - Albert Booth and others, like Eric Varley - and the agencies to undertake, as a matter of urgency, the studies necessary for a practical scheme, with the objective of offering to all the long-term unemployed an assurance of help to each of them. For every one of them the aim would be to guarantee an offer either of a job, or of an opportunity of new training, or of retraining. In this way, if we could succeed, we would drastically reduce involuntary long-term unemployment, and as far as possible put a time limit on joblessness. That is our aim, and I put that to Conference now.
I have referred to the need for Government intervention and for protection for the worker in the coming period of great industrial technological change. I have also referred to the conditions necessary if we are to keep that success that we have achieved. All these are essential for our material progress. But then I want to ask the question: what kind of society are we working for? Perhaps you will allow me, in the last few minutes of my speech to spend some time on this. What kind of society is democratic socialism about? It goes without saying that we want a peaceful and prosperous society. But we also stand for a caring society, a society that responds to the needs of its people, a society that is untainted by racial, colour or any other form of bigotry, a society that enables people to play a full part in the control of their own affairs. On this last point, we in the Labour Party seek a genuine democracy, social as well as political. First, we need greater participation by the citizen. We live in an age - and part of the debate yesterday showed this - where the old certainties are being challenged, where the experts, the bureaucrats, and even the politicians find their answers only partly acceptable or not wholly satisfying. We need a new basis for authority, and there will be no sounder guide than the words of R H Tawney, which Joan Lestor quoted in her Chairman's address yesterday - namely that authority ‘must rest upon consent.’ Joan, I picked it up as you said it - it is a good text. The informed, active agreement of the individual citizen will certainly be sounder than the notions of the gentlemen in Whitehall, or even - dare I say it? - of the editors in Fleet Street.
One of the new phenomena of modern politics has been the rapid growth of what I call single-issue pressure groups, usually formed by concerned people, deeply devoted to a cause which they press vigorously. The devotion and effort that they expend reveals clearly to me that there is a source of democratic strength that we have not yet fully tapped, and to which we should respond. Our society will be healthier if we can find means of channelling this energy into new forms of participation. It will also ensure - and I think this is sometimes overlooked by these groups - that they are concerned not only with their own work, but with the consequences that their pressures have on other aspects of public policy. That is why. I believe that in politics as a whole it is necessary to embrace all these individual issues. I would like to divert the energies of some of the single-issue pressure groups into the general political field. The Labour Government is moving forward in this field. Let me give you five examples of increased participation, all of which are controversial, all of which we hope to carry forward in the coming session of Parliament.
One, we intend to legislate to give employees in industry the right to more information about their firm’s affairs, about their investment plans and other matters of importance. We want employees to have a bigger share in the taking of decisions that affect their well-being, and perhaps their very jobs. It will be up to the employees themselves, under our legislation, to see that that happens.
Two, the referendum on devolution, intended to give the people of Scotland and Wales a chance to express their views on whether they wish to have a greater voice in their own national affairs.
Three, at a different but still important level, we shall legislate to give parents and teachers more influence in the way their schools are run.
Four, we will legislate in the next session to give tenants living in council houses greater control over their own homes. We want to foster a greater sense of responsibility and a feeling of pride in them. (Applause)
Five - controversial, but I know you will support it - subject to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Health Service, which we hope to receive during the next year, we intend to undo much of the damage caused by the Tory reorganisation. (Applause) We want to make the management of the Health Service more responsive to the patients and to the dedicated people at all levels who work in the service.
Our aim in all these matters - and this is part of the kind of society towards which I want to see us moving - is a society in which everyone who wishes can feel that they can play a part, and do play a part, in the decisions that mould and shape their lives, that they do not feel that they are ciphers whose future is being decided for them by people who are supposed to know better.
Next, I hope we can give a deeper meaning to this participation by reasserting the traditional values of those who founded our Movement. I do not wish to dramatise the changes that have taken place. There are countless examples of individual kindliness, selflessness and caring. We all know them. Yet we do seem to have lost - do we not? - a certain amount of consideration for one, another. Modern society, as I was saying earlier, is now so interdependent and organised that it is fatally easy to disrupt it. When there is a dispute, how often is it the innocent person caught in the middle who suffers most? That was not the attitude of the pioneers, nor is it the attitude of a society that calls itself caring and considerate. We have a responsibility, as a movement, to find a better way for resolving disputes than invoking anarchy to make our point.
Another issue of deep concern to our people, in which standards have slipped, is in the matter of crime, violence and vandalism. I look forward to the discussion we shall have on Thursday afternoon. I am very glad the Conference Arrangements Committee has put it in. The statement we shall consider then, which I believe is already before you, emphasises that the Government has provided and will continue to provide full resources and support to all those responsible for crime prevention, but it will remind us, too, that every citizen has his part to play. The nature of crime, the causes of crime, depend to a large extent upon the values that society lives by, and in determining the attitudes of the young, the example of their parents is paramount. (Applause)
Next, let us place more emphasis on our belief that democratic socialism is about quality as well as equality. Let us take housing as an example of what I mean. I could have chosen three or four. Indeed, to tell you the truth, I did choose three or four, but you are lucky, you are only going to get one. (Laughter) Take housing. There is much to be proud of in our post-war housing record, but if we are honest, we must admit that in our eagerness to remove old evils, some new ones were created. We could all name developments built with pride two decades ago which are now themselves slums. In our eagerness for the grand design we should also remember that we are building for people, for families, for communities. In the old terraced streets there was a sense of warmth and community feeling, whatever their shortcomings. The daughter lived close to her elderly parents, the grandparents were around when the children came home from school, the neighbours were ready to assist in times of trouble. All this helped to create a real community. We have to get back to this. Too much of it was lost in the redevelopment schemes of the 50s and 60s. (Applause)
On the doorstep, every councillor and every canvasser hears the problems of council tenants: ‘It’s taken them six months to come round and fix the tap.’ ‘I want to move nearer my elderly mother, but I can’t get a transfer.’ ‘The lift’s gone wrong again.’ Week after week we sit and we hear these complaints. Today we must stress that we are not just concerned about the number of houses that are built, but about the quality also, about the type of community we live in, to satisfy the needs of those who live in them. As democratic socialists we do care, we must care about these things, and we must do our best to get them right. (Applause) Quite apart from the position of the home-owner, which we have assisted, I believe that the Tenants’ Charter is not only important in itself, but it also helps to raise the quality of living. We intend to introduce this new charter, which will extend the rights and freedoms of council tenants, the right of a council tenant to security, the freedom of a tenant to improve his own flat or home and to get improvement grants when he does it - like the owner-occupier. (Applause) Let the individual tenant decide if he wants a new kitchen. Let him have a choice of colour for his front door. Let the tenants be involved in running their estates, so that they suit their needs. These are for them, for their lives. They are not just there for the convenience of town hall officials. This is what we are about. (Applause)
I must say just one word about devolution. I have been asked when Scotland and Wales will be able to vote. The Government proposes that this historic decision should be submitted to the people of Scotland and Wales at the earliest possible date after the coming into force of the new electoral rolls in February 1979. The exact date will be fixed - and deliberately fixed - so as to let as many people as possible vote on a live register, so that we can get a full indication of the way people think.
Madam Chairman, I am sorry to have taken so long. Let me now sum up what I think is our approach and what is my approach. We do not want to win support as a Labour Government that will be presenting itself to the people. We do not want to win support on the basis of fear. We are the party of hope. Yet I think we have every right to assert that Britain would be a cruder, a more unjust, a more selfish society if Tory values were to prevail. (Applause) In and out of office, they are the consistent champions of privilege, and of the strong, and of the wealthy. Let them succumb, if they wish, to the temptation to make scapegoats, to pick on minorities, including racial minorities. Let Labour have none of it. Our commitment as a Party is to a harmonious, peaceful and united society, and that is absolute. (Applause) At home, we shall face the future with confidence, but in no mood of complacency, as I hope what I have said illustrates. The British people know that the nation is capable of much, much more. Ours is not a tired nation with a past and no future. Our best days lie ahead. There are energies to be released, talents to be channelled. We are one of the world’s few industrial powers self-sufficient in energy and with vast reservoirs of talent. We encourage these talents not only so that the individuals concerned can make the best use of them for their own reward, but out of concern for their neighbours, too. We deny, I repeat, that there is some choice to be made between an efficient Britain and a caring one. They go together. And Labour’s call - the last call that I make to you now, as we go into the year ahead - is this. We wish to unite everybody in our nation under our banner - young and old, black and white, English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, everybody who shares our beliefs. We invite them to unite under our banner, to join us in building a new and better Britain, in which our traditional values, our democratic socialist beliefs, will uphold the challenge that Britain will face in the next decade. Ours is a message of hope for the 1980s, based on a record of promises kept, and in due course we shall submit ourselves with confidence to the British people. (Applause)