Leader's speech, Brighton 1983
Michael Foot (Labour)
In June 1983, Labour suffered a crushing general election defeat at the hands of the Conservatives, its worst since 1945. In this speech, Foot attacked the SDP for betraying Labour and criticised the debasement of journalism in Fleet Street newspapers, whose biased and inaccurate reporting had contributed to Labour’s defeat. He also claimed that Conservative policies had harmed British industry, on the basis that exports and productivity were down across the basic industries, and that they were planning to destroy trade unionism.
Chair and Comrades, I owe you much thanks for the kindness of that reception. Indeed I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Labour Party and to the Labour movement as a whole; I will do my best, as I have sought to do since I joined the Labour Party, to my dying day to discharge that obligation to the party. I believe that is the overwhelming determination of this conference.
In giving that thanks, however, I hope you will permit me today to offer it specifically to three people. Not because there are not hundreds of others here that I owe it to, hundreds of others throughout the country, but I offer it to three, especially today.
First of all you, Sam, as chair, for what you have said to me this week and for what you have done for this party over this year – not an easy year, but one in which, I believe, you have given conspicuous services to the party and also wonderful comradeship to me.
Then to Jim Mortimer, our general secretary. He took on the general secretaryship of this party at an extremely difficult moment – some of these problems we have discussed and some of them we are going to discuss further at this conference. Here again I owe to him a special debt of gratitude for all the encouragement, loyalty, and comradeship he has given to me.
Then to Denis Healy, the deputy leader of this party, elected some time ago. I would like to offer my special thanks to him, because throughout the difficult time we have had – we have had a few difficult times – he has shown to me a particular kind of comradeship, and I am deeply grateful to him and glad to have the chance of expressing it here in public now.
Sometimes it is suggested in some quarters that Dennis and I have not always seen eye to eye on every subject – I do not mean to say only in the last few years, but over many years. I am not quite sure whether this is intended in the quarters it comes from as a tribute or a criticism. But – Whichever it may be – I would like to assure you that during these times Dennis has given me wonderful support and encouragement, and I am deeply grateful to him.
I do not need to say to you, I hope, that I understand the scale of the defeat which we suffered at the general election. I understand the scale of it, the measure of it, perhaps as well as anybody in this hall or anybody in the party. I am deeply ashamed that we should have allowed the fortunes of our country and the fortunes of the people who look to us for protection most, both here in this country and throughout the world, to sink to such a low ebb. I am deeply ashamed that we have permitted that power to rest with such a government as we have in Britain at the time. (Applause) I believe that all of us assembled here have a determination to carry out a proper revenge in the interests of the British people as a whole.
But, speaking on the parliamentary report, there have been some specially grevious aspects of that election, the numbers of people in our parliamentary party who went down to defeat on 9 June, not through any fault of theirs, not through any lack of fighting spirit of theirs. Indeed, I say this on behalf of the whole parliamentary party – I have to bear the chief responsibility in this matter; I repudiate and suggestion that our defeat was due to the failure of the parliamentary party to carry out its functions and its duties under the constitution of this party and to seek to do every thing that they could to win. I believe they all did it – both those who were victorious, those who were defeated - and I am sure that we will go back after this conference determined to carry out and remember what happened. None of us can forget the depths of the wounds that happened in individual constituencies and to individual people in that defeat.
However, before I come to some other aspects of it, let us look at one or two things that have happened since the election. Let us look for a moment at what happened, shall we say, at Salford. Not because I think that Salford is necessarily the centre of the universe – I do not want to have any quarrel with my old friend Stan Orme or with Frank Allaun, who I know, actually do believe it is the centre of the universe. But some other event took place at Salford, and I would like to comment on it.
Dr David Owen gave what was described in some quarters as an analysis – although I think that is much too fulsome a word to apply – of our present economic situation, and he paid a great tribute to the competitive system; the market economy, the social market economy, the Keith Joseph/Margaret Thatcher/Nigel Lawson economy. He paid great tribute to it, and said they must apply its rules more astringently in the future. He talked of this competitive system as if it was a great success, as if it held many merits previously not revealed. He even talked as if there was a bandwagon moving in that direction. And if there is a bandwagon moving, he wants to be on it. (Laughter and applause)
I must say it is a very strange moment in the history of our country and in the history of the world for anyone to be paying such tributes to the competitive system. The competitive system, the market economy, or whatever you like to call it, has shown itself in the last few years less successful in providing a stable expanding economy than at any time in this century; less able to provide jobs for our people, young and old, than at any time we have known for generations; less able to keep people above the poverty line: less able to use the great resources of our nation - the new resources, especially from the North Sea; less able to deal with human needs in any way that could be regarded as satisfactory. This is the moment when he chooses – he and his people choose - to extol the successes of the competitive society.
If you look abroad, to what is happening in other countries, there have been several discussions over recent weeks, discussions deeply humiliating to the human race, discussions about how they may be able to prop up for a little longer possibly the international competitive system. Left to itself - without intervention from governments, without intervention in the competitive system - I tell you the numbers of people starving and condemned to death in the rest of the world would amount to hundreds of millions, to add to the 10,000,000 in our own country kept on the poverty line by this great competitive system that they laud. Do not let anybody come to us or try to say to the British people that this is a moment when we as democratic socialists should abandon in any degree whatsoever the faith and philosophy in which we believe. (Applause)
Sometimes when I consider the antics of the Social Democrats - I will not say much more about them this afternoon and the injury they have done by their treachery to our party and to our country, I am reminded from lines from one of my favourite poets who said: ‘when you’re betrayed, be still more true; let faith flame higher.’
I believe it is in that faith that we should go about our business as socialists after this conference. Perhaps you may say to me - and I can understand it - that that is much too complimentary to them; in the arguments that have proceeded since, I think all my sympathies are with David Steel. If I have any advice for him, I would say to him that he really does not have to take seriously any of these new prescriptions offered him by the doctor. (Laughter)
That doctor has not practised any real medicine for years; all he wants to do is take over the practice. (Applause)
As I have watched him, and some of the others - but especially the doctor - going up and down the country, proclaiming how strong he is, determined he is how all the strength he musters is going to be applied and nothing is to be fudged, as I have seen him going up and down the country trying to persuade us in these matters, I am reminded of the quotation from another of my favourite characters… Zsa Zsa Gabor, who said – I must get her absolutely accurate – ‘men who try too hard to be macho are generally not mucho.’ (Laughter and applause)
Now let me turn to another more serious matter. I wish to refer to some of the remarks made by the prime minister on her visit to the United States and Canada. I will refer in a moment to what she said on international affairs, but the whole performance was an astonishing and menacing one, astonishing and menacing for us in this country and for the world at large. She talks as if she has a great success story to tell. It is nothing of the kind; it is in fact a shameful failure. She preaches sermons about honesty in politics, but is content to see the realities of the injury done to our industry of our country and our people concealed by a servile cabinet and, if conceivable, an even more servile press. She talks as if some grand new remedy for our ills has been bravely applied, when all that has happened is the readiness of her government to resurrect barbarous methods of treating poor people in our community, which we thought had been banished from our county for generations. But we must take warning, because the more she goes to Canada or anywhere else and says that she glories in what has already been done, the more she threatens more of it in the future.
I call your attention to some of the actual words that she delivered there. Some of you may have seen the frontal assault which she made there on the welfare state as a whole. This is how she went on: ‘the share of the nation’s income borne by the government is really at the heart of our problems. As the state takes more, the private sector has to do with less’.
That is part of the monetarist doctrine approved now by Dr Owen and his fellow parrots as well. But what nonsense; that claim was certainly not true previously, even under Conservative governments. Over most of the post-war years in most countries of the Western world both public and private sectors grew together, helping each other. Support is not just a one-way business. Commonsense ell us that taxes finance education and education helps industry, and indeed that has been the way in which we have expanded the welfare of our nation over the past 30 years. But that is now being denied us. She was trying to tell the people of Canada how prosperous we had become over the past three or four years. I presume that she was trying to suggest to them that there have been great changes here, that maybe they had not fully understood. And she told them what is happening in Scotland, or what somebody told her has been happening In Scotland. (Laughter) this is what she actually said – she was appealing to a Canadian audience where there were some Scots, and she said: ‘already in Scotland, where so many Canadian families have connections, more people are employed in electronics than in traditional industries of steel-making and shipbuilding put together’. (Laughter)
You know what has happened in Scotland; all she is saying, surely, is that the shipbuilding and steel-making industries in Scotland have collapsed so much that maybe the electronics have just gone ahead. Actually, the figures are not even correct about Scotland, and they are the only figures on which she based the whole of her claim about British recovery in Canada when she made the speech there. But the figures are correct about Britain as a whole, and they illustrate the truth which she is trying to conceal.
If you look at the country as a whole, the facts are these: it is the case that there are more people today employed in Great Britain in the electronics industry than there are in shipbuilding and in steel-making put together. That is a measure of the collapse of the steel industry, of course. But what she did not tell them in Canada is that, compared with 1979, there are some 70,000 fewer people in the the electronics industry today than there were when she came to power. (Applause) It is a collapse not only of the great old industries and the degeneration that has been permitted there, but it is a collapse of the new industries as well, or at any rate a failure of them to expand on anything like the scale that they chose to pretend.
Take the steel industry as an illustration. You all know – except for those of you who happen to work in the steel industry or in the parts of the country that owe their livelihood to steel – that a miracle has happened in the steel industry, the MacGregor miracle. There has been an improvement in productivity in the steel industry,, and that is all to be welcomed. It has happened in previous years and on previous occasions; it is not an absolute novelty, but it has happened, and we welcome it.
But it is not the only thing that has happened in the steel industry during the period of the MacGregor miracle. We are producing less steel than we did in 1979, less by as much as a quarter. We have not improved our market share – about a quarter of our steel is imported compared with one-fifth in 1979. I has cost quite a lot in hard cash – I am not complaining about their giving the cash, but we must remember it when they try and make the comparisons. British steel lost £809m last year; it was not as bad as 1979-80 or 1980-81, but much worse than in the previous years. Under Ian MacGregor, Mrs Thatcher’s special miracle worker, British steel lost £2,393m in three years, more than twice as much as the total loss of the five years of the spendthrift Labour government. That is the way the miracle has been operated there. (Applause)
If you look at what they have achieved with it, exports are considerably down - 15 per cent, lower than they were in the days of the Labour government. Do not forget, as I say, that it is a miracle; production of steel has collapsed more rapidly during this period than in any other country except the United States. It has never been part of our argument that it is all the fault of Ian MacGregor, and Mrs Thatcher who appointed him; the steel industry cannot exist in a vacuum any more than any other industry. It needs a car industry, an engineering industry, ship-building and railways to buy its products, and these markets have all been hit by this government.
Ravenscraig is under threat and still stays under threat now. Not because of what is wrong at Ravenscraig, but because we have lost so much other production in Scottish factories and in other factories up and down Great Britain. (Applause). That is what they have done to steel. I only take it as an illustration of what has happened to our country and what has happened to the basic industries where we need employment for our people.
Let me pause for one moment, because I am going to show you in a second that even the Conservatives agree with what I am saying, but that is a different matter. First of all, let us look at the curious problem about why such facts as these, so evident to us all, have been concealed from the British people. Why they have been distorted in the mind of the British people. Why, not during the election only, but in other periods too, the British people get such a distorted (that is a very mild word to use), a completely jaundiced picture of what is really happening.
I am not one of those who believe that you can blame the election defeat solely upon the media or newspapers. I think that would be quite wrong and complacent, not learning the right lessons that we have to learn. But that does not mean to say that I am in favour of reprieve for the whole of the British press – not at all. I say this partly as a journalist as much as a member of the Labour Party. And I am not lumping the whole of the media together, or anything so foolish – there are real differences to be drawn between them. As I look round some familiar faces, I say it all the more for certain, having been a journalist all my working life – in my opinion, the debasement of journalism is worse in Fleet Street today than at any time I can recall. (Applause)
I do not say it is all due to the arrival of Mr Murdoch in this country, although I think he bears his fair share, but to say that would not be fair to the others, would it? (Laughter) It would not be fair to our old friend the Daily Mail, the forgers’ gazette, would it? (Applause) It would not be fair to plenty of others. As I say, I am not saying that it applies to the whole of the press, but I think a very strange picture has been presented to our country. Moreover, Fleet Street is a place – I know it quite well - where Gresham’s Law applies with a particular ferocity. The bad drives out the good; the evil drives out the shoddy; the tenth-rate drives out the second- or third-rate. You have ferocious competition, and if you have interlocking ownerships in that competition, it may very well be that some of the so-called most respectable papers do not like to criticise some of the most disreputable; that is what happens.
I say it in the interests of Fleet Street journalists - I am a paid-tip member of the National Union of Journalists, I say it on behalf of my union - the bingo competition that is now going on in Fleet Street will kill decent journalism if journalism does not put a stop to it. (Applause) Every decent journalist in this country knows the truth of what I am saying. I am in favour of protecting the value and credit of our newspapers, because I believe they are essential to the maintenance of our general freedom. It does so happen to be the fact, however - here I do come back to the election - that there are parts of it that I do not think you can make any rules about and you have to watch them carefully. But, as a general principle, if you want to discover who in Fleet Street (I am not talking, about the provincial press; they have got a higher standard on the whole) has got down lowest in the gutter, it is almost always those who have got an editor or proprietor either ennobled or knighted by the prime minister of Great Britain. (Applause)
One way to correct this is to have a newspaper of our own; another way is to try to ensure that we as journalists – I repeat that I speak as a journalist – stand by our code of conduct. If the code of conduct of the National Union of Journalists was carried out in Fleet Street, we would have a healthier politics altogether. (Applause)
Amongst the sections of the community which have been conducted is the trade union movement. It happens especially at election times; it happens in between election times; it happens in every kind of way that some of them seek to ensure that the whole constructive effort of the trade union movement is denied, distorted and presented to the public in that way. Only last week – you could not discover it, I must say, in most of the headlines in most of the newspapers – there was the annual report of the Health and Safety Commission. It showed that the number of people killed in British industry has been reduced by 30 per cent since the last Labour government – I was very proud to play a part in it – placed on the statute book the measure which has established the Health and Safety Commission and incorporated in that measure for the first time in the history of this country provisions for trade unionists to be enabled to play their full part in the safety provisions. (Applause) It has saved hundreds of lives; it has saved our community from many of the degradations that we have known in the past. There is still a huge amount to be done, but of course the trade union movement has a great constructive future ahead of it.
We will be discussing later in this conference how to deal with the trade union legislation that is being proposed by this government – I am not only referring to one single part of it, I lump it all together. It is directed at putting such bonds upon them that they shall be weakened in conducting affairs on behalf of their members, which they have done legitimately in this country for 30, 40 and 50 years. Therefore, however we devise our plan for fighting them, I say our objective must be the repeal of all that legislation.
However, now the election is over and despite all the efforts of some of our friends in the newspapers, the debate which they tried to suppress during the campaign is breaking out all over, is it not? It is breaking out al over where nurses meet, teachers meet, civil servants meet, public authorities meet. We have heard in the debates, wherever the people have to deal with the reality, the truth about the election is now becoming more evident. It is even creeping into some of these newspapers that I referred to so flatteringly a few minutes ago. I am not going to quote the Daily Mail, you will be happy to hear, but The Times a couple of weeks ago referred to the debate that you remember we had at our last party conference, just after the publication of the Think Tank report.
This is what The Times said in a leading article. They consider more carefully what is in a leading article; I am not just reporting any twopenny-half-penny Times reporter, I am dealing with the actual editor’s sober, considered opinion. (Laughter) This is what he said: ‘he’ – Sir Geoffrey Howe, remember him? I am talking of him in his previous capacity – (Laughter) ‘suggested that the cabinet needed to take a fundamental look at public spending as a follow-up to the now infamous Think Tank report. The Cabinet took fright’ – that is a year ago – ‘the Conservatives fought the election without any public recognition of the major decisions which they would need to make if they wished to break out of the depressive and inexorable rise in public spending, borrowing and taxation.’
Can you beat it? They fought it without information, they say, without ‘any public recognition.’ I remember Peter Shore going on day after day telling the country what was going to happen, telling them what the real meaning of that Think Tank report was, telling the country what was prepared, yet The Times afterwards says: ‘the Conservatives fought the election without any public recognition.’
That may be so, but it was a gross distortion of reality and it succeeded for a while in misleading the nation. But the truth is breaking out afterwards. I quote now from The Sunday Telegraph – not from the editor, but from one who aspires to be editor – maybe he did not get the job for this reason. (Laughter) It said, talking about this whole question of what they are going to do about public expenditure cuts and the future: ‘it is difficult to see how Mrs Thatcher can avoid being forced to do what she promised not to do.’ It goes on: ‘a small majority won by telling the truth; how much more strength that would have provided than the landslide victory won by deception.’
That is what it was: a landslide victory won by deception. (Applause) Now what we prophesied at the election is fearfully coming true. Up and down the country they are taking steps to sack doctors, nurses and other workers in the health service. At the Treasury and in the other departments they are preparing to cut the standard of life of the unemployed and those on supplementary assistance. Across the board, they are reviving their infamous Think Tank propositions. Perhaps I might recall to you one more quotation from the capitalist Press, but said by the perspicacious Financial Times political correspondent on 18 April 1983 – note the date – just at the time when they were making up their minds whether they were going to have an election or not. This is what he wrote, and I give him full credit: ‘privately some Treasury ministers and officials also favour an early date because it will be impossible to make tough decisions on public spending until after an election.’
That is the reason why they had the election; that is the reason why she ran away; that is the reason why the Iron Lady picked up her skirts and skidaddled. It was the biggest Dr Goebbels exhibition we have had in this country in this century. (Applause)
People talk about the manifestos on which the election was fought. I agree with what Jim Mortimer said about the themes on which we fought. I am not making any apologies for what I said at the election; the apologies to the British people should come from them. The apology has come in these documents that I have listed; the apology will have to come over the weeks and months ahead. I am not saying, as I said to the parliamentary party just, after the election (and I still hold the same view), that our own manifesto was word perfect or idea perfect even, but I tell you this, I am not in favour of casting it aside. (Applause)
If we were to do so, believe me, we would not win any respect front the British people at all. When it came to the next election, they would say to us; ‘what about this manifesto?’ Think carefully how you do it. I am not in any sense whatsoever seeking to impose a rigid way of dealing with these matters, but I say that the more people look at what we actually said, the more people actually read what was in that manifesto, the more, I believe, they will come back to it. I am not turning my back on it and I do not believe the labour movement is going, to turn its back to it, either.
That applies, if I can say so, especially in the field of foreign affairs. Because I remember what I said at the election; I do not suppose all of you always read it the next morning, but there you are. I remember what we presented to the British people. I contrast it with what the prime minister has done in these last few days and weeks on the other side of the Atlantic. If is a very perilous course that she has embarked upon. She tries to give the impression that the British government all along has been favour of disarmament, arms control. Just like the Americans, we always wanted to do it. She tries to present that picture to the British people, and I am sure there will be some in our press who will try to present it that way too. I tell you it bears as little relation to reality as what they said about spending cuts at the election bears to their domestic policies. But with this one they are playing with something infinitely more dangerous.
All of us can remember the tremor, I think, felt throughout the world when the Korean aeroplane was shot down. We in the Labour Party condemn the Soviet action; we have done so in the statement we made at the tine, and we repeat it to this conference. We certainly condemn it, but we also condemn the reaction to that event. Because I believe sane men and women all over this planet, when they saw what had happened following that accident, when they know how combustible are these stores of nuclear weapons that are now being piled higher and higher - I would have thought sane men and women all over the world, especially those in the highest places, should have paused and said: ‘let us try and establish some intelligent conversations, first of all between the superpowers.’
Sometimes the superpowers behave like superidiots. (Applause)
We have got to behave all the more calmly. The nations, like ourselves, that still have some independent powers and judgements, we should have offered cool advice at the moment - instead of throwing more faggots onto the flames.
What she tells us, I can show to you quite easily (I will not do it in detail, but I can prove it) is a palpable falsehood. It is not the case that the British and American governments are those who have offered all the proposals for intelligent arms controls, and they have been rejected all on the other side. That is not a proper intelligent record of what has really occurred over these past four or five years. Maybe you can remember it — President Reagan did not fight his election on a programme of arms control or agreement with the Russians; he fought his election on exactly the same kind of dangerous nonsense that Mrs Thatcher is preaching now. That is what he was elected on. (Applause) He set about carrying it out. One of the first things they did was to abandon - or help to abandon; it was partly abandoned before - the SALT 2 agreements, or at any rate discussions about them. I do not say they would protect world peace for ever, but they were the best arrangements that had so far been made between the superpowers – so any intelligent person should be trying to protect them, as we did in the Labour Government. Jim Callaghan was doing everything in his power to ensure that the SALT 2 agreement should be faithfully upheld, and British influence was being used in a very different way. But now what they are saying, what Mrs. Thatcher says, is that she has been struggling for disarmament all through this period. It is just not true.
First of all, when the SALT2 agreements were cancelled, not a word of protest came from the British government. Then some of us in the Labour Party and socialist parties in Europe fought hard to get the Geneva agreement started, but she did not do anything about it. It was not President Reagan’s initiative that got them; it was much more Helmut Schmidt’s initiative I Germany that got the Geneva talks going. Then at the talks themselves – I will not go through the whole list now, but it is there on the record – it is not true that all the proposals for agreements and flexibility have come from the Americans. I am not deriding some of their proposals – indeed, I want to get agreement – but if you look and see what the Soviet proposals have been, there have been very serious departures on their side from what they said originally. There could be the making of an agreement there, but our government does not do anything about it, does not even listen to what is aid by other countries.
It is barely a year ago at the United Nations when the other countries – many of them smaller countries, and Mexico – made proposals for a nuclear freeze. The British government voted against. Sweden made proposals; we voted against. India made proposals; we voted against. That was a bare 12 months ago, yet this government now says it has been working all the time for arms control. Of course they have not. What she did a week ago, if people believe what she said, and if her rhetoric (so-called) was translated into action – I do not want to give rhetoric a bad name; we might need to use it ourselves every now and again, you know, and it is a much better word than that. But if what she says were to believed, there is no possibility of agreement.
The Labour Party’s view bears much greater relation to what is thought by tens of millions of people, scores of countries, hundreds of countries all over the world than anything that is proposed by Mrs Thatcher. The nuclear powers are not the only countries in the world. It is not only the Russians or the Americans or the British or the French or Chinese who are the only people who have a right to speak; all the others can be blown to pieces too. What they are saying is that we should proceed along very much the lines that we in the Labour Party propose. More than 100 non-aligned nations meeting in Delhi a few months ago said so with much greater sanity than anything you have heard from the British government. I know we have differences with some of our fellow socialist governments in Europe; we have to discuss it with them too, and I am all in favour of it – with President Mitterrand, for example. I have not noticed, by the way, that President Mitterrand and the French are going to put any Cruise missiles on French territory, are they? If somebody went along and said to President Mitterrand – maybe if they said it to President de Gaulle before – ‘would you mind having some Cruise missiles stationed on your soil on exactly the same terms that Mrs Thatcher’s been prepared to accept here in Britain?’ I can tell you that President Mitterrand – and even more strongly, perhaps, President de Gaulle – would have given a very clear answer.
I am against Cruise missiles for those reasons. I am against them for other reasons as well, but I am against them above all because I believe – this is the Labour Party view that we started at the election, which, I believe, stands, must stand and will continue to be proved to be correct as the years and months go by – if you allow the Cruise programme, the Pershing programme to go ahead in Europe, the chances of securing any kind of future arms agreement are indefinitely reduced. We are opposed to it.
We also set out a programme on how we are to proceed this year. Dennis Healey will present it to conference tomorrow. We set out a programme on how we can proceed over the years ahead. The more people hear what we have got to say, the more, I believe, over these coming two or three years people will turn back to this election and heed what we said then and say: ‘maybe they didn’t get it all right, but what they were saying was something that offered sense and humanity for the human race, something in great contrast to what was done by our political opponents’.
An early decision was made by the Conservatives just prior to the election to convert the Ministry of Defence into a branch department of the Conservative Central Office. Ever since then, I give you the advice, do not believe anything they say. What we will do when we meet again in parliament and throughout these coming weeks and months, is to use all the efforts, all the power, all the imagination, all the new cohesion that I believe we can have in our party – we will use all our strength, everything we can muster, with our socialist friends and others in Europe and across the world – to try and stop this hideous nuclear arms race and turn the world back o the course of intelligence.
Perhaps you will permit me to say one word more on matters affecting our own party. Sometimes, when I get to this stage of a speech, the recommendation of Jill, my wife, echoes in my mind, because she sometimes says to me before I start a speech: ‘don’t do a Beethoven at the end.’ I tell you what she means. She thinks - maybe she is misguided about this - that Beethoven had a bit of difficulty in finishing some of his symphonies. (Laughter) There she is sitting at the back. (Applause)
I am not going to but I would like to conclude with these words. They are directed towards one of the victor candidates yesterday, to Roy Hattersley. I wish him the very best of success, and I think that he and Neil together will make a great contribution to our future victory. (Applause)
If I could just say to Neil, I was enraptured, as I think the country would be, by what he said when he responded on Sunday night. I was thrilled by it and I believe it can have a very big effect in moving people’s minds up and down the country. I think he has truly in him the spirit, the courage, and the imagination - the very greatest quality of all that Nye had - I think he has got all those qualities. He was born only a few streets away from Aneurin Bevan in Tredegar; Tredegar is already a very famous town. Ebbw Vale is already a very famous constituency, and I hope both can be more famous in the future still. (Applause) I believe Neil can help to do that as well. I think he has the true spirit of Aneurin Bevan in him.
If I could conclude with these two recollections, slightly incongruous, you might say. The first one, I remember, was sitting in the House of Commons once - I do not know why this inconsequential affair should have come into my mind - with Aneurin Bevan on the bench there. We were looking at some Tory who was speaking - not one of our favourite characters. He was a Tory who had a very strange physical aspect in this sense in that he did not seem to have any neck at all. (Laughter) His head was fixed into his body without a neck. (Laughter) Nye looked across and waved his fingers and shrugged his shoulders, as he would often do, and said: ‘the hangman’s puzzle.’ (Laughter and applause)
I will tell you another recollection, again rather incongruous but slightly more apposite. I went to hear Nye speak in 1937 when the hunger marchers came to London. It was in Trafalgar Square and, I think, it was 10 November 1937 - 1936 or 1937 - at any rate, it was the day before Armistice Day. Nye made his speech then. He certainly meant no disrespect to those whose courage was going to be celebrated a day later, but he said in his speech as he concluded in Trafalgar Square, to the hunger marchers and the Britain of that period: ‘we don’t come here to bury the dead – we come here to bring life to the living.’ That is what we are doing at this conference: life to the living, both in our own country and elsewhere, a new hope for our stricken country and our frightened world. That is what we can take from this country together; that is how we can change the 1980s into the course which it should take a course for democratic socialists ruling here in Britain, and giving a proper lead to their fellow socialists and others throughout the world, determined to build a peaceful world as well.
It is that new hope, I believe, that comes from this conference, and it is in that mood that we are going to carry forward to our victory. (Applause) (Singing of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’).