Leader's speech, Brighton 1989
Neil Kinnock (Labour)
Commentary:At the time of this conference, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe were collapsing and the borders of these states were opening to the West. In this speech, Kinnock called on Western nations – particularly those in the European Community – to support these emerging democracies. He also criticised the Conservatives in a number of areas, notably their policy of raising interest rates in a bid to reduce consumer demand, the privatisation of water and electricity, and their failure to take proper action on the environment.
David, comrades, as a concession to the Chair I have actually taken my watch off, put it in front of me and now I can cheerfully forget it, (Laughter)
We meet in this conference in a spirit of progress; we meet in a spirit of confidence. The people of Britain know that we have worked for and earned the support that they are now giving to us. They respect us for the changes that we have made and the changes that we are making. Increasingly, they know that we are attuned to the realities of the present and increasingly they are prepared to trust us with the future. People tell me that, when I meet them. The polls say that when we read them. But most important of all, we know that we are winning support and understanding and trust because the people tell us when they vote.
They told us that in Pontypridd and the Vale of Glamorgan; they told us that in Vauxhall and in Glasgow Central. They told us that in the county council elections, and all over Britain, in that magnificent victory on 15 June they told us that in the elections for the European Parliament. (Applause) They keep on telling us and telling the Labour Party – ‘You’re doing the right thing. Keep on doing it.’ We will keep on doing it.
We will keep on because it is the winning way. It is the best way to serve the people we want to stand up for. We will keep on winning. And we will do it with no wheeling, no dealing, no horse trading and no electoral pacts. (Applause)
We will put ourselves to the people and we will go on getting their support. We will get it by continuing to construct strong unity of purpose. We will get it by our conduct as a serious, socialist, self-disciplined party. We will go on earning support by having the same candour and confidence that we showed in facing up to ourselves and our times in the policy review. We will get the support by continuing to produce answers that are relevant and practical for the present and for the future, answers that offer the kind of socialism that the people of Britain want. The kind of socialism that insists that the National Health Service shall not be split up, sold off, privatised, sent to the market, but shall be kept and improved and modernised as a service free of charge at time of need for all the people of this country. (Applause)
The kind of socialism that the British people understand and support is the kind of socialism that resents the injustice, the cost and the divisiveness of the Poll Tax, that demands a local tax that is fair between people and regions, related to the ability to pay and, for those on low incomes, includes a fair system of rebates to insure against the injustice of tax.
The kind of socialism that the British people are attracted by and understand and support is the socialism that takes its inspiration from individual freedom and the right to organise and bargain in freedom collectively. They support that kind of socialism and, they resent the centralisation, censorship and control that in the past ten years has given the state more power over the life of the individual in Britain than at any time in modern peacetime history. They do not want that. (Applause)
The kind of socialism that the people of Britain understand and support is as Tawney described: in the 1930s, in the wake of defeat and division in the Labour Party, he said: ‘Socialism is no longer bad politics in Britain unless socialists choose to make it so, which some do with a surprising ingenuity. ‘Nevertheless,’ he went on with the right combination of ‘a realism that is not torpor and an idealism that is not foolishness,’ the Labour Party, a socialist party, is unstoppable because its natural constituency is the majority of the British people. That was true then and it is true now. That is why we are getting the support for the kind of socialism that we are offering to the British people.
Of course the Tories will try to hit back. They will do it in a variety of ways. First of all, there will be the personal attacks on the Labour leaders. It will not be anything serious – nothing like as serious, for instance, as the personal attacks they make every week of every year on the pensioners, the poor, the homeless and families with children. They are real personal attacks. They really hurt.
The next part of the counter-attack will be to order civil servants to waste thousands of hours of time trying to ‘cost’ our programme. They will push those figures, collected at the taxpayers’ expense - such is the nature of the modern Tory state - through the counterfeit machine in Tory Central Office. You are very familiar with the procedure: it is the one that they have perfected for the purpose of calculating the employment figures, the unemployment figures and Lawson’s Budget estimates. (Applause)
Then there is their secret weapon, the Team. They have got themselves a Team. It was announced last week. Next week, if you should be over 18 and very stable of mind, put the television on and watch them up at Blackpool. On the back of the stage there will be the slogan ‘The Right Team for the Future’ - Margaret Thatcher’s Team. That is a bit of a confusion in terms, is it not? (Laughter) It is like Dennis Skinner’s shyness or David Owen’s legions, a real confusion in terms.
They have that Team. It is difficult to envisage it really, but since dray horses come in teams, and donkeys and sled dogs come in teams, I suppose the Tories can have a team as well. You can see it now can you not? The huskies dashing across the icy wastes, eagerly and unquestioningly, with the driver holding a whip over them, saying ‘Mush, mush.’ (Applause) And you know what huskies do, if one of them drops dead don’t you? The rest of them eat him. (Laughter) That is the Tory team spirit.
Of course there is a lead dog. The top dog in the team is the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Kenneth Baker. Theirs must be the only political organisation in any democracy in which a move from being in charge of education to being in charge of propaganda is regarded as a promotion. (Laughter and applause)
It would not happen anywhere else. He has got that job because he is supposed to be a master strategist. At least that is right. What else could you call a man who presides over education for three years and then, just eight weeks before the country finds out that we are 3,600 teachers short, gets another job? That is a master strategist. He really is a quite brilliant mover. He is the man who invented the Poll Tax and then moved on before it caught up with him.
He was appointed, of course, by the Prime Minister. She is a very considerate person really. There are people who say she is very remote and detached. I will not have that said about Mrs Thatcher. I have seen her rubbing shoulders with crowds, talking to children, travelling on a train. Pity it was in Japan. (Laughter and applause)
They gave her a lovely reception. They had all the bands out, red carpets. But let’s face it: if we had a relationship with a country and they had had a £1 billion trade deficit with us in 1979 and now they had a 5 billion trade deficit with us, I would give them the red carpet treatment. They could have my ticket for the Arms Park. There would be nothing too big.
Japan is a fairly good place to go to to listen and to learn. That did not happen when Mrs Thatcher went there. As usual, Mrs Thatcher went there to lecture. She went to instruct the Japanese that if only they would de-regulate, implement free trade policies and remove exchange controls, they too could enjoy the same level of unbounded success as Britain has under Mrs Thatcher. That is what she was telling them. (Applause) She told them - and she tells us - that we have been enjoying an economic ‘miracle.’ Nigel Lawson says the same, that we are enjoying a ‘miracle.’ The Sun, the Daily Mail and even some of the newspapers say the same thing. (Laughter) I suppose it is a miracle of a sort, because if you think about it, when Moses parted the Red Sea and took the children of Israel across, that was a miracle. The trouble was that in the middle of the same miracle along came Pharoah’s army. They got onto the bottom of the Red Sea and it all closed in on them: We have been going through this miracle from the Pharoah’s army eye-view.
But it has been a miracle, truly. We have had oil wealth that none of our major competitor countries has had. At the end of that ten years, Britain has got two million unemployed still - recorded unemployed - the highest inflation rate of any industrialised country, the highest interest rates of any industrialised country, the biggest balance of payments deficit by far of any industrialised country and, to go with it, something that is not too frequently disclosed, a huge net outflow of long term capital. We get lots of money in, because we are offering 14 per cent. It stays for a short time and then moves around, but there is lots going out - incredible for an oil-rich country, but happening under our ‘brilliant Chancellor’ and our genius business managers. Even with that litany, that is not the worst news. The worst news is that underlying those figures of failure - indeed causing those conditions - is the Tories’ refusal, year after year, to make the essential commitment to the productive base of the economy: education and training, research and development, science and the transport and communications system are all objects of gross neglect. We are the only major industrialised country that in the last ten years has continually spent a lower and lower proportion of our gross national product on education; everybody, else has been increasing it. Where could be the sense in that?
The result of all that was always certain to be an unbalanced economy, under-equipped, under-skilled, inflating and increasingly importing. Britain was bound to become a place of paralysing congestion in some areas, of miserable underdevelopment in others. A place of inefficiency and - yes - because of the neglect of public investment, a place of considerable danger too for the travelling public and for people who work in those industries, as we have seen so tragically demonstrated. That is where they have got us to now.
They have not finished yet. They have still got two years or so to run, which will get us nearly all the way through the time left before the completion of the Single Market of the European Community at the end of 1992.
That is going to be a delight, is it not? We shall be part of an open economic zone, operating in a currency exchange rate mechanism in which the pound will be included and subject to even more intensive and direct competition from the other European Community countries than at the present time. And they are countries that all have made and do make a much stronger commitment to skills, research, transport and science than we have under a Tory government. The British government has done absolutely nothing to prepare our country or our people for the challenges or the opportunities of that new Europe. That is the mess they are going to leave to us, because sometime before the completion of the Single Market we shall have a Labour government.
The fact that we shall inherit a mess is nothing really new for us; indeed, every incoming Labour government has inherited a mess from every outgoing Tory government. The only difference is that next time the mess will be even bigger - I say to you soberly, even bigger than the mess has ever been before.
No one here or anywhere else should have any doubt about that or the scale of what we shall inherit. No one here or anywhere else should fail to understand that those conditions that we inherit will have the most direct implications for what we do. We are therefore going to have to be very deliberate in our choice of priorities and, having chosen them, we are going to have to stick to those priorities. And we will.
Everyone should understand too that if we do anything other than to choose priorities, no matter how tough they are and stick to them, the result will be that we shall set ourselves the task of doing everything that is desirable and end up doing nothing that is significant. (Applause)
I do not say that because I am daunted. I do not feel in the least bit defeatist about what I know we shall face, neither do the rest of the people who will form that government, nor indeed the other people in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Nor should you feel daunted; on the contrary.
Without any vainglory say that there have been times before when our party has been called in similar circumstances to work for our country in government, generally in dreadful circumstances, circumstances that would have torn a Tory government apart and retarded Britain even further. There are various versions of the history of the Labour Party in government. None of them records any Labour government or any Labour minister as being perfect. But what I would say is that they were patriotic and did their damnedest for their country in a way that no single Tory Cabinet Minister in the bunch that we have got now would think of doing. (Applause) I do not say any of that about what we shall inherit because I am intimidated by the prospect. I tell you and the British people that because it is the truth.
There is another truth too. There is no easy mechanism, no single, solve-all strategy that can catapult Britain to economic strength. That has been Nigel Lawson’s fad over the years, even though he has changed his single instrument once or twice.
Success has got to be worked for and it has to be built. That is why we are going to start to do what the Tories should have been doing in these oil-rich years.
We are going to start to combat the transport congestion and make the investment in communications, without which Britain will judder to an expensive and dangerous halt in a very few years. We will get on with that job.
We are going to build up the commitment to science, because if we carry on like we are under the Tories, Britain will be pushed down into the second or third division of the industrial nations.
We are going to develop inducements and encouragements for a major expansion of research and development in both the public and private sector, because if we are going to rival our major competitors, we have got a long way to go in catching up with them.
Most important of all, we have got to increase the quality and quantity of skills training and make a new commitment to education in this country.
The reason for that is very simple. Now and for all time in the future, human skills and human talents will be the major determinants of success or failure, not just for individuals, but for the whole society in all its social, cultural and commercial life. Education and training are now the commanding, heights of every modern economy. We must mobilise all of the available abilities – and I mean all.
In the future which we envisage, therefore, there can be no question of allowing disadvantages in opportunity and access to be suffered by women. (Applause) We need an economy of all the talents. To get that, we are going to have to make provision to ensure that, for the very best reasons of social justice and economic efficiency, equal rights of education and training are guaranteed and the opportunities are made genuinely accessible by providing support, especially for mothers with children, so that they can enjoy those equal rights in reality. (Applause)
Comrades, research and development, transport and communications, science, education and training are our priorities. They are the productive base of our economy; they are fundamental to success in the future. If we are to combat inflation, if we are to turn that balance of payments deficit into surplus, if we are to bring down unemployment, if we are to generate the wealth properly to fund and pay for the bills of social justice in a modern society, we are going to have to succeed in building up that base. It means giving that task an unparalleled priority. We will do that. That is the attitude that we will take. It is the practical way.
We know it is the practical way, because it is the way that all of our successful competitors have done it. We know that it is the practical way too, because for the last ten years the other way has been tried, the Lawson way. Is that practical? Is it practical to have neglected and under-funded and run down the foundations of modern industrial strength in order to make tax cuts for the top paid in our country? When that culminates in a prodigious balance of payments deficit, is that practical? Is it practical to use the highest interest rates in the industrialised world to try to squeeze consumer demand when at the very same time those very same interest rates are hammering the very productive industries that we are depending upon to try to pay our way in the world? Is that practical?
Everybody knows that as soon as the supports are shifted in any way, the pound will bounce around all over the place, making it virtually impossible for any company, any concern to plan production or to calculate prices with any certainty. What is all that supposed to achieve? Is the interest rate strategy there to buy us some time so that we can restructure British industry? Is it to buy us some time so that we can get some decent training for the youngsters? Is it to buy us some time so that we can negotiate a new deal in Europe? No, it is not for any of those reasons. The only reason we have got the interest rate strategy is because the Tories do not know what else to do. It is as basic as that.
What they are hoping for of course, is that they can get to a few months before the next general election and then take the brakes off, make some tax cuts and try to deceive the people of Britain yet again that things are back on course. It will not work. It will not work for political reasons; it is one con-trick too far. It will not work for economic reasons either. You do not need to be an economist to know why. All you have to do to know why it will not work economically is to have to pay a mortgage. Those monthly bills are certificates of the failure of Lawsonism.
Nigel Lawson does not see it that way. He says people with mortgages may be finding ‘a little difficulty,’ but that little difficulty, he says, will be ‘self-correcting’ and we can all look forward to ‘a soft landing.’ At least he is equipped for that. (Laughter) But if he is in orbit, anticipating a soft landing, nobody else is. If he does not understand the reality of what he has done to people’s mortgage payments, he should ask his erstwhile chum, the man who was Chief of Staff at the Tory Central Office in the 1987 election. He was writing in the I last week. ‘Home owners feel cheated,’ he said. ‘Today, they are paying more and more in mortgage repayments for houses that are worth less and less in the market. And those needing to move home too often have to make a marriage-wrenching gamble as the housing market becomes as slippery and dangerous as Brands Hatch on a wet Saturday afternoon.’ That is Tory property-owning democracy 1989.
These home-buyers are not the only victims of course. Thousands of elderly people were pleased when this government said they wanted them to make extra provision for their retirement. They liked that idea. But the government did not tell them they were going to slash Housing Benefit, and they did not tell them that in order to make provision for their retirement many of them were going to have either to mortgage or sell the houses that they had spent a lifetime paying for The greatest victims of the Tories’ big cheat in housing of course are those who are suffering because of the gigantic cuts made in house building and who are now in overcrowded accommodation or, in increasing numbers, homeless.
The reason for all that, obviously, is that the Tories never really had a policy for homes; they only ever had a policy for property. It is not the same thing. The Tories never really had a policy for building and renovating or for providing people with real choice between buying or renting. They only ever had a policy really for selling. In this party, we want people to be able to buy houses. That is very important. We want them to be able to buy the houses they previously rented, either in the public sector or the private sector, if that is what they want to do. But what is essential is that they should be able to afford the homes that they buy or rent, and it is essential that if they do not want to buy a house or cannot buy a house, they should still have a residence that they are proud to call home. (Applause)
There are very few things quite as reassuring and quite as secure as a home, bought or rented, that you know is safe and you know you can afford. There are very few things more intimidating and frightening than having the responsibility of a home that is not safe and that you cannot afford. People are going through agony in Britain now, people who 18 months or two years ago thought that they were secure and making their way, but have been hit, almost as if they were being assassinated, by the Tory interest rate strategy. That is Tory property-owning democracy 1989.
In this party we have got a housing policy, a real housing policy. One that provides for buying and for renting, building and renovating. One that insists not only on quantity but on quality. One that protects consumers whether they are buyers or tenants, in the private or the public sector. And it is a housing policy that is capable of meeting the needs of the future. That is the policy that we offer to the British people, and we offer it in place of the deceit and double dealing that made so many people feel that they had been cheated by the Tories.
Of course, double-dealing is their stock-in-trade on any number of subjects. I saw a fellow in Risca in my constituency a fortnight ago. He was very, exercised about something I will not go into at the present time. ‘Tories?’ he said ‘Tories are the kind of people who start off promising you the earth and end up selling you water.’ That is not a bad definition. (Applause) They are not only trying to sell it; they are advertising it to you at your own expense. I think that is pretty rich. Do you know why they are having to advertise it and push it so hard? It is because nobody can understand why anybody should want to sell it, so they are having to flog and push and advertise.
Water adverts and electricity adverts - I ask you. ‘Electricity is a good thing for you.’ I did not know that before. (Laughter) How did I miss out and not realise that water was good for me? A fellow in my office had his prospectus a fortnight ago from the Anglia Water Board. They said ‘As a water user, we are giving you priority.’ (Laughter and applause) When I see those adverts on the hoardings and the television, do you know what I am reminded of? Have you ever been in a town in the Soviet Union, especially a big town with those great boulevards? They have those huge, heroic hoardings with preposterous slogans and paintings of people with muscles on their muscles. You know the ones I mean. They have taken those down in Russia. They are putting them up in Britain. (Laughter and applause) They are putting them up for water and electricity, and I guess we shall go on seeing water ads. It has nothing to do with privatisation, you understand. It is just a coincidence, because a couple of months before water privatisation the regional boards decided that they needed to engage in some public relations. It was a total coincidence; they did not even know there was going to be water privatisation. So we’ll continue to see these water ads. But I do not know how much we shall see of the electricity ads, for a few months in any case, because they have got into a total shambles with the effort to sell off electricity. A bigger shambles would only come if they actually managed to sell it off. Comrades, there, is a race against time. It is a race between the sale of electricity and the next Labour government.
Indeed, if is a race between not only the privatisation of electricity, but the privatisation of the coal industry as well. Perhaps if they ever really do get around to putting together a Bill, the Privatisation of the Coal Industry Bill, they will at least have the honesty to put an accurate title on it, ‘The Termination of the Coal Industry Bill,’ for that is certainly what it would be. (Applause)
Shambles or not, they are desperate to sell both water and electricity, not because they want to serve any sensible purpose of the economy or energy, the environment or any strategic purpose. On the contrary, selling either or both of those utilities contradicts every strategic, environmental, logical, industrial and reasonable purpose. The reason that the government is so anxiously obsessed with selling off these two industries is that they want the receipts so that they can bankroll themselves for the next general election. That is the real reason why they want to sell off electricity and water.
They might succeed in getting under the wire before the election. They might succeed in doing that, but, frankly, it is not going to, help them very much at the ballot box, because there are huge majorities in every opinion poll against the sell-off of water and electricity. The reasons are simple. The British people are opposed to the sell-offs because they are more socially responsible, more community minded, more realistic, more far-sighted and more patriotic than the government that governs them. That is why they are against the sell-off of water and electricity. (Applause)
The people know, as we know, that it is simply wrong to put vital: utilities of this kind into the hands of private monopolies, not least because we know - and the British people know - that the whole thrust of privatisation, collides head on with environmental concern.
Privatisation of water and electricity also puts a great big gaping hole straight through the government’s claim to be guardians of the environment. This government cannot prove green credentials simply by moving Nick Ridley - I am not saying anything about the disposal of toxic waste - and replacing him with a much better public relations merchant, Chris Patten, the slick following the Nick. (Laughter and applause) That does not prove green credentials. They do not prove green credentials even by introducing a Green Bill over a year after we offered to draft one for them.
For the Tories to have any credibility at all as trustees of the environment, they are going to have to take a much bigger and more serious step. For them to have that credibility, they are going to have to change the whole basis of their philosophy.
The central canon of Thatcherism is that the market is sovereign and that the earth and all that therein is should be governed by the magical movement of demand and supply. Whatever else you can look after with that system, you cannot look after the environment with such a system. (Applause) This essence of Thatcherism is dressed up as the Big Idea. The reality is that it is a very small, very cheap, very nasty idea. It is an old idea as well. Municipal Tories like Joe Chamberlain rejected it 100 years ago. They rejected it because they said that private monopoly ownership of utilities like water and gas were incompatible with the public good. They knew that 100 years ago, when enterprise capitalism in Britain was red in tooth and claw, a period when Margaret Thatcher would have regarded it as bliss to be alive. But she would not have got a Tory mandate then for water privatisation.
Market sovereignty of the kind that Margaret Thatcher preaches is most certainly incompatible with the investment in research, the effective regulation, inspection, supervision, prevention, co-operation and decentralisation of powers that are among the essential ingredients of a competent policy for the conservation and improvement of the local, national and global environment We understand the need to implement such comprehensive policies, and there are working examples to instruct us on many of the most salient objectives.
In Denmark and Sweden two weeks ago I saw how the problem of refuse and the problem of heating homes were brought together to make a solution. Two problems making one solution. In Copenhagen, for instance, the city’s refuse is incinerated in conditions which are subject to the most rigorously enforced and constantly improving environmental standards. The resulting heat combines with surplus heat from the city’s other power-stations to warm 250,000 homes very cheaply and dependably. They have reduced by 30 per cent the energy needed to heat Copenhagen’s homes over the past 10 years. The residue of the waste is 6 per cent of its original volume. That is a good deal. In a country like ours, where we have a huge amount of waste, some of it lethal and all of it ugly, we know we just cannot keep on piling it up. To serve the future properly we have got to adopt policies that are socially and economically functional and environmentally progressive. The innovations of the Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians instruct us, and we shall be emulating and improving upon the developments that they have made.
Those innovations go much wider than waste incineration. In the same visit I saw Volvo and SKF, the biggest ball-bearing manufacturer in the world - two companies as hard-nosed and competitive as any companies anywhere - implementing the environment policies worked out in conjunction with the government, local authorities, environmental groups and trade unions. Those companies are prospering, not in spite of the environmental conditions which they satisfy, but because of those conditions. That was the testimony of the companies. They acknowledge that the stimulus comes from the government that sets environmental targets and timetables to achieve them. The same companies told me that they bettered the targets and the timetables; they had reduced their waste and attained greater efficiency in the process, reducing marginal costs. They do not regard such government involvement as ‘interfering.’ In this and many other ways they consider government involvement to be normal and necessary.
I am not describing perfection. I do not have the awe of a return visitor from an environmental Shangri La. I am not saying that what they have got is perfect; they would not accept that it was and certainly it is not. I am saying that in this country we could - and we must - make such progress in exactly the same way. In government we are determined to achieve that, and even in the couple of years before we are elected, we are going to use the evidence of those working models to campaign for the speediest possible change in our country, which is getting dirtier and more dangerous by the minute.
There are some of course who believe that concern for the environment is largely a passing anxiety of the affluent who have nothing else to worry about. That is wrong on all counts. The concern is not passing. The concern is here to stay, and the only change will be that it will get bigger. Anybody who believes that the concern stops with the well-heeled has only to go to some of Britain’s cities, where in the Thatcher years the rat population has grown substantially, not out of sympathy with the Conservative party, but because of changed eating habits and because of sewers that are in increasing disrepair, through no fault of the local authorities. In those and other areas, damp and disrepair are the greatest environmental concerns. A fellow said to me not very long ago, at the beginning of the summer before it really started to get warm, that he had terrible damp problems. It was just at the time that they started advertising water. He said, ‘Be an H2Owner? I thought I had a monopoly – it’s coining out of my walls.’ The environmental concern runs right through all levels of society.
It goes a great deal further than the people who are far from affluent in our towns and cities. The poorest people in the world are the most environmentally concerned. For them the problems of the environment are not questions relating to the welfare of the ozone layer in ten or 20 years’ time. The problems of the environment for them relate to the immediate and fragile conditions. For them, the condition of the environment is a matter of eating or not eating, living or not living. They are the wretched of the earth. They are the most environmentally concerned.
But as they try to care - and very often succeed for the land that they farm and graze, the pressures of poverty are such that very often they are fighting a losing battle. That will go on unless we in this far and prosperous North of the world do much more to help them beat their poverty. But instead of giving help on the scale that is needed, the industrialised nations, the IMF and the World Bank operate finance and debt strategies which have done the opposite of giving help. They have ensured a huge flow of wealth from the poor countries to the rich countries; and the banks have been the major beneficiaries. Between 1983 and 1987, aid payments to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa totalled $58 billion. In the same period $45 billion came out in debt payments. The situation in Latin America is even more stark. Between 1983 and 1987, countries of Latin America received about $28 billion in aid and paid out $226 billion in bank loan repayments. That cannot be right.
Far from easing the pressure on the people and on the land, the industrialised countries are intensifying the pressure. It is a terrible global injustice, but it is shocking global stupidity too. In the very act of burdening the people and land of the developing countries with huge payments, the financiers and governments are burdening their own people and their own lands too.
Environmental degradation is a communicable disease. Even the most short-sighted in the Northern hemisphere must realise that if we do not help the poor countries to be green and pleasant, we will not have green and pleasant lands ourselves anywhere in the world. (Applause)
As part of the strategy for trying to safeguard the future therefore those debts must be radically and rapidly reduced and, as frequently as is possible, cancelled. Development aid must go directly to the poor who know best how to use it. They are the most skilled guardians of the earth, if they are ever given a chance. Developed countries, and the people in developed countries, must adopt fair price regimes so that the people of the poor countries have the breathing space and the income to enable them to protect and improve their environment, both for their own sakes and, yes, for our sakes too.
That is what we put in the policy review. It is an argument for global citizenship, a recognition of the fact that in the world now and for all the future, passive co-existence is not enough; active co-operation to defeat common problems is essential to environmental security for every country. It is essential for every other form of security too.
It is certainly vital in the changing relationship between East and West. We are now at the beginning of the time when we can, in George Bush’s words when he visited Germany earlier this year, ‘open up the possibilities’ for Europe to forgo the peace of tension for the peace of trust. Even in the few months since he said that, Poland and Hungary have had their first free elections in many decades. The televised proceedings of the People’s Congress of Deputies in Moscow has shown us the extraordinary and encouraging sight of democratic arguments in that body.
This very day in East Germany, on the anniversary of the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, people are demonstrating in their thousands on the streets for freedom. When all that is happening, we know that Europe - the whole of this continent - is never going to be the same again. As Mikhail Gorbachev said in the United Nations last December, ‘there’s no going back for anyone.’ That is now a central truth of the age; indeed it is a central hope of the age. A momentum is well under way, and whilst there can be no accurate estimate of its speed, the direction is certain.
In this party we want to be part of that progress, part of that momentum, making the changes, taking the opportunities. We seek the power to do that. To stop being spectators and start being negotiators. To take our country off the sidelines and put it in the mainstream of advance, where it should rightly be, exercising its influence for understanding improved world relationships. That is what we will do.
In the still deep divisions of ideology between East and West there are of course suspicions and rivalries built up over more than 70 years, which are not going to vanish in a year, or in five years or maybe even in ten years. Because of that security will continue to mean armed security. But it must also increasingly mean - and it does increasingly mean - the security of negotiated disarmament and the security of developing social and economic relationships. In other countries of NATO alliance that is not only understood, it is being pursued with a vigour which is absent from the British Government. There are other members of NATO - notably West Germany - who are already operating agreements to train thousands of young Russians to broaden the business relationships, to offer new technologies. A new dual-track towards security is being built, not a bit like the old one. On it, the efforts for negotiated disarmament are running alongside increasing economic engagement.
We want to travel that track. We want to do it for our own interests of security and stability and economic prosperity. We also want to do it because we know that the pressure for freedom that is exercising its irresistible force among the people of the Eastern Bloc needs to be reinforced by economic support from democracies. For the danger will be that if the new liberty being experienced in the trail-blazing countries like Poland and Hungary is surrounded by poverty and under-development in the early years, then that liberty will be fragile. Even the sweet taste of the freedom that these people have yearned for can turn sour if it does not bring with it the beginning of material advancement. Those countries therefore have to make the leap from the command economy to the market economy, from the single party state to pluralism.
The problem is that it is physically impossible for them - and physically impossible for anybody - to leap slowly. It is essential therefore that the West - and especially the European Community countries - give support to try to ensure that the take-off of those emerging democracies is firm and their landing is certain and stable.
I have talked to democratic socialists from Poland. They explained to me that it is totally understandable that people in large numbers want to make the lurch directly from what they have known, with its shortages and its queues and its inadequacies, to what they believe to be the free market society, as advertised in the glossy magazines. Those who have been exiles in the West, good comrades in the democratic socialist exiled parties, some of whom have gone back to their own countries for the first time in 30 or 40 years and others much younger, tell us that their main task is to counsel people that the best path in those countries is not at either end of the pendulum, but actually in employing the mixture of necessary regulation and the dynamic of the market. The only political philosophy that really offers the opportunity to do that is the democratic socialism that they have been seeking to uphold in those countries all those years. I think that is a tribute to the scope and energy of democratic socialism. And as people think about it the logic is bound to appeal.
In the meantime, before people come to final decisions, when this maelstrom of new liberty is swirling in those countries what we have got to do is to provide the maximum opportunity and the best support that we can offer to ensure that people do not just get their freedom, but get the chance to build their standard of living as well
Our country should already be properly involved in that support, certainly in the form of technical and training aid. But once again we see the ambivalent Prime Minister making gestures of encouragement and simultaneously using the language of tension. A couple of weeks ago, when she was in Japan, she described these changes in the Eastern Bloc with their great and inspiring possibilities for the advance of liberty as ‘a period of uncertainty and danger.’ It need be neither. Of course, no one is asking that defences be utterly dismantled in celebration of the election of Solidarnosc to government. I have not heard anybody advocating that. On the contrary, there could be a period of greater certainty and greater safety if people like Mrs Thatcher really wanted the advance of those conditions and were prepared not just to talk about it but to do something about it But yet again, even at this time of great opportunity to use democracy, to help democracy, we see Mrs Thatcher holding back.
It is always the same. From East-West disarmament negotiations to the attitude they adopt in the Commonwealth towards South Africa, to international environmental co-operation, relationships with the Third World and their posture within the European Community, Margaret Thatcher shows that she is from the Greta Garbo school of diplomacy, ‘I want to be alone.’ (Applause) That is the constant theme. It is not splendid isolation or cunning or sagacity or diplomatic skin. It is a fundamental failure to perceive and to try to secure Britain’s role in a rapidly changing Europe and a rapidly changing world. She is out of touch, out of date and out of step with the British people.
We are in step. We share the British people’s recognition of the reality that we have got a positive part to play in the development of the new relationship between East and West. We share their recognition, as they demonstrated it on 15 June, of the reality that we have got an essential part to play in a European Community that belongs at least as much to us as it belongs to anybody else. We are going to make it work in a way that can simultaneously develop it as a community and not just as a market. We are going to see that our country is safeguarded and stimulated and not emptied by that pull to the centre - a movement from Britain and other countries in the Community that would be devastating for so much of the European Community.
We will do that job properly, because you see, comrades, what these issues and many like them demonstrate is one of the biggest differences between the Tories and ourselves. In every sphere of policy, international and domestic, the big difference is that we are going forward to face the future to meet it, to try to shape it in the best interests of the British people. The Tories are just waiting for the future to hit them. That is all that can explain the way in which they are so confused over these great changes going on in the world. The way indeed in which, even knowing the fixed date of the arrival of the completion of the Single Market, they made no preparation for it; they just waited for it to come and wash over them. They made no preparation for the Channel Tunnel. They are supposed to be the great sponsors of that idea. They consulted no one, neither locally nor nationally. They did not plan, they did not invest. They will not finance the railways; they do not even know the regions exist. Now they do not even know if they can finance the finishing of the Tunnel.
When people are so purblind, when people are so incapable even of working towards fixed targets of the future, when they do not have to guess, look into crystal balls or make estimates, but have got a precise date and still mess it up, there is no part of the future that they are fit to rule.
That attitude towards tomorrow that they have is not good enough to serve the future. They are not good enough for the British people. We are now. I know that, you know that. You feel, you rejoice in and you work to increase the support that we have got. It is not an empty claim to say that this Conference is one of progress, is one indeed of celebration, not one of relaxation or of complacency. In Robert Frost’s words, we have ‘miles to go’ and ‘promises to keep.’ That should always be a guide for socialism. There is no time in socialism anywhere at all where we can take it easy, lean back, say the job is done. Nobody here will say that. But it is an encouragement, an inspiration to see this party working together, coming to a joint position on objectives, and not only telling itself, but exuding to the British public the feeling that we are fit to serve our country.
As I think of those things, I would like to put my feelings into words greater than anything I could ever produce, the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley:
A brighter dawn awaits the human day.
When poverty and privilege,
The fear of infamy
Disease and woe,
War with its million horrors and fierce hell shall live,
But only in the memory of time.
Let us seek power. Let us earn power. Let us be elected to power. Let us use power to ensure that all of those evils are put into the memory of time and we shall greet the brighter dawn of that day. (Prolonged applause)