Leader's speech, Blackpool 1998
Tony Blair (Labour)
Commentary:Blair began his speech by outlining some of Labour’s achievements in its first year in office, among which were a reduction in NHS waiting lists and the introduction of the New Deal for Young People. However, Blair continued, Britain faced a number of serious challenges, and he called on both the Party and the country as a whole to support the measures he was proposing to address them. These initiatives included the reform of the welfare state (particularly in the areas of pensions and disability benefits), an agreement between government, police and car manufacturers to reduce car crime by 30 per cent over five years, and measures to strengthen the family.
Thank you very much indeed and thank you, Richard, for that very kind introduction. One of the oddest things, talking about foreign countries, is that when you become Prime Minister, the first thing they do – that’s after they tell you how to launch the nuclear bomb - is to take your passport away from you. Seriously! Then they spend the rest of the time trying to take you travelling around the world. You have to be very careful. I do not know whether you remember seeing me make the speech to the French National Assembly in French. It went well and I got a bit cocky and the next time I was with the French Prime Minister, I agreed to do the press conference in 'French. Half way through the conference I got my French muddled up and instead of saying: ‘I admire Lionel Jospin in many different ways.’ (laughter) I announced to the people of France: ‘I desire Lionel Jospin in many different positions.’ (Applause) Still, the French are quite relaxed about that sort of thing. (Laughter)
A book I was reading recently told me about Philip of Macedonia who was a ruler many thousands of years ago. He employed a bloke who had a stick with a pig’s bladder on the end of it. The sole job of this bloke was to walk into Philip’s quarters, at any hour of the day or night, and belt him on the head with it, to tell him that he was only mortal and shouldn’t get above himself. (Laughter) What do I need a bloke with a stick and a pig’s bladder for? I've got John Prescott – he’s much better. (Applause and laughter) I’m afraid history doesn’t tell us who Philip of Macedonia’s deputy was, but I bet he wasn’t half as good as my deputy. (Applause)
Friends, this, year will be the year of challenge. Last year we celebrated victory. This year we meet in more mature and sober reflection. We have pride in what we have done, but we have the wisdom to accept there is much more to do. No longer novices in government, we carry more visibly its burdens and responsibilities. As Mario Cuomo once said: ‘In politics we campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose.’
Work is in progress. After years of rising health service waiting lists, in May, in June, in July, month by month they are falling - a pledge kept by this Labour government. (Applause)
For ten Tory years, class sizes rose. Today the latest figures are published. They show that already, this September, over 100,000 more children aged five, six and seven are in class sizes under 30 under this Labour government. (Applause)
The New Deal is up and running and 140,000 young men and women are on it. For years in opposition we railed against youth unemployment. Now, in government, in that first year it is down by more than a third since the election. That is a Labour government delivering for the people of this country. (Applause)
Over these next three years, £40 billion extra will go into our schools and hospitals - a figure every one of you should never tire of repeating - and with it comes 15,000 more nurses, 6,000 more nursing trainees, 7,000 more doctors. The £8 billion programme to build and renovate hospitals, modernise surgeries and get patients treated more quickly.
Every school being wired up to the Internet. 500,000 young people over three years to go into higher and further education. The school building programme: 7,000 schools already benefiting from it. New investment in literacy and numeracy.
And today, because we changed the law on how lottery money could be used, we can announce an extra £400 million for specialist health, education and environment projects, starting with a nation-wide programme to make our cancer services the best anywhere in the world. (Applause)
We have done more than we ever promised and where we have made promises, we are keeping them. Where we are accused of breaking them, it is over promises we never made. Yet this is a country rightly with very great expectations of us. People are posing questions far more fundamental than about what is in the manifesto. They ask: ‘How can I be sure about my job, about my family’s safety, about the future prosperity of my country?’
This is the challenge of this year of challenge. Finding security and stability in a world pushed ever faster by the irresistible forces of history and human invention. A world so fast, so competitive that today 90 per cent of new products are off the market within two years of being launched. Markets so powerful that they trade literally every day $1.3 trillion, more than the reserves of every country in the world put together. A world where 40 of the top 100 economies today are not countries by companies and a world where the spectre of global economic crisis - 25 per cent of the world in recession - now leaps on the back of change, spinning the world ever faster.
It is as if capitalism had found its own version of the permanent revolution and with it traditional society fractured and torn. Getting out to work, making ends meet, bringing up kids, looking after an elderly mum or dad - it isn’t easy. The change is profound. The challenge is real and there are only three choices: resist change - futile; let it happen - laissez-faire - each person for themselves, each country for itself; or, the third way, we manage change, together. We accept the challenge of the future but we refuse to consider ourselves powerless to overcome it. Modernise, reform, equip our country for the future. This way we face the challenge together and if the spirit of the nation is willing, it can make the body of the nation strong. One nation, one community, each and every one of us playing our part.
So I challenge business: you are the wealth creators; vital to the success of everything we do. We will work in partnership with you as a pro-business, pro-enterprise government pursuing policies for the long-term. But be honest: your fundamental problem is not high interest rates or a high pound. It is too few first class managers, too little investment, too little productivity, too much instability in economic management. (Applause)
What we inherited was not the golden legacy of Tory propaganda but the shiny gold wrapping of a pre-election boomlet. Inside was the reality: productivity 20-40 per cent beneath that of the USA, France or Germany; low investment; massive skills shortages; the science and research base of our country crumbling; above all, the hopeless addiction to boom and bust. I say to you, the very course urged on us by the Conservatives today is what gave us the 15 per cent interest rates, the disaster of Black Wednesday, the record repossessions, record job losses, record bankruptcies, record debt of the Tory years and we never want to return our country to that humiliation again. (Applause)
There is only one answer to the challenge. The rock of stability, not the shifting sands of stop-go. Then we can build the future upon it - a high-tech, high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy. not the low-wage, low-skill route this country has taken for far too long. (Applause)
So we have set a tough inflation target. We will meet it. There will be no backing down. We have taken politics out of interest rates - a tough decision, but the right decision - and there will be no backing down. We have set tough new rules on public spending and borrowing. We will stick to them - no backing down. We have an iron Chancellor and an iron commitment. To the Tories and anyone else who urges me to scrap the Bank of England's independence and intervene to devalue the pound, I say in all candour: we have sacrificed long-term strength playing that game far too often in the past. No backing down - backbone, not back down is what Britain needs. (Applause)
I challenge, too, those in our schools. There is no task more important than yours, for in your hands lies the future of our children. We are rising as a government to that challenge with £19 billion extra spending. But, again, let us be honest. Money is not the only problem. There are too few good state schools, too much tolerance of mediocrity and too little pursuit of excellence. So when, later this year, we propose the most fundamental reform of the teaching profession since state education began, where there will be increased rewards, but tied to higher performance, help us get it through. Because I have been to dozens and dozens of schools since becoming leader of this party. The minute you meet the head, you know if it is a good school. If a head teacher rises to the challenge of turning round a failing school, why should they not earn £60,000 or £70,000 a year? (Applause)
Equally, if they cannot run the school properly, they should not be running the school at all. (Applause) When, alongside the money, we insist that schools that fail are shut down and reopened with a new head, that if education authorities are letting our children down we will send in rescue teams or even partnerships involving the private sector, I say, work with us to get it done. Do not tell us we are unprincipled and unjust, for there is no greater injustice to inflict upon a child than a poor education. (Applause)
I challenge each and every one of us, too, over our welfare state. We are spending more but getting less, failing to help those who need it and sometimes helping those who do not. Billions are wasted every year through fraud and abuse. We have a system of unemployment benefit that still asks first not how to get people into work, but how to get them onto benefit. So when we announce today our long-term reforms of the gateway into unemployment benefit, support us.
The system of disability benefits is often chaotic and unfair in their assessment and administration. A system of pensions so out of date that unless we reform, half of those retiring in 25 years time will need a means-tested benefit at some point during their retirement.
I did not come into politics to dismantle the welfare state, I believe in it. But it is because I believe in its principles, its purpose, its values, that I know it needs change. So when we bring forward those proposals for change in our welfare reform bill in the coming Queen's Speech, do not tell us it is a betrayal of the welfare state when, in truth, welfare reform is the welfare state’s salvation. (Applause)
I challenge our health service, the greatest creation of a Labour government. You challenged us to find more money, and we have - £21 billion more. Of course we know how important it is to recruit and motivate staff, but with the money we put in must come modernisation. So when we introduce from next year long-term agreements for the delivery of services, the very first 24-tour nursing helpline, a new booking system to help patients get treated faster and when they want, a new £1 billion information technology programme, linking all the hospitals and GPs, all of which require big changes in the way the health service works, help us to get it done. When a new regime of inspections for hospitals and doctors comes in, the results are published, the failures remedied and we launch the biggest ever hospital building programme, but do it through private finance as well as public - because that is the best way to do it in the modern world - and we cap it all with a 3 per cent efficiency target so that the £21 billion actually goes to improve the service, work with us.
Just remember, that 1945 Labour manifesto proposing the National Health Service wasn’t called ‘remember the past.’ It was called Let us face the future and 50 years on it is time to stop preserving the National Health Service and time to start renewing it for the next 50 years. (Applause)
I challenge our police officers, too. We depend on you. We salute your bravery. But we need your help. Today we are announcing an agreement between police, car manufacturers and government on a target to cut car crime by 30 per cent over five years. It is one of the boldest partnerships in fighting crime this country has seen and it is being done under a Labour government. (Applause)
But we could do so much more. From tomorrow, thanks to new laws passed by this government, kids can be picked up for truancy, young children alone on the streets can be subject to curfews and parents made responsible for their children's behaviour. From April, anti-social neighbours who make life hell for people can be taken to court and punished. I say to the police, use those powers, and to the public, help the police to make them work. And when I announce today that we will be introducing, first in 20 of the worst crime spots in the country, then across the whole length of Britain, targeted policing that has cut burglary in Huddersfield by 30 per cent and crime in one. Leicester estate by almost 30 per cent, do not tell us it cannot be done, because some of you are doing it already. Do not show zero imagination. Help us to have zero tolerance of crime. That is what we need. (Applause)
I challenge us too, to accept that a strong family life is the basic unit of a strong community. For strong families mean a strong Britain. It will not be done by travelling back in time. I know family life has changed, for good reasons as well as bad. But the family is central to our vision of a modern Britain, built on the kinds of rights and responsibilities we learn in the home. Responsibilities like the belief that if you father a child, that child has got something to do with you and the child’s mother has every right to expect support. (Applause)
In October, we are going to publish the first ever government paper on the family. It will put forward ideas to give practical support to parents and children, help in dealing with poverty, help in balancing work and family, action on domestic violence, teenage pregnancies, supporting marriage. And I challenge our media too: do not use it as an excuse to dredge through the private lives of every public figure. Accept that whatever our individual weaknesses are, our collective strength lies in making the institution of the family work for the good of Britain. (Applause)
Not a single one of these challenges is easy, but we have faced already a challenge as hard as any other. Imagine the pride I felt in this country when I took a call from no less a person than Nelson Mandela, saying that Northern Ireland cast a beacon of hope across the globe. Of course, we are not there yet - decommissioning, setting up the new executive - a lot to sort out, and we will never forget the tragedy of Omagh. But it was there that the terror finally lost its power to divide and instead it unified. And how was it done? It took the British, the Irish and the Americans standing together as never before and I thank Bertie Ahern for what he has done and I thank Bill Clinton too. (Applause)
It took our one and only Mo of course. (Standing ovation) I think I can say without fear of contradiction that that is the first time there has been a standing ovation in the middle of a speech - and the person getting the ovation is not even the person making the speech. (Laughter) And, of course, it took the people. Even in the final hours of those Good Friday talks, with the deadline passing, black coffee on tap, tables being thumped, exhausted bodies lying on sofas, strewn with drafts and redrafts - at 4.30 in the morning I remember standing with my back to the door saying to one side about to walk out ‘You’re not going until we have sorted this’ - I could feel the will of that vast decent majority of people in Northern Ireland urging us on. The only road they really want to march down is the road to the future. (Applause)
It takes people to lead them: people like David Trimble, John Hume and Seamus Mallon, and, yes, it takes Gerry Adams, David Ervine and Gary McMichael too. (Applause) It takes them to close their ears to the prejudices of their own parties and to listen to the prayers of the people for peace. Most of all, it takes us all to work together as a community; to set a course and stick to it, not get deflected; listen to criticism, but not be paralysed by it; state our destination and march with a firm step toward it, through the thickets of disillusion, the ambushes of the oppositionalists, for whom all change is betrayal and who long for our failure.
It is that same spirit of determination and the power of community that should be the country’s guide now in this year of challenge. And let me warn you - warn us, the Labour Party - when we make reform, people will oppose you. They will stand up at public meetings and be applauded for attacking you. When you reform welfare, they will say you are betraying the poor. When you tackle crime, it will be an affront to civil liberties. When you take on inflation, you will be destroying industry. When we give the new London Mayor the power to introduce congestion charging and invest that money in public transport, so that London, one of the greatest capital cities in the world, can get the transport system it needs, they will say we are anti-car.
And the Tories will go for you with an opportunism that would make a Liberal Democrat blush (laughter and applause), like their health and education spokesmen condemning us for not spending enough, while their leader denounces us for spending too much; or the two extra-terrestrials in charge of Tory economic policy - Mr Maude and Mr Redwood - if you remember, accusing Gordon of snubbing the unions by not going to the TUC and claiming our policy on the coal industry was betraying miners’ jobs. (Laughter)
Yes, there will be attacks to the left of you, attacks to the right of you, attacks from behind and in front. Welcome to government. (Applause) Success in life, as you know, never comes without a struggle and this is our challenge - to hold firm, to show the same resolution in changing the country as we did when we changed the Labour Party, to do what is right.
Of course we would rather be popular than unpopular, but it is better to be unpopular than wrong. (Applause) And realise this: last May they voted for new Labour, not just against the Tories. Loathing of the Tories was never enough for a landslide. They wanted a new Labour Party: not in the pocket of the trade unions; not taxing them through the roof; not chasing after every passing fad of the political fringe; but, modern, principled, in touch; tough enough to take the decisions they know in their heart of hearts are necessary for the future of Britain. Decisions the Tones ducked and, you see, you cannot say you want more people at university but oppose reform of student finance. (Applause) You cannot say you want £40 billion of extra spending on schools and hospitals and not defend the two tough years that made it possible.
I am proud we had the courage to take those decisions. I am proud that it is a Labour government that has cut corporation tax to the lowest it has ever been; proud that it is under a Labour government today that long-term interest rates are at their lowest level for 30 years. I am proud, too, that after years of Tory muddle, it was this party in government that conducted the strategic defence review, the most difficult exercise in reform in our armed forces since the war and the world's foremost defence magazine called it an object lesson in modern defence capability that puts the rest of the world to shame. I am proud of that, and you should be proud of it too. (Applause)
I am proud that it is a Labour government that is giving more for rural transport, more protection for village schools, shops and services than the Tories ever did. And I understand the plight of farmers. We are doing our level best to get the BSE ban lifted. We are giving public support already worth £50 for every man; woman and child in this country. We will do what we can and the way to put your case is by peaceful persuasion and no other. (Applause)
Yes, we are new Labour and we are proud of it. But do not give me this nonsense that we’re simply a more moderate or competent Tory government. What Tory government would ever have put £800 million into our poorest estates in order to give them a future of hope? (Applause) What Tory government would have raised-child benefit by over 20 per cent or given free eye tests to pensioners, or given four weeks' minimum holiday entitlement to Britain’s workers? What Tory government would have been prepared to increase by 25 per cent our spending on art and museums, not for what the sneer squad call ‘luvvies’, but because we believe art and culture are a liberating, wonderful addition to human experience and an integral part of the country we are trying to create. (Applause)
Then, you tell me what Tory government would have introduced, as we have, from 1 April next year, the first British statutory minimum wage - a pay rise for two million workers (applause) - and backed it up with the working families tax credit, which means that no family earning less than £220 a week pays a penny in income tax? Or, for the first time, to give people the right to be represented by a trade union where the majority of the workforce want it, (applause) something campaigned for during more than a century, promised by every Labour government there has ever been, but which will be delivered by this one.
And you tell me what Tory government would have given the peoples of Africa and Asia a 25 per cent increase in aid and development. (Applause) Thousands of communities, tens of thousands of people, many starving and destitute, will live not die, have hope, not despair and may never know it was a new Labour government in Britain that had the courage to say: ‘You are our brothers and sisters and we accept our duty to you as members of the same human race.’ (Applause)
But more than that, we have done all this with the public behind us. Why? For a reason that should give every one of you confidence. The centre-left may have lost the battle of ideas in the 1980s, but we are winning now and we have won a bigger battle today - the battle of values.
The challenge we face has to be met by us together: one nation; one community; social justice; partnership; co-operation; the equal worth of all; the belief that the best route to individual advancement and happiness lies in a thriving society of others. These were words and concepts derided in the 1980s; these are the values of today, not just here but round the world. At long last, ‘It's up to me’ is being replaced by ‘It’s up to us.’ (Applause) That crude individualism of the 1980s is the mood no longer. The spirit of the times today is community. Consider the Tories in their 18 years. How was it that a Tory party that in 1979 came to power as the party of law and order, of attacking welfare scroungers, of the family, ended up presiding over a crime rate that doubled, welfare spending that tripled and the family in greater decline than ever before? Because they really did think there was no such thing as society. That is why.
I remember the young guy I met in Scotland recently - a ‘new dealer’, intelligent, confident, clear about his future - now promoted in the firm that took him on. I said to him, ‘How could you ever have been without a job?’ He said: ‘You didn’t know me six months ago. Six months ago you wouldn’t have employed me, but I’ve discovered I’m better than I ever thought I was.’ There are millions of people in that position - children with talent they will never use, ability they will never develop, achievements within them that the world will never see. Deny opportunity, leave injustice or discrimination unchecked and we lay waste the genius of the nation. When a young black student, filled with talent, is murdered by racist thugs and Stephen Lawrence becomes a household name, not because of the trial into his murder, but because of an inquiry into why his murderers are walking free, it isn't just wrong, it weakens the very bonds of decency and respect we need to make our country strong. (Applause)
For we stand stronger together.
On Sunday I spoke to Gerhard Schroeder. His victory, like ours, shows what people around the world already know. We have passed the end of one era and entered a new one. Five years ago, people said the politics of fairness were finished, that only losers cared about social justice. Today, of 15 European Union countries, 13 have centre-left governments in politics to combat injustice; in power because their people support them and their countries need them; ending the century with the clock going forward again, not turning back.
In this era, a new agenda: economies that compete on knowledge, on the creative power of the many, not the few; societies based on inclusion not division; countries that are internationalist not isolationist. This is the third way, our way of reconnecting people to political idealism in an age where political ideology is distrusted.
It is no coincidence that the debates on devolution and Europe are happening together. Round the world, nations are reshaping their identity as national states look at their future place in the world. I am a patriot. I want Britain strong. I want the UK strong. But strength comes not from saying our constitution is perfect when the people know that it needs reform. Strength will come from reform - from facing up to its challenge. Strength won't come from isolation - not in today's world. From Kyoto to Kosovo, the challenge can only be met by standing stronger together. (Applause)
That is what makes the anti-Europeanism of the Tories so depressingly backward. When we balloted our members on Clause IV, we did it to move the Labour Party back to the centre. They are doing it to leave the centre behind. For a whole century, they had members with no ballots. Now they have ballots with no members. (Laughter and Applause)
But if Russia, with whom our trade is tiny, can affect our economy’s confidence, think what a crisis in Europe could do, with whom we do 60 per cent of our trade. Of course we should be positive and constructive in Europe. Britain is stronger for it. And though Britain will take the decision on the Euro in our own time and in our own national interest, meanwhile we work to make the Euro succeed, we prepare our business, we educate our people so that we will be free to join, if we wish to, if the economic benefits are clear.
Sure, we have to reform Europe. We are winning that battle because when the European Union helps us trade, promote prosperity, save our environment or co-operate on cross-border crime, it is doing what the European Union should be doing. When it starts interfering with every last detail of our national life, that is a Europe we can do without. Decentralise where possible, integrate where necessary. Believe me, those are sentiments that would win support anywhere today in the European Union. We can play a leading role with others in Europe in getting reform. The others in Europe want us to. But we cannot be leaders without being partners. (Applause)
And do not fall for this right-wing myth about choosing the United States over the European Union. Stronger in Europe means stronger with the US and the stronger we stand with the United States, the stronger the bridge we build between our European partners and our American friends. Community values beyond our national boundaries and within our United Kingdom, the same. Standing stronger together.
To those who say devolution has let the genie out of the bottle, I say, look at the Tories. They clung to the status quo; they do not have a single seat in Scotland or Wales to show for it. (Applause) The enemies of the Union are the advocates of the status quo and the separatists alike. We have defeated the one and we will defeat the other. (Applause)
There is the SNP; they want Scotland wrenched out of the UK and relations with England, can you believe it, run by a minister for external affairs, as if we lived on separate planets. Forget for a moment the threat to jobs, to industry, when 50 per cent of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK. It is wrong in principle. It is the wrong set of values. Instead of solidarity, it is separatism, isolation. They look at England as the Tories look at Europe and I say, enough of this narrow chauvinism, masquerading as idealism. Scotland stronger with England - England stronger with Scotland. Standing stronger together. (Applause) That is how the challenge of change is conquered, not by failing to make change, but by changing in a way that gives us strength for the future.
You know, when we have devolved power to Scotland with PR, to Wales, with PR, to Northern Ireland, with PR, I find it odd that I have been called a control freak by the Liberal Democrats. (Applause) Paddy, you have been in Downing Street often enough now to know that all major speeches have to be cleared through my press office. (Laughter) This one was not, so I declare it inoperative. (Laughter)
I believe in the co-operation we have had between Labour and Liberal Democrats, where we agree - and there are many issues where we do so. Our politics should be grown up enough to say so. Lord Jenkins is due to report on PR for Westminster. Let us listen to what is said, but be assured: this government will decide its response in the interests of the country, not in the interests of the Liberal Democrats. (Applause)
Now, this government is giving more power back to people than any government this century. Yet still, you know, the Tories call us arrogant. People say there is no Tory opposition any more. Well, there is. It is alive and well and unelected, in the House of Lords with a three to one majority over us. (Applause) Not a vote to their name, but able to vote down the plans that the people voted for in our manifesto. I call that arrogance. (Applause) And when we use the mandate the British people gave us at the ballot box to get rid of the power of those hereditary peers, I call that democracy. (Applause) And what is more, this supposed control freak will be the first Prime Minister to remove from himself the sole power of patronage in appointing peers. No - those Tories do not really think we are arrogant in what we are doing. They think we are arrogant in being in government at all. (Applause)
But ours is a mission to modernise for a purpose; to build a Britain strong and prosperous. Strong because it is just, prosperous because it uses the talents of all the people. Confident because the challenge is being taken on not by each of us in isolation from each other, but together, one nation, sure of its values and therefore sure of its future. Look at our country through the eyes of a child growing up today. They are anxious too - more anxious than we were at their age, and no wonder. More violence, more crime, drugs, families breaking down, the old moral order under strain.
I want for my children the Britain that you want for yours. Of course I want them to be successful and to go on and make a decent living. But I want more than that. I want them to grow up in a country of which they feel proud. I want to build for them a country in which their children can play safely in the park and can walk home at night without fear. A country in which every school is a good school and every child able to fulfil their potential. A country in which every colour is a good colour and every member of every race able to fulfil their potential. A country in which the sick are cared for and the weak are tended by the strong. A country in which every parent treasures their children when young and every child cherishes their parents when old. That is a country to be proud of. That is a community worth the name. And as our children’s prospects rise, so our country’s prospects rise. As our children grow in confidence, so our country grows in confidence. And as our country grows in confidence, that challenge I described does not seem so daunting after all.
By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. Clause IV, part 4 of our new constitution. (Applause) Now is the time to practise it. No retreat from the road to the future. We build our party, we serve our country, we rise to that challenge and rise to it together. (Standing ovation)