Leader's speech, Brighton 2000
Tony Blair (Labour)
Commentary:Blair delivered this speech against the backdrop of the fuel crisis, in which farmers and hauliers blockaded oil refineries to protest at the high price of petrol. Here, Blair summarised some of New Labour’s achievements so far and acknowledged some of its failures. In anticipation of the forthcoming general election in 2001, Blair set out his vision for second Labour term in office, key elements of which were a new strategy to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, a ten-year public-private partnership to renew the transport system, and more powers for the police to tackle anti-social behaviour.
No prime minister, no party leader, could have a better deputy than John Prescott. You know why the Tories hate him: because he started out as a seaman, steward on a ship, rose to be deputy prime minister and has never hidden or been anything other than totally proud of where he came from. And you know why I like him: because not once in the last two weeks has he reminded me that when he was in charge in August we were 20 points ahead in the polls.
I set out today the next steps of our journey to renew our country.
Prosperity spreading to all parts of Britain.
Secondary schools transformed.
A modern NHS.
A 21st century transport system.
The yob culture tackled.
On the way to ending child poverty.
On the road to full employment.
The people’s priorities our priorities.
That is a second term vision worth fighting for.
Our destination: a Britain where, in a world of change, everyone not just a few gets the chance to succeed.
For me, the large majority we won was never a reason to do the job quickly; but to do it properly. We knew: first base was getting the fundamentals in place. We said we would sort the economy out. We have. The strongest British economy for decades, delivered by this New Labour government. We said we’d get people off benefit and into work. We are. 1 million more jobs. We said we’d invest in schools and hospitals. It is happening. And because we chose to invest; because we have in this country tens of thousands of dedicated hard working teachers as determined as we are to give every child a chance to succeed, last week, Britain had the best primary school results it has ever seen. That is what I call: delivering on the fundamentals.
And I could go on and give a list of all the other promises kept and change delivered.
Over a million children out of poverty.
This government leading the way on the environment at Kyoto.
Devolution to the people of Scotland, Wales and London.
Progress in Northern Ireland. Free eye tests for pensioners.
Higher benefits for disabled children. 150,000 lone parents into work.
Lowest business taxes. Record rises in child benefit.
I could go on and on. Because we should be proud of our record. Not self-satisfied. Never complacent. But plain proud because the firm foundations we promised to lay are in place.
But this is not a time for lists. But for setting out the big choices facing Britain and for dialogue.
I’m the prime minister that’s supposed to be the great reader of public opinion. After the events of two weeks ago, it’s no wonder the government has taken a knock. It happened on my watch and I take responsibility. So: what do we make of it?
Three years ago, Britain was desperate to get the Tories out. The people liked the look of us. We were a breath of fresh air. New faces, new ideas, new policies. In some areas we’ve exceeded expectations. Let us be honest, a few people doubted the economy would be stronger under Labour. But it is. They like the 1m new jobs. They believe we are trying to make progress on schools and hospitals.
But for many families life’s still a struggle. It’s tough, balancing work and family. Jobs can be insecure. There’s the mortgage to pay; the holiday to save for. Inflation may be lower but the kids’ trainers don’t get any cheaper. Then, people hear the 20 second clip on the news. They see the ding-dong at prime minister’s questions. They try to make sense of the swirling mass of news and comment in the 24-hour media age. And they think: you’re not listening. What’s it got to do with me? Where is this journey’s end? And a fog descends on the very dialogue between Government and people necessary to get there.
And, yes, there are things we have done that have made people angry and we should be open enough to admit it.
The dome. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if I had my time again, I would have listened to those who said governments shouldn’t try to run big visitor attractions.
75p. I tell you now, as Gordon made crystal clear yesterday, we get the message.
But I believe that when people reflect, on the big fundamentals that determine our future - the economy, jobs, public services - we are doing the right thing, and we are on the right track for Britain; and the last thing this country needs is a return to Tory government.
Let me come direct to the fuel crisis. I owe you an explanation. Yes, petrol is expensive. But of the 14p rise since the Budget last year, 12 pence has been in the world oil price. Which is why these protests have taken place all over the world.
It’s true that it’s cheaper elsewhere in Europe. But VAT is often higher there. Income tax is higher. Business taxes are higher. There are road tolls and higher national insurance charges. All in all, Britain has the lowest overall tax burden of any large industrialised nation in the world except Japan and the USA. In the USA, you don’t have the NHS. It’s true that there will be extra revenues coming to government as a result of higher oil prices. But they nowhere near cover the protesters’ demands.
And there’s something more. I am listening to people’s anger over fuel duties. For hauliers and farmers to say nothing of ordinary motorists, there is real hardship.
But I have also had to listen over under-funding in the NHS.
Over extra investment in schools.
Over more police on the beat.
Over public transport.
I am listening over mortgages, where low interest rates can only be maintained if disciplined public finances are kept.
I am also listening to pensioners who believe the government should give them a greater share of the country’s prosperity.
Our first priority was to help the 2 million pensioners, many of them elderly women, who depend on income support. I make no apology for helping the poorest first and neither should this Party. Through the winter allowance, now £150, and free TV licences for over 75s, we helped people with their most pressing costs.
We rejected returning to the earnings link. For the next two or three years we could afford it; but 10, 15 years down the line, it would have imposed a huge financial burden on a future generation that would have been unfair to them. We want to do more for middle and lower income pensioners. You do not meet long term need by giving the wealthiest the same help as the poorest.
But I know there are pensioners not on benefit, who have saved all their lives but are not by any stretch of the imagination wealthy, and for whom the basic state pension and other government help is essential. It is right they share in the nation’s wealth.
I am listening. I hear. And I will act.
The point I’m making is this. The real world is full of competing causes. Most of them good. Most of them deserving. Many of them heart-rending. And it’s not an arrogant government that chooses priorities. It’s an irresponsible government that fails to choose.
The test of leadership in politics is not how eloquently you say yes. It’s how you explain why you’re saying no.
To be in touch is to be in sympathy.
To be in government is to decide.
And would it ever be right to choose a priority simply on the basis of a fuel blockade? What of those who can’t protest; whose voice isn’t supported by the media; who go neglected unless we speak for them?
So I am listening.
But I was also elected to lead.
And if we want to reach our journey’s end - that strong, fair and prosperous Britain for all - there are choices to be made. There are forks in the road, where which way we take determines the future lives of millions of people. They are decisions of destiny and I would like to explain them.
The first big choice: a government with the strength to deliver stability, or a government that takes the country back to boom and bust. Without economic strength, there will never be a Britain where everyone can succeed. Remember the late 80s/early 90s, interest rates at 10% for four years, 15% for a year. One million families in negative equity. Record repossessions.
Contrary to the myth, we inherited an economy trapped in a cycle of boom and bust; interest rates above those in our main competitors; and a big budget deficit. That was them after 18 years. After 3 years of us, ask yourselves this. Why has this country now got the lowest inflation rate in Europe?
Employment and vacancies at record levels?
The budget deficit, turned into the highest surplus in any major European country?
It is not luck that we enjoy this economic strength. It is not coincidence.
It is the result of choices, hard choices, taken by this government. By Gordon Brown, one of the most inspired chancellors this country has seen. Bank of England independence. Opposed by the Conservatives.
Sorting out the nation’s finances. Opposed by the Conservatives.
The cheek of these Tories arguing about how we spend the surplus.
Let us remind them.
In May 1997, we didn't have a surplus. We had a national debt so large we were paying as much in interest payments on the debt as on schools and police put together.
Today the Tories are back with exactly the plan of 10 years ago. You don’t need me to predict it. We all experienced it. Don’t ever let them con us into boom and bust again.
The second big choice: a government with the strength to help people through change, or a government that leaves you to fend for yourself.
Never forget: in 18 Tory years, unemployment trebled. Families of three generations with nobody bringing in a wage. Record youth unemployment. And what did they say: it was a price worth paying. Unemployment is never a price worth paying. The New Deal has helped nearly a million people with work or training, the largest ever jobs programme Britain has seen. The Working Families’ Tax Credit makes work pay for over a million families. Childcare and training has helped 150,000 women find work or get a better job.
A woman wrote to me recently and said that, for the first time in her life, thanks to the Working Families’ Tax Credit, she could afford a holiday and thanks to the Social Chapter, she was entitled to one.
And at long last a national statutory minimum wage has given 1½ million people the dignity of a decent living wage.
And we have introduced the democratic right, delivered after 100 years of trying, to be represented by a trade union should you want it.
That was our choice. Not to leave you at the mercy of markets. Not to walk by. Not to say: tough, sink or swim.
Every single one of those measures was opposed by the Conservatives.
Every single one fought against, tooth and nail.
That was their choice. And though they say they support the national minimum wage now, does anyone believe them? Their policies may change every five minutes. Their prejudices will never change.
And in the next stage we need to do more. Because the pace of change will quicken. It’s not just poorer families that need help. To give everyone the chance to succeed, right in the heartlands of middle Britain, there are families and businesses that will need that helping hand.
And because of the scale of what we are doing, and the scale of our ambition, let me set out in detail what we are doing, and what we will do in the future.
Because 90% of new jobs will need skills with computers, there will be 6000 centres round Britain, giving access to the internet and help with technology. Everyone will get an 80% discount on computer courses, the unemployed will get it for free. There will be 1000 more technology centres for small businesses or the self-employed.
Because we want to stay ahead in the new technologies we are investing £2¼ billion over five years in British science, the largest investment since the 1960s.
Because we know small businesses are a big part of the future, we are setting up venture capital funds in every region, tax breaks for investment, cuts in small business tax and the new Small Business Service to act as their advocate and protector in government.
And because we know the danger that in a changing world new forms of inequality and social exclusion are created: the Sure Start programme - £500 million - to help children in poverty; a new Careers Service for school leavers; cutting homelessness and helping the homeless get jobs; a £1 billion programme to renew deprived neighbourhoods; and extending the New Deal in the unemployment blackspots of Britain.
I want to be the first prime minister in 40 years to stand up and say; Britain is back at full employment.
But it all depends on having the strength to make the choice.
Not by leaping aboard every passing bandwagon.
There’s Mr Hague. Standing around waiting for a bandwagon. Then three come along at once. There he was, week after week, glued to the box, to see who was voted out of Big Brother. And then announced it had always been Tory policy to throw them out.
Opportunism always knocks for William Hague.
You want tax cuts? Have them.
Spending rises? Have them too.
It all makes sense after 14 pints. Everything makes sense after 14 pints.
John Redwood looks sane. Michael Portillo looks loyal.
After 14 pints, even William Hague looks like a prime minister.
The third big choice: a government with the strength to invest for the long term, or a government that cuts our public services.
For 18 years, Britain suffered chronic under-investment in our public services. It held people back; it reduced opportunity. How could we reach a Britain where everyone can succeed, when, in May ’97 half, literally half, of all 11-year-olds failed their basic tests?
Or the NHS was on its knees.
Or our transport system was the poor man of Europe?
So to get to the next stage of our journey.
Our education, health and transport plans represent the most radical reform in public services over ten years any government has produced since the War.
So again, let me set out in detail the journey so far, and the plans for a second term.
So far, 11,000 schools with new buildings.
120,000 more free nursery places.
As well as the best ever primary school tests, three hundred thousand fewer infants in classes of more than 30.
300 more specialist secondary schools, improving their results at twice the average for other schools.
A £200m reform programme to improve inner city comprehensives.
A billion pound investment in our teachers to reward excellence in the classroom.
But this is only the beginning. The next stage on the journey requires not only excellent primary schools but first-class secondary schools.
By 2004, there will be one thousand specialist schools.
An extra billion pound investment in ICT, to ensure one computer to every five children in our secondary schools.
Catch-up tuition for all 11- and 12 year-olds who arrive without good literacy and numeracy.
New targets for 14- and 16-year-olds.
Better incentives for staying on at school, and an overhaul of further education to raise standards.
New bursaries for student teachers of up to £10,000, with already a 50% rise in graduate applications.
And all these are policies that flow from our central belief that every single child deserves an equal chance. That every child is a unique asset to be brought to their fullest potential. It is why we are in this party. It is why education is the passion of this government.
In our manifesto, line one of our contract with the people promised to increase the share of our national wealth spent on education during this Parliament.
A promise made. A promise kept.
Today I make a further commitment.
Line one of the contract in the next manifesto will be a promise to increase the share of our national wealth spent on education in the next Parliament.
Education. Education. Education. Then. Now. And in the future.
Again, on health, let me set out the scale of our plans, for now and for a second term.
The waiting list pledge has been met.
There are 10,000 more nurses in the NHS.
Every A&E that needs it is being modernised.
The biggest ever hospital building programme is under way.
But we all know. 18 years of neglect isn’t put right in three years.
Earlier this year we got the money to plan for a five year record rise in NHS spending. But we are New Labour. We don’t just spend. Alan Milburn and I sat down with people in the NHS and said it's a deal: we provide the cash, you rise to the challenge of modernising the NHS. They responded magnificently.
Our NHS plan is something the party can be proud of. The NHS was the greatest achievement of the post-war Labour government. It was based on a single, clear, enduring value: that healthcare should be based on need not ability to pay. Some objected to that principle then. Some urge us to abandon it now. But this party, the Labour party will never abandon what was one of the greatest civilising acts of emancipation this country has ever known.
Under the plan, for the first time a system of inspection and accountability for all parts of the NHS, with new money to reward good performance.
For the first time, nurses and other health professionals given the bigger roles that their qualifications and expertise deserve.
For the first time local health services and local social services brought closer together in one organisation.
For the first time, the NHS and the private sector in a proper partnership to deliver healthcare.
For the first time, money set aside specifically to get rid of the dirty corridors, the poor food, the mixed sex wards which demoralise patients and staff.
For the first time, new consultants trained within the NHS, paid for by the taxpayer, will give the early years of their service exclusively to National Health Service patients.
Today, as we set out the next steps, I want to focus on cancer.
There will be nobody in this hall, or watching from their homes, who has not seen a friend or family member struck down by cancer.
As things stand, one in every four people in this country will die of cancer.
Under the plan we publish tomorrow, there will be 1000 more cancer specialists over the next six years - up nearly a third.
295 new scanners and radio-therapy machines so that for the first time the NHS can meet proper equipment standards for diagnosing and treating cancer.
By 2003 for the first time the government will be matching pound for pound charity funding for cancer research.
Cancer patients in all parts of the country will get the right drugs at the right time, regardless of where they live. The postcode lottery ended. Waiting times will be cut. Maximum two weeks from GP appointment to first hospital appointment for suspected urgent cases. And, as we increase the number of specialists, a maximum wait of one month from diagnosis to treatment starting.
And because breast cancer kills 11,000 women every year, because it causes so much pain and suffering among Britain's families, we will extend breast cancer screening to all women aged over 65, helping an extra 400,000 women by 2004.
Then on transport, in July John Prescott and Gus Macdonald set out in detail Britain's first ever transport plan, a unique 10 year £180 billion partnership between public and private sector to renew our transport system.
A massive programme for the second term. It will take time. Investment. And a Labour government to see it through.
The Conservatives have made their choice.
They are committed to £16bn of cuts in our investment.
When they made this commitment, I asked for research on what sort of things you'd have to cut over a 12 month period to deliver on a £16bn cuts guarantee. Back came the answer.
20,000 doctors. Cut.
Plus 20,000 prison officers. Cut.
Plus 40,000 nurses. Cut.
Plus 40,000 teachers. Cut.
Plus 40,000 police officers. Cut under the Tory cuts guarantee.
And then: 20 hospitals. Shut.
150 secondary schools. Shut. 500 primary schools. Shut under the Tory cuts guarantee.
And we’ve still got five billion pounds to go. How will they get there?
The biggest ever rise in child benefit. Cut.
Free TV licences for 3 million pensioners. Cut.
The £150 winter fuel allowance. Cut under the Tory cuts guarantee.
1200 intensive care beds. Cut.
Free eye tests for pensioners. Cut. 250 cancer scanners. Cut.
Half a million nursery places. Cut. 100,000 childcare places. Cut under the Tory cuts guarantee.
And just to round it up to £16 billion, the country's entire arts and sports budget. Cut under the Tory cuts guarantee.
And in every constituency, in every part of this country, we will force every Tory candidate to say where the cuts will fall.
The fourth big choice: a government with the strength to build strong communities, or a government that believes there is no such thing in society.
Crime, anti-social behaviour, racial intolerance, drug abuse, destroy families and communities. They destroy the very respect for others on which society is founded. They blight the life chances of thousands of young people and the quality of life of millions more. Fail to confront this evil and we will never build a Britain where everyone can succeed.
So we invest to give opportunity. Not just in jobs and services.
Today we set out plans to invest £750million of lottery money in schools and community sport as part of a £1billion investment over three years. It’s a policy we have put together with Trevor Brooking, chairman of Sport England, who has flown here from Sydney and who believes passionately, as I do, that this is not just a sports policy. It’s a health policy, an education policy, an anti-crime policy, an anti-drugs policy.
By acknowledging the duty to care, we earn the right to be tough on crime. 4 out of 10 violent crimes are alcohol related. Half of property crime drug-related.
It is time for zero tolerance of the yob culture. Time to stand up for the pensioner afraid to go out. Time to stand up for the single mothers scared to walk to the shops. Time to stand up to the thugs and the bullies. Time to tighten bail to deal with the absurdity of people released in the morning committing offences in the afternoon. Time to give the police powers to close pubs where there is fighting. Time to give them powers to ban drink in public places. Time to give them the power to impose curfews on children up to 16 and time to use them. Time to give them the power without the hassle of endless forms and court bureaucracy, to issue fixed penalty fines for loutish behaviour. Time to give offenders on drugs a choice: get treatment or lose your liberty because society needs protection from you.
These measures require legislation. So will the new and sweeping powers we intend to give to the police and customs to investigate organised crime and to confiscate their assets. If they need further powers, they will get them.
You don’t beat today’s drug gangs by applying the Queensberry rules. It is time the law enforcement agencies were able to do as much damage to organised crime as organised crime does to our communities.
We have increased funding for victim support, and given special help to victims of rape and sexual offences, but we need to do more.
- They should get full information about the progress of the case.
- About the sentence, and about the release of the criminal.
- Proper compensation, backed by a Victims’ Ombudsman.
And, I believe that the victim of a crime should be able to give a written assessment of the impact of the crime upon them, which should be presented in open court, and taken into account when sentencing decisions are made.
Standing up to criminals. Standing up for victims. Another big project for the second term of a Labour government.
The fifth choice: a government that leads in the world, or a government that retreats into isolation.
This is a world moving closer together. In money and trade; the environment; defence and security; the war against drugs and crime; even today the call for lower oil prices: strength comes through partnership; influence through international engagement.
Standing up for Britain means standing up for our armed services.
Standing up for Britain means know we are stronger with the US if we are stronger in Europe, and stronger in Europe if we are stronger with the US.
Standing up for Britain means standing up for British jobs and British industry.
On the Euro, standing up for Britain means taking the decision in the interests of Britain, not the interests of the internal warfare inside the Tory party.
I believe we should join if the economics are right. At present, they aren’t.
But the choice at the election is not whether we join: that decision is for the people in a referendum.
The issue is: do we rule out joining? Do we rule out even the option?
How is that standing up for Britain, Britain’s jobs, Britain’s industry, the living standards of Britain’s people?
And standing up for Britain means standing up for our values overseas, in Sierra Leone, in Kosovo. And I say to Milosevic. You lost. Go. Your country and the world has suffered enough.
These are the choices we make.
These are our second term plans.
A ten-year plan for a modern NHS. The transformation of secondary education.
A cradle to grave poverty strategy.
A plan to harness new technology to spread prosperity to all. A plan to make our streets safe and our society strong. A 10 year plan for modern transport.
The next steps to full employment.
This is a programme worth fighting for. A second term more radical than the first. A quickening of the pace of reform. The next steps on our journey. All based on our enduring mission, to offer everyone, not just the privileged few, the chance to succeed.
And lighting our path is this belief: that today a strong economy and a strong society are two sides of the same coin.
To succeed as an economy we develop the talents of all.
To be a fair society, we give opportunity to all.
The political consequences are historic; self-interest and the common good are at long last in alliance.
Look at the irony of the Tory years. The Tories who said only they could manage the economy ended up with boom and bust. The Tory party that said it would get tough on benefit claimants, ended up spending more on social security than schools and hospitals put together. The Tory party that said it would stand up for the family, presided over more instability, more single parents on benefit, more truancy, more juvenile crime than any in history.
Why? Because they offered short-term tax cuts that could not be sustained rather than investing for the long-term.
Because they thought there was no such thing as society.
In the world of the 80s that might have been cruel; in the 21st century it simply won’t work.
Do you know how much we save from almost 1 million fewer welfare claimants since we took power. £4 billion per annum. Enough for 75,000 nurses and 70,000 teachers.
Do you know how much it would cost to take out private medical insurance, as the Tories want? Over £1500 a year for the average family.
Do you know the cost to the British economy of transport congestion a year? The equivalent of 8p on your income tax.
Do you know why we say this is a learn more, earn more world? Because a graduate earns 40 % more than the average.
On your side for the Tories means nodding along with your prejudices - English language lessons for foreign doctors - you know they’re not talking about the Swiss.
But really being on your side is to be there with you on the big questions, on the fundamentals.
What began as a moral crusade is now also the path to prosperity. What started as a belief in the equal worth of all is also a programme for wealth creation.
Realism and idealism at last in harmony.
So when the Tories say: we’ll cut Labour’s investment and give you tax cuts, it’s a fool’s game. We will cut tax for people as we can, but will do it in a way that lasts not at the expense of the very stability and investment on which the wealth and security of millions of families depend.
So that is my explanation. That’s why I won’t take the easy way. Because that way we cannot reach our journey’s end.
And all that really stands between us and our destination is confidence. And trust.
The confidence that gives us strength to make the choices; the trust that there is a vision, an end to believe in.
Don’t tell me that a country with our history and heritage, that today boasts six of the top ten businesses in the whole of Europe, with London the top business city in Europe, that is a world leader in technology and communication and the businesses of the future, that under us has overtaken France and Italy to become the fourth largest economy in the world, that has the language of the new economy, more brilliant artists, actors and directors than any comparable country in the world, some of the best scientists and inventors in the world, the best armed forces in the world, the best teachers and doctors and nurses, the best people any nation could wish for.
Don't tell me with all that going for us that we do not have the spirit to meet all the challenges before us.
For that is another choice; confidence or cynicism. All we need is the confidence to make the right choice for the future.
Just as we did in the party so, on a larger scale, the same is true for Britain. We are on a journey of renewal. Before us lies a path strewn with the challenges of change.
But the purpose of our journey is not to lose our values as a nation: but to make them live on.
And for us, this government, this party that believes passionately in a Britain where everyone not just a few get a chance to succeed, and knows the Tories will only take us backwards, we now know:
We are in a fight and it’s a fight I relish.
For it is a fight for the future, the heart and the soul of our country.
A fight for fairness. A fight for jobs. A fight for our schools. A fight for our hospitals. A fight for a new vision in which the old conflict between prosperity and social justice is finally banished to the history books in which it belongs.
We do not lie down in the testing times.
We hold firm. We listen and we lead.
We can be confident in our policies, confident in the record we will put before the British people.
Confident that we will repay the trust the British people put in us.
Confident that we share their basic decent instincts and values.
Confident that we are winning the big arguments on the big issues.
Stability. Or boom and bust.
Jobs. Or unemployment.
Investment in schools and hospitals. Or cuts.
Leadership and engagement in the world. Or weakness and sour isolation.
Our journey’s end: a Britain where any child born in this millennium, whatever their background, race or creed, wherever they live, whoever their parents, is able to make the most of the God-given ability they bring into this world.
That journey is a journey worth making.
A fight worth fighting.
A fight we must win.