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Speech Archive

Shadow Chancellor's speech, Brighton 1995

Gordon Brown (Labour)

Location: Brighton

Gordon Brown (Shadow Chancellor) moved the NEC statements A new economic future for Britain and A national minimum wage.

He said: Comrades and friends, we meet here in Brighton today as a party preparing for power, with more European MPs than ever before, more Labour councillors than ever before and soon, I believe, more MPs - yes, and more Labour women MPs - than ever before. We meet here today, most of all, confident in our values, conscious of our responsibilities, aware that we carry with us the hopes of millions of people and knowing that we are now ready for government, united in our concern about injustice and unfairness, united in our resolve to renew this country; the people of Britain now know that if a Labour movement did not exist, it would have to be created today, because only a Labour government will bring moral purpose and economic responsibility to the running of this country.

It is a Labour government that will not only get people back to work by getting government back to work, but a Labour government that on coming to power will sign the Social Chapter of the European Community to bring justice to our workplace. It is a Labour government that will bring fairness through a progressive tax system, so that for the first time in 16 years those millionaires who pay no tax will pay their dues, not to the Conservative Party treasurer, but to a Labour Chancellor.

A Labour government will not be isolationist: it will be internationalist. That is why this morning from this Conference, as Tarn Dalyell has said, we lead international opinion in condemning the latest French nuclear test and by ensuring that overseas aid goes not to the richest companies, as in the Pergau dam case, who do not need it, but to the poorest people in the world who do. We will be proud again to be citizens of Britain and of the world. Our Labour government will expose and act upon the scandal of poverty pay, and for the first time in our history as a country our government will legislate for a national minimum wage. Exploitation in the workplace we know is immoral; we should make it illegal too. Let us therefore now agree that our minimum wage will be a permanent memorial to the work of John Smith who fought so hard for the principle.

I say to this conference that we in the Labour Party will not leave our conscience at the Treasury door: we will take moral purpose to the heart of government. Today, with still more than 2 million unemployed, with millions more in poverty, with insecurity at work spreading under this governmen like a contagion through the whole of society, the last 16 years have shown us beyond any doubt that you can never build a successful modern economy the Conservative way - on the crude and wasteful dogma of the free-for-all. You cannot privatise your way out of mass poverty. You cannot deregulate away urban squalor. You can never as a government contract out your responsibilities to society. You can never build for the future on the Tory economics of greed, waste and blind short-termism.

And I say that it is the same flawed ideology and bankrupt morality - the greed, the waste and the short-termism - which has brought us everything from the disgrace of the £1,000 a question Tory MPs and the squalid procession of Tory ex-ministers on the make in the City, the scandal of lottery money going to Eton private school when it should be going to every school, money disgracefully paid to Winston Churchill MP, when it should have gone to his constituents and all our constituents.

It is the same greed, waste and short-termism that has squandered the unique asset of North Sea oil, that has neglected investment for the long-term and has now left us with an economy that is too small, its skills too few - its technology too backward, an industrial base too narrow and woefully equipped for the future.

Nothing characterises the greed, the waste and the short-termism of the Tory years better than what they are now doing to our railways. I say rail should be a public service run in the public interest by dedicated public servants. But look at what is happening: British Rail privatised and carved up, not just into one, two or three companies, but 70 companies, 70 would-be boardrooms in need of directors. Why? We now know why. Retiring as Tory MPs are 70 would-be directors in need of boardrooms. And let me tell them: boardroom seats are the last seats they will ever be selected for.

Let us be clear what is behind the new-found interest in rail in the Conservative Party. The only connections they care about are the City connections. The only track they want to keep on is the inside track. The only network they want to preserve is the old boys' network and the only train that will always run on schedule is the gravy train. I think it is time they all gave up their seats to someone else. Let us pledge to each other, just as we defeated the Conservatives last year over VAT on fuel, as we did with the support of the British people, to defeat them again this year by stopping rail privatisation.

In place of greed, waste and sort-termism Britain now needs in government a new economic responsibility and moral purpose. It a moral purpose born out of our idealism, our belief in the potential of people. It is lit by our historic socialist vision of working together for a greater good. It is now driven forward, as we put our commitment to equality into practice for a new generation by our policies to equip not just the few, but everyone, with the opportunities in jobs and in education throughout the economy that they need to have a successful economy. We understand what the Tories do not, that if ever you are to be first in industry, you must also be first in education. That's our way of leading Britain out of the Tories' vicious circle of low skills, high unemployment and economic decline into a new virtuous circle of education, investment in the new technologies and employment growth for the future. The country which manufactured the first radio, the first TV and the first computer should not be sacking scientists or teachers, nor should we be cutting investment in manufacturing: we should once again be an innovation and manufacturing capital of the world, doing what Britain has the potential to do best, harnessing our creative talents to modern technology.

To help growing business, new technology trusts and development agencies will be set up by the Labour government for every region of the country - that is local people making local decisions, as they should, about local needs. A task force that transcends the old divisions between public and private sector will set priorities, mobilise private capital with one aim, to rebuild and renew the social and economic fabric of our country, and to enable men and women from their homes and workplaces to gain access through cable and satellite television and the new information highway to the best teachers, the best educational courses; we will transform our idea of a new university for industry into a real, practical equality of opportunity for millons throughout the 1990s and beyond, learning accessible to all, backed up by personal learning accounts that would be open to all and the best advice, using the new information highways, on careers on offer to all.

Against all this what are the Conservatives offering this country? Next week at Blackpool, another week, another relaunch, no new policies, no new strategy. Why? You cannot relaunch a flawed morality. All they have got is the invention of one new post, deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, renowned for his toughness and now the man who can stare disaster squarely in the face and say "Good morning, Prime Minister".

So what is new? It is time today, I think, as you have seen in the papers, to express concern about the only other Tory big idea - in fact their only real innovation this Parliament - the scheme to create instant millionaires week in, week out, fortunes that even the winners know have nothing to do with skills or hard work, colossal prizes for minimal effort. I say it is time to act on this week in, week out scandal called the privatised utilities. With this government's indulgence of these utilities every week has become a roll-over week and it is time to put a stop to it once and for all. You should not have to be a Tory ex-Cabinet Minister to get a winning ticket. Government ministers force nurses to compete with nurses for across the board rises, but why do the ministers not attack the really big across the board rises, rises across the board of British Gas, across the boards of the water companies and electricity companies and now the power generators, where it seems that power corrupts and national power corrupts absolutely? How do the government respond to all this greed and inefficiency? Can I tell you? They have actually been awarding British Gas and the other privatised utilities Citizens' Charter charter marks for outstanding public service to themselves. And the latest hopeful for a charter mark, as they threaten to cut off 400,000 customers? None other than Yorkshire Water. The whole gimmick, like Yorkshire Water's chief executive, just will not wash - Trevor Newton, on £100,000 a year, who gives a new meaning to the term "filthy rich", a chief executive who, if there was any justice in the world of private utilities, would be sent, as he should be, for an early bath.

These are the declining standards of once great utilities, and I believe that years from now people will look back in amazement and ask how it is that in an island surrounded by water, built on coal, rich in oil and gas, so much of our basic British national resources should have been sold off so wastefully to so few and that we should now be held to ransom by them. That is why I say that the water, gas and electricity companies can afford a fair tax on their unfair profits to give a fair deal to the unemployed.

But, Conference, the new economy is also global, and the new Britain that we seek can only be built from a platform of stability from which opportunity and dynamism will flourish. It demands therefore a government that will plan for stability. We abhor inflation, not because the markets ask it of us or because the City tells us. Inflation is bad because the people who look to us - those on low incomes, fixed incomes, pensioner incomes - suffer more from inflation than anyone else and are its victims. That is why no one should doubt that the war against inflation is a Labour war and is an essential part of our battle against insecurity and unemployment. Our economic responsibility is not a substitute for moral purpose in politics: it flows from our moral purpose and is part of it. We abhor waste and imprudence in public spending, not because it is electorally convenient to say so or because the markets do not like it, but because the victims of waste are not those with money, but those who find it difficult to make ends meet. The government of 1945 is remembered not because of how much it spent, but because of the wisdom of its investment in the NHS and in our future. I want our Labour government to be remembered not as a big spender, but as a wise spender.

I say to those who propose that we simply tax, spend and borrow that it is because I care, not just about our responsibility to each other, but about our responsibility to future generations that I tell you we will build our future - the Labour future - on a solid foundation of a just and efficient economy. We will not build the new Jerusalem on a mountain of debt. With a Labour government there will be no stop go, no inflationary booms, no massaging the figures, no quick fixes, no blank cheques, no short cuts and no pay explosions, just as there will be no grotesque experiments like the poll tax, no car boot sales of our national treasures, no billions poured again down the black hole of unemployment and no shopping lists of irresponsible commitments. But there will be careful long-term investment, a dedication to equality and social justice,.the certainty of action against unemployment and an economic policy run in the interests not of a privileged few, but of the whole community. That is what I mean by an irreversible shift in wealth and power away from privilege and excess to the real wealth creators in Britain today, those who work and study hard, those who pay their fair share of taxes, those who cannot rely on share manipulation or stock market speculation and those whose enterprise drives our economy forward. We will apply these principles consistently, including our response to the November Budget.

The real economic issue of the Budget is not the Tory Ip down or the Liberal Ip up. What matters most to millions, as you know yourselves, is tackling job insecurity, equipping ourselves for the future, ending Britain's decline, giving young people new opportunities. I say to the Liberals, if you want to find tax revenues, do not demand more tax from low paid workers who cannot afford it: start with the water companies, earning billions of pounds and paying no tax at all. I say to the Conservatives, if you want to save money, do not do it by cutting maternity pay or services to the needy: do it by cutting unemployment. The real challenge is to bring to an end the waste and tragedy of unemployment, which two years into a recovery still afflicts more than 2 million families. The deadweight of the cost of unemployment, the millstone of the cost of unemployment hung around this country's neck by the Conservatives, the billions we have to pay as the price of failure, is the real impediment to economic growth and social justice. The challenge is to meet the unmet needs of the insecure and the unemployed by putting to work some of the untaxed and undeserved resources of the utilities, and instead of paying for failure begin to invest for success.

When people ask us what we will do in government, we can tell them that we will implement a new £75 incentive to help the long-term unemployed back to work again; we will release the capital receipts so that local authorities can start to build again; we will modernise the welfare state so that people can study and gain skills again. In partnership with business, we will improve child care for mothers throughout this country so that mothers -particularly single mothers - can work again. We will give small businesses relief on VAT to let them employ new workers again. We will do so as part of a costed programme, starting with those unemployed for two years or more, so that over time all long-term unemployed will be given the chance to get back to work.

In Britain today there are 600,000 young people out of work, jobless, many rootless, some homeless, almost all of them poor. If this betrayed generation, the generation of Thatcher's children, now Major's young, forgotten unemployed, cannot be rescued from years - perhaps a lifetime - of unemployment -and, yes, the risk of eventual unemployability -then the lifetime costs of hundreds and thousands of wasted lives will weigh down our economy and divide our society for another 40 years. These young people do not want opportunities to beg, they want opportunities to work and that is what we must give them.

I never again want to see in our country an abandoned generation of young people, and it is now time to right the wrongs of the last 16 years, time for a fresh start for a forgotten and betrayed generation. No young person should spend years without a job, and under Labour no young person will. Our plan is nothing less than to abolish youth unemployment.

I will not make promises I cannot keep or plans I cannot pay for, but our programme is costed at £1 billion in its first year, funded, paid for by the windfall levy, innovative, including a new environmental task force, bold, offering the widest range of new opportunities of work and education open to every unemployed young person. I want companies throughout this country to join us in partnership in tackling this waste of economic potential.

Side by side with these new rights to work we will expect every young person to accept the responsibility to train and learn, and for them we will therefore abolish the iniquitous 16-hour rule which penalises the unemployed by blocking their way out of unemployment. Only the Tories could have created misery on this scale, and this Conference - indeed the whole nation -knows that its remedy can only come from Labour. The redundancy of 300 Tory MPs is a price well worth paying to deliver it, a fair deal for the unemployed and the insecure and a fair deal for the whole country on taxation.

I have always said that as we approach the election we will announce our detailed plans, so I will announce nearer the election what we can afford for our election manifesto. But let me say this about proposals for this coming November Budget. The Conservative party says that it wants to cut taxes. If it is their aim, the first tax cut they should be making - and I know that I speak for the whole country - should be a cut in VAT on fuel. That is the real divide between the parties. In three years the only tax cut the British people have seen is a Labour tax cut: Labour defeating the Tory plan to raise VAT to 17.5 per cent. But everybody knows that the Conservatives still want to increase VAT on fuel to the highest level possible. We in the Labour Party would like to reduce it to the lowest level possible. While they want to double it, we want to halve it. I say to the Prime Minister, after 21 separate tax rises on ordinary families, the equivalent of 7p in the pound on tax, the priority in tax cannot be his priority to abolish capital gains tax and inheritance tax, the greatest beneficiaries of which would be the very rich. The tax priority is to cut the tax on keeping warm for millions of pensioners and low income families throughout this winter.

That is the real divide: unfairness continuing under the Tories, fair, progressive taxation, based on ability to pay, with Labour.

I have a vision of a great British society where we recognise and value the contribution, not just of an elite or an establishment, but of everyone, a Britain of the future where progress means we all progress together. I want to see a new Britain where we understand that when we do well, it is because we all do well together. When people ask me, after our historic change in Clause IV, what other change we want, I tell them we want to change society into a great British society where public service is no longer quangos reporting to quangos, but is about caring, cooperating and sharing again, where nurses do not have to compete with nurses, but nurses can nurse again; where schools do not have to undercut other schools, but teachers can teach and teach with pride again; a Britain where the strong understand that by helping the weak, it makes us all strong again; a new Britain, vibrant with new energy, awash with opportunity, alive with compassion - yes, a Britain working together and at work again. I want a Britain where people can dream dreams that can be fulfilled again.

When people ask us about the values behind our new economic and social programme for Britain and ask us where we stand on the great issues of principle, on justice, equality, democracy and public service, let us tell them that we stand where we always have stood, not on the shifting sands of political expediency, but on the solid rock of social justice. Have confidence that together this party, our roots in the past, our home in the future, has applied our lasting and enduring principles to the economic and social challenges of a new generation; have confidence that together we have a programme that will build a new Britain; have confidence that together we can win and win for the people, win for all the people of Britain. (Applause)

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