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Speech Archive

Shadow Chancellor's speech, Blackpool 1996

Gordon Brown (Labour)

Location: Blackpool

Clare, comrades and friends, today as we start our Conference in Blackpool, Labour is preparing for government. Next week the Conservatives meet in Bournemouth, preparing for retirement. This week we are organising for the election that matters to us and our country, the coming general election. Next week the Tories will be organising for the election that matters to them, theircoming leadership election, Conservatives that now talk like an opposition, act like an opposition and with our help soon will be the opposition.

Yesterday we heard from Kenneth Clarke a message on tax, from a safe house somewhere in Washington. For years we said that the public should be suspicious of the Tories on tax. Now Kenneth Clarke agrees. He accepts that the public '• should be deeply suspicious. For years we said that! no one will believe Tory pre-elections tax cuts can last. Suddenly Kenneth Clarke, new Clarke, new honesty, tells us he agrees. Let the message go out, j Kenneth Clarke now accepts the truth of what we have been saying for years. You cannot trust the Tories on tax. It should be up there on the billboards all round the country, from now until election day. Not even Kenneth Clarke trusts the Tories on tax. The Tories do not trust the Tories on tax. That is the message. Not the misrepresentation on the billboards of Tony Blair's eyes, but the truth from Kenneth Clarke's lips. You know, it is a campaign disaster. I can tell you. And I can tell Kenneth Clarke. Lord Saatchi will not be amused. In fact, Lord Saatchi will be furious. He is now screaming Lord Saatchi. (Laughter and applause) But not even Lord Saatchi's lies can save them now.

So having had to admit the broken promises on tai will Kenneth Clarke now also tell the truth about the other promises, the broken promises to homeowners, the broken promises on rail, the broken promises on the Post Office, the promises shamefully broken on overseas aid? And will he now also tell the truth about the betrayal by the Tories of the pensioners of Britain, betrayed by the Tories on the basic pension, on SERFS, on healthcare for the elderly and on community care, and that broken promise also on VAT on fuel, a broken promise that put lives at risk? I can give this promise: there will be fairness to the pensioners under Labour. Unfairness as usual. That is under the Tories. And do you know, the first question to every Tory candidate at the next election should be: "Why did you break the promises that were made at the last?" Now I have a message from Blackpool for John Major. Stop putting up posters in every constituency while refusing an election. Start putting up your candidates and face an election.

Now I do not want to spend any more time attacking the Tories, friends, when they do it so well to themselves. While the Tories argue with each other about who is to blame for the many failures of the past, Labour from now on will talk to the country about what we must do together to prepare for the future. So let us welcome to this conference men and women all over the country who, watching from their hjjjaes, will be seeing our Conference perhaps for the first time, who look to us to understand their concerns and to share their hopes. They want to know what we in the Labour Party seek to achieve for them, their families and our country.

So let us tell them first of all what we believe, what we have always been proud to believe, that every one of us, and not just a privileged few, should have the opportunity to realise our potential in education, in employment, in our everyday lives; that the greater the opportunities there are in education and work for each one of us, the better are the prospects of prosperity for us all,that a truly classless Britain will not only offer a fairer society but deliver more efficient and prosperous economy too. Let us explain to there is only one way an economy like ours can succeed in the new global market place, and that is when what each of us can achieve depends not on where we came from, not on what school we went to, not on what privileges we inherited, but on the Potential each one of us has and on the opportunities we receive to make the most of our potential. Friends, it is the central job of government to help provide these opportunities.

So when people ask of us about the economy, why is that that for years Britain has been falling behind and today is so ill-equipped for the future, why is it that Britain - once the manufacturing centre of the world ~ now imports most of its manufactured goods? Why is it that Britain of all countries has been slipping fastest down the world economic league, now ninth in Europe, only 18th in the world? Why is it despite all coasts of government, despite North Sea oil,

Britain has suffered from the poorest growth, the lowest investment, the worst record of job creation of any of the major industrialised countries during these Tory years? And why is it that even in an economic upturn today Britain is a country of two economies, an industrial economy that has been chronically weakened by under-investment and a consumer economy with a recovery that therefore cannot last? Why are we falling behind? Are we falling behind because the British people lack inventiveness or creative skills, Britain with a history of invention and achievement that is second to none? Is it because we lack the ability to adapt, the qualities needed to cope with fast-moving change, Britain which has adapted time and time again in peace and war? Is it because the British people undervalue education, or are unwilling to extend opportunities to all, Britain with its faith in education and self-improvement, Britain with its innate sense of fair play? No. We are falling behind and have been for years. It is because for years our creative talents, our willingness to adapt, our belief in education and opportunity for all have all been shouted down in the name of a hostile dogma. These innate British qualities have been stifled and ground under by a crude, free market ideology, based on the narrow pursuit of self-interest, by the few at the expense of the many. It is a dogma that exalts the speculator, the asset-stripper, the instant millionaire of the privatised monopolies, it is a dogma that worships greed and privilege and condones short-termism at the expense of investment, hard work and opportunity for all.

So this country does not just require a change in government. This country requires a change in the fundamental purposes of its government, for the challenge today is to do what the Conservatives with their narrow dogma will never be able to do. It is to realise once again these great British qualities, inventiveness, creative talent, our adaptability, our belief in education and opportunity, qualities that make up what George Orwell once called the British genius, qualities traditionally British, embodying values traditionally Labour, precisely the qualities that must be recognised and nurtured, so that we can succeed as a modern economy. This is a wholly new vision of what can be done by government and people together. It requires the modernisation of industrial policy to encourage new opportunities for industry, enterprise and for creativity and adaptability to flourish. It requires the modernisation of the welfare state to create new opportunities for employment-for all. It requires the modernisation of education, to bring out the best in people by making the most of people's potential.

These three great modernisations can be achieved only from a platform of stability, that breaks free of the stop-go recessions of the 1980s, stability in interest rates and inflation, stability in industrial relations, stability in our relations with Europe.

Now we start as we should with education, because the real foundations of modern economic success are laid not in the boardroom but in the classroom. How can our nation's potential be realised if for thousands of three and four year-olds, denied nursery education, their chances are blighted almost before life's journey has begun? How can ambitions be realised if only seven per cent of our children, only those in private schools, can today be absolutely sure their classrooms will not be overcrowded? That is why the objective of a Labour government is nursery education for all, and that is why we will pay for smaller classes in state schools for the many, by ending the assisted places scheme that subsidises the few. Also, Britain cannot be equipped for the future when at 18 German, French, Japanese, American and Korean teenagers have the right to full-time education, while the majority of British teenagers leave school under-educated, under-equipped, for too many their dreams destroyed, their aspirations crushed. I say the best of educational opportunity must become a reality not just for 30 per cent after 16 but for 100 per cent of young people in our country.

Now that is why we will create for the first time in Britain a university for industry, so that everyone from the home and from the workplace, using the modern satellite and cable technology, will have opportunities to learn on a lifetime basis. It is to ensure that every young person has the right to education after 16, every young person the chance of a qualification, every young person eventually a guarantee of work, that we must as a Labour Party be bold. We must accept that the status quo is not working. We must concentrate more of the resources for the after- 16s on those who need them most. Only half the mothers of teenagers after 16 receive Child Benefit, and I cannot justify the wife of a millionaire receiving Child Benefit for a teenager over 16 when the mother of an unemployed teenager does not and when a total of one million mothers do not. Universal Child Benefit after 16 there never has been, but universal education, properly financed for the first time for all after 16, there must be and there will be and it is now within our grasp.

But the potential of Britain cannot be realised if lifelong education opportunity Is not matched by employment opportunity for all. Britain cannot Be prepared for the future or properly equipped when one working-age family in every five - 20 per cent of British households - have no one in work. In this world of work, it is only by modernising the welfare state according to our enduring principles that we can create employment opportunity and tackle poverty. So when people ask us what a Labour government will do, let us tell them. The Labour Treasury will levy a windfall tax on the privatised utilities to pay for immediate action on jobs, investment in jobs today so that we can cut social security bills tomorrow. I say it is right that we employ the unfair profits of the privatised utilities to pay for a fair deal for the unemployed. So we will honour our promises to the long-term unemployed and offer a £75 tax incentive to employers to get them into jobs. For the young unemployed we will create four new opportunities to work, including our environmental task force, so that teenagers can have hope again. Jobs, not schemes. Wages, not benefits. Work and education together, not dead-end jobs. And, so that unemployed young people can gain skills without losing benefit, we will end the perversity of the 16-hour rule.

Now I want also to tell you of another pillar of our' strategy to tackle unemployment. To help people move! into work and to attack poverty in work, it is time to start tax and benefit reform as part of an integrated approach to modernising the welfare state. Today the combined effect of Tory tax and benefit systems is that an extra pound earned by a low-paid worker can; mean 90p lost, sometimes even more than a pound lost, and it is a scandal that tens of thousands of our poorest families can face effective marginal tax rates, not of 40 per cent, but of 70, 80, 90 and in some cases even 150 per cent. Having inflicted the biggest tax rises in history, the Tories are now guilty of imposing the highest marginal tax rates ever. Just as a society, which values working opportunity should not impose; penal tax rates for its highest earners, it is equally important and it matters more for the low paid -that there should not be penal tax rates for lower earners, hundreds of thousands of people, on the brink of poverty. It is because this system is one designed to keep the unemployed poor and the poor unemployed that this is a gross injustice, and under Labour the tax and benefit system and the benefit tapers must be addressed.

Now the Tories' main tax-cutting ambition is to abolish capital gains tax and inheritance tax, to help only a few. My tax-cutting ambition is to lower the starting rate of tax to 15 pence or even ten pence, to help everyone. So while the Tories want a millionaire's tax-cut for themselves, I want a people's tax-cut for jobs, one that will help'thousands back into work. Now we have been accused of favouring a ten pence starting rate just to win the battle against the Conservatives, but it is to win a far more important battle, the battle against unemployment and poverty.

Now to make work pay and to bring justice to the workplace, the tax and benefit system must be underpinned by another reform. When today a million men and women are earning less than £2.50 an hour and many more are being exploited in the workplace, it is time for Britain to join the civilised industrial world, and just as we will implement the social chapter, we will also introduce by law the statutory national minimum wage. Let me say to this conference, the national minimum wage Labour implements will stand as a permanent memorial to the work of John Smith, who fought so hard for it.

This adds up to a coherent and comprehensive strategy for employment, with these four distinct and essential components: job creation, skills training, tax and benefit reform and the minimum wage. Four policies good in themselves, but four policies taken together that go to the heart of attacking unemployment. To stimulate employment we need government action on jobs. For sustainable employment we need to encourage sales and training. To make employment pay we need tax and benefit reform. And to make sure the money goes to the employee instead of subsidising bad employers, we need to underpin benefit reform with a properly implemented minimum wage. So the Tories are simply wrong to claim that Labour's minimum wage will kill jobs. Labour's minimum wage is a vital component of a strategy that will create jobs. None of these measures will benefit mothers who need to work unless we add one more priority: to make available accessible and affordable childcare, through a national childcare strategy, essential for social justice and a stronger economy.

This strategy for employment is at the heart of our new policy for opportunity and for enterprise in Britain. To give small businesses and the self-employed access to the great new technologies, we will encourage technology trusts in our regions, so that even the smallest company can benefit from the newest innovations in the shortest possible time. To give business access to the finance it needs, on the long-term basis it needs, we will not only end the scandal of late payment governing small businesses, but we will create regional development agencies in England and strengthen them in Scotland and Wales; local people making local decisions about meeting local needs. This makes the Labour Party what it ways should be, the true party of manufacturing, of industry and of small business in Britain today.

But as you know, the economy of the new Britain deliver opportunity for the many if our national resources are wasted subsidising the privileges of the few. In the economy of Britain under Labour there will no room for privatisation boardroom excesses, which waste national resources. There will be no room for monopolies and cartels which restrict competition. There will be no place for City cliques whose restrictive practices deny opportunity for industry, just as there will be no place for the Tory patronage system which denies accountability and the quangocracy which threatens democracy. Costed, hard-headed radical policies, for stability, employment, educational opportunity and industry. And do you know, there is no other way. There are no quick fixes, no easy options, no magic-wand solutions by cooking the books or juggling the figures. There is no alternative strategy that will achieve Labour's goals. No retreat into one-nation isolationism. No unsustainable dashes for growth. No wishlist spending solutions, as surely as there are no answers and never were in monetarist mantras and crude free market slogans.

So let us be clear. The reason we in the Labour Party are tough on inflation is not because someone else tells us, it is because it is workers on low income, it is pensioners on fixed incomes. It is the poor, people we are in politics to defend, who suffer most when inflation gets out of control. That is why we will set an inflation target, and that is why also, from the Treasury, I will take on those monopolies who abuse their power to force prices up. I want low inflation, and there are areas where Labour wants to cut prices too.

Now the reason the Labour Party also shows iron discipline in our approach to public spending is that every pound that is inefficiently spent is a pound denied to our front-line services to health, to education, to pensions. Our prudence and our responsibility is not, therefore, an abandonment of socialism, it is the very essence of it, for the real public spending issue for our party is not simply to set in stone £300 billion of Tory spending, add a few billion more of Labour priorities and then call that social justice. Our vision, our commitment, are far greater than that. Social justice for the people of this country means that we shape the spending of all today's £300 billion and shape it to Labour priorities.

So let me tell you, Labour priorities will not be the Tory priorities. A Labour Chancellor will not waste money on nursery vouchers, on the quango state, on tax reliefs for boardroom excesses in the privatised monopolies, or on indiscriminate handouts of public money to undervalued rail companies that should never have been privatised in the first place. A Labour Chancellor will not waste money on consultancy fees for the privatisation of the Post Office. The Post Office will remain as it is, run in the public sector as a public service. A Labour Chancellor and a Labour Treasury will not permit tax reliefs to millionaires in offshore havens. We will end the situation where millionaires can pay no tax, and we will not be handing out tax privileges to the privatised water companies like Thames Water, which pays nothing to the Treasury in corporation tax but instead gives donations to the Conservative Party. That will stop too. One thing more. A Labour Chancellor will not allow tax reliefs to go to private medicine for the few, money which should be going to pensioners and for the many.

For let us not forget this government's record on public spending and waste: £14 billion to £20 billion wasted on the poll tax, £80 billion wasted in privatisation proceeds, £120 billion of North Sea oil revenues totally squandered. When the Tories look at our proposals and they ask us where the money is coming from and we have told them - let us from now until the election ask them, where has the money gone?

So I tell this conference about public spending, ours is not a choice between morality and economics. It is not a choice between principles and realism, between prosperity and social justice, between heart and head. I do not want this party to stop dreaming dreams, to water down our idealism. I do not want us to discard our vision. When I talk of tough choices, and when I speak Aneurin Bevan's language of priorities, it is not to abandon our ideals, it is to make the achievement of our ideals possible.

In 1992, when John Smith asked me to become Shadow Chancellor, we talked about how starting from Labour's basic values we could construct a new economic approach for Britain. We agreed that in the battle to achieve social justice in the global economy of the 90s we could no longer rely on the economic weapons of the 40s or the 70s. Yes, we had to make changes. Yes, we had to take difficult decisions. Yes, under John and now brilliantly under Tony Blair's leadership as well, we have had to persuade people. Yes, we have had to modernise. Some said it could not, or should not, be done.

But we have been through the hard times. We have had to make tough choices. We will continue to have to do so. But under the leadership of Tony we have come through it, and we have emerged stronger for it, with policies that combine the need for discipline and prudence with our burning passion for social justice. We will never again lose sight of our purpose, which is to serve all the people of this country, and from the vantage point of this, the last Conference before the election, let us lift our sights, let us look just over the horizon, let us glimpse what can be possible on the other side. Let us see what a difference a Labour government could make. For generations we have dreamed of overcoming the divisions and prejudice that today stop Britain from being a truly classless society. For generations we have dreamed of a world in which people can achieve to the limits and inequality of opportunity does not limit their achievement.

I want a Britain rich in opportunities for all, a Britain where young people can aim high, where teenagers can not only dream dreams, but dream dreams that are realisable again. I want a Britain where fairness rules and where the pursuit og social justice not the defence of private privilege, is the hallmark of a government's public policy. I want a Britain where we are proud again of public services) which help us when we need them, lift us up when we falter, give us another a chance if we fall behind.

I want a Britain where by pursuing these policies the British genius, the potential in every one of us, the; talent to create and invent, to adapt and to use our skills, that talent is unlocked, where enterprising young people will find their ingenuity encouraged again, where innovative businesses are supported so that they can grow and prosper again, where nurses do have to battle with bureaucracy but can nurse their patients again. I want, as you want, a Britain where teachers can teach and teach with pride again. I w: a Britain where public service is valued and public service is about hope again.

New confidence in our vision, new life for our values, new hope for our country, new hope for all people of Britain. That is our mission, and in government that will be our achievement. (Applause)

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