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Speech Archive

Chancellor's speech, Brighton 1997

Gordon Brown (Labour)

Location: Brighton


Thank you very much. Richard and friends, at this our first conference since the general election, we meet here in Brighton as the party of government, not triumphant but humbled by the great trust placed in us by the British people, challenged by the scale of the problems we have inherited and now must overcome, determined to keep faith with the millions of British people who put their faith in us on 1 May, a modern party now ready to modernise Britain and able to tell Britain today that their country's government is now and will always be a force for progress and social justice in Britain and everywhere where we have influence throughout the world. (Applause).

So let us first congratulate all those hundreds of thousands of party members all across Britain, who worked week in, week out for years, to elect not only more Labour MPs than ever before, but more Labour women Members of Parliament than ever before - (Applause) - 101 women MPs, now transforming Parliament. They have made Labour a party of government in every region and every nation of Britain.

Now let us never forget that victory under Tony Blair on l May marked not just a victory for our party but a victory for our values - our values: economic opportunity for all, unfair privileges for no one. That is why in our first Budget our first decision: £5.2 billion from the privatised utilities and their unfair profits that will now deliver a fair deal to the unemployed. Under the Tories, remember a poll tax that hit those unable to pay, under Labour a windfall tax from those able to pay. From now on, fairness and justice will be the rock on which taxation policy in Britain will be built.

In the first Budget also, with David Blunkett, we agreed £2.3 billion for our state schools - for teaching, for books, for classrooms - and from now on, educational policy in this country will be built not just on the needs of seven per cent who attend private schools but also on the needs of the 93 per cent who attend our state schools. (Applause)

Never again should this country live under the threat of a privatised NHS, and I tell this conference, we are now renationalising the National Health Service for our country. (Applause) That is why, with Frank Dobson's leadership, an extra £1.2 billion to start to the repair the Tory damage. From now on and for the first time in 18 years, the NHS really is safe in the government's hands.

Now no one should be homeless in Britain in 1997, and that is why John Prescott and I are no longer just talking about releasing local authority capital receipts, but have released the first £900 million to build the homes we need. (Applause) From l September, a few weeks ago, VAT on fuel was cut to five per cent, the lowest level possible. A Treasury team that does not break but will keep its promises on tax to this country. I tell you this is only the first step in securing justice for pensioners in Britain.

Now friends, an injustice anywhere offends justice everywhere. By the year 2000, Clare Short and I want not just a handful but every poor indebted country in the world to be on the road to being enfeebled debtors no more. From now on, a Labour government that will in every forum insist that the richest nations on earth discharge their responsibilities to the poorest, (Applause) If anybody is in any doubt about the difference a Labour government has made to opportunities to work, let them go to GCHQ Cheltenham, where employees are now free to join their union. (Applause) Let them know that to back up flexibility with justice, we have done what we should have done in this country long ago, and, as we pledged, signed the Social Chapter. (Applause) We will implement the legal national minimum wage, and I say let the minimum wage be a permanent memorial to the life and work of John Smith, who fought so hard for its achievement. (Applause)

But I have to tell Conference that not all the election promises that contributed to our victory have been kept. Remember Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber's promise to the people of Britain? His promise that if Labour were elected he would leave the country? Yet another broken Tory promise. (Laughter and applause) And Paul Daniels? We are still waiting for him to disappear. As John Major would have put it, the curtain has fallen, but he has not yet left the stage. Now when I addressed Conference last year in October the Conservative Party were looking for a new leader. They still are. Of course, the Conservative Party is changing. In Conservative Constituency Associations round the country, they are now finally achieving one member, one vote. In many constituencies there is now only one member and only one vote! (Laughter and applause)

How different for Labour. People ask me what it is like to live in Downing Street. I tell them it is very informal. It is very neighbourly. "Just call me Gordon." Like any other street, the next-door neighbour has young children. So at 9pm every night we have Jack Straw round to impose the curfew. That is after David Blunkett has been round to supervise the compulsory homework. Then later on we have Tessa Jowell in to check if anybody has been smoking, followed by Clare Short checking what they are smoking. (Laughter and applause)

Now friends, for 18 years under the Conservatives, Britain suffered an economy prone to instability, a stop-go, boom and bust economy which instead of creating opportunity destroyed jobs, ruined businesses, hurt home-owners, and left Britain on 1 May with the national debt doubled in just five years and inflation threatening to rise again. As I told Conference two years ago, you cannot build the New Jerusalem on a mountain of debts. That is why with our deficit reduction plan, with our tough reforms at the Bank of England, with the interest rate rises that were made necessary by Conservative failures, Britain has begun to break from Tory short-term ism, and I am now more optimistic that the economy can be back on track next year.

And I tell you, we have learned from past mistakes. Just as you cannot spend your way through a recession, you cannot in a global economy simply spend your way through a recovery either, in place of irresponsible Tory short-term ism, there will be no risk with inflation, no irresponsible fine-tuning, no massaging of the figures, no short-term dashes for growth, but what the country wants: a long-term strategy for our public finances, the encouragement of long-term investment for our future and, in place of the boom and bust years, long-term stability for Britain. That is the essential platform for high and sustainable levels of growth and employment, the aims of the 1945 government that I now reaffirm in 1997.

So I say to this conference, we will not make the mistake of 1964, when our government then failed to take the tough, long-term decisions for change early on, and we will not make the mistake of 1974, spending hopefully for the first two years, telling the people the party was over but acting as if it had barely begun, and then having to cut back on spending miserably in the next three years. It is only by being prudent and disciplined now, building a platform for long-term stability, that we will be able to deliver the people's priorities - as we will - for health and education in the years ahead. Now that is why in our spending reviews all our decisions, including pay settlements right across the board, will be guided by firmness and by fairness, and in all our spending decisions in our government, fairness will be the test. Tax relief for private health insurance? It did not meet the fairness test, so we cancelled it. From now on the cash will not go to private medicine but to the NHS. (Applause) The assisted places scheme? It did not meet the fairness test. We abolished it. State schools will get the money. We have cancelled the £60 million allocated to a new royal yacht, cash now available for our public services. And lottery money, which under the Tories went to Eton College and to Winston Churchill, MP - ex-MP - will now go to health and educational opportunities for all. (Applause)

Now we have to achieve our priorities in a new and changing global market place. It is a knowledge-based economy, in which the key to success and profitability is to get the best out of our people and all their potentials. You know, the dynamic economies of the 21st century will be those that can unlock the talents of all their people. So if Britain's economy is to succeed, it can do so only by putting the best employment and educational opportunities, once in the hands of only a few, into the hands of the many.

That is why I say that our lasting values are more relevant to the modern economy than ever before, that everyone, whatever their background, from wherever they come, is valued, has a talent, must be guaranteed the opportunity to realise their potential to the full, and must have that chance to bridge the gap between what they are now and what they have it in themselves to become. We achieve more, both as individuals and as a country, by working together, and by the strong helping the weak; it makes us ail stronger. And government is nothing more, nothing less, than the instrument of the people, and its duty is always and everywhere to advance opportunities for the many, never to perpetuate the privileges of the few. (Applause)

These are our values, socialist values. Our faith, new Labour's faith. So when people ask us about our principles and where we stand, let us tell them we stand where we always did - not on the shifting sands of political expediency, we stand on the solid rock of social justice. Now I tell you that 18 years of Conservative government have made Britain a country unfair, unequal and divided against itself. I tell you also that no government, no Labour government, can stand by when even as we abolish the hereditary principle in Parliament - and we will - within our country all too often the children of the poorest have poverty and failure thrust upon them, simply because their parents were poor. And when literally millions of people are denied the chance to use their talents and develop their potential, no government minister can walk by on the other side. You know, it makes me angry when 1 see a 16 or 17 or 18-year-old, their lives' chances crippled by poverty and unemployment, even before life's journey has begun, and I say any fair-minded citizen would like me not only be moved to anger, but also be moved to action. So let us resolve here in Brighton this week to build the Britain that should be every Briton's birthright, a Britain where no life is wasted by unemployment, no potential stifled by denial of opportunity, no creative talent crushed by lack of encouragement, no individual held back simply because power, wealth and opportunity are concentrated in the hands of the few, when they should be, as our aim, in the hands of the many.

Now we are in power today and in a position to empower people because we have the courage to change and to modernise our party. But modernisation of our party was for a purpose, a great national purpose: to make possible the second modernisation, modernisation of our country, to equip people for the future. We must modernise remote and unreformed institutions, bring power closer to the people, we must modernise our role in the world a lead anew in Europe and round the globe, and we must modern our economy and society by putting economic opportunity in people's hands. Three great economic modernisations: to open our economy to more dynamism and competition, to transform education into lifelong learning, to make our welfare state a platform for employment opportunity for all. Three great new opportunities put in the hands of our people the opportunity to make the most of their creative talents, to secure the best education, to gain belt jobs. Three great British values: self-improvement, the value of education, the dignity of work.

So let every private monopoly, every cartel, every vested interest know, as Margaret Beckett has said, that we will open our economy to more competition and investment, so that creative talents, entrepreneurial spirits can flourish. That is why Labour’s first Budget cut corporation tax, cut small-business corporation introduced a new tax credit for investment, and that is why we abolished the tax credit for dividends, which starved our companies of long-term investment funds for too long. It is time to bury the short-termism that has plagued the British economy for far too long. (Applause)

Then secondly, our government will transform education from what it is unfortunately still today, one country, two systems, to make it what it can be, a gateway to lifelong learning - not just a few, but for everyone. You know, when in Britain only 30 per cent of young people can benefit from higher education, when in Oxbridge, Oxford and Cambridge, 50 per cent of the places now to private schools, it is time to change and to modernise, and, with our higher education reforms and our university for industry redistribute resources by extending opportunities.

Then our third modernisation: to transform the welfare state, from an institution that increasingly only compensates people for poverty to one that once again, as its founders intended, is providing a platform for opportunity and work - not government making work, government creating opportunities for work; not a government that will claim it can prevent you losing your last job, but a government that accepts its duty to help you get your next job.

Now let me spell out the ambition of what we propose. From April next year, every young person who has been unemployed for six months or more will be offered the chance to train or work, rights and responsibilities to work going hand in hand. The last government tried to hide this problem with schemes. This government will tackle the problem with jobs. From June next year, men and women unemployed for more than two years will be helped into work with £75 a week for any employer who takes them on. From autumn next year for the disabled, with a £200 million programme to provide job opportunities, we will restore the right to work, and from autumn also, building on Harriet Herman's pilot projects, every lone parent with a child starting school will be offered help to find a job and training to suit their needs.

Let me also say this. Conference rightly asked for childcare to be a priority of our government, and with our new cash help for childcare costs and our pledge to establish 55,000 training places for child carers, I am proud to say that this country is now on its way to its first national childcare strategy. (Applause) Not as an afterthought in social policy, but I tell you, as a central part of our economic policy.

So I say today to the young unemployed, to the long-term jobless, to lone parents looking for work, the age of exclusion is over, the era of economic opportunity for all has begun. And to make work possible, to make it pay, we also need a tax system that encourages work. Poor working families in Britain can face marginal tax rates of over ioc per cent, and for them it is time and it is right to plan a co-ordinated strategy of tax reform. Our first Budget delivered tax cuts for investment and fairness. Future Budgets will deliver tax cuts for fairness and jobs. That is why we are examining a new tax credit for the low-paid, that will be paid direct through the wage packet, the reform of National Insurance to encourage work, implementing our l0p tax rate, and a cut in benefit tapers, all underpinned by the final pillar of our anti-poverty strategy, the national minimum wage.

So modernisation of the economy for this Labour government is not about image, it is about substance. It starts not with pump-priming but prudence, not dashes for growth but discipline, not free-for-alls but responsibility, not rejection of change, but a more flexible welfare state and labour market, an economy not held back by restrictive practices, but more open to competition and investment.

This root and branch modernisation of our economy, with a new welfare state, is the modern way - the only way, new Labour's way, to achieve what we have always sought, and what I affirm as our goal today: employment opportunity for all, in every part of the United Kingdom, full employment for the 21st century. That is the ambition of decent-minded people everywhere. (Applause)

This party should tolerate no irresponsible demands that put these historic national goals for employment at risk. You know, a government can be credible without being radical, and end up changing nothing. But we are the party that has always stood for progress. A government can also be radical without being credible, but we are the party that rightly rejects idle posturing. I say only by being credible and radical can we in government turn our ambitions into achievements. And it is because like generations before us we are applying great ideals, Labour's enduring values, to new circumstances and new challenges that we can genuinely say we are modernisers - not just in our heads, but in our hearts. Modernises and modernisation, always for a purpose. It was because a century ago Keir Hardie looked at the world as it was, and saw what a new world could be, that he broke with the old order, set politics on a new modern path and he founded the Labour Party. It is because 50 years ago Aneurin Bevan looked at the old world of disease and deprivation, saw what a new world could be, that he broke with the private healthcare of the past and established a National Health Service that still serves us today.

So now, for our time, let the message go out. We govern and we serve, we seek to serve, as a new political generation - a new generation born into the National Health Service, who have grown up as beneficiaries of state education, who have enjoyed throughout our adult lives the security that comes from the welfare state, who understand that these great public services will not only always be the basis of any decent civilised society, but are the platform for greater individual opportunity and future economic success in the years to come. And we are also a political generation, a new generation, who have seen our party falter in the past, because we failed to change, and now are determined that in a changing world we continue to modernise and never falter again.

This spring, this summer, this autumn, we have seen a glimpse of the new Britain that is possible. Since 1 May we have seen the relief and the optimism expressed in people's faces. We have heard the hope in people's voices. We have seen an outpouring of compassion from people's hearts. We have seen a glimpse of what Britain has it in itself to become: no more a nation divided against itself, but a country that is united; no longer fearful of the future, but hopeful and confident; no more the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate; no more the barriers of privilege dividing us, but a society where opportunity is open to all; no longer us and them, but we, the people; from now on, a Britain where everyone has a contribution to make. These are our values, values we share with the British people. We are the people's party. We are now delivering the people's priorities, as once more, the people's government. (Applause)

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