2002 – Blair’s Leader’s Speech to Conference
Comment at end
Tony Blair’s conference speech in full – 1st October, 2002
Prime minister Tony Blair began his speech by congratulating Manchester on the Commonwealth Games, and on the European team for their victory in Golf’s Ryder Cup.
Here is the prepared text for the rest of his speech:
The paradox of the modern world is this.
We’ve never been more interdependent in our needs; and we’ve never been more individualist in our outlook.
Globalisation and technology open up vast new opportunities but also cause massive insecurity.
The values of progressive politics – solidarity, justice for all – have never been more relevant; and their application never more in need of modernisation.
Internationally, we need a new global partnership, that moves beyond a narrow view of national interest.
At home, it means taking the great progressive 1945 settlement and reforming it around the needs of the individual as consumer and citizen for the 21st century.
What we did for the Labour party in the new clause IV, freeing us from outdated doctrine and practice, we must now do, through reform, for Britain’s public services and welfare state.
We are at a crossroads: Party, government, country.
Do we take modest though important steps of improvement?
Or do we make the great push forward for transformation?
I believe we’re at our best when at our boldest.
So far, we’ve made a good start but we’ve not been bold enough.
Interdependence is obliterating the distinction between foreign and domestic policy.
It was the British economy that felt the aftermath of 11 September.
Our cities who take in refugees from the 13 million now streaming across the world from famine, disease or conflict.
Our young people who die from heroin imported from Afghanistan.
It is our climate that is changing.
Today, a nation’s chances are measured not just by its own efforts but by its place in the world.
Influence is power is prosperity.
We are an island nation, small in space, 60 million in people but immense in history and potential.
We can take refuge in the mists of Empire but it is a delusion that national identity is best preserved in isolation, that we should venture out in the world only at a time of emergency.
There is a bold side to the British character.
And there is a cautious side.
Both have their time and season.
Caution is often born of common sense, a great British trait.
But there are times when caution is retreat and retreat is dangerous.
Now, at the start of the 21st Century, is a time for reaching out.
The cold war is over. The US is the only superpower.
The Americans stand strong and proud, but at times resented.
Europe is economically powerful but not yet politically coherent.
Russia is breaking free from its past but still carrying the burden.
For China and India, power is only a matter of time.
For the moment, Japan is changing, South America struggling, Asia emerging; Africa impoverished; the Middle East unstable.
The world can go in two ways. Countries can become rivals in power, or partners.
Partnership is the antidote to unilateralism. For all the resentment of America, remember one thing.
The basic values of America are our values too, British and European and they are good values. Democracy, freedom, tolerance, justice.
It’s easy to be anti-American. There’s a lot of it about but remember when and where this alliance was forged: here in Europe, in World War II when Britain and America and every decent citizen in Europe joined forces to liberate Europe from the Nazi evil.
My vision of Britain is not as the 51st state of anywhere, but I believe in this alliance and I will fight long and hard to maintain it.
I’m not saying we always apply our values correctly.
But I’ve lost count of the number of supposedly intelligent people who’ve said to me.
You don’t understand the Serbs. They’re very attached to Milosevic. No they weren’t.
The Afghans are different. They like religious extremism. No they didn’t.
The Iraqis don’t have the same tradition of political freedom. No they don’t but I bet they’d like to.
Our values aren’t western values. They’re human values, and anywhere, anytime people are given the chance, they embrace them.
Around these values, we build our global partnership. Europe and America together. Russia treated as a friend and equal.
China and India seeking not rivalry but cooperation and for all nations the basis of our partnership not power alone but a common will based on common values.
Applied in an even-handed way.
Some say the issue is Iraq. Some say it is the Middle East Peace Process. It’s both.
Some say it’s poverty. Some say it’s terrorism. It’s both.
I know the worry over Iraq. People accept Saddam is bad. But they fear it’s being done for the wrong motives. They fear us acting alone.
So the United Nations route. Let us lay down the ultimatum. Let Saddam comply with the will of the UN.
So far most of you are with me. But here is the hard part. If he doesn’t comply, then consider.
If at this moment having found the collective will to recognise the danger, we lose our collective will to deal with it, then we will destroy not the authority of America or Britain but of the United Nations itself.
Sometimes and in particular dealing with a dictator, the only chance of peace is a readiness for war.
But we need coalitions not just to deal with evil by force if necessary, but coalitions for peace, coalitions to tackle poverty, ignorance and disease.
A coalition to fight terrorism and a coalition to give Africa hope. A coalition to re-build the nation of Afghanistan as strong as the coalition to defeat the Taleban.
A coalition to fight the scourge of AIDS, to protect the planet from climate change every bit as powerful as the coalition for free trade, free markets and free enterprise.
And yes what is happening in the Middle East now is ugly and wrong. The Palestinians living in increasingly abject conditions, humiliated and hopeless; Israeli civilians brutally murdered.
I agree UN resolutions should apply here as much as to Iraq. But they don’t just apply to Israel. They apply to all parties.
And there is only one answer.
By this year’s end, we must have revived final status negotiations and they must have explicitly as their aims: an Israeli state free from terror, recognised by the Arab world and a viable Palestinian state based on the boundaries of 1967.
For Britain to help shape this new world, Britain needs to be part of it.
Our friendship with America is a strength. So is our membership of Europe. We should make the most of both.
And in Europe, never more so than now. The single currency is a fact, but will Europe find the courage for economic reform?
Europe is to become 25 nations, one Europe for the first time since Charlemagne, but will it be as a union of nation states or as a centralised superstate?
It has taken the first steps to a common defence policy, but will it be a friend or a rival to NATO?
The answers to these questions are crucial to Britain. They matter to the British economy, our country, our way of life.
And the way to get the right answers, is by being in there, vigorous, confident, leading in Europe not limping along several paces behind.
That’s why the Euro is not just about our economy but our destiny.
We should only join the Euro if the economic tests are met. That is clear. But if the tests are passed, we go for it.
Interdependence is the core reality of the modern world. It is revolutionising our idea of national interest.
It is forcing us to locate that interest in the wider international community.
It is making solidarity – a great social democratic ideal – our route to practical survival.
Partnership is statesmanship for the 21st Century. We need now the same clarity of vision for our country.
I have learnt this in five years of government. The radical decision is usually the right one. The right decision is usually the hardest one. And the hardest decisions are often the least popular at the time.
The starting point is not policy. It’s hope. I sometimes think the whole of politics can be reduced to a battle between pessimism and hope. Because from hope comes change.
At times, in Britain we lack self- belief. Britain is a great country. On the way up. Fourth largest economy in the world. The best mortgage, inflation and unemployment figures for a generation.
Long-term youth unemployment now down to 5,400 for the whole of Britain.
Compare that with three million unemployed under the Tories and then understand the difference a Labour government can make.
As a result, the welfare bills of failure are falling; so we can spend £6bn a year more today on pensioners than in 1997 and that’s also the difference a Labour government makes.
In arts and culture, we lead the world in awards, prizes and talent.
Our armed forces are the best anywhere. Our school system has now been judged, by the most authoritative international analysis, among the top eight in the world, above France and Germany.
More students than ever before go to university. Our universities are widely regarded as the best in Europe.
I understand the anxiety of students affected by the marking down of their A levels. We are totally committed to helping them.
But perhaps mistakes like this can be avoided if in future, when our students do well, we praise the students, thank the teachers instead of thinking we must have failed, when actually we’ve done better.
For all the attacks on the NHS, listen to this story of a woman who has breast cancer. Screened because she was one of the 140,000 extra now checked a year. Who saw a consultant within two weeks. Saw him because now every urgent patient suspected of cancer has to be seen within two weeks.
Treated within four weeks because that is now the maximum time for breast cancer treatment.
Five years ago, even two years ago, none of that would have been guaranteed.
That’s what we meant when in 1997 we said Britain was going to get better.
That’s what the Tories hate. They sneer at the investment. Pessimism about Britain is now the official strategy of the Tories.
The purpose is not just to undermine the government, but to undermine government, to destroy the belief that we can collectively achieve anything, to drench progress in cynicism, to sully the hope from which energy, action and change all spring.
Now they’ve gone “compassionate”. Know what it means? We are going to run down your schools but we feel really bad about it.
We’re going to charge you to see a GP but we really wish we weren’t. We’re going to put more children in poverty but this time we’ll honestly feel very guilty about it.
In opposition, Labour was trying to escape policies we didn’t believe in. It was a journey of conviction.
Today’s Tories are trying to escape policies they do believe in. Theirs is a journey of convenience and it fools no-one least of all themselves. There’s no cause for pessimism, we should believe in ourselves and use that self-belief to choose now and irrevocably the path of reform.
The 20th Century was a century of savage slaughter, insane ideology, and unparalleled progress. Progress won in the end. Governments used collective power through the state, to provide opportunity for the masses.
But in time the institutions of that power became huge interests in their own right. And the people became more prosperous, more assertive, more individualist.
Eventually, the 1980s saw a reaction by the individual against collective power in all its forms.
Now with globalisation, a new era has begun. People are no less individualist, but they are insecure.
Modern prosperity may be greater but modern life is pressure and stress. 20th Century collective power was exercised through the Big State. Their welfare was paternalistic, handing down from on high.
That won’t do today.
Just as mass production has departed from industry, so the monolithic provision of services has to depart from the public sector.
People want an individual service for them. They want government under them not over them.
They want Government to empower them, not control them. And they want equality of both opportunity and responsibility.
They want to know the same rules that apply to them, apply to all. Out goes the Big State. In comes the Enabling State.
Out goes a culture of benefits and entitlements. In comes a partnership of rights and responsibilities. That’s why we need reform. Reform is just a word.
It has no meaning in itself. It’s the purpose of it that matters. I will tell you why I am passionate about reform.
Because poor public services and welfare are usually for the poorest. The better-off can buy a better education or move to a better area or know a better doctor; or find a better job.
Those great governments of 1906 and 1945 did great things.They inherited a situation where the majority were have-nots and made them haves.
But prosperity never reached all the way down. We went from being a 30-70 country to being a 70-30 one.
Today it’s not enough. Not morally. Not economically where we need every last drop of potential to be fulfilled, if Britain is to succeed.
Let me spell it out. In education, we need to move to the post-comprehensive era, where schools keep the comprehensive principle of equality of opportunity but where we open up the system to new and different ways of education, built round the needs of the individual child.
We need an NHS true to the principle of care on the basis of need, not ability to pay, but personalised, built around the individual patient. Both require an end to the “one size fits all” mass production public service.
The purpose of the 20th century welfare state was to treat citizens as equals. The purpose of our 21st century reforms must be to treat them as individuals as well.
And we can’t make that change by more bureaucracy from the centre, by just flogging the system harder. We need to change the system.
It means putting power in the hands of the patient or parent, which is what Alan and Estelle are doing.
Why shouldn’t an NHS patient be able to book an appointment for an operation at their convenience, just like they could if they paid for it? “At the time I want, with the doctor I want” was Margaret Thatcher’s reason for going private.
Why shouldn’t it be the right for every citizen and why shouldn’t it be done within the NHS? Why shouldn’t our best hospitals be free to develop their services within the NHS as foundation hospitals?
Why shouldn’t there be a range of schools for parents to choose from: from specialist schools to the new City Academies, to faith schools, to sixth forms and sixth form colleges offering excellent routes into university and skilled employment?
Why shouldn’t good schools expand or take over failing schools or form federations? It means power in the hands of the professionals.
Why shouldn’t nurses prescribe medicines or order x-rays? Why shouldn’t classroom assistants and IT specialists be every bit as important as teachers in the future?
Why should a consultant who does 30 NHS operations a week not be paid more than one who does 10? Why should a teacher who wants to stay in the classroom and is superb at it not be paid the same as a head of department?
Every time, the reform is tough, just keep one thing in mind: the child in a school where barely any pupils take “A” levels, where only 20 per cent get good GCSEs and where the majority know they will just end up as one of the seven million British adults who can’t even read or write properly.
The only difference between that child and mine is one had a chance in life and the other had none.
If the status quo was good enough, that child would be a figment of our imagination. The fact that such children do exist – thousands of them every year in Britain – is why reform is the road to social justice, not its denial.
Do you know what really holds back change? The pessimism that says: go on, you can’t really have top quality services for all.
It’s like the Tories who argue you dumb down if 50% of young people go to university though of course three quarters of middle class children already do.
As if God distributed ability by class background.
I visited the Beswick estate in East Manchester on Saturday with John Prescott. Three years ago going down.
Now on the way up. Massive investment. The primary school results dramatically improved. Were the boys and girls in 2002 brighter than their brothers and sisters in 1999? Rubbish.
All that’s changed is that for the first time in their lives, people are giving them a bit of hope, a bit of belief, a bit of confidence that they’re every much as entitled to a start in life as the middle class child five miles up the road.
We reject old Tory pessimism. But we on the left have our own pessimism.
It’s that if we change a cherished institution, we betray it. If we deliver a service in a different way, we trash its founding principles.
I agree competition should not be on the basis of cutting wages or employment protection. Demoralised staff don’t perform at their best.
We should value our public servants. I don’t just mean the doctors, nurses, teachers and police. I mean the porters, cleaners, secretaries, administrators, the dinner ladies, the care assistants who day in and day out give time and effort and commitment way beyond their contractual duty.
I say to the trade unions: work with us on the best way of delivering the service and we will work with you on ending the two-tier workforce.
But let me make one thing plain. We are the only government anywhere in the Western world that this year, next year, the year after, is increasing both health and education public spending as a percentage of national income. The only one. That is our commitment to public services.
We said schools and hospitals first. We’re building them. Lots of them. And I am not going to go to parents and children and patients in my constituency or any other and say I’m sorry because there is an argument going on about PFI we’re going to put these projects on hold.
They don’t care who builds them. So long as they’re built. I don’t care who builds them. So long as they’re on cost, on budget, and helping to deliver a better NHS and better State schools for the people of Sedgefield and every other constituency in the land.
Between 1979 and 1997, 10 new hospitals were built. Through PFI since 1997, 15 new hospitals built and 100 on the way. 550 schools are being re-built or modernised.
In Glasgow, the whole of the secondary school system is being re-built with 12 brand new schools. All under PFI.
And every single part of the service remains universal and free at the point of use. Come on: this isn’t the betrayal of public services. It’s their renewal.
All that is happening is that here, as round the rest of the world, we are dividing means and ends. The ends, universal provision remain the same.
The means of delivery, partnership between public, private and voluntary sectors and between state and citizen, change.
Pensions is probably the biggest current worry for the workforce. And transport probably the worst area of public services.
Over the coming months, we will present long-term proposals for both. But there is no way government through the general taxpayer can do it all.
People still have 1945 expectations of government. They want it to do things for them. In fact today, government can only do things with them.
It’s the same for the economic role for government. We can empower but we can’t run people’s lives or their business.
In fact the greatest hope for social democracy is the coming together of the social and the economic case for developing human potential.
Investment in people, helping them to learn new skills and technology, to start a business or help their business to grow. But it has to be a partnership.
And that applies to all walks of life. I know the plight of the farming community. It is serious. I have spent five years working on it.
We are putting more money into it than the rest of British industry combined. We’ll carry on doing it. But it’s time this money is used to reform farming so that it has a future, rather than to prop up the failed practices of the past.
And I want to stress our commitment to British science. We face a choice. We can use our huge strengths in this area to become world leaders. Or we can be deterred by the Luddite tirades.
I have made that choice for Britain. £2bn extra over three years. And I was proud to have made that choice when I sat waiting to be interviewed by David Frost on Sunday, watching an interview with the American actor Christopher Reeve who said he wanted to thank Britain and the British people for taking a lead on research which could help him and others like him all over the world.
But the other side of government helping the citizen is the citizen’s responsibility to others. Partnership is also citizenship for the 21st Century.
I don’t have the toughest job in government. David Blunkett does. On asylum, where big reform is needed urgently. And on crime. I still hear from time to time this nonsense that crime is not a real Labour issue, and all we have to do is deliver on poverty and opportunity.
Of course we have to do that.
But try telling a 92 year old pensioner, a Labour supporter for the last 70 years, that she’ll have to wait for the Tories to get tough on the young thugs who battered her. That’s not a conversation I’m prepared to have.
We’re the first government since the war under which crime has fallen not risen. Does that reassure everyone? No. There is less of a chance today of being a victim of crime than at any time for 20 years. Does everyone believe it? No.
We have increased the numbers of police to record numbers, toughened the law on everything from rape to benefit fraud. Does that mean everyone feels safer? No.
Why? Because the problem is not just crime. It is disrespect. It is anti-social behaviour. It is the drug dealer at the end of the street and no-one seems to be able to do anything about it.
This is not only about crime. It is about hard-working families who play the rules seeing those who don’t, getting away with it.
The street crime initiative has been one of the most successful exercises in partnership between government and police in living memory.
Not my words, but those of the chief constables.
But what was fascinating was not the initiative itself, but what it uncovered. Outdated identity parades taking weeks if not months to organise. Defendants who didn’t answer to their bail and never got punished for it.
Police officers told it was a breach of civil liberties to check whether defendants were obeying bail conditions. It’s not civil liberties. It’s lunacy.
Drug addicts with previous offences routinely bailed though everyone knew what they would be doing between bail and trial. Magistrates unable to remand persistent young offenders in custody because no places existed in prison or secure accommodation.
The whole system full of excellent people, worn down and worn out. Step by step David and his team, working with the police are putting it right.
Later this year we will introduce the Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Bill. It will re-balance the system emphatically and in favour of the victims of crime. Old rules will be swept away; court procedures simplified; sentencing built round the offender as well as the offence, with those on drugs getting treatment or custody.
More police on the beat. More Community Support Officers. Instant fines for anti-social behaviour. Parents of truants who refuse to cooperate with the school will be fined or lose benefit. Anti-social tenants and their anti-social landlords who make money out of abusing Housing Benefit, while making life hell for the community, should lose their right to it.
Those who assault teachers or nurses should go to jail. And from early next year, wealthy drug dealers or organised criminals with money in their bank account or a home or an asset of any sort but no lawful means of support will have it taken from them unless they show it was come by lawfully not through crime.
For 100 years, our Criminal Justice System like our welfare system was based on a messy compromise between liberals and authoritarians. The liberals tended to view crime as primarily about social causes and the welfare system primarily about giving to the poor.
The authoritarians wanted harsh penalties and as ungenerous a benefit system as possible. The compromise was a Criminal Justice System weighted in favour of the defendant but with harsh penalties for the convicted; and a passive welfare system with mean benefits.
In short, the worst of all worlds. In its place, a new contract between citizen and community.
We give opportunity to all. We demand responsibility from all. We are investing heavily in the biggest anti-poverty strategy of any Government for half a century.
On top of record investment in education, we’ve introduced the New Deal, the Working Families Tax Credit, record increases in Child Benefit and Income Support, Sure Start. To the majority who are reasonably well off, these are just words.
To people who need them, they can be transforming.
I saw it last week in Hackney, where a woman said until Sure Start came along she felt trapped in her council flat, looking after her child. Now the child had a creche to go to; the mother had a network of friends and contacts; she got a job. She was happy.
I’ve seen it at Ferryhill in my own Sedgefield constituency. It is a great feeling. You’re the local MP. But you’re also the Prime Minister. And the government you lead has created centres like those all over the country. And you can see the impact for the better on the lives of people who elected you.
And what was brilliant about Sure Start at Ferryhill wasn’t just the fantastic new facilities, the creche and nursery, the help and advice for families.
It was the buzz of mums and dads, staff and helpers taking control, not just of their own lives but of the community, making those lives and that community better. That is what we mean by the redistribution of power, wealth and opportunity to the many not the few.
The modern Welfare State must be active, not passive, put partnership in place of paternalism. That’s what a modern civic society, with reformed public services and welfare can do.
But it also means changes to politics itself. The same issues that confront our public services – collapse of deference, rise of individualism, a desire for involvement apply in equal measure to the conduct of politics.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the levers. The other parties. Local politicians. The media. Pressure groups. Anyone with a vested interest in a healthy democracy has a role to play here.
For us, I accept a big majority means a big responsibility to make Parliament more relevant and do more in Parliament.
And our very political strength means that when voters get disengaged the challenge is for us to find out why and do something about it.
Next time, we want to win but we want to do it on a turn out of more than 59%.
Our relations too, party leadership and members, has to change. You’ve lost your love of discipline for its own sake. I’ve lost my love of popularity for its own sake.
Soon, we will present proposals to you for the renewal of our membership base, policy discussion and our links with other parties around the world.
The alternative is a return to self destruction, the perennial disease of centre-left governments. Never let us fall for the far left’s eternal delusion: that if there is dissatisfaction with a moderate centre-left government this can be manipulated into support for a far-left government.
It results only in one thing. Always has. Always will: the return of a right-wing Tory government. Displeasing people; pockets of disillusion; impatience and frustration.
These are not the hallmarks of this Labour government. They are the hallmarks of government. The test is to listen, adapt and move forward.
Up to 1997, do you know how many years of the 20th century Labour was in power with a substantial majority? Nine. By the end of this Parliament, we will have doubled it. We learnt the hard way.
But now we have to show that we have the capacity not only to learn but to transform, to show what a liberated modern social democracy can do. We can do it. I’m an optimist.
Because there is change happening. Ten years ago people asked would Labour ever win again. Now, they ask it of the Tories. Ten years ago, they asked if we were fit to manage the economy. Now thanks to the vision and brilliance of Gordon Brown, we have succeeded beyond any previous Labour or Tory government.
Not by chance. Every part of it – from the first years of discipline, through to Bank of England independence through to reform of tax and benefits to make work pay – was a bold choice.
The right-wing never deserved their reputation for economic competence. And we’ve made sure they’ll never have exclusive rights to it again.
Ten years ago, claims that the minimum wage would cost a million jobs were the centrepiece of John Major’s election campaign: now it’s the law, business and trade unions agree it, and the Tories have to pretend they were in favour of it all along. At our best when at our boldest.
For four elections, anyone who said investment before tax cuts was brave but doomed.
In 2001, we did it and it is those who oppose the investment who are on the run.
The New Deal was savaged by the Tories, challenged politically, challenged legally, challenged by business. Now it’s in its sixth year, over a million people have been helped by it and not one Tory candidate dares to stand up and say we should abolish it. At our best when at our boldest.
Remember how devolution would break-up Britain? And now there is a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, the nationalists are running from their separatism and not a single party in Britain proposes going back. And in Northern Ireland, for all the difficulties, Republicans and Unionists sit in Government together and the principle of consent is accepted North and South on the island of Ireland for the first time in 80 years.
At our best when at our boldest. And remember how for 100 years we tried to reform the House of Lords and now the reform is happening, the hereditary peers are leaving and the attack is that it doesn’t go far enough?
The equal age of consent passed massively in the House of Commons. The first black Cabinet Minister. Record numbers of women Cabinet Ministers. Record numbers of women MPs. From progress here to life and death, abroad, it is happening.
A month ago I visited Beira District Hospital in Mozambique. There are as many doctors in the whole of Mozambique as there are in Oldham. I saw four children to a bed, sick with malaria. Nurses dying of AIDS faster than others can be recruited. Tens of thousands of children dying in that country needlessly every year.
I asked a doctor: what hope is there? Britain is our hope, he said. Thanks to you we have debt relief. Thanks to you we have new programmes to fight AIDS and malaria. Thanks to you the docks at Maputo are being rebuilt and we can sell our goods abroad.
When you tire of knocking on the door, putting the leaflet in the envelope, wonder what its all about and what its all for, reflect on that doctor, feel proud of what you do, and understand that’s what we elect a Labour government for.
We haven’t just nailed the myths about Labour of old; we’ve created some legend of achievement about New Labour too. We’ve been at our best when we’ve been at our boldest. And now we need to be again.
And all it takes, is for us to do what we believe in. We believe in a school system of equal opportunity for all. But we don’t yet have it. We believe in an NHS with equal access for all; but not all get it. We believe in punishing the guilty and acquitting the innocent but it’s not what happens. We believe in ridding Britain of child poverty but children are still poor.
We believe in Europe but we’re not yet at the centre of it. There’s nothing wrong with the old principles but if the old ways worked, they’d have worked by now.
If you believe in social justice, in solidarity, in equality of opportunity and responsibility, then believe in the reforms to get us there. Now is the time.
To quicken the march of progress not mark time. What started with the renewal of the Labour Party only ends with the renewal of Britain.
Pessimism or hope. Despair or confidence. Decline or renewal. At our best when at our boldest.
This is not the time to abandon our journey of modernisation but to see it through.
Read BBC report here