2004 – Blair’s Leader’s Speech to Conference
Comment at end
“So here we are facing the possibility unique in our 100 year history, of governing Britain for a third successive term. Never done it before. Never debated it before.
Never imagined it before.
Progressive parties, like the Labour Party, rarely fail because of their values.
Fairness, justice, solidarity, opportunity for all.
These are the impulses of any decent human spirit.
No. We almost always fail when we don’t foresee the future in which those values must be applied.
The values require steadfast conviction.
But the future requires restless courage to know and act upon the coming reality, however hard the challenge it holds.
And when the two, conviction and courage, combine their strength and take on the challenges, they beat them and in time what was a challenge, becomes part of the new consensus.
Reflect on the things once the passionate subject of controversy, people no longer talk about.
Remember the march for jobs.
No-one talks of mass unemployment now.
When two weeks ago it fell to its lowest level for 30 years, it passed without notice.
Who did it? The British people, by voting for change.
There are people who a decade ago could tell you of interest rates double what they are today, of homes repossessed, of families who didn’t know from one week to the next where the mortgage payments were going to come from.
But who talks of boom and bust economics today? Who did it? The British people by voting for change.
And when was the last time you heard of a winter crisis in the health service or the scandal of outside toilets in primary schools, now that this country, Britain, is the only one anywhere in the developed world increasing public spending on health and education every year, year on year, as a proportion of our national income?
And who did it? The British people by voting for change.
When did you last hear of pensioners freezing to death in the cold because they couldn’t afford the heating?
Or how great a debate is there today about the break-up of the United Kingdom, now that Scotland has its Parliament and Wales its Assembly? But 12 years ago an election was fought on it.
A week ago, after the talks at Leeds Castle on Northern Ireland, an 18-year-old asked me: “How come we never hear much about Northern Ireland?”
But we used to wake up every morning to it, didn’t we?
And remember when to be in favour of gay rights was to be a loony leftie, race relations was political correctness, and Red Ken frightened people even as brave as your own leadership?
Now the parties compete for the gay vote, unite against the BNP and Ken has led and won the debate on congestion charging and community policing.
So many things that used to divide our country bitterly, now unite it in healthy consensus.
Who did it? The British people, by voting for change.
Or when the next election comes, will they say Labour can’t run the economy; there’ll be a run on the markets; that Labour can’t defend Britain or won’t support the police?
Labour is working.
Britain is working.
The longest period of economic growth since records began, an economy now bigger than that of Italy and France.
The lowest unemployment and highest employment rate of any of our competitors for the first time since the 1950s.
Living standards up, for everyone, and for the poorest up most.
The biggest reductions in child poverty and biggest increases in investment for decades.
This isn’t a country in decline.
The British people aren’t a people on the way down.
We are winning. They are winning.
And why did they vote for change? Because we had the courage of our convictions and we dared to change.
So why is government so tough? Because for all the progress, life’s still tough for many hard-working families:
if you’re a young married couple trying to buy a house;
if you’re trying to balance home and family life;
if you’re worried about saving for retirement;
if you’re scared to walk out at night;
if you, the taxpayer, see people who don’t deserve it getting benefits, when you can’t get the help you need and do deserve.
Modern life is being perpetually stressed out.
You can do more, travel more, consume more, live longer.
But nothing stays still. It’s always changing.
And for the politicians, it’s like having a conversation with people in an area where your mobile phone doesn’t work properly.
You know what it’s like.
You hear scraps of the conversation, most of it distorted and it’s all intensely irritating.
The public think the politicians don’t know or care about their lives; and the politicians feel misunderstood.
But I am an optimist about Britain; and the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is not that the optimist believes the world is wonderful and the pessimist believes it’s beset by challenges; the difference is the pessimist believes we will be defeated by them; the optimist thinks the challenges can be overcome.
And meanwhile, think how lucky we are.
Lucky to have been able to change our party from one of permanent opposition to one that can compete for government on equal terms.
Lucky to be in a country as great as this serving a people as decent as the British people.
Lucky to have a Cabinet of talented men and women I’m proud to call friends, as well as colleagues.
I won’t list them all.
You know who they are.
They know how much I value what they do.
But I will mention the two who have been with me, in Opposition and in government in the same jobs every step of the way.
Gordon and John, the one a personal friend for 20 years and the best chancellor this country has ever had and the other the strongest, most loyal deputy any leader could ever wish for.
And we are lucky in our Opposition.
I know people say we should take the Lib Dems seriously.
But I can’t.
I like Charles, incidentally.
But recently he asked: “The Lib Dems are doing well but we have to answer the question: what do you stand for?”
Charles, my strong advice is: don’t go there.
The great advantage of the Lib Dems is precisely that no-one knows what they stand for.
If they ever find out it’ll be the end of you.
The Lib Dems voted against every single measure for action against ASB;
against withdrawing benefits from failed asylum seekers even when all their appeals were finished;
And they believe you can get an extra £30 billion in tax in one Parliament just from top-rate taxpayers, to pay for spending pledges they can’t possibly afford.
Meanwhile the other part of their party wants to change our NHS for a system of compulsory private medical insurance.
Believe me, Charles, leave the public in blissful ignorance.
The Tories, by contrast, don’t need to ask what they stand for.
They know what they stand for.
Unfortunately for them, so do the British people.
Two recessions, 10 per cent mortgage rates, the poll tax, three million unemployed, opposition to the minimum wage and crime doubled.
Michael Howard did well at first because people had forgotten him.
Now they’ve remembered.
All you need to know is that when his advisers told him the Tories had to become a party of the future, he brought back John Redwood.
It is New Labour that now wears the one nation mantle.
And the daftest thing said about New Labour is not the usual “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Like someone I met at the TUC, who said: “What have you ever done for trade unionists?” I said: “What about the right to union recognition?”
“Yeah, but apart from that?”
“The first ever minimum wage.”
“Yeah, alright, but ….”
“Or the Social Chapter, paid holidays, restoration of union rights at GCHQ, an end to blacklisting, information and consultation rights”.
Then he said: “Yeah, but no-one knows about it”.
I said “Well, try telling them.”
It’s not that.
Someone showed me an article recently about how: “Tony Blair has marginalised the Tories.”
I thought it’s a change to read something nice.
Then I realised it was a criticism.
Like, after years in which people thought the Labour Party was unfit to govern, now they think the Tories are.
And I should be really sorry about it.
The trouble is even now, even after the lessons of 18 years of opposition followed by two terms of government, we still think they’re the party of government, they’re the ruling class and we’re not part of it.
And we’re not.
Neither should we be.
But the point is: Britain doesn’t need a ruling class today.
The rulers are the people.
The reason the Tories are marginalised is they refuse to accept we’re equals.
They still think they don’t need to ask any fundamental questions about today’s Tory Party.
They just hope that we’ll buckle.
Well, we won’t.
If we have the heart to hold true to our values; and the head to understand the future in which they have to work.
What have we learnt in government?
The present is thrown out with scarcely time to become familiar; before a new future emerges to assert itself.
Sure, we’re proud of our record.
Record economic stability in the first term.
Record investment in the second.
Record numbers of jobs in both.
A fairer Britain, yes.
Better than Tory Britain, I should hope so.
But not yet a Britain in which as our constitution puts it: power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few.
If you have professional parents you are five times more likely to go to university.
If you live in a smart part of town you are half as likely to be the victim of crime.
Company directors aren’t the ones losing their pension.
There is a glass ceiling on opportunity in this country.
We have raised the ceiling.
We haven’t broken it.
It’s great we introduced 2½ hours free nursery education.
But if your job means working til 5pm what good is that?
The New Deal gave half a million youngsters a job.
But what happens when they want a career?
No inner-city London borough now gets fewer than 40 per cent of its pupils with good GCSEs, up from as low as 25 per cent in 1997.
That’s still 60 per cent not good enough.
It’s wonderful that maximum waiting times have come down from 18 months in 1997 to six months by the end of next year.
But I would not want a member of my family to wait in pain, let alone for six months.
And we may have a stable economy, but every business I visit tells me however well Britain does now, within a decade hundreds of thousands of UK jobs will go to China and India unless we build a wholly new platform of economic opportunity in knowledge, skills and science.
For the wealthy few, every one of those challenges of the future can be overcome.
The third term mission is to overcome them for the many.
Changing Britain for better.
Not a society where all succeed equally – that is utopia; but an opportunity society where all have an equal chance to succeed; that could and should be 21st century Britain under a Labour Government.
Where nothing in your background, whether you’re black or white, a man or a woman, able-bodied or disabled, stands in the way of what your merit and hard work can achieve.
Where hard working families who play by the rules are not going to see their opportunities blighted by those that don’t.
And where if any of our citizens, no matter how poor, is in sickness or need, they get the best care available without any regard to their wealth.
Power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few.
Not our hands. But theirs.
Fairness in the future will not be built on the state, structures, services and government of times gone by.
Their values remain.
But the reality of life has changed.
The relationship between state and citizen has changed.
People have grown up. They want to make their own life choices.
Their expectations, their ambitions, their hopes are all different and higher.
The 20th Century traditional welfare state that did so much for so many has to be re-shaped as the opportunity society capable of liberation and advance, every bit as substantial as the past but fitting the contours of the future.
And this will be a progressive future as long as we remember that the reason for our struggle against injustice has always been to liberate the individual.
The argument is not between those who do and those who do not love freedom.
It is between the Conservatives who believe freedom requires only that government stand back while the fittest and most privileged prosper.
And we who understand, that freedom for the individual, for every individual, whatever their starting point in life, is best achieved through a just society and a strong community.
In an opportunity society, as opposed to the old welfare state, government does not dictate; it empowers.
It makes the individual – patient, parent, law-abiding citizen, job-seeker – the driver of the system, not the state.
It sets free the huge talent of our public servants and social entrepreneurs whose ability is often thwarted by outdated rules and government bureaucracy.
It changes how government works, to open up the means of delivery to every resource, public, private and voluntary, that can deliver opportunity based on need not wealth.
Sometimes I hear people describe “choice” as a Tory word.
It reminds me of when I first used to knock on doors as a canvasser and was told if they owned their own home they were Tories.
Choice a Tory word?
Tell that to 50 per cent of heart patients who have exercised it to get swifter operations and help bring cardiac deaths down 16,000 since we came to power.
Or to the parents who have made the new City Academy Schools so popular in areas of the greatest social disadvantage.
Or the people I met in Teesside a couple of weeks ago who have transformed their neighbourhood, yes with government money but most of all, by making their decisions, their choices about how it was spent and how their community was run.
Choice is not a Tory word.
Choice dependent on wealth; those are the Tory words.
The right to demand the best and refuse the worst and do so not by virtue of your wealth but your equal status as a citizen, that’s precisely what the modern Labour Party should stand for.
So here are ten things a future Labour third term can do for Britain’s hard-working families.
1 – Widen the circle of opportunity by low mortgage rates, rising living standards and more jobs in every region of the UK; special help for first time homebuyers and in a week where the Tories are advocating an inheritance tax cut which gives £2 billion to the richest five per cent of estates, Labour’s priority will be tax relief for the millions of hard-working families, not tax cuts for the wealthy few.
2 – A society where we put the same commitment to quality vocational skills as we do academic education, with new vocational courses at school, every adult given skills free of charge up to level two and further support for level three, and 300,000 Modern Apprenticeships at the workplace.
3 – Every parent with the choice of a good specialist school, 200 new City Academies all in areas of deprivation, but with no return to selection at 11; new powers for heads to tackle disruptive pupils; all secondary schools part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and as each wave of schools is rebuilt, modern sports facilities in every one, with a guaranteed number of hours of sport per week.
And let’s work to bring the Olympics to London in 2012 and have a sporting legacy not just for the capital but for the whole country.
4 – All patients able to choose their hospital, to book the time and date for treatment.
Maximum waiting times down from 18 months to 18 weeks.
100 new hospital schemes, 2,700 GP premises improved and modernised already with more to come, life expectancy up, cardiac and cancer deaths down.
The NHS safe in the patient’s hands.
5 – Life made easier for families.
More choice for mums at home and at work.
Universal, affordable and flexible childcare for the parents of all three-14 year-olds who want it from 8am in the morning to six at night and a Sure Start Children’s Centre in every community of Britain.
6 – Security and dignity for everyone in retirement.
Year by year we will work to increase the numbers who can move off benefit and into work, whether from Job Seekers Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or any other benefit, and with the money saved, design a pension system that has the basic state pension at its core; gives special help to the poorest and provides incentives to save for hard-working families whatever their wealth or income.
7 – Our country and its people prospering in the knowledge economy.
Increasing by £1 billion the investment in science, boosting support to small businesses and ending the digital divide by bringing broadband technology to every home in Britain that wants it by 2008.
8 – On the back of the success of the ASB legislation and record numbers of police, we will take a new approach to the whole of law and order.
By the end of the next Parliament, all communities with their own dedicated policing team ; and the local community as well as the police have a say how it is policed.
There will be a radical extension of compulsory drug testing for offenders; a doubling of investment in drug treatment; summary powers to deal with drug dealers and with the violence from binge-drinking; and those believed to be part of organised crime will have their assets confiscated, their bank accounts opened up and if they intimidate juries, face trial without a jury.
9 – We will introduce identity cards and electronic registration of all who cross our borders.
We have cut radically the numbers of failed asylum seekers.
By the end of 2005, and for the first time in Britain, we will remove more each month than apply and so restore faith in a system that we know has been abused.
But we will welcome lawful migrants to this country; we will praise, not apologise, for our multi-cultural society and we will never play politics with the issue of race.
10 – A fair deal for all at work.
An opportunity society is one in which we stop ignoring the lives of the millions of hard working low paid families who do the jobs that we all rely on.
The jobs that get overlooked, the workers who we too often see right through, walk straight past, take for granted.
The office cleaners who do the early morning shift, clearing away the mess before the office is filled.
The security guards staying vigilant through the night.
The dinner ladies, who cook meals for hundreds of kids in the school canteen five days a week.
The hospital porters who often do as much for patient care as the nurse.
For them, we offer not just the respect they deserve, but the guarantee of a decent income, a rising minimum wage, equal pay between men and women, four weeks paid holidays from now on, plus bank holidays.
There they are: ten pointers to what a third term Labour Government would do for Britain’s hard-working families.
Don’t tell me that’s not worth fighting for.
A stronger, fairer, more prosperous nation.
And now we have to go out and win the trust of the people to do it.
When people talk of trust, I say this: I know manifestos rarely make best sellers.
But any party activist who wants an answer to the question about trust – go and read what we said we would do in 1997 and 2001.
It’s a happy ending because rarely has a political party been able to deliver so much of what it promised.
And if you can’t be bothered with the whole manifesto, get out those pledge cards.
1997 five pledges. All delivered.
Except its not now 100,000 off the waiting lists, its 300,000 and it’s not 250,000 young people off the dole but 500,000.
2001, five pledges. All delivered.
Except it isn’t 10,000 teachers, it’s almost 20,000 and not 20,000 nurses but 60,000.
And the minimum wage is not £4.50 but now £4.85 and set to rise still further.
So a new manifesto is being written.
A new pledge card is being prepared for insertion into John Prescott’s wallet.
And then into the hands of everyone of us as we knock on doors, visit the factories, tour the shops, get out and campaign with some fire in our bellies, with some pride in what we have done.
And of course, every change will be hard – change always is; every time we act on the reality of the future, people will accuse us of reneging on the values of the past.
But on the issues we have just discussed – the normal run of politics, you feel, the country feels reasonably confident.
The problem of trust isn’t primarily that, is it?
It is over the decisions I have taken, the judgements about our future security I have made since I stood here in this hall, about to address the TUC on September 11th three years ago.
And since then, as with every other country and its leaders the world over, those with America, those against it, political life has been dominated in a way we never foresaw.
There was talk before this conference that I wanted to put aside discussion of Iraq.
That was never my intention.
I want to deal with it head on.
The evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong.
I acknowledge that and accept it.
I simply point out, such evidence was agreed by the whole international community, not least because Saddam had used such weapons against his own people and neighbouring countries.
And the problem is, I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can’t, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam.
The world is a better place with Saddam in prison not in power.
But at the heart of this, is a belief that the basic judgment I have made since September 11th, including on Iraq, is wrong, that by our actions we have made matters worse not better.
I know this issue has divided the country.
I entirely understand why many disagree.
I know, too, that as people see me struggling with it, they think he’s stopped caring about us; or worse he’s just pandering to George Bush and what’s more in a cause that’s irrelevant to us.
It’s been hard for you.
Like the delegate who told me: “I’ve defended you so well to everyone I’ve almost convinced myself.”
Do I know I’m right?
Judgements aren’t the same as facts.
Instinct is not science.
I’m like any other human being, as fallible and as capable of being wrong.
I only know what I believe.
There are two views of what is happening in the world today.
One view is that there are isolated individuals, extremists, engaged in essentially isolated acts of terrorism.
That what is happening is not qualitatively different from the terrorism we have always lived with.
If you believe this, we carry on the same path as before 11th September.
We try not to provoke them and hope in time they will wither.
The other view is that this is a wholly new phenomenon, worldwide global terrorism based on a perversion of the true, peaceful and honourable faith of Islam; that’s its roots are not superficial but deep, in the madrassehs of Pakistan, in the extreme forms of Wahabi doctrine in Saudi Arabia, in the former training camps of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan; in the cauldron of Chechnya; in parts of the politics of most countries of the Middle East and many in Asia; in the extremist minority that now in every European city preach hatred of the West and our way of life.
If you take this view, you believe September 11th changed the world; that Bali, Beslan, Madrid and scores of other atrocities that never make the news are part of the same threat and the only path to take is to confront this terrorism, remove it root and branch and at all costs stop them acquiring the weapons to kill on a massive scale because these terrorists would not hesitate to use them.
Likewise take the first view, then when you see the terror brought to Iraq you say: there, we told you; look what you have stirred up; now stop provoking them.
But if you take the second view, you don’t believe the terrorists are in Iraq to liberate it.
They’re not protesting about the rights of women – what, the same people who stopped Afghan girls going to school, made women wear the Burka and beat them in the streets of Kabul, who now assassinate women just for daring to register to vote in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic ballot, though four million have done so?
They are not provoked by our actions; but by our existence.
They are in Iraq for the very reason we should be.
They have chosen this battleground because they know success for us in Iraq is not success for America or Britain or even Iraq itself but for the values and way of life that democracy represents.
They know that.
That’s why they are there.
That is why we should be there and whatever disagreements we have had, should unite in our determination to stand by the Iraqi people until the job is done.
And, of course, at first the consequence is more fighting.
But Iraq was not a safe country before March 2003.
Few had heard of the Taliban before September 11th 2001.
Afghanistan was not a nation at peace.
So it’s not that I care more about foreign affairs than the state of our economy, NHS, schools or crime.
It’s simply that I believe democracy there means security here; and that if I don’t care and act on this terrorist threat, then the day will come when all our good work on the issues that decide people’s lives will be undone because the stability on which our economy, in an era of globalisation, depends, will vanish.
I never expected this to happen on that bright dawn of 1 May 1997.
I never anticipated spending time on working out how terrorists trained in a remote part of the Hindu Kush could end up present on British streets threatening our way of life.
And the irony for me is that I, as a progressive politician, know that despite the opposition of so much of progressive politics to what I’ve done, the only lasting way to defeat this terrorism is through progressive politics.
Salvation will not come solely from a gunship.
Military action will be futile unless we address the conditions in which this terrorism breeds and the causes it preys upon.
That is why it is worth staying the course to bring democracy Iraq and Afghanistan, because then people the world over will see that this is not and has never been some new war of religion; but the oldest struggle humankind knows, between liberty or oppression, tolerance or hate; between government by terror or by the rule of law.
And let us demonstrate to Muslims here in Britain that these are values we apply to all our citizens, and change the law to make religious discrimination unlawful as we do with race, gender and disability.
This party knows the depth of my commitment to the Middle East peace process and shares my frustration at the lack of progress.
After November I will make its revival a personal priority.
Two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in an enduring peace would do more to defeat this terrorism than bullets alone can ever do.
Britain is now, committed for the first time in our history to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent.
Next year as president of the G8 along with action on climate change, we will try for consensus on a new plan for Africa, that not only on aid and trade but on conflict resolution, on fighting corruption, on the killer diseases Aids, malaria and TB, on education, water, infrastructure.
A plan to lift that continent in hope and lift from ourselves the shame that so many human beings live and die in misery when we know together we could stop it; and when unchecked this misery some time, somewhere in the future will threaten us.
But understand this reality.
Little of it will happen except in alliance with the United States of America.
And here am I, told by the pro-Europeans to give up on America and the Atlanticists to forget about Europe.
And yet I know Britain must be at the centre of a Europe now 25 nations reunited after centuries of conflict the biggest economic market and most powerful political union in the world and I know that to retreat from its counsels would be utter self-defeating folly.
And I know to cast out the transatlantic alliance would be disastrous for Britain.
And I believe so strongly that if Europe and America could only put aside their differences and united around a common cause, the future could be different and better.
So the decisions I’ve been called on to make are stark.
When I hear people say: “I want the old Tony Blair back, the one who cares”, I tell you something.
I don’t think as a human being, as a family man, I’ve changed at all.
But I have changed as a leader.
I have come to realise that caring in politics isn’t really about “caring”.
It’s about doing what you think is right and sticking to it.
So I do not minimise whatever differences some of you have with me over Iraq and the only healing can come from understanding that the decision, whether agreed with or not, was taken because I believe, genuinely, Britain’s future security depends on it.
There has been no third way, this time.
Believe me, I’ve looked for it.
But nor should we minimise the strength that unites this Labour Government and this Labour Party as we seek to win a third mandate for change.
It is the lasting change we make to the lives of the British people that matters.
It is the residents of Somers Town in Camden who told me how they are using the powers we have given them to fight back against the yobs who had made their lives a misery.
It is the mothers I met at Dean Bank Sure Start in my own constituency, delighted and proud that their children were getting so much better a start in life than they had.
It was Natalie Barney I met in Nottingham, able to stay on at school and do A-levels because of the Educational Maintenance Allowance – and last week Natalie started at Nottingham Trent University with 4 A-levels to her name.
It is talking to the decent hard working people of this country that gives me strength.
And when I read out to you that long list of policies for the third term, I did so with absolute confidence that we will deliver them.
Because, whatever the events, unexpected as well as planned, along the way, on the central mission and purpose of our politics, on our plan to modernise our country, give a fair deal to everyone, build our economy on the talents of all, we are delivering as promised, and will deliver much more if we win that third term.
It means having the courage of our convictions.
Knowing that it we are to make the NHS deliver what it was created to deliver, free, universal, decent health care for all, we have to modernise it to meet the demands of a new age.
Knowing that unless we offer more than the standard comprehensive, parents will desert our state schools and the whole of our society will suffer.
Knowing that we will not solve our transport problems by traditional methods of funding or our pensions challenge without altering the rest of our welfare state.
And there are the easy bits and hard bits of leadership.
There’s no doubt which is preferable.
But true leadership means doing both.
Without the climb, you don’t hit the peak.
And we can reach it.
Our ambition is to make the change in our country and in our world lasting, irreversible.
In the last century brief periods of progressive governments were rapidly extinguished.
In this century we must ensure that the progressive case once made is maintained, and the periods of conservatism are the punctuation marks not the sentences in which our history is written.
For so long, we knew only the importance and futility of Opposition.
But because we dared to change, we dared to dream that we could win again.
And we did.
And now we stand, in a position no Labour Party ever dared to dream of standing before, with a third term Labour Government beckoning.
With the values for today and the ideas for tomorrow, and a policy programme that will change the country for better and for good.
Power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few.
That was and is our mission and our purpose.
I want us to win a third term not so that we can go in the history books.
But so that we can consign Britain’s failings to the history books.
Build on the progress we have made.
Give everyone the chance to make the most of themselves.
Deliver better lives for working families.
United in our values, proud in our record, optimistic about the future.
With the courage of our convictions, we can win the third term, deliver the lasting change.
It is worth the fight.
Now let’s get out and do it.”
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