2005 – Blair’s Leader’s Speech to Conference
Full text of Tony Blair’s speech 27th September, 2005
Here is the full text of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s keynote speech to the Labour Party’s 2005 conference in Brighton:
Thank you for the hard work, faith and courage that means I stand before you as the first leader in the Labour Party’s history to win three full consecutive terms in office.
Amid all the change and progress since our first election victory, it was interesting to see in the film there the pictures of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, and then finally, yesterday, the completion of IRA decommissioning.
It has taken many years, and a lot of hard work, but every minute of every hour of every all-night negotiation will have been worth it if it brings lasting peace to Northern Ireland.
And there is a lesson from Northern Ireland. Nothing good comes easy. And in Government, whatever the noise around you, you just have to persevere with the things that really matter.
The question now:
How do we secure the future
For our party and
For our country?
The answer lies in understanding why we can celebrate these victories.
New Labour was never just a clever way to win.
It was a fundamental re-casting of progressive politics so that the values we believed in, became relevant to the time we lived in.
In the late 20th century the world had changed, the aspirations of the people had changed; we had to change.
We did. We won.
And Britain is stronger, fairer, better than on 1st May 1997.
So what now?
The world is on the move again: the change in the early 21st century even greater than that of the late 20th century.
So now in turn, we have to change again. Not step back from New Labour but step up to a new mark a changing world is setting for us.
The danger of government is fatigue; the benefit, experience.
I tell you my conclusion after 8 years of being Prime Minister.
The challenge we face is not in our values. It is how we put them into practice in a world fast forwarding to the future at unprecedented speed.
Over these eight years we have won the battle of values. The age we live in is democratic not deferential.
We believe in solidarity.
We believe in social justice; in opportunity not for a privileged few but for all, whatever their start in life.
We believe in tolerance and respect, in strong communities standing by and standing up for the weak, the sick, the helpless.
We all believe this. It’s what makes us Labour, from Dennis Skinner through to Tony Blair, though there I’m sure Dennis would want me to say, the similarity ends.
In our values, we are united.
And the British people share these values.
Values don’t change. But times do. And now, as before, our values have to be applied anew in changing times.
The challenge is policy and not just item by item, but attitude by attitude, direction by direction, in the bold strokes that define the picture not only the small movements that paint the detail.
And here the battle is not yet won to secure the future.
It is here that the new realities come upon us, snuffing out the lights of victory celebration and urging us to renew yet again.
It is true: we have laid sound foundations.
There is only one Government since the war that has cut unemployment, created 2 million more jobs, had 8 years of growth without recession and halved interest rates from the previous Government.
And cut waiting lists in hospitals, improved cancer and heart care, achieved the best ever school results, halved the number of failing schools, seen a five-fold increase in the best ones; achieved record numbers of police and cut crime.
Only one Chancellor to have delivered that economic record.
Only one Cabinet to have delivered these changes.
Only one Government to do it all. Your third term Labour Government.
By the end of 2008 for the first time in decades Britain will be investing twice as much in our school children and three times as much in the NHS than ten years before. Only a Labour Government would have done it.
No Government but a Labour one would have introduced the New Deal and given one million young people the chance of a decent job.
Only a Labour Government would have stopped the scandal of pensioner poverty or introduced the winter fuel allowance.
Only a Labour Government would have made a record increase to Child Benefit, or made Sure Start a vital part of some of the poorest communities in the country. Only a Labour Government would ever have brought in a minimum wage, and increased it, and made it such a part of our national life that no Tory will ever dare or even threaten to get rid of it.
And wasn’t it an inspiration to hear the Prime Minister of Mozambique yesterday pay tribute to your Labour Government and think that only this Labour Government would have put Africa at the heart of the summit of the richest nations on earth; agreed action on HIV/AIDs and malaria, on debt relief and trade and got them to double aid, trebling it ourselves.
I want to make one thing clear.
When we resume the talks on world trade this December, our job, Europe’s job, America’s job, is to be on the side of opening the markets of the rich to the poorest of the world.
Look at Britain’s cities. A decade ago in decline. Today, for all the problems that remain, thriving, waterfronts and canals renewed, business up, employment down and slowly, part by part, the regeneration of the inner city underway. Visit the centre of Birmingham. See Liverpool – European City of Culture for 2008. Or Manchester – site of the Commonwealth Games. Visit the Tyne by the Baltic Centre or Glasgow’s magnificent Pacific Quay or Cardiff Bay.
And then London, scene of triumph and tragedy in successive days in July. And throughout both, it remained indomitable.
It is a privilege to be Prime Minister of such a country with such a capital city. The city of the Olympic Games for Britain in 2012.
And let me tell you what won the bid.
Yes, we had a magnificent team led by Seb Coe, a great London Mayor who backed it to the hilt, a country behind us. But what won it was London itself. A London with pride in its past, but with eyes fixed on the future. A London that said to the world: We’re proud of our diversity: proud to stand before you on our merits; proud we are an open, dynamic, outward-going city full of life, locking horns with modernity and doing it with enthusiasm.
And when terrorism struck, the same pride and confidence asserted itself, to the envy and awe of the watching world.
London, that day, did Britain proud.
This is a country today that increasingly sets the standard.
Not for us the malaise of France or the angst of Germany.
It’s a national pastime to run ourselves down, so occasionally it’s worth saying: Britain is a great country and we are proud of it.
So what is the challenge? It is that change is marching on again.
Perhaps our children more readily understand this and embrace it than we do. How quickly has the ipod entered the language and the reality of our lives? With what sense of near wonder was the fax machine greeted, just a few years ago, and already overtaken?
A baby is born. The father takes a photo on his mobile. In seconds relatives around the world can see, and celebrate. A different world to the one we were born into. Faster, more exciting, yet with that come threats too.
The pace of change can either overwhelm us, or make our lives better and our country stronger.
What we can’t do is pretend it is not happening.
I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer.
They’re not debating it in China and India. They are seizing its possibilities, in a way that will transform their lives and ours.
Yes, both nations still have millions living in poverty. But they are on the move. Or look at Vietnam or Thailand. Then wait for the South Americans, and in time, with our help, the Africans.
All these nations have labour costs a fraction of ours.
All can import the technology.
All of them will attract capital as it moves, trillions of dollars of it, double what was available even 10 years ago, to find the best return.
The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition.
Unforgiving of frailty.
No respecter of past reputations.
It has no custom and practice.
It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change.
Unless we “own” the future, unless our values are matched by a completely honest understanding of the reality now upon us and the next about to hit us, we will fail.
And then the values we believe in, become idle sentiments ripe for disillusion and disappointment.
In the era of rapid globalisation, there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive.
The new world rewards those who are open to it.
Foreign investment improves our economy.
Or take immigration.
We know we need strict controls. They are being put in place, along with Identity Cards, also necessary in a changing world.
But one of the most satisfying things about the election was that the country saw through the Tories nasty, unprincipled campaign on immigration. People who come to work and make their lives here make Britain not weaker but stronger.
But there is a lesson here too.
The temptation is to use Government to try to protect ourselves against the onslaught of globalisation by shutting it out; to think we protect a workforce by regulation; a company by Government subsidy; an industry by tariffs.
It doesn’t work today.
Because the dam holding back the global economy burst years ago.
The competition can’t be shut out, it can only be beaten.
And the greatest error progressive politics can make, is, to think that somehow this more open and liberal world makes our values redundant, that the choice is either to cling onto the European social model of the past; or be helpless, swept along by the flow.
On the contrary, social solidarity remains the only way to secure the future of a country like Britain.
However, today its purpose is not to resist the force of globalisation but to prepare for it, and to garner its vast potential benefits.
That’s why education is Government’s number one priority, why we are investing:
7 times the amount the Tories were each year in school buildings; and in computers and teachers and skills.
Why we are doubling the science budget.
Why we reformed universities funding so they had the resources to keep up with the world’s best. And yes it was tough. And yes, the Lib Dems exploited it with their usual ruthless opportunism but it was the right thing to do.
Because the only secure economic future for Britain lies in one thing,
Not low wages
Not old-fashioned conflict
But knowledge, skills, intelligence, the talents Britain has in abundance if only we set them free.
In the first two terms we corrected the weaknesses of the Tory years.
Boom and bust economics.
Chronic under-investment in public services.
But our job was never simply to repair the Tory damage; it was to create an inheritance for future generations by taking the tough decisions needed to secure our future. That is the task in the years ahead.
We know how hard it is for families to balance work and home life.
Over the next few years, we will open up for the first time ever, a new frontier of the welfare state, affordable, wrap-around childcare between the hours of 8am – 6pm for all who need it.
We will get more people off benefit and into work.
Let’s be frank about why so many people are on incapacity benefit. Under the Tories, it was used to conceal unemployment. Next month, we will publish proposals radically to reform the benefit for the future and help people who can work, back into the work force where they belong.
In December, we receive the report of the Pensions Commission. Next year we will publish our plans for reform.
There will be a proper basic state pension; and alongside it, because, in the modern world the state cannot provide it all, a simple easy way for people to save and to reap the rewards of their savings.
Next year too, building on Britain’s Kyoto commitments, we will publish proposals on energy policy.
Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it.
And for how much longer can countries like ours allow the security of our energy supply be dependent on some of the most unstable parts of the world?
For both reasons the G8 Agreement must be made to work so we develop together the technology that allows prosperous nations to adapt and emerging ones to grow sustainably; and that means an assessment of all options, including civil nuclear power.
In transport, we will continue to develop proposals for a fundamental change in its funding, including road pricing.
And next year too we will address the future of local government. A new and ambitious blueprint strengthening the leadership of our cities, giving good councils new freedoms and devolving more power to neighbourhoods.
Over the Parliament our aim is to increase home ownership by one million and in particular help young families struggling to be first-time buyers. Twenty years ago we gifted the ground of aspiration to the Tories. Today we’ve got it back and we’ll never yield it up to them again.
And to back all this up, to ensure our future priorities in spending can be secured, we will publish next July the Fundamental Savings Review of all Government spending: where we can save, where we need to spend more; how we keep investment flowing in to our priorities but keep our tax system competitive for our economy and help hard-working families to increase their prosperity.
The truth is command public services today are no more acceptable than a command economy.
The 21st century’s expectations in public services are a world away from those of 1945.
People demand quality, choice, high standards. Why? Because in every other walk of life they demand them.
And they are paying their taxes, so they feel they are entitled to them.
If we misunderstand this, we will make a mistake of the proportions of council house sales in the 1980’s.
We know what makes a good school. Good leadership; great teachers; strong discipline; a love of learning.
We know what makes good healthcare. Quick access; committed care; clean, comfortable surroundings.
But what happens if you can’t get them?
If you’ve the money, you buy better.
That is an affront to every progressive value we believe in.
There’s a great myth here: which is that we don’t have a market in services now. We do. It’s called private schools and private healthcare.
But it’s only open to the well-off.
There is another myth: choice is a New Labour invention.
Wrong. Choice is what wealthy people have exercised for centuries. The Tories have always been comfortable with that. But for Labour choice is too important to be the monopoly of the wealthy.
A final myth: the way to keep universal services universal is to make them uniform.
Again, wrong. The way to keep services universal is to make them of such quality that enough of those who can afford to go private, opt to stay in the public service.
I will never return us to selection aged 11 in our schools.
I will never allow the NHS to charge for treatment.
Under the Warwick accord we are ending the two-tier workforce.
But it isn’t fair when parents have no option but to send their child to a poor local school.
Or a patient can’t get diagnostic tests done in six months when the technology and the capacity exist to deliver it in days.
The wealthy by their wealth can change that in their lives. I want decent hardworking families to have the same power.
Every time I’ve ever introduced a reform in Government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.
Specialist schools, denounced at the time, have performed better than traditional comprehensives. Fact.
City Academies are massively over-subscribed. Fact.
And the beneficiaries are not fat cats. They are some of the poorest families in the poorest parts of Britain.
We only got big falls in waiting times after introducing competition for routine surgery. Fact.
That is why the NHS reforms, to break down the old monolith, bring in new providers, allow patients choice, must continue. Money alone won’t work. Money and reform will and if we stick with it, by 2008 we will, for the first time in the NHS’s history, offer booked appointments at the patient’s convenience and a maximum wait of 18 weeks from the GP to the operating theatre with an average wait of 9 weeks. Not the 18 months just to get off the consultants’ list, we inherited from the Tories but 18 weeks for the whole thing.
Now if reform delivers that change for our people, regardless of wealth, tell me how we justify refusing to do it?
This autumn, we will publish our Education White Paper. It will open up the system to new providers and new partners, allow greater parental choice, expand Foundation, Academy and extended schools. Again reform, again some of it difficult. But all with one purpose: to let nothing block the way to higher standards, and greater achievement for our children. The greatest injustice I know is when good education is the preserve of the privileged. We are changing that injustice.
Yes, we have lifted many children out of poverty, many families too, but we haven’t decisively altered the balance of advantage away from background to merit.
The wealth of your parents is still the biggest decider of your future.
If there’s one thing above all that motivates me it is to redeem the pledge I made to give the chance of a first-class education not only for Britain’s elite but for all Britain’s children.
The same adjustment to the modern world challenges traditional thinking on law and order.
It is true: crime overall is down, burglary and car crime by big numbers.
But it’s not the point.
Respect is about more than crime. It’s about the loss of a value which is a necessary part of any strong community; proper behaviour; good conduct; the unselfish notion that the other person matters.
The roots of this are deep and are formed partly by the same forces of change at work in our economy: the break up of traditional communities and family structures, changing lifestyles.
The bonds of cohesion have been loosened. They cannot be tied again the same way.
But, in a different way they can and, again based on my experience, I want to say how I think it can be done.
For 8 years I have battered the criminal justice system to get it to change.
And it was only when we started to introduce special ASB laws, we really made a difference.
And I now understand why. The system itself is the problem. We are trying to fight 21st century crime – ASB, drug-dealing, binge-drinking, organised crime – with 19th century methods, as if we still lived in the time of Dickens.
The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted.
Don’t misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any criminal justice system.
But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety.
It means a complete change of thinking.
It doesn’t mean abandoning human rights.
It means deciding whose come first.
I believe three things work.
First, a radical extension of summary powers to police and local authorities to take on the wrong doers.
We will publish plans to do this by the end of the year. They will tackle specifically binge-drinking, drug-dealing and organised crime; and develop existing laws on ASB.
Second, we need a uniformed presence on the street in every community. Officers on the beat is what the public have wanted for years and they’re right. I have seen teams of police and CSOs in action. It works. We want them across the whole of Britain over the next few years.
Third, give our young people places to go so that they’re off the street.
Invest in our youth services.
More competitive sport in schools.
Give Head Teachers the full disciplinary powers they want.
End the farce of half a dozen agencies all spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on problem families.
Identify these families early, have them handled by one lead agency and give it whatever powers it needs to affect change or impose sanctions.
And give local communities the powers they need to hold people to account.
Today is not the era of the big state; but a strategic one: empowering, enabling, putting decision making in the hands of people not government.
One day when I am asked by someone whose neighbourhood is plagued with anti-social behaviour; or whose local school is failing or hospital is poor, “what are you going to do about it?”, I want to be able to reply: “We have given you the resources. We have given you the powers. Now tell me what you are going to do about it.”
Today, of course, we face a new challenge: global terrorism.
Let us state one thing.
These terrorists do not, never have and never will represent the decent, humane and principled faith of Islam.
Muslims, like all of us, abhor terrorism. Like all of us, are its victims.
It is, as ever, only fringe fanatics we face.
But we need to make it clear.
When people come to our country, they have and should have the full rights we believe in. There should be no second-class citizens in Britain. But citizenship comes with a duty: to give loyalty to our nation, its values and our way of life.
If people have a grievance, politics is the answer. Not terror.
Terrorism brings home to us this now obvious truth of the modern world. Nations, even the largest, need to work together for their common good.
Isolationism is as backward as protectionism. For a country the size of Britain, there is no securing our future without strong alliances.
When I became Prime Minister I took a decision: always be at the forefront where decisions are made not at the back where they’re handed down.
That is why at every point, no matter how difficult we remain strong partners in Europe. By all means let us fight for reform in Europe; but to isolate ourselves from the world’s largest commercial market in which over 50% of our trade is done, is just a crazy policy for Britain in the 21st century.
Britain should also remain the strongest ally of the United States. I know there’s a bit of us that would like me to do a Hugh Grant in Love Actually and tell America where to get off. But the difference between a good film and real life is that in real life there’s the next day, the next year, the next lifetime to contemplate the ruinous consequences of easy applause.
I never doubted after September 11th that our place was alongside America and I don’t doubt it now.
And for a very simple reason. Terrorism struck most dramatically in New York but it was aimed then, and is aimed now, at us all, at our way of life.
This is a global struggle.
Today it is at its fiercest in Iraq.
It has allied itself there with every reactionary element in the Middle East.
Their aim: to wreck this December’s first ever direct election for the Government of Iraq.
I know there are people, good people, who disagreed with the decision to remove Saddam by force.
But for two years, British troops whose bravery and dedication we salute, along with those of 27 other nations, have been in Iraq with full United Nations authority and in support of the Iraqi Government.
Yes, several hundred people stoned British troops in Basra.
Yes, several thousand run the terrorist insurgency around Baghdad.
And yes, as a result of the fighting, innocent people tragically die.
But 8 ½ million Iraqis showed which future they wanted when they came out and voted in January’s elections.
And the way to stop the innocent dying is not to retreat, to withdraw, to hand these people over to the mercy of religious fanatics or relics of Saddam, but to stand up for their right to decide their Government in the same democratic way the British people do.
Ten days ago, after years of struggle, finally in Afghanistan, 6 million people voted freely to decide their own future.
How dare the terrorists justify their campaign of hate by claiming they are angry about Afghanistan? Was it better under their Taleban?
They use Iraq and Afghanistan, just as they use the cause of Palestine, whilst trying to destroy by terror the only solution that will ever work: a secure Israel living side-by-side with a viable independent and democratic Palestine.
Just as they chose the day of the G8 when the world was trying to address the heartbreaking poverty of Africa, to kill innocent people in London.
Strip away their fake claims of grievance and see them for what they are: terrorists who use 21st century technology to fight a pre-medieval religious war that is utterly alien to the future of humankind.
I know we could have hidden away at the back after September 11th and let others take the strain.
But that is not Britain at its best.
Nor is it this Party.
When we campaign for justice in Africa, that is a progressive cause.
When we push for peace in Palestine, it is a progressive cause.
When we act against global warming, it is a progressive cause.
And when we fight behind the standard of democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq or Kosovo or Sierra Leone, for me that too is a progressive cause.
In each case, Britain in these last 8 years has been at the front. Not always succeeding, but never a spectator. In the modern world, for all the pain it can bring, it is the only place to be.
It’s a daunting agenda isn’t it; and in every area of policy we are called upon to adjust our sights, re-think, renew.
But have confidence.
We are well up to it.
No-one else is.
The Conservatives remain lost in the fog of ancient memories; though at some point, be warned, they will emerge.
Who would have thought that the Conservatives would still be debating which way to go after 8 years in opposition?
Or the Liberals, still debating which way to go after 80 years in opposition?
The Tories without a leader.
The Lib Dems too.
I say this to any true social democrat in the Lib Dems: “You’ve lost. You’re in the old Liberal Party now.”
Street fighters in local politics. Utterly unserious on the national stage.
The seats we lost to them at the last election will not be won back by aping them but by exposing them, for what they are: a party of protest. Never a party of Government.
My advice: never underestimate the Tories; never over-estimate the Lib Dems.
We are a Party of Government, a third term Government.
Without New Labour we might have won once. Even twice. But not three times and now still dominant. Why?
New Labour was first and foremost about disentangling ends and means.
Political parties love to tie themselves up in doctrine.
They develop comfort zones.
Policy becomes ideology, sometimes theology. To challenge it, is heresy.
To agree it, is a sign you belong.
But real people in the real world think instinctively, free from doctrine. Not free from values. But free to apply them differently in different times.
New Labour reconnected us to them.
We have become a grown up Party capable of leading a grown up nation.
But that is not all New Labour stands for.
One thing I’ve learnt, and I learnt it from Neil Kinnock and it is now so ingrained it’s like a strip of granite running through my being.
It’s about leadership. Not mine alone. Ours together. It’s about facing hard challenges and meeting them. Without it you can govern as a reflex to an unpopular Conservative Government; but you can’t lead a generation in the progressive way.
Government is not a state of office but a state of mind. A willingness to accept the burden of true leadership.
And when you govern, so much can be done.
Think of the things the headlines rarely touch.
The first ever proper law on domestic violence.
1 million pensioners homes insulated.
350,000 miners with compensation.
Paid holidays for all workers.
Equalising the law on consent and civil partnerships.
And do you know how many visits to Britain’s museums last year? 34 million. Why? Free museum entry.
The achievements of Government are not always measured by the causes that decide elections but in the quiet advances that decide the character and culture of a nation.
In Government, we can change lives.
When I listened on Sunday to the tributes to Jim Callaghan, I recalled the 90th birthday party we gave for him in Downing Street a few years back
Around the room. Denis Healey talking to Roy Jenkins. Tony Benn with Shirley Williams, Michael Foot, Jack Jones. What brilliance; and what a pity. Because the seeds of 18 years of opposition were not sown in 1979, but in the 1960s when great challenges came upon us. And instead of understanding we were simply being tested by the forces of change, we lived out a sad episode of charges of betrayal, questioning integrity and motives.
They were great people. But we were not ready then to see change was coming,
accept it and then shape it to progressive ends. United, we should have been the advocates of economic and industrial change in the changing world. And if we had been, how many fewer lives would have been destroyed? How much harsh and bitter medicine for some of the poorest in our society might have been avoided?
People suffered in those 18 years because we let them down.
We did so not because we meant to, but because we forgot that the first rule of any party with aspirations to Government is to understand first the aspirations of people and how they change with time.
Today, the fresh challenges beckon.
In 1997, we responded.
In 2005, we have to respond again.
Some day, some party will make this country at ease with globalisation.
Let it be this one.
Some day, we will forge a new consensus on our public services.
Let it be us who believe in them and let us do it now.
Some day, some party will respond to the public’s anger at the defeatism that has too often gripped our response to social disorder. Let it be the Party that understands compassion as well as firmness is the only way a true community can be made.
Let ours be the Party, the one with the values of social justice, equality, fairness, that helps Britain turn a friendly face to the future.
When we made a decision about bidding for the Olympics, I’ll be honest.
I didn’t think we could do it.
But I also thought, come on, at least give it a try.
And it was a risk.
But we proved something important in taking it.
That Britain was a country not just with memories but with dreams.
But such nations aren’t built by dreamers.
They rise by the patient courage of the change-maker.
That’s what we have been in New Labour. The change-makers.
That’s how we must stay.
Then the fourth Election can be won and the future will be ours to share.