UK Politics

Labour Party: Gordon Brown speaks to Fabian New Year Conference

News   •   Jan 18, 2010 11:01 GMT

Speech to the Fabian New Year Conference 2010 by The Rt. Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party


Let me say first, that today the concerns of the people of Haiti are now a cause for the whole earth, their tragedy a summons to action for every continent.

And I want to thank the British people; the generosity of their spirit, our willingness to give even when some people have so little to give, humbles me . And we the British government have tried in our own way to match the generosity of the British people with an initial 10 million.

But it must now be said of Haiti, the poorest country in the western world, the country that in a short span has suffered three devastating hurricanes and now been shattered by one of the world’s worst earthquakes, that its wounded people need not just charity for a day, or sympathy for a week, but all that compassion can offer.

In response to the plight of poorest in every part of the globe, Douglas Alexander is putting into law the requirement that 0.7 percent of GDP be spent on development aid, a target we are already ahead of schedule to meet.

In the last 12 years we have cancelled the debts of the poorest, and tripled aid to combat poverty. That’s compassion in action – the life-saving difference a Labour government makes.

And so let it be said of us, that wherever there is unfairness, poverty, discrimination, illiteracy or disease, the British people and their Labour government are always prepared to stand on the side of justice.

And today I wanted to come to your conference – causes to fight for – because there is so much more to be done in the drive for justice. Although we have achieved so much, our work is not yet done.

And so I want to talk bluntly about the lessons I have learned from the turmoil of the last year. Because I believe that character is formed not on the mountaintops of life when things looks easy but in the valleys when things are tough. And I want to talk about the new economic, social and political programme - a New Labour programme for the new decade - that flows directly from these lessons.

Historians will look back at the near collapse of the financial markets and describe how in the last year this generation lived through the first crisis of globalisation. They will describe how 2009 presented a fundamental rupture with the past and how, therefore, the election of 2010 was shaped more by the twelve months before it than the twelve years before it.

And so we must be clear – about what is at stake in what is not just the first election of a new decade but the first British election of what is the global age. It is an election that will be fought on terrain quite unlike the political landscape of preceding decades.

Because the national conversation, and the questions people are asking, have been transformed by the recession and the events of the last year.

In 1997 and 2001 and 2005 the British people were asking:
Will our schools get better?
And they did, with record classroom results.

They were asking;
Will the NHS get better?
And it did, with the shortest waiting times since records began.

They were asking;
Will our policing get better? And it did, with more police on the beat and crime down by a third.

But now because of all of the events of 2009 they are also asking and need to have answered wider questions.

People are asking how can Britain make its way and pay its way in this new world?

Where are the jobs of the future?
Can they hope the prospects for my children’s generation on prosperity, climate change, on security be better than this?

And in difficult times, they ask: can we be sure we can rely on our hospitals and on better elderly care when we most need it?

At a time our communities are changing fast, can we ensure people feel safer and more secure?

And shocked by some of the unfairness and irresponsibility that the financial and the expenses crisis has brought out, they want to ask about our values as a community ….. Our sense of ourselves as a nation..... And ask whether we can create a society where people feel they belong and contribute as well as earn and own.

So when it comes to the general election this year, the future of jobs is on the ballot paper.

The prospects for young people are on the ballot paper.
Trust in politics and constitutional reform are on the ballot paper.
Climate change is on the ballot paper.
Debt and deficit reduction are on the ballot paper.
Britain’s future as a world economy is on the ballot paper.
In short; people’s aspirations are on the ballot paper.

People know they face a big choice in this election, and they rightly want to know which party has learnt the lessons of the immediate past, which party understands the urgent demands of the present and which party will make the future better for the hard-working majority on middle and modest incomes.

And so today I want to talk candidly about the lessons I have learnt from the crisis – about what it has taught me about how best to serve the many not the few.

The first lesson of the crisis is simple – and decisive. It is that markets need morals.

Without the underpinning of markets by values of fairness and responsibility markets won’t self-correct or self-regulate, but will sometimes self-destruct.
In 1997 New Labour was rightly about a reconciliation of state and markets, each with their own roles to play, to end the damaging and sterile battle for territory between each, hence our public private partnerships that guaranteed millions of new investment in our public services.

In this crisis have learned what was always implicit in our New Labour message but we now have to make absolutely explicit:¨a fundamentally ethical message, that we have to bring to markets something they cannot generate themselves - the values of fairness and responsibility which we celebrate in our everyday lives.

We all try to raise our children to accept responsibility, to avoid reckless risks, to think of others as well as themselves. And Britain’s small businessmen and women would never be rewarded for failure, but instead know that the things that matter are their efforts, their hard work, their enterprise and their sense of right and wrong. So in both our families and our workplaces, we recognise our obligation to something bigger than ourselves.

And the values we teach in our families, and reward in our workplaces, are the self-same values that should guide the marketplace. It’s about success yes - but standards too.

Now of course we must not draw the wrong conclusions from the crisis, to reject the dynamism that markets bring. But nor should we proceed as if nothing has changed, as if the near-implosion has not illuminated that, just as in the past government could become over-weaning so financial markets can become over- weaning too.

And let us recognise there is a choice here.

We can take the Conservative view — against all the evidence—that the way forward is still deregulation.

Or we can take the common sense view which calls for the reform and regulation of the market is in the best interests of hard-working families.

So our policy for industry and finance will be simple; on the one hand to secure a framework for banks that allows them to serve their crucial purpose but never again exposes us all to the consequences of irresponsible risk taking. And on the other hand to create and encourage new financial institutions to make sure that business and families secure the finance they need.

That’s why we are promoting the national investment corporation and the fund for innovation, it’s why I want the post office to play a much bigger role, bringing banking services back to the heart of people’s communities., and why I am showing our determination that the financial sector serves the needs of industry and people and not the other way round.

The second lesson we have learned is that just as markets need reform, governments need reform. Those who say private is always good and public is always bad have had to rethink their attitudes.

And we have learned the progressive lesson that the British public want a government that is on their side, not passing on the other side. They want government to be there to do what is needed-- and which no one else can do.

And so we have learned anew that while too much government can leave people powerless – too little government can leave them powerless and impoverished too. So the last year has been the best possible rebuttal to those who say government is always the problem and never offering any solution.

But just as we have reformed markets for this generation we must also reform government for this generation – so that at every point it is there to help people help themselves.

And there is a choice here too; between abandoning millions to unemployment, small business closures and repossessions as we now know the Conservatives would have done in the recession — or creating a modern policy for industry that ensures we take all the steps necessary to rebalance our economy for the future.

It was not an accident that 260,000 agreements were signed to help them pay their bills. It was our choice. No accident that we helped 200,000 mortgage payers avoid risking losing their homes. And we now know that if the experience of the 1990s recession had been repeated, employment would have fallen far more - by 1.7 million more than it has today.

And let it never be forgotten that our measures to help the unemployed, to help homeowners, to help small businesses were all opposed by the Conservatives……. Who retreated into the views of the 1980s that the recession should be allowed to take its course.

And as we recover we have, like other countries to deal with higher deficits and debt. There are three sides to the triangle of deficit reduction. It requires economic growth. It means fair tax increases - and we have been upfront in setting out our choice to increase taxes on those with the highest incomes as well as putting a penny on national insurance in order to protect our front-line services. And, yes, it requires tough choices on public spending including cuts in some departments.

And we have a clear and tough objective - to more than halve the deficit by 2013-14. This is the sharpest reduction in the budget deficit for any G7 country. And going further or faster now would damage the economy and choke off the recovery.

And so an active and enabling government is needed not just to take us out of recession but to secure strong economic growth and prosperity in the years ahead. Because Britain’s future will be built as a digital and broadband economy, a low carbon and advanced manufacturing economy, a biotechnology and creative industries economy, as well as a financial and business services economy.

And so here again is a choice – because I believe a modern industrial policy which we support-- and which the Conservatives reject-- is an essential element of securing and sustaining the jobs of the future.

And the third lesson of the crisis is that in a good society we need fairness and responsibility together. The scandal over some bankers and ---to be truthful---- some politicians too, taught me again what I had learned when I was growing up.

That among the British people there is a deep-seated instinct for fairness, and among the British people a widespread sense of responsibility too.

And the last year has shown that people want a fairness that gives opportunity as a reward for effort, hard work and enterprise; not something for nothing but something for something. What people definitely do not want is the sort of responsibility that expects them to do their best and do their bit but offers ‘anything goes’ for other people, whether they’re a banker taking risks or a claimant cheating benefits.

And so fairness and responsibility are part of a two way street; that a Britain where everyone has the opportunity to develop their talents, but also one where each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and to our neighbours.

And while the recession has been hard-- and so many have been hurt and still hurt-- I believe the three main lessons of this period point us toward a profoundly progressive time. Because not one of these lessons:

- that markets need an ethical foundation
- that active government tailored to people’s needs can empower people with new rights
- and that fairness is not simply about the distribution of reward but also the distribution of responsibility

These are lessons that with their shift from the centre ground to the right the Tories have not learned.

But these are lessons that not only challenge Labour but reveal to us what must be the next project for New Labour, our next generation project.

Let me explain what I mean, and what I believe the next decade of New Labour should be about.

In the last twelve years, we have done more than any other government since the war to tackle poverty.

We have already lifted half a million children out of poverty; and through tax credits, decent work and better educational opportunities we will continue towards our goal of ending child poverty altogether. And by linking the state pension to earnings and giving every woman the right to her own pension for the first time, we will carry on lifting pensioners out of the indignity and insecurity of poverty too.

But the test of our success must be as it always has been for New Labour – not only about what happens to the poor who will always be our concern, but also about whether all the people of Britain have greater opportunity.

And I believe that in this coming decade, more people can have more opportunities for more advancement than ever before.

Because let me share with you a startling fact.

Only 10 per cent of the new jobs created in the next ten years will be unskilled. That means 90% of the jobs of the future come with better chances of decent pay, steady promotion and Long-term prospects.

It means the majority of people having not a job but a career, and the biggest number of middle class jobs in our history.

And I believe that most families intuitively understand this potential, because under this government, for the first time ever, the majority of all social classes at the age of 16 aspire to go to university.

In 1997, only a third of young people went into higher education and only 65,000 got an apprenticeship place. But today we have record numbers of students. And when it comes to our election manifesto we will set out our new ambition; that 75% of all young people will go onto higher education or complete technician training by the age of 30.

And so we can now say to every parent in the country: your child will have;
- Education from 3-18 as we raise the education and training leaving age
- The chance of a place at university, an apprenticeship or technical training and
- The experience of universal community service, and at least one stint of work-related learning to enhance their CV.

And why is that important? Not only because it is education which will equip Britain to compete in the global economy. But because it is education which provides the rungs on the ladder of social mobility.

And I believe that the defining mission of New Labour in the coming decade should be nothing less than to unleash a wave of social mobility not seen in this country since the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

I believe in an aspirational Britain. Opportunity and reward cannot be hoarded at the top, and it is not enough just to protect people at the bottom. I want to see the talents and potential of all the British people fulfilled: social mobility for the majority.

And I believe that a fair society is one where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to fulfill their dreams, whether that’s owning a bigger house, taking a holiday abroad, buying a new car or starting a small business.

So let me be explicit today; social mobility will be our theme for the coming election and the coming parliamentary term. Social mobility will be our focus not instead of social justice, but because social mobility is modern social justice.

Our project for the coming term is to not only raise the glass ceiling but break it – because fairness and aspiration are not in opposition to one another but the test of one another; we can’t be an aspirational society if some people are denied the chance to get on and not just get by, and we can’t be a fair society if people are held back from climbing as far and as fast as their talents will take them.

And so will encourage all those who are striving to own their house, start a business or build a nest egg. But we will do more, because we also know that people’s aspirations for themselves and their families go beyond the material concerns.

They are about the hopes they have for high quality care for their parents, the concerns they have about the environment we share, the anxieties they have about the safety of their streets, and the pressures in the feel in balancing work and family life.

And so I believe that we have before us the chance to have more people than ever before fulfilling their aspirations in the widest sense.

But if we are to secure and protect that future, we must understand the risks to this new wave of genuine opportunity which is within our grasp, and overcome the threats to this new era of social mobility that can be our achievement.

I would say the first risk to middle as well as modest income families comes from those who have no sense that we need an industrial strategy to create the jobs of the future. The risk comes from the Conservative party who oppose the very investments that are required for the jobs of the next generation.

They fundamentally disagree with us that policy can help the economy to serve the people and not the other way around, and I believe that this reflects a difference in values that no amount of airbrushing can obscure.

The second threat to families on middle and modest incomes come from those parties whose educational policies will not continue the investment in schools in the talents of all.

And that, again, is the Conservative party; who do not support education and training to 18, and have refused to match our commitments to invest in school budgets and new schools.

I believe that our decisions – from sure start to education to 18, to educational maintenance allowances - demonstrate our belief that everyone should be encouraged to excel at the limits of their abilities. But the Conservative attitudes to the jobs of the future is akin -- whether they admit it or not--- to an old view that assumes that irrespective of hard work and effort there will always be a limited pool of talent and limited room at the top.

And the third threat to middle class Britain comes from those who would remove services, support and avenues of opportunity from people on middle incomes in a way that diminish your quality of life.

I was born and brought up in Britain’s middle class - always taught that hard work, effort and responsibility were what you needed to make your way in the world.

We never went without, but we were not so well off that we didn’t have to worry about the future.

And we were never so well off that we could do without the NHS, the local school and a host of public services.

And so to those who say our offer to Britain’s mainstream middle is more about votes than values, I say that completely misunderstands what New Labour has always been about, and what I have always been about.

Since 1997, I have always invested in all those shared services that matter to people of middle and modest incomes alike.

We rebuilt the NHS for everybody. We created sure start for everybody. We put record police on the beat for everybody. Whether it was doubling the investment in each pupil in school, or getting child benefit to a record high, I’ve always sought to do those things that benefit all and not just some of the people of Britain.

And this is a decisive difference between the parties, because today it is only Labour which recognises that middle class families - not just the poorest – welcome and benefit from Labour’s children's centres.

And it is Labour and not the Conservatives that recognise that middle class families - not just the poorest - want help building up their children’s savings through Labour’s child trust fund.

It is Labour not the Conservatives that recognise that middle class parents - not just the poorest - need support through Labour’s tax credits.

And it is Labour but not the Conservatives that recognise that middle class families-- not just the poorest--- need help for the elderly to stay and be looked after in their own homes.

And that difference in approach leads to a difference in policy. The choice is real. The consequences are real. The risk is real.

Because by march this year all families with children under five will have the opportunity to use one of the three and a half thousand children’s centres we have built across this country. But the Tories said last week they wanted to take sure start backwards - back to a time when it benefited fewer than 20% of poorer children.

And let us be clear too: tax credits are under threat. If they are to make the savings they have claimed, the Tories would have to axe child tax credits for 1.3 million families with a household income of more than 31 thousand pounds. Not the very rich, not a wealthy few; but teachers, taxi drivers, plumbers – you.

And while 1.4 million children a year benefit from the child trust fund at the moment, under Conservative plans two thirds of them would simply lose it. Not rich kids, but technicians’ kids, shopkeepers’ kids, nurses’ kids – your kids.

And while under Labour, everyone who needs care the most will be offered it free of charge in their own home, under the Conservatives some of the most needy in our society will still face charges, fees and an unfair means test.

But perhaps just as big a risk as all these plans, is the Conservatives denying to people the explicit rights that they need to be sure that public services will definitely be there for them when they need them.

Labour’s public sector reforms have offered people a personal guarantee not a gamble – legally enforceable rights to protect you in an uncertain world. Labour has responded to people’s aspirations with tailored services to meet their needs.

That’s why we have the cancer guarantee: soon to be one week to diagnosis.

Why we have the health check-ups guarantee and the NHS waiting times guarantee of no more than 18 weeks before your operation.

It’s why we will create a guarantee that everyone will have the choice of a gp open into evenings or weekends in their area.

Why we offer the guarantee that everyone with high needs will be cared for in their own home without charges, fees or means tests.

And it’s why we have given a guarantee that every young person at risk of long term unemployment will be offered a job or training.

It’s why in schooling we have the one to one tuition guarantee.

The education and training to 18 guarantee.

Because we recognise it is not enough to have general promises about uniform public services: that we need universal public services where people are given the personal guarantee they will be given the best of care.

And it’s quite clear that that our opponents do not understand the needs and worries of middle income Britain.

Because they have rejected the very economic policy that is the key to creating the middle class jobs of the future.

They have said that if you are middle class you should not expect that children’s centres will be available to you, that if you are middle class child tax credits should not be available to you, that if you are middle class there will be no child trust fund available to you.

They’ve said they’ll be no cancer guarantee for you, no check up guarantee, no waiting time guarantee, no GP guarantee, no tuition guarantee, no school standards guarantee, no skills guarantee.

And they have said they will erode many of the universal services which gives us something beyond price- a sense of community.

But they have said that their one pledge they will not reconsider is to give 200,000 pounds each to the top 3000 estates in Britain : 200,000 each to half a dozen people in every constituency, paid for by hurting the mainstream majority in every constituency.

And so the Tories have planned a raid on the quality of life of our middle class. They want to take away middle class guarantees. And they have no account of future middle class jobs.

And that trio of threats – denying access to services, removing guarantees of quality, and abandoning jobs for the future - leads to only one conclusion; that it is only Labour that offers a manifesto for the middle – only Labour that owns the progressive centre ground.

And so let us renew the coalition of all who believe in the best hopes of Britain.

In 1997, my predecessor and friend, Tony Blair, said that we had campaigned as New Labour, and would govern as New Labour.

Let me say to you today, we have governed as New Labour and now we will campaign as New Labour.

Our new insight that whether it be to markets or government itself we must be explicit in applying the tests of fairness and responsibility.
And because our values, our policies and the people for whom we stand still represent that vast swathe of the country who want to get on and not just get by. We will continue to fight for the people who do their best, and do their bit, and ask nothing more than a little support to achieve their dreams.

And ours is the only party that will protect and not squeeze that mainstream middle, ours the only party campaigning from the centre for the centre.

And so we can renew the New Labour coalition for this first election of a new global age. We can build again the coalition of low and middle incomes and govern for all the people of this great country, wherever they have come from in life, wherever they want to get to in life.

And so be proud to say ours is not merely a party in Britain – it is the party of Britain.

So from this hall, at this time, let the message go out; Labour is backing Britain’s aspirations, and we’re fighting to win