UK Politics

Labour Party: Liam Byrne's speech to Labour Party Conference

News   •   Sep 27, 2010 15:15 BST

Liam Byrne MP, Labour's Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, speaking the Labour Party Conference today, said:

You know, I thought our new leader – Ed Miliband – got the tone pitch perfect on Saturday.

For us, this conference is our chance to reflect with humility and pride.

On our record and what we do next to win.

Nowhere is that more true than on the economy.

And on no other front did Labour deliver more:

The first government to deliver rising wealth for over a decade.

The first government to grow our economy faster than Europe’s or Japan’s in over a century.

The first government to use that new wealth to lift over one million children and pensioners out of poverty.

That is a record every mem ber of this party can be proud of.

But Ernest Hemingway once said: “Humility carries no loss of true pride.”

We do need to be humble.

We should be humble that we couldn’t protect this island nation from the forces of the global economic storm.

A lot of the time in politics, people want everything to be black and white, right and wrong.

Yet everybody knows in the real world especially in a moment of crisis it isn’t like that.

You have to pick from shades of gray.

You have to pick, sometimes from the lesser of two evils.

And so when the crisis hit, we had to choose. To do nothing, or to act.

Now, did we want a deficit so big?

Of course not.

But did we want: unemployment; repossessions; small businesses going bust in the way they did in the 1980s? The 1990s?

No. Never again.

Labour has always said that a strong government on your side can make sure that the citizens of this country can b e masters not victims of events.

But that meant we had to fight the global financial crisis with something a little more substantive than thin air, soundbites and the occasional photo.

Sometimes to do nothing, is to take decision.

Can you imagine how you would have felt, if all of a sudden on our watch, the cashpoints stopped working?

We would never have forgiven ourselves.

So yes, we chose the lesser evil.

So yes, we chose to act.

And yes, we delivered this country’s recovery.

Without social breakdown.

Without writing off a generation of our children.

And without the unemployment, repossessions and bankruptcies that we saw in the 1990s.

Every lost job, every repossessed home, every business failure is a tragedy.

No doubt, we didn’t get everything right.

But I would rather a government that makes mistakes, than a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

Now this government is bent on destroying the foundations of our success – and ignoring every lesson we had to learn the hard way.

If we learned one thing, it is that you must give people the chance to work.

To use their talents. To fulfil their potential.

But the Tory budget isn’t a plan for jobs.

It’s a plan for longer dole queues, and a bigger benefits bill.

100,000 people out of work. Nearly £1 billion extra in benefits.

Talk about a false economy. They’re trying to fill one hole by digging another.

David Cameron says he wants to be the man who puts “oomph” into our communities.

It’s a phrase, I think, we can agree, that is worthy of Boris Johnson.

But sometimes when I hear David Cameron talk about communities, I’m reminded of the man who says he loves humanity, its just human beings he can’t stand.

The only thing he wants to put into our communities is the boot.

And the only thing stan ding in his way is us.

Once upon a time, people thought they could rely on the Lib Dems – who we saw in Liverpool – I mean Labour-run Liverpool – last week.

Can I make a confession?

I once quite liked Vince Cable on Strictly Come Dancing.

And for a minute last week; as Vince was flaying capitalism, I thought he was about to break into a chorus of the Red Flag.

Perhaps the line about raising the scarlet standard high.

But I tell you this: we need more than a song and dance act from the Business Secretary.

We need a plan of action:

To get people into jobs.

To rebuild and renew our factories.

To open the doors of our colleges and universities to more young people who need the skills to make their way in the world that isn’t getting any easier.

And as for Nick Clegg.

I am afraid he has become the epitomy of the man who has decided that to succeed in politics, sometimes, you have to rise above your principles.

But now we have to turn our fire back on the Tories.

I’m afraid it has to be business before pleasure.

We can’t oppose every Tory cut:

But over the next five years they’re cutting £87 billion over and above what we said was wise.

And they’re starting now.

Now, when bank lending is falling.

Now, when job vacancies are falling.

Now, is the time they say to cut back.

Already we’ve heard some priorities for cuts:

New schools; benefits for the disabled; the child trust fund; Sheffield Forgemasters.

Disabled people, manufacturing jobs, children.

These aren’t the last resorts – they’re the first targets.

So we have to get out there and offer a vision that’s different.

A plan that’s real – that doesn’t flinch some tough choices.

A plan that creates the jobs of the future.

A plan that opens those chances to people who want to build their skills.

But a plan that heeds the cries of frustration we heard all over the country from people who said they’re working just as hard as ever – but they’re just not getting on.

They’re the people to whom we said: work hard; play by the rules; you’ll do well.

Well sometimes I felt people were looking at us and saying what happened to the deal?

So yes, let’s be clear about our record and our plan for the deficit.

Let’s be ambitious about jobs and growth.

But let’s be ambitious too to forge a new politics of aspiration:

Where we find a new way to combine the best of old and new Labour in renewed Labour.

We will have to fight so hard for our values in the next few years.

The path back to office is steep.

We can never be tired.

Because this country cannot afford to be Tory.