UK Politics

Labour Party: Ray Collins's speech to Labour Party Conference

News   •   Sep 27, 2010 10:35 BST

Ray Collins, General Secretary of the Labour Party, in a speech to Conference today said:

Thank you Chair, and thank you Conference.

I am delighted that we are back in Manchester for my third conference as General Secretary.

I remember how the North West looked thirteen years ago.

And I see how it looks today.

It was a Labour government that transformed our cities, and let us stand proud upon that record.

Some newspapers were desperate for their Cameron coronation last May. All the election would decide, we were told, was the size of the Tory majority.

But when the votes were counted, and the results declared, there was no Cameron coronation.

Labour had elected 258 MPs, and won back over 400 council seats and 17 councils.

How on earth had th is happened?

Well, Conference, I know how it happened. The pollsters had not counted on the gritted determination of Labour Party members.

Conference, today I want to pay tribute to you – the members that make the Labour Party a force to be reckoned with.

In this campaign, you worked harder and longer than in any previous election.

You defied the odds.

You stopped the Tories in their tracks.

And I thank you for it.

But though the Tories did not win, there is no doubt that we lost, and election night was tough for us all.

We had our memorable triumphs. But it was heartbreaking to lose so many exceptional MPs and councillors, and I want to pay tribute to them.

Conference, I hate being in opposition.

I’ve lived through too many years of it, and seen the effects of Tory cuts upon the lives of those I love.

We must never again lose the hunger to win, because every single day we spend in opposi tion is a day life gets that little bit tougher for a hard-working family with bills to pay and children to educate.

The job of winning just got a little easier.

I am delighted that Ed Miliband has been elected the leader of our party.

He is brilliant, decisive, and he is passionate in his commitment to a better, fairer Britain.

That he emerged victorious from a contest of such excellent candidates is a further tribute to him.

And what a contest it was.

We had a difficult choice to make, but we did it in a spirit of unity, focused upon the country rather than ourselves.

And that is how we will move forward and win.

Ed, your party stands with you.

We will learn from our mistakes, win back the trust of those whose votes we lost, and campaign harder than we have ever campaigned before, to put you into Downing Street.

When I was elected General Secretary, I outlined my three priorities for our party, and pledg ed to report back to you on the progress we had made. Each one is essential to our electoral success.

The first was to improve our financial position, and to build our organisational capacity, so that every pound we spend increases our electoral advantage.

When it comes to our finances, I want here to set the record straight.

When I took over, our financial situation was grave, and it remains difficult.

But with the support and guidance of the NEC, we have stuck to our long-term strategy of repaying our lenders £2 million every year.

And by the time of the next General Election, it is my hope that we will be debt free.

All this makes your donations even more important.

During the election, the generosity with which you responded – even to my annoying emails – was overwhelming, and I thank you for it.

I also appreciate the support we were given by trade union members.

I do not just speak of your financial contribution, generous though that was, but more importantly, the incredible campaigns that you ran, taking our message to workplaces and voters up and down the country.

I am proud of all the donations we receive, big and small, because those that contribute to the party want a better Britain, and look to us to effect that change.

Key to our fund-raising efforts has been our outgoing Party treasurer and new Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington, Jack Dromey.

I want to thank Jack for everything he has done, and will continue to do for the Party.

The second person whose help has been invaluable to me is the Party’s Director of Finance and Compliance, Roy Kennedy.

Roy has worked for the party for over 20 years, starting out as an organiser. He is leaving us after Conference, having been made an Electoral Commissioner and Baron Kennedy of Southwark.

Roy, thank you for all you have done. I know you will continue to serve yo ur party and your country in your new role, and I wish you all the best for the future. Douglas Alexander is going to be giving a presentation on the election and our campaign in a moment, but I do want to say a few words about it myself.

We know the Tories outspent us – but they sure as hell didn’t out-campaign us.

Despite the financial pressures on the party, I was determined that we invest in our campaign infrastructure.

As a result, our campaign was better and smarter than ever before, and we got way more bang for our buck.

I want here to thank the party’s amazing staff, because I have never met a group of people so talented, so driven, and so committed to Labour’s values.

They worked so hard over the election, and it is because of their ideas and ingenuity that we could offer unprecedented support to members.

I’m talking about Contact Creator, Print Creator, Membersnet, our new media operation.

And I would also be talking about our new iPhone app, if I could work out how to use an iPhone.

Rest assured that since May, we at HQ have not stopped working to build our party to fight the next election.

35,000 new members in just 4 months.

Victories in local government by-elections across the country.

And as you will hear from Douglas Alexander, we have ambitious plans for rebuilding our grassroots organisation. In the future, we intend to put our members and supporters at the heart of our campaigns.

A new online membership system launched this August.

And this week we are launching a new website with our councillors – the Campaign Engine Room – a place for parents, teachers, and neighbourhood watch groups to make a difference about a cause they believe in, with a direct line to us.

I want to thank John Denham for this initiative, and also to thank our councillors for all the hard work they do.

To kick-start the site, we’ve put a few campaigns up, which demonstrate our commitment to fair public services.

When you get a chance, have a look, and see how you can gather support for these campaigns in your constituencies. Because if we can effect change locally, then we can win nationally.

The second of my three priorities is the cause of equality, and I want here to pause and pay tribute to our amazing Deputy Leader of the Party, Harriet Harman.

In all the time I have known Harriet, she has never wavered from the struggle to create a more equal world.

I believe no one could have led us better in the difficult months after the election.

The Tories always underestimate her, and by God, they always regret it.

Harriet has been a constant ally in our efforts to make our parliamentary party look more like the people we represent. The proportion of women in the PLP is higher than ever before.

And I am especially pleased by the election of some fantastic Black an d Asian candidates.

Yet this progress is too slow, and I am determined to redouble our efforts going forward.

Be in no doubt, it is your policies of All-Women shortlists and the automatic short-listing of Black and Asian candidates that have made so much of the difference.

It is why we have more women MPs than all the other parties in Westminster combined.

It is why we have more black and Asian candidates than all the other parties in Westminster combined.

I know some of you don’t like our positive action policies.

I know some say that they are undemocratic.

But as I said last year, what could be more undemocratic than a 21st century Parliament in which only a fifth of its members are women, eighty years after they were first given the right to vote?

If we are to be a party of future government, then we must not look like a party of the past.

I saw our potential during the election. Keith Vaz and BAME Labour ran a fantastic campaign to mobilise BAME voters, that produced real results in our marginal seats.

And as an out and proud member of LGBT Labour, I campaigned alongside their crack troops in my home borough of Islington, returning Emily Thornberry to Parliament with an increased majority.

I visited many marginal seats over the election to campaign with you, but there was one group that was always there before me.

I speak of our young members. They are my third priority, and in May they proved why.

Young Labour and Labour Students turned out thousands of first-time voters, and recruited many new activists to the party.

They are not just some of our best campaigners.

They are a link to young people everywhere.

And they are not just the future of our party.

They are important voices here and now.

Their views on policy, on organisation, on messaging, are as important as yours and mine.

And that is why, despi te our financial pressures, I have pledged to protect their resources, and committed to a full-time youth officer.

Conference, when I look at our party I feel such optimism for the future.

Our members span the generations, and embody diversity.

We are drawn from all corners of our regions and nations, and we bring with us many different life experiences.

When I think back to the Tories, and their ageing, demoralised troops after 1997, nothing could be further from what I see in our own ranks.

We do not look like defeat; we look like the country.

So let us gaze forward.

Forward to victory over the SNP, and the return of a Labour government in Scotland.

Forward to victory, and a Labour administration in Cardiff bay.

Forward to victory, and a Labour mayor of London.

And forward to victory against the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in next May’s local elections.

And with the election of Ed Miliband we can look forward to the fight against this Con Dem coalition.

And the return of a Labour government.

Let us fight now for the chance to lead our country once again.