Gordon Brown gave his valedictory speech in Parliament this afternoon, after a 32 year-long career as an MP.
The former PM used his last speech in the Commons to attack the Government’s approach to Scotland, saying that English votes for English laws is, in reality, English laws for English votes. You can watch the full video here, and the text is below.
Full text of Gordon Brown’s speech:
It is important that I start today by thanking you:
Mr Speaker, for your leadership in this House, your dedication to our parliamentary democracy and your unfailing courtesy to all sides.
Let me also thank the staff of this House – from the clerks, cleaners and catering staff to the librarians and doorkeepers – for their non-partisan and always unselfish support.
And thank my colleagues on this side – so many so brilliant to work alongside – whose wisdom and friendship have sustained my family in times of personal loss.
And let me thank colleagues on all sides, especially all those who leave the House today. Let me thank all for their outstanding contribution to what we are right to believe is the greatest democracy in the world
Most of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to my constituents who sent me here and accorded me the privilege of trust and service over 32 years, in which time I have always tried to speak up for their concerns and aspirations.
When I stood for Parliament in 1983 I asked my constituents to elect me as a candidate of youth and fresh ideas. Of course by 2010 I had to change tack: I asked them to elect me as the candidate of maturity and experience!
But when I first arrived here in 1983 I was so unknown, so patently here just to make up the numbers and so clearly forgettable that The Times newspaper confused me with one of the many other Browns in Parliament – there were as many MPs named Brown as there were SDP or Liberal MPs – and published a photo of me when I was a student alongside a caption which said that I was born in 1926. In quick succession each London newspaper repeated this error – not so much the power of the press as the power of the press cutting – labelling me successively as “elderly”, “a veteran” and “an old Labour stalwart” – definitely old Labour – with the result that a few days later I received a note from a pension company to the effect that I had entered a new job late in life and would want to make provision for an early retirement.
It is for others to judge what has been achieved between then and now. But today it is not my constituency, not Scotland and not public service that I am leaving: it is Westminster and London I leave to live full time in the place where I grew up and where my children will grow up and complete their schooling — and it is my good fortune that Fife has not only been my constituency for a third of a century, but always my home.
I leave this House feeling a huge amount of gratitude — but also with some concern. For I sense that the UK today is fragile, at risk and we are potentially at a point of departure.
Countries at their best, their strongest, their truest, are more than places on the map, more than a demarcation of borders. Great countries stand on shared foundations. They are guided by unifying ideals. They move forward in common purpose. And so it must be with Britain.
And whether the future lies in greater devolution, a new form of federalism or home rule within the UK, in the constitutional revolution now under way I will fight, struggle, do battle and fight and fight again to renew and reconstruct for a new age the idea of Britain around shared values can bring us together and advance a common Britishness – a shared belief in tolerance, liberty and fairness that come alive in unique British institutions like the National Health Service and in common policies for social justice – ideas which we have given to the world, but now seem to be losing sight of at home: unifying ideas that we need to champion anew at the core of a common British national purpose that binds us together in a shared future.
It is because I believe in Britain’s future that I am saddened – and I am sorry to have to say this – that for the first and only time in 300 years since the start of the Union it has become official UK government policy to create two classes of elected representatives – “first class” English who would vote on all issues, and “second class” Scots who would vote on only some – and thus to mimic the nationalists by driving a wedge between Scotland and England — and this only to head off opposition from the extremes with a direct nationalist appeal to the English electorate….not so much “English votes for English laws” as “English laws for English votes.”
But I ask this House to remember that our greatest successes as a country have come not when we have been divided nor when we have turned inwards, but when we have confidently looked outwards and thought globally, our eyes fixed on the wider world and the future.
With the unwinding of the Pax Americana, and in the wake of the recent retreat from global cooperation – for today we have no global climate change treaty, no global financial standards and for the first time in half a century no world trade agreement – we must recapture what now seems a distant memory – the heightened global coordination of 2009 which Britain led – and never allow ourselves to become spectators or watchers on the shore, when the world needs us, in Europe and beyond, to lead and champion global action to deal with poverty, pollution, proliferation and protectionism – and to defuse what is potentially the biggest global flashpoint: the growing anger of millions of disenfranchised young people in the poorest countries at the unacceptable denial of the basic opportunities they deserve and demand. And so it is right and it is a tribute to all here that two of the last Acts of this Parliament are new laws on aid and slavery, guaranteeing the British people’s long term support to the most vulnerable in the world.
And it is more than economics. Over thirty years I, like most on both sides of this House, have condemned the discrimination and the prejudices of the past which should now be consigned forever to that past. And like many I have welcomed – indeed have been a cheerleader for – the new freedoms and the new rights, the equality and anti-discrimination laws, that we have enacted and embraced not as a departure from our longstanding values of tolerance, liberty and fairness but as the modern realisation of them. These include not just changes in the law but also symbolic expressions of a changed Britain – the Mandela, Gandhi and soon Emily Davidson statues here, the Turing apology and the apology to child migrants, which together write a new chapter in our country’s history.
All societies need a moral energy that can inspire individuals to the self-sacrificial acts of public service that come alive out of mutual respect and obligation, and can turn impersonal buildings and anonymous streets made only of stone and concrete into vibrant, sharing communities.
Yes, the predominant feeling in our country today is an anger I can see in people’s faces and hear in their voices – an anger directed against elites – and a demand for change.
Yes, too, of the many social changes that I have witnessed in thirty years here, among the most dramatic has been the significant fall in religious observance.
But I also sense that the British people are better than leaders often presume; ready to respond to a vision of a country more caring and less selfish, more compassionate and less cynical than any “me too, me first, me now, me above all, me whatever” manifestos.
For I sense millions of us feel, however distantly, the pain of others, and believe in something within ourselves, beyond ourselves and bigger than ourselves that can lead us to work for causes greater than ourselves. And so we cannot easily feast when our fellow citizens go hungry to food banks; we cannot feel at ease when our neighbours – in hock to payday lenders – are ill at ease; and cannot be fully content when, with poverty pay and zero hour contracts, there is around us so much discontent.
And so I repeat: it’s not anti-wealth to say that the wealthy must do more to lift up those who are not wealthy. It’s not anti-enterprise to say the enterprising must do more to meet the aspirations of those who have never had the chances to show that they too are enterprising. And it’s not anti-market to say that markets need morals to underpin their success.
And for me, the most moving mission statement defining our duties as MPs here is the declaration made nearly 100 years ago – on the day after they were elected – by MPs from Clydeside, that we should “abjure vanity and self-aggrandisement” and, as “humble servants of the people”, “have regard for the weak, those stricken by disease, those who have fallen in the struggle for life” and “bear in our hearts the sorrows of the aged, the widowed mother, and the poor, that their lives shall not be without comfort.”
And for this – and for showing me that when the strong help the weak it makes us all stronger – I will always be grateful to my parents who taught me these values of justice, my party who taught me how to fight for justice, and my constituents who taught me every day the rightness of justice.
For we must never forget that what politics at its best can do is imbue people with hope and inspire us all to be better.
Wishful thinking about the future is the passive belief something might be done.
Optimism is the instinctive belief that yes, something can be done.
But hope is the active resolve that something must be done.
When in 1886 Tennyson wrote one of his last poems, Locksley Hall – Sixty Years After, with its pessimistic refrain “Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! Who can tell how all will end!”, the then Prime Minister Gladstone was moved to remind Tennyson that in his first famous Locksley Hall poem six decades before he had, and I cite, “dipt into the future far as human eye could see; Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.”
I have spoken today of what endures beyond anyone’s time in office, and thinking beyond the perils of things as they are to the wonders of things as they could be – and with hope unbroken, idealism unbowed, a desire to serve undiminished – I leave here as I came here, with an unquenchable faith in a future for our country that we can build and share together, a future where we help shape the world beyond our shores, a future where we always demand the best of ourselves. This is the future worth fighting for and this is the future that I will never stop fighting for.
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