“It is time for me to turn my full focus to Greater Manchester” – Andy Burnham’s speech to conference

28th September, 2016 1:25 pm

Full text of Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham’s speech to Labour conference:

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Conference, this time next year, I hope to be addressing you in a new capacity – as the first Labour Mayor for Greater Manchester.

For someone fifteen years a Greater Manchester MP, and who grew up in the area I represent, what an honour you have given me.

In return, I will give my all to the people of Greater Manchester and make this Party proud.

It’s no secret, though, that I also have ties here.

Steve Rotheram asked me how I am going to handle my football loyalties.

It’s very simple, Steve. I will be utterly impartial. As Mayor, I will be equally in favour of both City and United beating Liverpool on a regular basis.

This year, this is the right place to deliver my last speech to you as Shadow Home Secretary.

At last, a city of justice. But not a country of justice. Twenty seven dark years tell us that. Our mission must be to make it so.

A country where truth and justice are the equal right of all and no longer linked to class and connections.

To this city, let’s make this vow today: to make Hillsborough a moment of real change.

Doesn’t it make you angry, Conference, that, thirty years on, former miners are still struggling for the truth? Ordinary people who were fighting for their jobs, their communities, their future.

Whose own country tried to put them on trial. It’s why, even today, Britain still feels like two countries. Norman Tebbitt, remember him, well he says an inquiry would be a waste of money. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Let me tell him why it’s not.

Kevin Thorne, a former miner at Orgeave, came to Westminster recently to lobby the Home Secretary for an inquiry. He was asked why, after all these years, he is still campaigning. He said this: “I want my grandchildren to be able to trust the Police as I was brought up to do.”

That is why Orgreave matters, Conference.

Today’s police officers don’t deserve these clouds of the past hanging over them.

They’re out there right now, putting themselves at risk, keeping us safe and we thank them it. But the miners aren’t getting any younger. Don’t they deserve peace and reconciliation too?

Prime Minister, don’t make people plead. Do the right thing. You invited the Orgreave campaign to submit a request for an inquiry. Fulfil your promise on the steps of Downing Street to heal divides and order it now. The battle for truth is still too long and too hard.

Only this week, families of those who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, and who await a new inquest, were denied legal support by the Home Secretary.

How can that possibly be right? How can it be right that victims of contaminated blood feel like they are still lost in a wilderness, searching for the truth?

New injustices are happening all the time. Things are no better today for bereaved families at inquests today than for the Hillsborough families in 1990.

Many still have to scrape together their own legal costs.

They are then thrown into courtrooms, raw with grief, only to find themselves up against an army of top QCs, hired by public bodies, who question them as if they who were on trial.

Des James battled for years for a new inquest into the death of his daughter Cheryl at Deepcut.

When it finally took place, do you know what happened?

The QC representing Surrey Police accused him of distracting the force from the Milly Dowler investigation.

This was the same QC who just weeks earlier was re-running discredited slurs about Liverpool supporters in a Warrington courtroom.

And do you know what sticks in the throat? He was paid by your taxes to do it.

Public money should pay for the truth, not for the protection of backs in the public sector and the destruction of bereaved families in court.

That’s not a country of justice.

Conference, how much longer are we going to allow public money to be spent on the telling of lies?

How much longer are we going to let the state put bereaved families on trial?

For the rest of my time in Parliament, I will fight for the proposed Hillsborough Law.

A law to rebalance the justice system, away from the Establishment and decisively in favour of ordinary people. And I ask you to get fully behind that campaign.

A Law that says no public bodies can distort or withhold the truth at inquests; that guarantees all bereaved families a level playing field and equal legal funding – and that Home Secretary should include those Birmingham families.

A country of justice – that’s our cause.

Achieving it means getting back to our campaigning best.

This is my tenth Conference speaking to you as a Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet Minister.

And it will be my last.

It is time for me to turn my full focus to Greater Manchester.

That’s why I can tell you all first today that I have asked Jeremy to plan a new Shadow Cabinet without me, although I will of course stay until it is in place.

It has been my privilege to represent our great Party these last 10 years.

But, at times, the last 12 months have made me profoundly sad.

Sad to hear the achievements of our Labour Government, in which I was proud to serve, being dismissed as if they were nothing.

Sad that old friendships have been strained;
sad that some seem to prefer fighting each other than the Tories.

I have given my all to this Party and always put its interests above those of factions and personalities.

And I have given exactly the same loyalty to all four of the Labour leaders I have served.

Some say that makes me inconsistent.

But, you know what Conference? I have an old-fashioned belief – that a Labour Government of any kind is a million times better for my constituents in Leigh than any Tory Government and that is more likely to happen if Labour is united.

So let us unite – let’s have an end to divisive talk about deselections but, in return, let’s have more respect for the democratic will of you, our members.

This city has reminded us all of the immense power of true solidarity.

Let’s learn from it. Let’s turn the page and turn our fire on the Tories. While we’ve been turning inwards, they’ve been taking liberties. Bringing back selection in our schools. Abandoning promises to the North. Plotting a hard-line, right-wing Brexit that burns Britain’s bridges.

We are the only hope for people who don’t want that. Yes, Labour must listen to our voters who voted to Leave. But let’s be the champions of a fair Brexit, not a hard Brexit. A hard Brexit will hurt our economy, hit the poorest areas hardest and turn Britain into a place it has never been: divided, hostile, narrow-minded.

That is how the world is starting to see us. They think we’ve changed.

After the Referendum, the Prime Minister could have done one simple thing to correct that. She could have secured the status of EU nationals who chose to make this their home:

who work in our NHS;

who make a net contribution to our public finances;

whose children are facing taunts of “go home” in the playground;

whose homes have been spayed with swastikas;

whose cars have been pasted with the words “Polish vermin”.

She could have done something to help them. But she chose not to. And things are not improving.

There is a frightening spike in hate crimes; a young man stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle in Telford earlier this month for speaking Polish on a night out; and the death of a Polish man in Harlow just for speaking his language in the street.

This is Britain in 2016. Conference, what are we becoming? When I called a vote on the status of EU nationals, even Boris Johnson voted with Labour and said the Leave campaign had never threatened to send people home.

But it seems our new PM is now positioning herself to the right of the Leave campaign.

At every stage of the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War, she has dragged her feet.

As Europe has struggled with the enormity of it, Britain has looked wrapped up in its own selfish little world.

It has been left to the courage of people like Alf Dubs and Yvette Cooper to stand up for basic British decency and, Conference, let us all today thank them for it.

And, now, Theresa May rules out a points-based system for EU migration saying it is not tough enough.

Where is this heading, Prime Minister? This is not taking our country back. It is turning us into something we have never been.

It will end up punishing everyone. It risks isolating Britain, damaging our economy and creating more hostility on our streets.

It will lead to a tit-for-tat battle with the EU and the spectre of a US-style ESTA on British travellers – a £50 holiday tax on a family of five.

That’s not what people want and it is why they need us to speak up for them.

Let Labour stand for a fair Brexit, not a hard Brexit, that is true to Britain’s past, protects our economy but, crucially, also provides the change people voted for.

Conference, this Party must fully face up to this fact: millions of lifelong Labour supporters voted to leave the EU and – let’s be honest – voted for change on immigration.

We haven’t yet even begun to show to them that we understand why.

I don’t want to hear this Party make the patronising argument that people didn’t understand their Referendum vote. They understood it very well.

The truth is the EU was working better for some parts of our country than it was for others.

For some of our country’s least affluent areas, it wasn’t working well at all.

These were the places that lost industry in the 80s and 90s and got no real help from any government to replace those good jobs.

Places that saw house prices collapse and whole terraced streets bought up by absent private landlords.

Places that then experienced even more rapid change when the EU expanded – cuts to wages, job insecurity,
more pressure on primary schools and GP services – but, once again, got no extra help from Government to cope with it.

In fact, it’s worse: these are the council areas which have had the biggest cuts from the Tories and are left to take practically all of the country’s asylum seekers – while more comfortable areas like the Prime Minister’s constituency take none at all.

We have to ask ourselves, Conference – is that fair on them? No wonder this feels like two countries. No wonder some places feel forgotten and abandoned by the political class. Europe wasn’t working for them – and we were way too slow to see it.

Labour voters in constituencies like mine are not narrow-minded, nor xenophobic, as some would say.

They are warm and giving. Their parents and grandparents welcomed thousands of Ukrainians and Poles to Leigh after the Second World War.

And today they continue to welcome refugees from all over the world. They have no problem with people coming here to work.

But they do have a problem with people taking them for granted and with unlimited, unfunded, unskilled migration which damages their own living standards.

And they have an even bigger problem with an out-of-touch elite who don’t seem to care about it.

If Labour now argues for the status quo, it will look like we have abandoned them too.

So let’s develop a plan for fair Brexit that deals with their concerns but supports our economy and keeps the Britain we have known – open, welcoming, playing its part in the world.

Because the truth is, a hard Brexit would hit these Labour areas hardest of all.

But, Conference, the vote in June was about much more than immigration and Europe.

It was a cry for real change to the way our country works.

The truth is this: Westminster over decades has failed the North of England. It has created a very unequal country. Unequal access to truth and justice. An unfair distribution of wealth, health and life chances. Two countries.

Theresa May’s response has been to threaten to pull the plug on the Northern Powerhouse and Tory promises of investment.

If you do, Prime Minister, it will be as big a betrayal of the North as Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s.

Surely the right answer to Brexit is to deepen the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, not abandon it?

Try and catch a train from Lime Street later today to Manchester, Leeds or on to the North East as many of you will.

Thirty two years ago, I joined Labour just twenty miles down the road from here, towards Manchester to even things up, to make this a country of justice.

And I’m still fighting now because progress has been far too slow. If anything, the gap has got wider.

My fifteen years in Westminster has told me that there isn’t a real will in the British Establishment to close it, to listen to people here.

For twenty years, it ignored the cries for justice from this city. If it could have ignored them in perpetuity, it would.

Just like it now tries to ignore the Birmingham families, Orgreave and Shrewsbury campaigners and those who suffered from contaminated blood.

After the Referendum, it is trying to go back to business as usual.

Well I am not going to let that happen. Because that will create a crisis in our democracy and a field day for those who want to peddle hate and division.

Out there, there’s a demand for big changes in the way this country is run.

This Party should be the voice for that change. So that’s why I am ready to leave Westminster. It’s time to make a change, to challenge the status quo from the outside.

It’s time to get the voice of the North heard like it has never been heard before. For Northern Labour to come to life.

Let’s seize this moment, put our stamp on devolution and make it a Labour campaign: for a more equal England. Conference, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support you have given to me over the last ten years.

You have given me the strength to do things I never thought I could. And I hope in my new capacity you can help me do even more.

In case you didn’t get the hint, that means you are all expected in Greater Manchester next year to help with the campaign.

Whatever happens, you know I will always be there fighting for this great Labour Party.

It is still the best hope for millions of ordinary, working people.

And I know you’ll be there for it too. So keep the faith. Keep fighting the good fight.

For one country, not two. For a country of justice. A country where no area is forgotten. Where North and South are equals. Where people who come here from around the world are welcomed as friends. Where no kid is labelled second-class at age 11.

Where ordinary people no longer have to plead for the truth.

Where bereaved families are never put on trial.

Where justice doesn’t take twenty seven years.

A country of justice, forever Labour’s fight.

And the legacy we owe those ninety six lost souls.

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