Tom Watson today told Labour members that it is now time to “be proud of our party” as he hit out at those who have been “trashing our own record”.
The Labour deputy leader launched a passionate defence of the New Labour years, championing over a decade of unbroken economic growth and the achievements made in government.
Met by applause from delegates in the conference hall, Watson also defended the UK’s membership of Nato, in what some have interpreted as an effort to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn. However, he praised a number of prominent pro-Corbyn shadow ministers, including John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis.
But it is his lauding of the successes of the Blair and Brown governments that has attracted the most attention.
“I don’t know why we’ve been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years, but trashing our own record is not the way to enhance our brand,” he said. “We won’t win elections like that and we need to win elections. The Prime Minister could call one next week. Now is the time to be proud of our party.”
Corbyn was a vocal backbench critic during Labour’s years in power, voting against the party whip more than any other Labour MP, and Watson’s speech will be seen as an attempt to keep himself at arms length from the leader despite his success this weekend.
In a tub-thumping passage – which some activists have compared to Gordon Brown’s rhetoric – Watson reeled off a list of the party’s achievements. He said:
“The 11 years of Labour government between 1997 and 2008 were a completely unbroken period of economic growth. We made the economy work like never before or since; and we lifted half a million children out of poverty; and lifted a million pensioners out of poverty; and gave millions of low paid workers the decency of a national minimum wage; and introduced a radically redistributive system of tax credits; and winter fuel payments, free TV licences, free bus travel for older people.
“More than 100 new hospitals, more than 200,000 new doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, firefighters – bringing waiting lists down, school standards up, crime down. More than doubling our overseas aid budget. I could go on all afternoon about what we achieved during eleven years of economic growth.”
Watson also used his speech to announce the establishment of an independent commission to examine the “dark side” of the gig economy amid fears technological change is hitting pay and skilled jobs for millions of workers.