“The future is ours to own” – Jim McMahon’s Labour conference speech

Jim McMahon

Below is the full text of the speech delivered this afternoon by Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon to the annual Labour Party conference.

Thank you, conference. I am Jim McMahon, and I’m proud to serve as the Shadow Transport Secretary. I want to start by thanking our frontline transport workers and our trade unions who have supported them through these difficult times.

Our bus, tram and train workers, those in aviation and maritime, our taxi drivers and all in operations and maintenance who keep our country moving. Through to our HGV drivers, working around the clock in increasingly demanding circumstances.

You have supported our nation through the worst of times, often putting your own health at risk – with some paying the ultimate price. You did so because you are the very best of public service, and we owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. Thank you to you all. Conference: transport is in my blood.

My father was a truck driver. I spent a lot of time as a child sitting alongside him in his cab, dragging myself out of bed in the early hours before the sun came up, hoping I’d join him to work that day.

His dad was a driver too, working at the British Rail Mayfield Depot, and his dad an engineer working on aeroplanes at AVROs in Manchester. And now my own son has just completed his transport apprenticeship, carrying on the family transport tradition.

For me, being here today is more than a position, more than a portfolio – it’s about carrying on a generational responsibility to fight for decent jobs with good pay, offering working people pride and purpose.

I want transport jobs to give young people looking up at their parents the sense of pride I had in my dad. And for parents looking to the future for their kids, the same hope we have for our son.

The truth is the Tories have failed to value good working-class jobs. They have failed to invest in those jobs and now we are all paying the price.

We have a 100,000 HGV driver shortage, hitting the economy and livelihoods. We’ve warned the Tories repeatedly – and now we see shelves bare, forecourts dry, medicines not delivered, and the prospect of Christmas ruined for the nation.

Conference, even before the pandemic the number of drivers going on to complete their practical test after their theory, was at its lowest ever level, and just 1% of truck drivers in the UK are women, put off by poor working conditions, the same reason many men are leaving the industry too.

And what was the answer from the Tories? To make drivers work longer hours and cut corners on safety. It simply isn’t good enough.

It has been the Labour Party who have led the fight for the industry, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our trade union family. And this lack of action from the Tories is seen on investment too.

We’ve lost count of the number of times Boris Johnson said HS2 would be built in full. And the same is true of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Conference, it’s been seven years since that was first promised. Seven years, but not a single spade has gone in the ground, not a single mile of track built.

The Tories don’t care about communities like ours. Conference, you know, and I know they’re more interested in launching a new Royal Yacht, than keeping hardworking families afloat. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I believe the future is ours to own, built on high quality world leading technology, opening up opportunity not just for those who work in transport, but for those who rely on it too.

Connecting communities to education, training, and jobs. Public transport run for the public good, not short-term shareholder interest, with democratic control and a strong role for our trade unions.

Conference. COP26 is a chance to show our ambition, to maximise the crucial role transport will play in a green recovery. I want us to lead the world not by grounding planes, but by flying proudly using the latest green technology.

I want investment in trains to grow our regions and the great towns and cities in them – including breathing new life into our coastal communities. And I want us to end transport deserts by offering affordable and reliable services for our rural communities.

The next Labour government won’t build walls between the travelling public, but we will build bridges… don’t worry, conference I don’t mean garden bridges.

Because the answer lies in offering a just transition, not going to war on motorists. Giving working people real choice, freeing up our crowded streets and offering neighbourhoods which are clean, green and decent places for us all to live in.

Conference. As we plan ahead for the general election, we must be ambitious, give hope coming through hard times, and we must have the confidence that the future is ours to own.

Working people of this country demand and they deserve better. And it will be the Labour Party, as the Party born of working people who will finally unlock the potential of this Great Britain. Thank you, conference.

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