Thomas-Symonds: “Let our moral crusade be to build safer communities”

Nick Thomas-Symonds

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds to the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton today.

Chair, conference, I stand here proud to be your Shadow Home Secretary, humbled by the debt I owe to our movement and my home valley of Torfaen that I am so proud to represent. Growing up I saw the damage the Tories did to our industrial areas, but I also felt the power of the solidarity that binds our communities together. It’s what drove me – the son of a steel worker – into politics. And it was my family, and the investment of Labour Governments, that supported me to make it to Westminster.

This does not happen by accident. It happens when Labour wins power – and changes the lives of families – like mine – for the better. The values that drive us – are the same values that drive the British people. The long months of the pandemic have been a dreadful time of loss. Yet, we have seen the best of people, the heroism of our NHS workers, police and firefighters. The community spirit that saw neighbours reaching out to help each other. The solidarity of our unions to secure the furlough scheme – saving millions of livelihoods.

We in this party know that there is such a thing as society. Bound together by respect, decency and fairness. The values I learned growing up on a terraced street. The values I will take with me into the job of Home Secretary and of my excellent Shadow Home Affairs Team here in the Hall today. The values of my excellent Labour police and crime commissioners up and down the country and of the Welsh Labour Government delivering PCSOs in our communities.

The Conservatives are letting our country down because they have the wrong values. Where is the respect in a Windrush compensation scheme that has seen people die waiting for justice, when the time has long passed for the Government to hand it over to an independent process? Where is the decency in looking the other way when communities are blighted by antisocial behaviour? Where is the fairness in it always being one rule for the Tories and another for everyone else?

This is a government that is failing in its first duty to keep our country safe. In just the last few weeks we have seen the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan – freeing terrorists from prison and another terrible example of the ever-growing threat from online extremism in the form of the ‘incel’ movement.

Yet the government didn’t even have a security minister in post for a month. Conservative Ministers have been asleep at the wheel. They keep refusing to stand up to those who wish us harm. That’s why they have – shamefully – failed to implement the Russia report. Failing to tackle hostile state activity, cyber warfare, interference in our democratic processes, the laundromat of dirty money by Russia – a state responsible for awful acts perpetrated on British soil.

We have a Home Secretary who is even prepared to rip up the UN Refugee convention because she doesn’t have the competence to handle the vile criminal gangs operating in France. And let there be no doubt – when it comes to refugees – Labour will never lose sight of our humanity and the obligations we have. And safe and legal routes keep Britain safe too. That’s why I will keep fighting for a fair deal for refugees from Afghanistan, let down by the Tories so appallingly.

Conference, my political heroes are those I have been privileged to write about. Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan who built the National Health Service after the collective sacrifice of the war. Barbara Castle and Harold Wilson, said that the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing. Let our moral crusade be to build safer communities. Because, conference, the safety of our communities is at risk from this government. The reality is that the Conservatives have failed on crime. This Home Secretary likes to talks tough but she never delivers. She says she backs our frontline police officers and staff but then insults them with a pay freeze.

It’s no surprise that she has lost the confidence of 130,000 rank and file officers represented by the Police Federation, who are the undisputed voice of policing. The Conservatives are the party of crime and disorder. They are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. That confidence matters. It matters because our police are out on the frontline, risking their own safety to maintain ours and sadly on too many occasions, running into danger, when most people run the other way. Yet they have to do this knowing that the boss at the Home Office doesn’t have their backs. They deserve better. But at least in John Apter, the Chair of the Police Federation, they have someone working tirelessly for them. Conference, I am delighted to welcome John here today and to thank him for what he does.

Conference we can never again allow the Tories to call themselves the party of law and order. We have the shame of rape convictions at record low levels. In Tory Britain, less than 7 in every 100 violent crimes even ends up with a charge. Some call for defunding the police. No Labour Home Secretary will ever defund the police. That’s not our party, that’s the Tory party and they have spent 10 years defunding our police.

The shutters rolled down on hundreds of youth clubs, totally inadequate mental health services, thousands of police officers and police staff cut – ripping the heart out of neighbourhood policing and over two million incidents of anti-social behaviour in the last year. These are the results of failed Conservative policies and broken promises.

Our job is to show people that Labour will do better. We are the party of working people and our first responsibility is to keep you safe. We want to reduce crime not for the sake of sounding tough, but because we know the damage it does to our communities. So I say this directly to people who turned away from us in recent elections – look again. Be in no doubt that Labour is committed to keeping you, your family and community safe. It’s what our leader did when he was Director of Public Prosecutions. Your concerns are my priorities.

When I speak to people around the country, the message is clear: in Tory Britain, people say you never see police on the beat any more, that school children feel afraid at the bus stop, that shopworkers feel fear at the tills, that people feel unsafe going out after dark.

This, conference, is the price of years of Tory cuts to neighbourhood policing. The price of a Tory party that does not care about the concerns of working people. Let me say this: with me as Home Secretary – if there is trouble on your street Labour will make sure that someone is there. You will see officers on the beat. In every neighbourhood where people are frightened and afraid there will be a new police hub and neighbourhood prevention teams which bring together police, community support officers, youth workers and local authority staff to tackle anti-social behaviour at source, to stop kids from going on the wrong path. Eyes, ears and boots on the ground, officers rooted in the neighbourhood who you can recognise, connected into a next generation neighbourhood watch and backed by a tough approach to closing down drug dens.

Conference, a Labour government will bring back neighbourhood policing and conference we will go further. We will launch a major recruitment drive for special constables, giving people the chance to contribute to the safety of their neighbourhood and for those who commit the appalling crime of preying on vulnerable children and drawing them into county lines drug gangs, we will create a new Child Exploitation Register to stop them doing it again.

Let’s be clear – we won’t tackle the crimes of the future, with the methods of the past. We will make sure our police forces look more like the communities they serve, and have confidence in every community across the country. And, conference, we will act to end the serious violence that is resulting in so many needless deaths in our society. It shouldn’t be like this. It’s why we’ve made it our priority to pass new laws to protect women and girls from domestic abuse in their homes, the appalling harassment, intimidation and violence they face on our streets.

Only in recent days we have seen the awful death of Sabina Nessa as she was walking to a pub. As a country, we have come together during the pandemic to drive back the virus. Now, let us use that same sense of togetherness and use it to drive back the virus of violence in our society. But to do that, conference and to create the just society we all came into politics to create, we have to win.

Politics is about priorities and our priority is to make people safe in every neighbourhood and in every home. The great Aneurin Bevan said that the argument is about power, because it is only by the possession of power that you can get the priorities correct. So let us leave this conference with that resolve and determination to put our values into practice and win power once again. Thank you, conference.

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