Below is the full text of the speech delivered to Labour conference 2021 by party leader Keir Starmer.
Thank you, conference. Thank you, Doreen. Thank you for your words, thank you for everything you have done for criminal justice, and thank you for everything you have done for the Labour Party. I am proud to call you my friend. So, here we are at last and I can’t tell you how good it feels. It’s been a long time coming! Too long. I’ve waited 17 months, 23 days and two hours for this moment. It’s fantastic!
And let me take this first opportunity to thank my brilliant shadow cabinet and fantastic team in the Lords for all their hard work over all those long months. And Louise Ellman, welcome home. This hasn’t always been an easy conference. Sunday was particularly nerve racking, but then the results came through. Arsenal 3 – 1 Tottenham.
Conference, before I start let me tackle the issue of the day head on. If you go outside and walk along the seafront, it won’t be long before you come to a petrol station which has no fuel. Level up? You can’t even fill up.
Doesn’t that just tell you everything about this government? Ignoring the problem, blaming someone else, then coming up with a half-baked solution. Why do we suddenly have a shortage of HGV drivers? Why is there no plan in place? A tank of fuel already costs £10 more than it did at the start of the year. Gas and electricity bills up. Gaps on the supermarket shelves. Rent up, especially for those on the lowest incomes.
Yet at this very moment, the government is putting up tax on working people. Putting up tax on small businesses and slashing Universal Credit. We have a fuel crisis, a pay crisis, a goods crisis and a cost of living crisis – all at the same time. Let me quote what the Prime Minister said to the United Nations last week: “We believe that someone else will clear up the mess we make because that is what someone else has always done.” Well, Prime Minister, either get a grip or get out of the way and let us clear up this mess.
This is our first full conference since the 2019 general election in which we suffered our worst defeat since 1935. To our devoted activists and loyal voters I want to say loud and clear. You saved this party from obliteration and we will never forget it. Thank you. But my job as leader is not just to say thank you to the voters who stayed with us. It is to understand and persuade the voters who rejected us.
To those Labour voters who said their grandparents would turn in their graves, that they couldn’t trust us with high office, to those who reluctantly chose the Tories because they didn’t believe our promises were credible. To the voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or that we looked down on them, I say these simple but powerful words. We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government. It will not take another election defeat for the Labour party to become an alternative government in which you can trust. That’s why it has been so important to get our own house in order this week and we have done that.
This is a big moment in our country’s history. We will look back at this moment and ask: How did the nation rebuild after the pandemic? Did we learn? Did we use the crisis to make the future? I see a government lost in the woods with two paths beckoning. One path leads back where we came from. None of the lessons of Covid are heeded. The flaws that were brutally exposed by the pandemic all worsen. Childhood poverty increases. The crisis in social care gets worse. The housing market is still broken. Slow and steady decline.
But there is another path down which we address the chronic problems revealed by Covid, with the kindness and the togetherness that got us through. That path leads to a future in which a smart government enlists the brilliance of scientific invention to create a prosperous economy and a contribution society in which everyone has their role to play. It will be a future in which we make an opportunity out of tackling the climate crisis and in which Britain is once again a confident actor in the world.
I believe in this country and I believe we will go forward. Today, I want to tell you how. Today I want to tell you where my passions were born and why I am in politics. The two rocks of my life – the two sources of what I believe to be right and good – are family and work. I am not from a privileged background. My dad was a tool maker in a factory. He gave me a deep respect for the dignity of work. There are some lines from Auden that capture the beauty of skilled work: “You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his vocation, you have only to watch his eyes. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look.”
I saw that eye-on-the-object look in my dad. The pride that good work brings. It puts food on the table and it provides a sense of dignity. So, when I hear that this country is creating so many low-paid jobs and when I tell you that good work and fair growth will be the priority for a Labour government, I haven’t learnt this in some political seminar. I learnt it round the kitchen table. I learnt it at home, from my dad. How pride derives from work. How work is the bedrock of a good economy. And how a good economy is an essential partner of a good society. That’s why I am so proud to lead a party whose name is Labour. Don’t forget it. Labour. The party of working people.
My mum worked incredibly hard too. She was a nurse in the NHS and a very proud nurse too. I got from my mum an ethic of service. But my mum was also, unfortunately, a long-term patient of the NHS. When she was young, she was diagnosed with Still’s disease. It’s a rare form of inflammatory arthritis which severely restricts mobility. This disease, along with the drugs she had to take to control it, took a heavy toll. The NHS that had been her livelihood became her lifeline. There were times, many times, when mum was so ill that she had to go into hospital.
I remember going into the intensive care unit one day, as I often did. Mum’s bed was a riot of tubes and temperature devices. I could sense the urgency in the conversation of the four nurses on my mum’s bed. I knew without being told that they were keeping her alive. I can hardly convey to you the emotion of seeing your mum in that condition. And there was a sort of horrible irony in the moment. I had just picked up an award for work on the death penalty I’d been doing which in my own small way was about trying to save people’s lives. I’d gone to the hospital hoping to tell my mum about it. And there in front of me, those four nurses were working to save her life. When that long day was over, I thanked them for what they had done. And they said to me “we are just doing our job”. And they were.
They were doing their job for my mum that night, someone else’s mum the night before, someone else’s mum the night after. But that’s not just a job. It’s a calling. So, when I think of the extraordinary dedication of doctors and nurses, working to keep people alive as the Covid virus took hold, I know what that looks like. I understand what that means and so just as we stood on our doorsteps and applauded. Let this conference ring out its approval to the NHS staff, truly the very best of us.
So, you see, family life taught me about the dignity of work and the nobility of care. But, even with a name like Keir, I was never one of those people reared for politics. I became the first person in my family to go to university, the first to go into the law. Every day as a lawyer, if you are a young radical as I was, you think of yourself as working for justice. You see people getting a raw deal and you want to help. Justice, for me, wasn’t a complicated idea. Justice, to me, was a practical achievement. It was about seeing a wrong and putting it right. That is my approach in politics too. Down to earth. Working out what’s wrong. Fixing it.
I had the great honour of becoming this country’s chief prosecutor, leading a large organisation; the Crown Prosecution Service. Three very important words. Crown brings home the responsibility of leading part of the nation’s legal system. Prosecution tells you that crime hurts and victims need justice to be done. Service is a reminder that the job is bigger than your own career advancement. I will always remember the day that John and Penny Clough contacted my office. Their daughter Jane was a nurse who had been the victim of terrible domestic abuse. After repeated assaults, Jane had summoned the great courage to report her partner. He was arrested and remanded in custody.
But then, very much against the wishes of the Clough family, he was let out on bail. Jane lived in constant fear that he would return to harm her. She tried to ensure she never travelled to work alone. The one morning that Jane arrived at work unaccompanied, he was waiting for her in the hospital car park where he stabbed her 71 times. When Jane’s parents got in touch, my office advised me not to see them. “You can’t get emotionally involved in cases,” they said. I replied: “If I haven’t got time to see the parents of a young woman who has just been murdered, then what am I doing in this job?”
On the day that John and Penny were supposed to come and see me, to tell me about the cruel murder of their daughter and how the criminal justice system had let them down, my own daughter was born. We had to push the meeting back. It was an incredibly emotional day for all of us. As I listened to John and Penny tell me Jane’s story, I knew that a great injustice had been done. I made a promise to John and Penny at the end of that first meeting. That I would work with them to make sure that no other family went through what they had been forced to endure. And we rolled up our sleeves and we changed the law.
I am delighted to say that John and Penny have become good friends of mine. And I am honoured that they have joined us here today. Conference, John and Penny Clough. John and Penny taught me how to keep your dignity under severe pressure. Doreen Lawrence taught me the same lesson. Hers was a long battle for justice for Stephen. Against the odds. Confronting racism. But never giving up. Her courage and resilience over 28 years is impossible to describe in words. I honestly don’t know how I would cope if anything happened to one of my children. But I do know I am humbled by John, by Penny and by Doreen.
And that’s why, under my leadership, the fight against crime will always be a Labour issue. Labour will strengthen legal protections for victims of crime. We won’t walk around the problem. We’ll fix it. When I learned that 98% of reported rape cases don’t end in a criminal charge. I couldn’t believe it. I asked my team to check the figures. “That can’t be right,” I said. But it was. Shocking. So, we will fast-track rape and serious sexual assault cases and we will toughen sentences for rapists, stalkers and domestic abusers.
This is part of who we are because this is part of who I am. Today, I’m here to tell you what I stand for. But I also want to tell you what I won’t stand for. I won’t stand for the two million incidents of anti-social behaviour this year. I won’t stand for the record levels of knife crime that we have in this country today. And I won’t stand nine out of ten crimes going unsolved.
Under the Tories, the criminal justice system is close to collapse. There has never been a bigger backlog in the Crown Courts. Over 11 years of Tory government, we have lost more than 8,000 police officers. They pretend that it hasn’t made any difference. But it has. Ask the workers on the day shift at Tata Steel in Wolverhampton, who told me about repeated incidents in their neighbourhood. Or the young women I met recently in Stoke, who told me they dare not go to their high street alone. They see more violence and fewer police. It’s just common sense to put the two together. The Tories are letting you down. And I can promise you that will never happen under my leadership.
There’s something else I took from a career in the law. That there’s one law and it applies to everyone. I try to remain calm in the bear pit of parliamentary politics. I am not a career politician. I came to politics late in life and I don’t much like point-scoring. But the one thing about Boris Johnson that offends everything I stand for is his assumption that the rules don’t apply to him. When Dominic Cummings took a trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, Boris Johnson turned a blind eye. When Matt Hancock breached his own lockdown rules, Boris Johnson declared the matter closed.
When I got pinged, I isolated. When Boris Johnson got pinged, he tried to ignore it. That’s not how I do business. When I was the Chief Prosecutor and MPs fell short of the highest standards on their expenses, I prosecuted those who had broken the law. Politics has to be clean; wrongdoing has to be punished. There are times in this parliament when I feel as if I have my old job back. Contracts handed out to friends and donors. The former Prime Minister lobbying the Chancellor by text. Refurbishing No. 10 with a loan from an anonymous donor. On behalf of a public that cares about cleaning up politics, I put this government on notice.
I’ve spent my entire working life trying to get justice done. In 2003, when I was working with the Policing Board of Northern Ireland, while I was learning up close how hard it is to make split-second life-and-death decisions in a riot. As I worked with the police to create a lasting institution in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. Boris Johnson was a guest on Top Gear where, in reference to himself, he said to Jeremy Clarkson: “You can’t rule out the possibility that beneath the elaborately constructed veneer of a blithering idiot, lurks a blithering idiot.”
When, in the autumn of 2010, I was the chief prosecutor working with Doreen Lawrence to finally get a prosecution of two of the men who murdered Stephen, Boris Johnson was writing an article in The Telegraph declaring a war on traffic cones. And when this country was threatened by terrorists who were trying to bring down planes with liquid bombs, I spent the summer of 2010 helping to put those terrorists behind bars where they could no longer pose a danger to British citizens. While I was doing that, what were you doing Mr Johnson? You were writing a piece defending your right not to wear a cycle helmet.
Conference, it’s easy to comfort yourself that your opponents are bad people. But I don’t think Boris Johnson is a bad man. I think he is a trivial man. I think he’s a showman with nothing left to show. I think he’s a trickster who has performed his one trick. Once he had said the words ‘get Brexit done’ his plan ran out. He has no plan.
The questions we face in Britain today are big ones. How we emerge from the biggest pandemic in a century. How we make our living in a competitive world. The climate crisis. Our relationship with Europe. The future of our union. These are big issues. But our politics is so small. These times demand a responsible leader with clear values. From my dad, I understand the dignity of work. From my mum, I appreciate the nobility of care. From my work, the principle that we are all equal before the law. And from the victims of crime, that the law is there to make us secure.
Work. Care. Equality. Security. That’s what I mean by justice. That’s what I have been aiming at all my working life. That’s why I’m in politics. And those are the values this country needs now as we first seek to recover from the pandemic and then to look, with excitement and anticipation down the path that beckons us. To retool Britain for the future. To make this nation anew. I want to start with the importance of care.
Covid-19 exposed the state of Britain 2020. After a decade of cuts and neglect, the health service wasn’t ready. Just when the nation needed four nurses on its bed, sadly, they couldn’t always be there. 1.6 million older people were going without the care they needed. GP numbers had tumbled. Waiting lists for treatment had spiralled. Then – on top of that – the government was fatally slow to respond.
The Prime Minister’s inability to make up his mind really mattered. Britain has the worst death toll in Europe. We have now lost 133,000 people to Covid. Every one of them somebody’s mum, dad, brother, sister, friend. I know it was difficult, but the situation is worse than it needed to be. And this wasn’t just a government failure over 18 months. It was a failure of the government’s duty of care over 11 years.
There are cracks in British society and Covid seeped into them. Lower earners were at greater risk. So were Black and ethnic minority communities. Covid forensically found those who already had health problems and it has left in its wake a significant backlog. NHS waiting lists are at the highest level on record. Five and a half million people are waiting for treatment. The great scandal of the pandemic was what happened in care homes. And let me tell you this conference, an unfair tax hike that doesn’t fix social care and doesn’t clear the NHS backlog, is not a plan.
We know that people will still be forced to sell their homes to pay for care. Working people will have to pay more. But there is still no plan. A plan would prevent problems before they bite. A plan would provide care at home, where people are. A plan would ensure the work force was properly valued. And a serious plan wouldn’t be funded by hammering working people. There is no doubt that the NHS needs more money. And a Labour government will always fund the NHS properly. But the future of the NHS can’t just be about chasing extra demand with more money. And neither can it be about reshuffling the furniture in yet another pointless reorganisation.
We have to understand the big moment the NHS faces. In 1900, the average British person expected to live to the age of 48. Today, average life expectancy is 80. The number of people aged 65 and over in this country is growing three times faster than the number aged under 65. This is both a wonderful achievement and the biggest test in the history of the NHS. No society in human history has been as old as our modern nations. Small politics will no longer do. I want Britain to be the healthiest nation on earth. So let me tell you what Labour would do.
We would shift the priority in the NHS away from emergency care towards prevention. We can catch problems early. And, at the same time, we can use the resources of the NHS better. And I don’t just mean physical illness, either. With every pound spent on your behalf, we would expect the Treasury to weigh not just its effect on national income but also its effect on wellbeing.
Let me give you an example. One of the urgent needs of our time is mental health. Labour will guarantee that support will be available in less than a month. We’ll recruit the mental health staff that we need. Over 8,500 more mental health professionals supporting a million more people every year. Under Labour, spending on mental health will never be allowed to fall. And we’ll make sure children and young people get early help by ensuring every school has specialist support and every community has an open access mental health hub. This is prevention in action.
Helping young people, looking after their wellbeing. It’s the principle my mum taught me. The principle of care. Let me give you a flavour of what care will look like in the future. When I was at University College Hospital in London recently, an orthopaedic surgeon told me about a robot. This robot sits in the operating theatre making sure every incision is just right. The surgeon can’t go wrong because the robot works an override system. A bit like a driving instructor in a car. The doctor and the robot working together are so efficient that patients can be discharged a whole day early. Over time, that means thousands of hospital beds are freed up.
The range of possibilities is bewildering. Precision editing of the genome will help us wipe out pathogens. The science of robotics and exoskeletons helps patients who are struggling to move. Virtual reality is being used to alleviate the suffering of post-surgical pain. I could talk about this all day long, although I promise I won’t. I don’t pretend to understand all the medical science. But as politicians, we have to recognise the scale of what is happening and put the power of smart government behind it. This is what care will mean in the future. This is how health will be remade.
Then we need to give our young people the tools of the future. Education is so important, I am tempted to say it three times. When you don’t invest in young people, the whole nation suffers and the less fortunate are left behind. By the time they finish their GCSEs, pupils from poorer families are 18 months behind their wealthier peers. That’s right. 18 months. The pandemic showed you can’t trust the Tories with the education of our children. Children on free school meals went hungry.
There was U-turn after U-turn on school closures. The attainment gap between rich and poor grew. The government asked Kevan Collins, a recognised expert in the field to be their “recovery Tsar”. He told them what to do but they said no. When he saw the government’s plans, which he described as “feeble” Mr Collins had no option but to resign. If you can’t level up our children, you’re not serious about levelling up at all.
And even before the pandemic, 200,000 children grew up in areas with not a single primary school rated as good or outstanding. Just think about that. Not a single primary school rated as good or outstanding. I want every parent in the country to be able to send their child to a great state school. On top of that, 40% of young people leave compulsory education without essential qualifications. What does that say about their future? We will not put up with that.
That is why Labour will launch the most ambitious school improvement plan in a generation. Not walking round the problem, but fixing it. Under Labour, education will recover. But education needs to do more than just recover. It needs to be pointed in the direction I took from my dad. Towards skills. Towards work. Employers in all sectors tell me that they need well-rounded young people. Young people skilled in life. Ready for work. Young people who can communicate and work in a team. That’s why it’s stupid to allow theatre, drama and music to collapse in state schools.
We want every child to get the chance to play competitive sport and play an instrument. When I was at school, I had music lessons with Fat Boy Slim I can’t promise that for everyone. Not even in Brighton. But I can promise that Labour, as the name tells you, will make a priority of getting this country ready for work. That’s why we will focus on practical life skills. We will reinstate two weeks of compulsory work experience and we will guarantee that every young person gets to see a careers advisor. But young people won’t be ready for work or ready for life unless they are literate in the technology of the day.
Fewer than half of British employers believe young people have the right digital skills. We do much worse in computer skills than most of our economic rivals. That is why Labour will write a curriculum for tomorrow. Reading, writing and arithmetic are the three pillars of any education. We would add a fourth which, sadly, does not begin with ‘r’. Digital skills. We need to ensure that every child emerges from school ready for work. And ready for life.
And as in health, so too in education we can work by the light of new technology. Machine learning can cater for individual work styles. Artificial intelligence can help tuition, especially for students with special needs. Cloud computing has brought the archive of the best that has been said and done to the handset of every student. There is so much possibility and all we have to do is to learn to adapt. I think my dad might appreciate the technical term that is used for this change. It is known in the trade as re-tooling. And what is the small Tory idea to respond to this change? They want to reintroduce Latin in state schools.
So, let me put this crisis in the only language that Boris Johnson will understand. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Finally, it is time to act, to educate our young citizens in the skills they need for work and the skills they need for life. A society that cares. An education system that fosters the skills. That’s the foundation of an economy that works. In his great study, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landis explains why Britain was home to the first industrial revolution. The perfect home for growth, said Landis, had responsive, honest government. I make no further comment about that.
It tended to favour the new over the old, enterprise over conservatism and it spread rewards evenly, to make the most of the talents of all the people. But the most important factor of all the lessons we need to re-learn was that Britain led the world in the technology of the day. The flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, the power loom. These inventions were once the wave of the future. In textiles, iron, energy and power, Britain was a pioneer. I know that with Labour we can do it again. But every day we waste, with a government with no industrial strategy we are falling further behind.
A scientific revolution is happening around us, but if we don’t have a government ready to remake the nation the opportunity will pass us by. Already too many people are shut out of economic reward. We once took it for granted that our children would enjoy more than their parents. This idea drove my mum and dad. It comforted them, that whatever the ups and downs of life they were living in and contributing to a better society.
But after ten years of the Tories, we have lost this. We have 5.7 million people in low-paid and insecure work. Workers in transport, care, education and the utilities. These were the people who kept the show on the road during the pandemic and their reward is continued low pay and job insecurity. The millennial generation, clustered in low-paying sectors will be the first generation to have lower lifetime earnings than the one which went before.
After a decade of the Conservatives, we have an economy with historically low rates of investment. Since 2010, in the investment league table out of 170 nations, Britain comes in a miserable 150th. Labour will work with sectors in which we are strong. Pharmaceuticals, materials, defence, chemical engineering, consumer goods environmental technology, transport and biotechnology. Under Labour’s Buy, Make, Sell in Britain programme, there will be more local procurement. The towns that were the crucibles of the original industrial revolution need to be revived in the next. The coal and cotton towns of Lancashire, the wool towns of Yorkshire, the great maritime and fishing economies of our seaports. These places made Britain the envy of the world. We cannot make the nation we want without them.
The lesson is that a secure well-paid work force of skilled people in high-class work protected by good trade unions is not separate from good business. It’s the definition of good business. And good business and good government are partners. I have no doubt that the small businesses of this country are the next generation wealth creators. I want to see enterprising creative companies. I want to see them make a profit and employ more people. I want to create the conditions in which inventive small businesses can grow into inventive big businesses.
But we don’t give ourselves the best chance. I have lost count of how many business leaders have told me that they wish their time horizon could be longer. So, when I say that Labour pledges to change the priority duty of directors to make the long-term success of the company the main priority, we will do so with the blessing of British business. A focus on the long-term will allow for better investments. Labour will make Britain a world leader in science and research and development. We will set a target to invest a minimum of 3% of GDP. This nation will not grow with the low-wages, low-standards and low-productivity of the Tories.
I’m determined to change this by investing in our businesses, by unleashing our creativity. By bringing forward the new deal for working people launched by Angela. This is how we remake our nation. The good society and the strong economy as partners without a good society we waste the talents of too many people. And without a strong economy, we cannot pay for the good society. Talk is cheap but progress isn’t. And if we want the permission to create the good society, we have to win trust that we will create a strong economy.
The economic inheritance from the Tories will be appalling. A botched Brexit followed by Covid has left a big hole. The government is learning that it is not enough to Get Brexit Done. You need a plan to make Brexit work. I do see a way forward after Brexit if we invest in our people and our places, if we deploy our technology cleverly and if we build the affordable homes we so desperately need. But the public finances we will inherit will need serious repair work.
I take the responsibility of spending your money very seriously. That’s why our approach to taxation will be governed by three principles. The greater part of the burden should not fall on working people. The balance between smaller and larger businesses should be fair. And we will chase down every penny to ensure that people working people, paying their taxes always get value for money. As Rachel said on Monday, all spending will be scrutinised by an Office for Value for Money. There will be no promises we can’t keep or commitments we can’t pay for.
Too often in the history of this party, our dream of the good society falls foul of the belief that we will not run a strong economy. But you don’t get one without the other, and under my leadership we are committed to both. I can promise you now Labour will be back in business. Let me give you an example of how this template can work. Let’s take the hardest question and the biggest issue of our time.
Climate change. Climate change. This is a question of security. It is a test of justice at a global scale. Climate change poses an existential threat. It will turn fertile terrain into desert land. Conflicts will break out over scarce resources like water. Millions will be displaced by flooding, forest fires and violent storms. Time is short and we have a duty to act. But the obligation shouldn’t daunt us. It should embolden us. Shifting the economy onto a sustainable path is full of promise for Britain.
Every time I enter a high-tech factory, I wonder what my dad would make of it. Not so long ago, we shaped metal by drilling it, milling it and turning it. I remember my dad working with a spark eroder submerging metal in liquid and using an electrical charge to shape it. We thought it was revolutionary at the time. But at Airbus recently, where they are developing the world’s first hydrogen wing, I saw them working with 3D engineering, literally shaping components by bringing together particles and matter in a way unimaginable in the factory my dad used to work in. I saw young apprentices, in a fully unionised factory proud of the skilled work they were doing. Their pride came from knowing they were at the heart of a revolution, building the next generation of hydrogen and battery planes. They felt like the pioneers of flight, perched on the edge of the cliff taking the risk, knowing that success for one of them would change the world.
In Scotland, I saw the great potential of wind power at Whitelee Windfarm. Yet, of the 250 wind turbines at Whitelee, not one was made in Britain. From their manufacturing base in Fife, the workforce can see the turbines literally being towed in from places such as Indonesia. The next generation of deep-sea wind turbines could be our opportunity. Skilled engineering, off-shore work, sectors where we could lead the world, if only we had a government willing to lead.
Public funding was an important component of so many inventions – the personal computer, the internet, the iPhone. If only we funded science seriously we could make a historic contribution to the battle against climate change. Action is needed. Not in the future, but now. If we delay action by a decade the costs of climate transition will double.
This urgency is why Labour will bring forward a Green New Deal, our Green New Deal will include a Climate Investment Pledge to put us back on track to cut the substantial majority of emissions this decade. If we are serious about climate change, we will need to upgrade our homes. The Tories inherited plans from Labour to make every new home zero carbon. They scrapped them and now we have a crisis in energy prices emissions from homes have increased and we have the least energy-efficient housing in Europe.
So it will be Labour’s national mission over the next decade, to fit out every home that needs it, to make sure it is warm, well-insulated and costs less to heat and we will create thousands of jobs in the process. I can also pledge that we will also introduce a Clean Air Act and everything we do in government will have to meet a “net zero” test to ensure that the prosperity we enjoy does not come at the cost of the climate. And that’s why on Monday, Rachel set out her ambition to become Britain’s first green Chancellor, committing the next Labour government to an additional £28bn of capital investment in our country’s green transition for each and every year of this decade.
Like those pioneers in flight, and like those young engineers working on the next generation plane, we have it within our grasp to make a historic difference, we have it within our grasp to be the change we need in the world. After a decade of Tory government, how we need that change. Under the Tories, wages have fallen in every English region. Local government has been cut to the bone, more than half a million more children live in poverty and so do half a million more pensioners. For the first time in decades, life expectancy has stalled. And, after all that, the Tories expect us to believe that levelling up is more than a slogan. Well, let me offer the Conservative Party a lesson in levelling up.
If they want to know how to do it, I suggest they take a look at our record the last time we were in government – hospital waits down, GCSE results up, 44,000 more doctors, 89,000 new nurses, child poverty down one million, pensioner poverty down one million, rough sleepers down 75%, a National Minimum Wage and the OECD said that no nation had a bigger rise in social mobility than Britain. You want levelling up? That’s levelling up. You can see the benefit of Labour in power today, too. Look at what our fantastic metro mayors, mayors and local authority leaders are doing, and let’s hear it for the difference Mark Drakeford and his team are making in Wales.
I believe in the union of the nations on these islands, but we have a cavalier government that is placing it in peril. Scotland is in the unfortunate position of having two bad governments – the Tories at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood. When Nicola Sturgeon took office, she said she wanted to be judged on her record. These days, with the poorest in society less well-educated and less healthy and the tragedy of so many drug-related deaths we hear rather less about the SNP’s record. The SNP and the Tories walk in lock step. They both exploit the constitutional divide for their own ends.
Labour is the party that wants to bring our nations together. Under the fantastic leadership of Anas Sarwar, Labour is the party of the union. Because it’s not just that divorce would be a costly disruption, though that is true. And it’s not just that our union is in all our economic interests, though that is also true. It’s that we are more progressive together. We are more secure together. We are a bigger presence in the world together. We are greater as Britain than we would be apart. As Gordon Brown said recently: “When a Welsh or a Scottish woman gives blood… she doesn’t demand an assurance it must not go to an English patient.”
I am delighted that Gordon will lead our commission to settle the future of the union. And I know Gordon believes that, if you look past the Tories’ pathetic attempts to divide us in a culture war, you can glimpse a tolerant, progressive nation of which we can be proud. I believe that our diversity is one of the things that makes this country great.
As this country continues to change, as we slowly liberate the talents of more people, as we name and tackle discrimination, as we make a better place for people with disabilities, I believe we grow as a country. When the government ignored Marcus Rashford’s campaign on school meals, I was shocked. But I couldn’t believe it when Rashford and the England team took the knee to highlight and condemn the racism they have had to endure, the Home Secretary encouraged people to boo.
Well, here in this conference hall, we are patriots. When we discuss the fine young men and women who represent all our nations, we don’t boo. We get to our feet and cheer. Let me say a word, too, about another band of great British men and women. Our military put themselves in harm’s way to protect our security. I am proud of them and proud of the work they did for us in Afghanistan. It grieves me to see Britain isolated and irrelevant. Labour is the party of NATO, the party of international alliances. Under Labour, we will rebuild our alliances, we will mend broken relationships and we will do right by the great Britons who serve in our armed forces.
I can see the ways in which we can remake this nation and that’s what we get to do when we win. Yet, in a way, the more we expose the inadequacy of this government, the more it presses the question back on us. If they are so bad, what does it say about us? Because after all in 2019 we lost to them, and we lost badly. I know that hurts each and every one of you.
So, let’s get totally serious about this – we can win the next election. This government can’t keep the fuel flowing, it can’t keep the shelves stocked and you’ve seen what happens when Boris Johnson wants more money – he goes straight for the wallets of working people. Labour is the party that is on the side of working people. So, imagine waking up the morning after the next election in the knowledge that you could start to write the next chapter in our nation’s history, bending it towards the values that bring us, year after year to this conference hall to seek a better way. Proud in the knowledge that you were part of it.
I have loved my first full conference as leader but I don’t want to go through the same routine every year. In a few short years from now I want to be here with you talking about the difference we are making, the problems we are fixing as a Labour government. That is what this party is for. That’s the object of the exercise and as the leader of this party I will always have that eye-on-the-object look. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look. This is a big moment, a time of rapid change. The first pandemic in a century, the aftermath of Brexit to sort out, the urgent claim of the climate.
Then our own domestic questions: providing a secure job that pays a decent wage, a good school nearby, health and social care you can rely on, a home you can afford. This is a big moment that demands leadership. Leadership founded on the principles that have informed my life and with which I honour where I have come from. Work. Care. Equality. Security. I think of these values as British values. I think of them as the values that take you right to the heart of the British public. That is where this party must always be. And I think of these values as my heirloom. The word loom, from which that idea comes, is another word for tool.
Work. Care. Equality. Security. These are the tools of my trade. And with them I will go to work.