Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Cooperative Party Conference 2010

On Saturday 11th September I addressed the Co-operative Party Conference in Cardiff.

Check Against Delivery

I would like to start by recording our gratitude for the contribution that the Co-operative Party has made to the work of our movement over many decades and, in particular, your outstanding efforts  in the general election campaign earlier this year.

Whether it was Gareth Thomas in Harrow West,  Linda Riordan in Halifax, or Geraint Davies here in Wales (Swansea West), Co-operative candidates fought off the Conservative challenge against difficult odds.

 I congratulate them and the other twenty-five Co-operative and Labour MPs returned to Parliament and thank the Co-operative societies that support your party - Chelmsford Star, East of England, Mid-Counties, Midlands, Scotmid, the Co-op Forum (NI) and the Co-operative Group.

I want to pay tribute to David Taylor MP, who sadly passed away last December. He is greatly missed.

And I would also like to thank the former Co-operative and Labour MPs - those who retired and those who unfortunately lost their seats.  We will always be grateful for their service.

It is a great pleasure to address your conference today as acting Leader of the Labour Party.

When Labour lost the General election, it was a daunting responsibility, taking over as leader of the Labour party as Labour left office after 13 years in government.

But it is gratifying to be able to look forward to handing over to the new leader later this month,

  • after a vigorous and searching leadership election ,
  • with the party invigorated by more than 30,000 new members,
  • with Labour in parliament already proving ourselves to be an effective and responsible opposition.
  • And as our fightback in local council by-elections has seen us pull ahead of the Tories. After Thursday's council elections in Norwich and Exeter - the largest voting test since the general election and the formation of the new government - which saw us gain from both the Tories and the Lib/dems, the votes cast in all by-elections since May 6th are Labour 41,679, Tories 34,491 and the Libdems 25,083.

 There can be no doubt about it - Labour is fighting back,

 Disappointed to be out of office. We did much but more to do

 There is no doubt that we are dismayed to be out of government.  This is a difficult time for the country.  The economy is only just growing again after it was hit by the global economic crisis.  Our schools and hospitals are greatly improved since Labour came to office - but there is still much further to go.  Many children and pensioners have been brought out of poverty - but there are still too many families who have to struggle to make ends meet. 

The very worst thing for families and communities, for both the public sector and the private sector is the extent to which the government is cutting back public investment.  In the wake of the global recession, unemployment is still too high.  Axing the future jobs fund which guarantees work or training for young people is heartless and short-sighted.  It abandons young people just when they are starting out.  Some will find it hard ever to get onto the career ladder. 

There is no justification for the Tory/libdem government ending our patient guarantees about maximum waiting times.  Our guarantee that those suspected to have cancer will see a specialist within one week and have their test result within 2 weeks was important not just to help alleviate patients' anxiety but also because we know that the sooner cancer is diagnosed and treatment started, the better the outcome.  In government we set up the Building Schools for the Future programme - in opposition  we are  campaigning vigorously alongside local councils, parents and teachers to protest against more than 700 new school building projects being axed.

So we will stand alongside local communities as they fight to protect their schools, we will stand alongside those in manufacturing who fight to protect jobs and we will expose the unfairness of the Tory/libdem government as they make those who can least afford it bear the brunt of the recession caused by excess in the financial services sector. 

We will determinedly and forensically expose the ideological approach on which the Tory/libdem cuts are based.  The government say that the cuts in public spending are necessary because of the position of the public finances when Labour left office.  Of course the public finances had to take the strain when the recession hit. When people lost their jobs in the recession it meant more unemployment benefit being paid out and less income tax coming in.  Corporation tax receipts fell and with fewer houses bought and sold there has been less money coming in to the Treasury in stamp duty.  But above all it was necessary to draw on the public purse to carry on with the building projects which provide jobs and keep local companies afloat and to provide the vital funds which businesses, big and small, needed to tide them over.  

The Tories have announced cuts £40b higher over the life of the Parliament than the deficit reduction plan in Alistair Darling's last budget.  But these Tory/libdem cuts are not unavoidable and they are not an economic necessity.  They are an ideological choice from the Tories who have always been hostile to public investment and public services. The proof that the Tory cuts are ideological is that they refuse to change their plans even when the economic evidence shows they are cutting too deep and too fast.

And we will expose the broken promises and  unfairness of the Tory/lib dem government.  Before the election the Tories denied they would increase VAT and the LIbdems campaigned against a VAT increase.  Yet they have put up VAT and it takes effect in Jan next year. The Tory chancellor promised that he would not "balance the budget on the backs of the poor".  That is another broken promise.  The budget measures will hit the poor hardest - The reasons for this are painfully clear.

  • The rise in VAT to 20% will hit low and middle income families hardest because they spend a larger proportion of their income than the wealthy.

 

  • Cuts in benefits, child support and tax credits will hurt those who need support the most.

 

  • The freeze in public sector pay, combined with redundancies and cuts to the future jobs fund will deprive many people of their incomes.

 

  • And as Shelter has pointed out, cuts in housing benefit will push the families of 54,000 children below the minimum income guarantee.

And George Osborne's latest announcement of another £4b cut from the welfare budget comes at the same time as the government is cutting the jobs for people to go to which will just increase the number of people on unemployment benefit and risk blighting a generation.

We will hold the government to account on their abandonment of fairness and equality.

The Tories have a twin track approach to justify public spending cuts - blame labour's management of the economy and argue that the vulnerable can be supported by a "big society".  The reality is that good public investment, grants and services help supports the fabric of communities.  Public spending on public services does not "crowd out" neighbourliness and community spirit any more than public investment to back up business "crowds out" private investment.  The reverse is true.  Communities need the support of the public services and industry thrives when government is on its side. 

If the biggest threat to the economy is the government cuts, the biggest threat to our democracy is the plans the government is driving through parliament to change constituencies.  This is blatant gerrymandering designed to rig the electoral map to give more seats to the Tories.  We are vigorously fighting these plans which would redraw the boundaries with over 3 and a half million people excluded from the electoral register.  The people most likely not to be registered are young people, private tenants, black and minority ethnic people and those who live in urban areas.  The Tories want to redraw the constituency boundaries based the electoral register as it will stand in December this year which will inevitable mean that those people will not be counted. 

You cannot have a fair drawing of constituency boundaries on the basis of unequal registration and the government should sort that out before they change the boundaries.  Just because these people are not on the electoral register doesn't mean they don't exit - they do.  We see them in our MP surgeries all the time and we see them being turned away at the polling stations.

We propose that should happen through a "presumption of registration" which would mean that even if people don't apply they will still be registered to vote. If the Tories have any democratic principles, that is what they should agree to.

This time last year the Tories crowed that they were on course for a landslide victory.  They did not achieve it .  Our candidates, party members and supporters up and down the country and in Scotland and Wales  prevented them forming a majority government.  This time last year the lib/dems posed as a progressive party.  Now their leaders are exposed as prepared to break all their promises and abandon all their principles in order to gain a handful of ministerial posts in a Tory government. They are being cynically used as a fig leaf for Tory ministers  setting about a right wing tory agenda.

In the face of the Tory cuts, and the lib/dem u-turns,  Labour members throughout the country are campaigning energetically and  making progress.  Our campaigning is boosted by the fastest increase in our membership that Labour has ever recorded.  32,411 new members joined Labour in the four months after May 6th.  Half of them are long-standing labour supporters who now feel that "voting is not enough" and they are joining us to help get rid of the government. A  third of our new members are former libdem  supporters who voted lib/dem because they believed they were a progressive, anti- Tory party and are now dismayed to find that the lib/dems are backing the Tories in government. And I hope even more Co-op party members will join all those of you who are already in the Labour partyAnd

Labour is already making progress in winning back public support.  In the votes cast in local council by-elections since May 6th we have now pulled ahead the Tories, reversing the 7% lead they had in the general election. And we are keeping the party finances on track. The party has brought in more money than it has spent in each of the last 3 years and we have halved our debts over the last 5 years.  We are still paying back the loans taken out before the 2005 election but the party finances are stable and strengthening.

Media commentators predicted that after an election defeat  Labour would turn inward and be riven by disunity.  The opposite is the case.  Though we lost some excellent MPs in the general election, we are invigorated by the arrival of nearly 70 talented new Labour MPs, with the highest percentage of women ever. They are a dynamic and determined voice in parliament and together with the shadow cabinet have stood united against the Tories and lib/dems.  And the leadership campaign has stimulated the start of our debate about the future as it has enabled thousands of members to meet and question our 5 leadership candidates.

The new leader takes over a party which is growing, determined, united and looking to the future.  After 5 months of leading the Labour party,  it will be my priviledge to serve the party once again in the role of deputy leader.  And it has been my priviledge to be here with you today.  Thank you.

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