Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Speech to the Fabian Dinner 7th July 2010


Wednesday, 07 July 2010





Good evening and it's a great pleasure to be here tonight and to be here at the Fabian's first summer gala dinner and to see so many friends, colleagues and comrades.


Something about the Fabians and Sunder


The Fabian society as well as helping found the Labour party has played a big role in shaping progressive politics and the Labour party over the last 125 years.


Fabians have always been at the forefront of debate, celebrating our achievements but always asking the question 'where next' in our common pursuit of a more fair and equal society as we take forward our progressive values.


The Fabians have reached out to people through their local societies, helping take the political debate out beyond Westminster.


And of course, the Fabians have always had a feisty feminist side. Long before women won the vote, Fabian women were at the forefront of the arguments for gender equality. - forming the first Fabian Women's Group in 1908.  I remember attending the launch in 2005 of the new Fabian Women's network that Seema Malhotra set up.  Anyone who was there would never forget it - it was packed and buzzing and baking hot. 


And it's going from strength to strength. Which is just as well because though we have achieved a great deal - a new Equality Act and a higher percentage of women in the plp than ever before - we are still not yet on equal terms and our next challenge is to make our new shadow cabinet - our cabinet-in-waiting - 50/50 men and women.  The spirit of the times amongst women - and this is irrespective of whether you are in Scotland ,Wales or England, whether you are working class or middle class - the spirit of the times is for women to be equal and for women and men to work together on equal terms.  


And I'm delighted that you have at the helm - Sunder Katwalla.  Sunder is prolific.  Over the years he's led the Fabians - he's become a prolific tweeter and a prolific blogger. He's generated, and provided a catalyst for new ideas. And he's managed to have three children. Sunder proves that you can be incredibly clever without being arrogant.  And it is a pleasure to work with you.


Which is just as well, as The Fabian's have an an important role now as we look ahead to rebuilding the party and reshaping our policies for the future.




So, here we are, out of government for the first time in 13 years and faced with the prospect of a government determined to use the deficit in the public finances an excuse for a thoroughly right-wing agenda.


You might expect us to be demoralised.  You might expect us to turn in on ourselves.  You might fear that we would descend into an orgy of blame about the past.


And yet all of you can sense that that is the opposite of what is happening.  Of course we are deeply disspapointed at losing the election.  Of course we must learn lessons from the past.


But, there is a remarkable spirit of unity and determination in the face of adversity. We are outward facing, determined to be a responsible and effective opposition and we are in good heart and good spirits.   I have never seen anything like it in my 30 years in front-line politics.


Its due to a number of things - all interconnected.


  • We deprived the Tories of an overall majority and do not have to face our worst nightmare of a Tory landslide.
  • There is clearly no unity of purpose or principle lying behind the government partnership between the Tories and the Lib/dems. Their incoherence and their lack of shared values contrasted with us, only makes us feel stronger.
  • We have a dynamic new team in the PLP. Because so many Labour MPs stood down at the last election, a quarter of our MPs are new - and instead of being nervous apprentices waiting in the wings they have thrown themselves in to parliament and the PLP with great vigour and confidence. They are a breath of fresh air and they have been enthusiastically welcomed by the more experienced hands. This is not an intake which is keeping its head down and learning the ropes. From all around the country, these are confident men and women who expect to blaze a trail and make a difference straight away - and they are.
  • And one of the most exciting things that has occurred since the election is that we have a massive increase in people joining the Labour party. Clearly, the sight of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the Rose Garden of No 10 had a stunning effect. It was the catalyst for a surge of new members into the Labour party. More than 21,000 have joined since polling day and it's still going strong.



Unprecedented surge in new members


This surge in new members is unprecedented I want to tell you who these newcomers are because they are going to change our party for good and we are going to change as we welcome them.


Half of them are people who have voted Labour but who now feel strongly that voting is not enough. They now feel moved to join and play their part in helping get Labour back in Government.


A third of them are people who voted Lib/Dem - either because they supported the Lib/Dems as a progressive party, or because they were voting Lib/Dem to keep the Tories out and are dismayed that their vote has helped put the tories in.  They are joining us to put that right.


And 10% of them are labour voters joining to vote in the leadership election.


Members are joining across Scotland, Wales and England.


30% of them are under 30. and 80% are joining us on the web.


New political movement


They are a new political movement and in some ways they are like the people who join a single issue movement to make change and to play their part.  Like the people who joined Make Poverty History or Friends of the Earth.  But their single issue is to get the Tory Lib/Dem government out and to be Labour.


So when you read the polls that show that the majority of people like the idea of a coalition government and are pleased to see political parties working together.  Remember that their views will change as the Tory cuts take effect and jobs are lost and their public services hit.  And there are hundreds of thousands of people who feel very differently from what the polls tell us and are not prepared to sit back and wait till the next general election to vote but are determined to do something about it now.


They are joining out of a deep rooted belief and out of commitment to progressive values.


We're calling then Club 2010 - not to be confused with Club 18-30 or Club Tropicana.


This is a huge boost but it's also a big challenge for the Labour party. We are not sitting back and simply observing this phenomenon - we are responding to it enthusiastically.


Responding to this surge


Labour MPs are holding new members meetings up and down the country.


We're bringing the new members together

  • like in London, East Ham meeting last week with more than 450 new members
  • like at the Cardiff hustings
  • like in Birmingham - where they are having a new members meeting
  • I have 100 new members in my constituency will be having a reception for them


We are mobilising activists - old and new - against the unfairness and broken promise of the VAT increase. Then, it will be to make a massive impact in Scotland and Wales in next May's elections. 




Our first and most immediate target is to get the Lib/Dems to vote against the VAT increase. It is a broken promise. The Lid/Dems campaigned against it and it will particularly hit pensioners hard. Pensioners won't get the benefit of the increase in personal tax allowances - that only goes to people in work.  And yet they will pay the VAT increase; so we will force a vote next week in the House of Commons. And all around the country labour councillors are taking resolutions to local councils so that Lib/Dems Councillors will have to show where they really stand on the VAT increase.  Do they stand with the people who elected them or with their Lib/Dem MPs who are breaking their promises?





We are mobilising our Labour movement to speak up for jobs, public services and to campaign against the Tory Lib/Dem Government taking decisions which could harm economic growth.


Yes, deficits must be reduced - and we had a robust plan to do that - but we must not risk undermining the fragile economic recovery which is what their budget does.


Theirs is a budget based on rewritten history and false excuses.

They say there is no alternative, but the truth is - this is what they want.


Their plans are not driven by economics. They are driven by ideology - their commitment to a smaller state. [budget speech]


We are mobilising every part of the Labour team - our members and activists, MPs, Councillors, members in the Welsh Assembly, the GLA and the Scottish Parliament - to campaign to protect people from the wrong choices that the Tories and Lib/Dems would make. 


The reality is that

  • you do not get borrowing down by pulling the plug on support for business
  • You do not get borrowing down by throwing people out of work and onto the dole
  • You do not get borrowing down by stifling economic growth


Policy making


As well as campaigning, the new members will need to have a big say in future policy making.  They know that the party will be looking afresh at the direction we will be going in and the policies to underpin our values and they clearly want and must get a big say - as must all party members. The new members, especially, will not be prepared to be told top down what our new policies will be. They of course will have reflections on the party but they do not join us with any particular agenda - they are not sectarian. They want to help us shape a progressive future not just for the Labour movement - but for the country.




This has been an extraordinary period for British politics and for the labour party. We may have been defeated in the election, but we are not defeated in our spirit. We are  united and determined to rebuild and renew.


There is an emerging political movement happening amongst progressives in Britain. They see that the Tory Lid/Dem government has no mandate. They see there's a big difference between what they thought they voted for and what they ended up with - and they just aren't comfortable with it.


They are coming to join Labour because they reject the Tory Lib/Dem government and because they see Labour as their vehicle for progressive, value driven change.  


We will build on this incredible surge of positive energy and enthusiasm from our new MPs and from our new members. They are the shot in the arm we need to mobilise, organise and revitalise.


Let's all continue to work together to fight against poverty, fight for fairness and fight for those who need our help most.


Labour's fight back has begun.





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