Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Speech to North West Region Conference


NORTH WEST LABOUR PARTY REGIONAL CONFERENCE

23rd November 2008

 

Harriet Harman MP

 

 

Next week - with the Chancellor, Alastair Darling unveiling the economic measures in his Pre-Budget Report - next week is going to be another momentous week - in momentous times.

 

I'm glad to be here in the North West with you today to confirm to you in advance of Monday's statement -  

  • That the government is in no doubt about the importance of the North West economy
  • That we know that families and businesses need real help and they want it now
  • That the Labour government will not stand by, or find excuses to do nothing
  • And that we know that jobs, keeping people in work, getting people back into work, keeping the number of jobs available high - this is absolutely crucial.

 

Despite Robert Peston's nightly appearance on the BBC, not everyone is an expert economist so we have to explain to people what has caused the unprecedented global financial crisis -  in order to reassure people about how we will protect them and find the way through this crisis.

 

Our economy has been hit in three ways

  • the world becoming better off pushing up petrol
  • and food prices
  • and the collapse in confidence in the US finance market as they suddenly discovered that lending upon lending upon lending had no firm security underpinning it. And as the financial services industry is globally interconnected, when banks stopped lending to each other it hit banks and building societies here.

 

Everyone recognises - even the Americans - that this is how it happened.  Everyone that is, accept the Tories.  Who do two things.  They blame Labour for what has been caused internationally and has affected countries around the world.  And because ideologically they are against government action and intervention they would leave people stranded as the economic storm hits this country and that would be a terrible thing.    

 

The reality is that because of Gordon's management of the economy over the last decade we are better placed to face the international economic storm. 

 

We  face it

  • with higher levels of employment than we did, lower unemployment than before,
  • we are not saddled with the problems of high inflation and high interest rates
  • and because as well as putting more into schools, hospitals, police and the transport, we've paid off government debt we are in a position to let borrowing rise to back the economy up.

 

So, to help the economy we've

  • Protected the banks to stop the banks going under - which would have caused not just massive job losses in financial services but also further collapsed confidence. The Tories opposed what we did on Northern Rock and Brandford and Bingley but the reality is that it would have been catastrophic to stand by and do nothing.
  • The Bank of England has cut interest rates and we've pressed the banks to pass that cut on to businesses and homeowners.
  • And now we come to the Pre-budget report on Monday. - and the question of the "fiscal stimulus"

 

Ignore those who say that it's taking a risk.  The risk is much greater not to use government action to protect the economy, jobs and homes. If we do not take the necessary action it will mean more businesses going bust even more people thrown out of work. And that means not just a tragedy for every individual affected - it means less tax coming in, more unemployment payments going out and will cost the public purse much more in the long run.

 

The last thing we should be doing now is cutting back on important capital projects.  Quite the opposite. We need to bring forward the public projects which provide work and which provide the homes and the transport systems which are needed.

 

And that is not from any lack of prudence.   As Ruth Kelly said on Newsnight earlier this week.  Right now its prudent to be bold.

 

But it will be difficult times ahead.  If someone loses their job - immediately the worry starts.  Will I get another job, what will happen to our home?

 

And Labour values mean that

  • we will give people help - we won't tell them to get on their bike.
  • We will help people who become unemployed - for example by giving them help with their mortgage from 13 weeks instead of 39 weeks after they lose their job. - We won't say "if it isn't hurting it isn't working"
  • We will give them help to get their next job with retraining and job search help. We won't say that unemployment is a price worth paying.

 

And we will give most help to those who need it most.  Whilst the super rich bankers who contributed to this problem fall back on their cushion of their years of unjustifiable bonuses - downturns hit hardest at those who can least afford it and that will be our priority.

 

This need for government action and this need to protect the most vulnerable -  is felt all around the world. Everywhere except in David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet.  And it's part of what swept Obama to victory.

 

And we too can celebrate the victory of Barak Obama in the US.

  • Not just a great triumph for our sister party - the Democrats.
  • Not just a remarkable achievement of a great leader - Barak Obama.
  • But also a historic, resounding rejection of conservatism.

 

And we can celebrate our victory in the Glenrothes by-election.  It was Labour's values of fairness that gave us such a great victory in Glenrothes. We campaigned against the SNP increase in home help for the elderly from £4 a week to £11 an hour.  I want to pay tribute to everyone who having worked so hard in the Crewe by-election, dusted themselves off and surged up to Glenrothes -  all the Party staff, party members, MPs, Councillors and trade unionists from the North West who took part in that campaign - including a group of students from Universities across the North West who I had the pleasure of campaigning with up there.

 

That by-election reminded us that when we pull together as a team, when we highlight what we stand for - the voters will choose Labour.

 

And that's what we've got to do for the next election - the election on 4th June next year.  Every single elector in this region will have a vote.  It's the European elections and also elections for Lancashire and Cumbria councils.

 

The important thing is for us to have a campaign which is about delivering what people want - a stable and prosperous economy - peaceful safe communities - and sustainable environment.  And that everyone has a fair chance in the future.

 

So it will be Labour's team - at European level....and I want to pay tribute to Gary Titley for the work he's done for the region and for the party as leader of the EPLP.

Labour's team  - at national level - and North West Labour MPs play a leading part in the government and in the PLP.  With James, Andy  and Hazel in the cabinet, Tony Lloyd as chair of the PLP and Bev Hughes as the Regional Minister, Louise Elman as our new chair of the important Transport Select Committee....it will be labour's team at European level, national level and at local level all working together to back people up and to work for a more fair and equal society.

 

And it will be Labour's team not just in government and in parliament but the team as a whole -  in the unions, in local government and our members and our party staff - we are not rich in money terms but we are rich in the commitment and capability of our members and that's

 

And June 4th will be an important election to halt the advance of the racism and division of the BNP.  Every vote will count to increasing the threshold the BNP have to cross before they get an MEP.  We need to remind people that they should not risk staying at home just because its not a General Election.  Its important for everyone to stand up and be counted against the BNP.

 

 

I want to finish by returning to the issue of our values of fairness and equality.

 

You all know - up here in the North West - what we have done together to make this country a fairer and better place than when we came into government.  You see it all around you.  But you also see that there is much more to do.

 

That's why we will press on

  • with a new law to end child poverty,
  • new rights to flexible working for parents with children up to the age of 16,
  • new law to tackle discrimination and prejudice,
  • new plans to promote and increase social mobility to tackle the disadvantage which comes from the family you are born into or the place you are born.

 

And I want to thank

  • Barbara Keely MP for her work with me over the past year on the Equality Bill.
  • Sheila Murphy - who has been a fighter not just for this Region but for women in the party throughout the country - and best wishes for your future.

 

Thanks to all of you for the part you play in our great Labour Movement and in our Party.

  • We are determined
  • We are deeply rooted in our values and our beliefs
  • And we are confident that at the next General Election, when the time comes for the British people to make a choice - they will choose not the risk, and reaction and opportunism of the Tories, but they will choose the values and competence, fairness and prosperity - with team Labour.

 

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