I’m delighted to be here in Wales with so many friends and wonderful Labour Party people.
And to join you on this important day of debate and discussion and motivation at an important time
Time when because of the global recession, people are afraid for their future
Time when Labour in government and local government has stepped in to take bold action
Time when divide between Labour and the Tories has never been starker and clearer
Time when we face – on June 4th – the European elections. Which are important elections in their own right but are also the curtain raiser for the General Election.
We will face these big challenges with unity and with determination because of our values and because of our principles.
And every part of Labour’s team has a major part to play in facing these big challenges
Our whole team – like the whole Wales Labour team that is here today
Party activists – like Pat Brunker
Our Members of the Welsh Assembly – under the brilliant leadership of Rhodri. Rhodri, everyone in Wales knows you and more importantly feels that you know them. You are their voice
Our MPs and Ministers – and Paul Murphy is a clear and constant advocate for Wales not just in Cabinet but particularly on the National Economic Council. Just as Chris Ruane and our Welsh MPs are in Parliament
Our local councillors. You have had to struggle and I know that you have worked hard to move on from the set-back last May.
Our trade unionists – and I want to thank Andy Richards who co-ordinates our trade union team in Wales. The Trade unions are a vital part of Labour’s team and have always stood with us through thick and thin.
A particularly important part of our team as we go forward to June 4th is our MEPs, Eluned and Glenys and our MEP candidates – and I want to pay tribute to Glenys Kinnock who has blazed a trail, for women, for Wales, for international development, for Labour, who is a dear friend and who is leaving Europe but will continue to make a huge contribution.
It is the whole party – supported by Chris Roberts and our hard-working party staff – that will not only keep us strong in these difficult times but shape our future.
Charting the way forward should never and never could be the preserve of government.
The party is the engine of progress. And the party in Wales before Neil Kinnock and since have played a major part.
I know that as Labour in Wales, you are proud of our achievements in government, your achievements in Wales in the Assembly and in local government. But I hope you will be bold and demanding and insistent for the future.
I know that you will support the party but that you will challenge it too.
When I first joined the party in my twenties I joined because I knew and supported what it stood for – particularly on equality and social justice. But I didn’t think it walked the talk. It needed to change fundamentally – particularly to listen to, and include women alongside men. And working with other young people, young women in the party and in the Trade Union movement, we worked together and changed the party for good.
We must be sure that the next generation is the generation who will be the agents of change for the future and that is what is important about today and about all your work.
This conference comes at a time of unprecedented change. The global banking system is in crisis and its ripples reach all around the world and to Wales.
We believe that when the market fails and people are threatened – that is the time for the public sector, for the government, to act. We believe that – in a recession -when private sector construction freezes – that is the time for public sector construction projects to be brought forward.
We believe that when people’s jobs are threatened the government must intervene to get the banks lending, to give help to threatened industries, to protect those who lose their job from losing their home as well, and to help them get retrained and back into work as soon as possible.
We believe that we need to invest so that when the economy grows we are set to take advantage of it with a green, digital, highly skilled economy.
And we believe that to do this we have to allow public borrowing to rise and that public spending now will help ensure that the recession is as short and shallow as possible.
We believe that fairness and equality is necessary and that when it comes to paying back the public debt those who have most should contribute most – so in his Budget this week, Alasdair Darling announced a new top rate of tax of 50% on income over £150,000 We believe that much of the growth in the future will be generated in the emerging markets and the developing world. On humanitarian grounds we need to protect them – with our Aid budget – from the effect of the recession – but for the sake of the world economy we need to help them grow for the future.
We believe that we need to act here at home – but also to act together internationally. This is a global economic crisis which – particularly on regulation of the banks and financial services – requires global as well as national action. This would be the very worst time to turn inwards, resort to narrow nationalism and put up trade barriers. That’s why Gordon’s leadership of the G20 is so vital.
The Tories would do the opposite
All this is the polar opposite to the Tories.
They would cut public investment They would turn inwards – against Europe and the rest of the world They would cut help to the unemployed They would cut taxes for the richest – with inheritance tax cuts of £200,000 each for the richest 3,000 people They would have let the recession take its course and let the suffering of the unemployed be a price worth paying. Their approach would have been both disastrous and heartless.
And I feel that we can all be proud of Gordon’s leadership on the economy and his championing of fairness and equality. In such contrast the inconsistency and tactical manouevering of Cameron’s Tories.
And as for Cameron’s recent visit to Wales – what he calls “the Principality” – I understand that he left pledging to cut the number of Welsh MPs by 10 and boasted that the Tories now had a Tory councillor in the Rhondda. Chris Bryant – my brilliant deputy as leader of the House of Commons – tells me that the people of the Rhondda have much more sense than that and that Rhondda is a Tory-free zone.
Working together, Labour in Wales, in government, in the European parliament, we have made progress.
We can see that in every neighbourhood, in the schools, hospitals, in people’s living standards. We should be proud of that.
We have a national minimum wage
In my constituency there are now 3 times more young people going into further and higher education than there were in 1997.
Disabled people have legal rights and gay and lesbian partnerships can now be recognised in law.
Maternity pay and leave is doubled and the number of childcare places have doubled.
But there are people saying – now is the time to draw back on our quest for fairness, opportunity and equality. At least “put it on the back burner”.
But I think that when times are hard, fairness is even more important.
And I think when we look for hope for the future – it is a fair society with opportunities for all, that people want.
So we did go ahead – earlier this month – with rights for all parents of children up to 16 to request flexible work to help them balance their work with their very important family responsibilities.
And on Monday we will introduce our new Equality Bill.
The Bill will
Take a step forward on equal pay. Women are half the workforce yet still paid less than men. In the past it’s been left to the woman to complain. But its not about her – its about pay discrimination. It should be left for her to complain it should be for the employer to explain if pay is unequal and that is why we have included in the Bill mandatory pay reporting.
The Bill makes public procurement an important lever for equality. We will use the power of public spending as the public sector contracts with the private sector to widen opportunities and promote equality.
And the Bill also takes a new, bold step, to tackle the great inequality which is based on class, on family background. It sets a new duty on all public authorities when they are making strategic decisions they must ask themselves – “how can we do this so that we narrow the gap between rich and poor?” and I am proud that the Welsh administration has chosed to take powers under this part of the Bill to drive that duty through strategic public authorities in Wales.
This Bill is the work of all those who’ve struggled for equality – women like Julie Morgan and like my committed parliamentary aide, Nia Griffith.
Our argument is that fairness and equality is important not just for the individual but also for the economy and society.
Equality and fairness is necessary for a meritocracy. It is backward looking societies which are characterised by rigid hierarchies, women knowing their place and oppression of gays and lesbians.
When we see unfairness and inequality – we take action.
So this is not turning the clock back – it is looking to the future.
Our Labour team faces a big test on June 4th when everyone will have a vote in the elections for the European parliament. We need every vote out. Every vote will count. This is about electing a key part of Labour’s team – our Euro MPs.
This is about the importance of European funds helping the Welsh Economy. Its about the Welsh jobs that depend on our trade in Europe. It’s about the environment and about cross-border security.
And it is only by working together in Government, in local government, in the Assembly and in Europe that we can deliver for people.
Of course we need to be on the doorstep, on the phone. That’s the way to show that we are on people’s side
Thank you all for your work
I hope that you will continue to be energetic, idealistic and ambitious and confident.
I, for my part, promise that I will
Work side by side with you here in Wales.
Continue my unswerving support for Gordon Brown and
Leave no stone unturned in campaigning to win the next General Election
And I look forward to us working together in the demanding and important time ahead.