Below is the text of the speech made by Harriet Harman, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, on 3rd June 2010 to the UNITE Conference.
It is pleasure to be here at Unite’s first ever policy conference and to address you in my capacity as the Labour Party’s acting leader. Not a caretaker – but Labour’s active acting leader.
We are in opposition but not demoralised.
We meet today with Labour being in opposition. And I want to start by saying something about the election result.
We knew it was always going to be a massive challenge to win again after already being in government for 3 terms. That task was made even harder by people’s fears about their jobs and future because of the recession, the scandal of the political expenses, Ashcroft’s millions going to Tory candidates in marginal seats – all of that gave us a mountain to climb.
When the General Election was called Tory MPs told me that – having revised down their expectations – they would be back in government with a majority of 40 seats.
But we campaigned together, determined and united and though we didn’t win, we denied the Tories the overall majority which they thought was theirs by right. And we sent the message to the BNP – there is no place in this country for your racism and division.
And we could not have done that without Unite’s support. At national level, at regional level, at local level – Unite backed us all the way.
We are bitterly disappointed to be out of government but we are not demoralised we are determined. We didn’t achieve the result we hoped for, but our battling performance did deny the Conservatives the majority they craved and the opportunity to implement their policies in full.
The hard work that you and your Unite members put in – knocking on doors, taking our message into your workplaces and providing vital resources – secured the re-election of many Labour MPs, often in the face of overwhelming odds.
Every one of those MPs is one more Labour MP committed to defending the jobs and public services that you and your members depend on. It is also one less Tory MP willing to gamble with the recovery and strip away your hard won rights.
Proud of our legacy. Will not oppose for the sake of it but we will defend jobs and vital public services. Though we are in opposition, we will be an effective opposition. We will not oppose for the sake of it. That’s not what the public wants. But, we will not pull our punches. Though we are in opposition, we will be powerful in the public interest.
We will be determined – to prevent unfairness.
We will speak up – for the public services that matter.
We will be vigilant – protecting jobs and businesses.
We will fight in Parliament and local government, in Scotland, Wales and the London Assembly, to advance the cause of working people throughout the country.
And, as important, we will reflect on what people were telling us at the last election, not just those who voted for us but those who didn’t, because though they want to be able to look to Labour to understand their lives and be on their side, they felt that we were not.
Rebuilding and reconnecting labour. Rebuilding and renewing Labour is an important task and we must listen and learn. Our biggest loss of support was from hard-working families who, worried about housing and jobs, felt insecure and concerned about immigration.
Now there is our chance to debate these issues throughout the party and through the contest for the next Labour leader.
Leadership contest. Over the next few months with our labour party members and our trade union supporters, 4 million people will have the chance to help shape Britain’s progressive future by choosing the next leader of the Labour party. This will be the biggest election – by a mile – in any political party or any organisation in this country. This is not the block vote – this is about millions of trade union members – people at work in of thousands of workplaces up and down the country – each one of them having a vote. There has been a lot of discussion about how we can have the widest possible involvement in this leadership election. My view is that the votes of our trade union affiliates are just that.
– from bus drivers to builders;
– car workers to care workers
– nuclear workers to nurses
– ship builders to social workers
– and in the food industry – workers who provide our food from plough to plate.
With the extraordinary breadth of our affiliated supporters, as well as our members, this leadership election is crucial opportunity for the Labour party to reflect, renew itself and re-engage with the people of Britain.
The contest will be open engaging and energising. It will be a chance to invite supporters to join the party to have a vote.
This debate will involve Labour party members, supporters in our affiliated trade unions and the wider the public. This leadership contest is Labour’s opportunity to take forward the rebuilding for our party for the future challenges ahead.
Over the coming months the candidates will meet thousands of people in meetings across the country. I hope you will organise, and invite them to, events in your workplaces. And they will be taking part in innovative on-line discussions. And no doubt they will be tweeting – following your leadership, Derek.
Labour members and supporters will be looking to choose someone who can be our next Prime Minister. But they will be choosing someone who will be leader of our party – and first off, will be leader of the opposition. So they will expect to see how our leadership candidates show how they
– Can inspire the activists
– Encourage more people to join as members
– Raise money for the party
– Respect the democracy of the party
– Lead the whole of Labour’s great team – in parliament, in Scotland and Wales, in local government and in our Trade Union affiliates
– They will need to land blows on the Tory/Lib/dem coalition government.
– And our party will look to the new leader to defend the legacy of our Labour government with pride and protect the advances we have made.
Our legacy. Our political opponents will make a determined effort to denigrate everything we did. We will not let them.
For every child who – instead of being cooped up in a flat – is playing in a brand new children’s centre, that is our legacy.
For every patient who instead of waiting in pain is cared for by doctors and nurses in a brand new hospital – that is our legacy.
For every villager in Africa whose life has been transformed by cancelling third world debt – that is our legacy.
That is Labour’s legacy – that is your legacy and that is Gordon’s legacy too and we should never forget that.
Women out of the shadows
And I hope our leadership candidates will join me in ensuring that Labour women are no longer kept in the shadows.
We have 81 Labour women MPs – more than all the other parties put together. Labour is the only party in parliament which speaks up for women in this country. We have some excellent experienced women and some brilliant new women MPs. We still do have twice as many men MPs as women. The labour men are great – but they are not twice as good as the women – so I want the PLP when we revise our rules for shadow cabinet elections to have 50.50 men and women in the shadow. It’s time for Labour women to step out of the shadows.
The new leader will be unveiled at the start of this year’s annual Labour Party conference on Saturday 25th Sept and that will be a major step forward for us.
Derek and Tony. This is Unite’s first policy conference – but it will be Tony and Derek’s last as joint General Secretary. And I want to pay a warm personal tribute to both of you.
Derek, you rose to be elected leader of Amicus – but you started work at only 15 years old as an apprentice engineer in Sheffield.
Tony, you rose to be elected leader of the TGWU – but you too started work at only 15 as a steward for the Ocean Steam ship company.
Together, you represent one and half million working men and women from all parts of the UK and Ireland and just about every sector of industry and the public services:
You represent men and women with all kinds of skills from all over the county. Good men and women who achieve remarkable things, often in very difficult working conditions.
Like the twilight army who clean the bankers’ offices in Canary Wharf who helped highlight the need for a London Living Wage.
Your members are the backbone of our economy and our society, and you both have been stalwarts of the Labour Party.
I thank you for what you have both done over so many years and for what you have achieved on behalf of the working people you serve.
Finally I know that we were all bitterly disappointed that Labour is out of government. We lost the election but we are not going to lose our determination and our spirit.
I know that people at work fear for their future under the new Government.
But we will stand together.
We will defend hard- working people
We will defend vital public services and together we will pave for the way for a better future.