John Prescott – 1996 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by John Prescott to the 1996 Labour Party Conference.

Well, what a week it’s been! The people are coming home to Labour. Labour coming home to government.

We’ve been away too long. And millions of people have paid the price for it. We’ve adopted the football song Coming Home. I hear that next week John Major is planning to revive his own 1966 football anthem.

But John, honestly, you can’t make the same impact with World Cup Willie.

But what a great conference we’ve had! Labour’s coming home, And coming together.

Bringing together all the strands in the party – old and new. Bringing together the politics of ideas and the politics of organisation. I told you it would work.

This week we’ve faced tough choices. Spoken the language of priorities. No more the party of Opposition but a government in waiting.

Counting the days and the weeks till we get rid of this Tory government.

Because this week will go down in history as the week when Labour – a party reborn, proud of its heritage, confident of its future, clearly proved it is ready for Government.

This week we have seen the team which will form the next Labour government. Led by Tony Blair, our great and sagacious leader. As I always call him.

Compare him with the Galloping Major running scared of Labour, running scared of his own MPs, running scared of an election. And most of all John Major is running scared of Tony Blair.

Because here is a man who leads from the front.

I’ll tell you what. It may be a bumpy ride at times, I know that well enough.

But Tony is a man who knows where he’s going. Who has a clear vision of where the country should be going too. Who strikes a chord with the British people. A man who deserves to be the next Prime Minister of this country.

You know, this week you can really feel the anticipation in the air. You can feel it running through conference.

What a contrast with next week when the Tories turn up in Bournemouth. I can’t wait, can you? The Tories are divided, desperate and dangerous. And they are up to their necks in sleaze.

What a miserable lot they are too, aren’t they? The only Tory worth backing to win at the moment is Frankie Dettori.

Just take a look at the gang in charge. John Major. He used to be a banker, you know. He must have worked for the No-one’s Listening Bank. No one listens to him in his own cabinet. No one listens to him in Europe. No one listens to him in Parliament.

But there’s more bad news for John Major. They’re closing his favourite eating-place. The Happy Eater. He’s so depressed. The Happy Eater was the only place he could get anyone to take his orders.

Then there’s Michael Heseltine, the man who advises firms to delay on paying their debts. They say as a politician he owes a lot to Churchill, but Winston’s still waiting for the payment.

He says the economy is bouncing back. But why are so many cheques doing the same?

Then there’s the Home Secretary Michael Howard, The man responsible for the rule of law. He’s up before the judges so often, he asks for his previous offences to be taken into consideration.

And finally there’s Major’s side-kick, Doctor Mawhinney, The Colonel Sanders of the Tory Party. Leading the chicken run.

There’s something you should know about Brian Mawhinney, in case you bump into him. He always get very ratty if you don’t call him Doctor. This began to puzzle me, since he’s the only doctor I’ve ever met who makes everyone feel sick.

I phoned the British Medical Association. They said they’d never heard of him. I began to think he isn’t a chicken at all. He’s a quack.

But then I thought, maybe he’s a spin doctor. But I checked with Peter Mandelson and he said: No he isn’t in the Union …Sorry, Association.

And then I thought, anyone who can turn a £17 million deficit into a £24 million surplus must be a Witch Doctor.

Or maybe he’s Doctor Doolittle. Talking to the animals with their snouts in the trough.

We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. The publics got to be protected.

But I tell you one thing. After the election, he’s going to be …. Doctor Who?

The best slogan he could think up for their conference next week is Life’s better under the Tories. Sounds to me like one of Steven Norris’s chat up lines.

Can you believe that this lot is in charge? Not for long, eh?

Then after 17 years of this Tory government, they have the audacity to talk about morality.

Did you hear John Major on the Today programme? – calling for ethics to come back into the political debate?

I’m told some Tory MPs think ethics is a county near Middlesex. It’s a bit hard to take: John Major – ethics man.

The Tories have redefined unemployment they have redefined poverty. Now they want to redefine morality.

For too many Tories, morality means not getting caught.

John Major’s argument is that cutting public spending and reducing tax is a moral issue.

And what a perverted definition of morality! It’s all about money in the pocket, isn’t it?

And we’ve heard an awful lot about money in the pockets of Tory MPs lately, haven’t we? I heard two Tory MPs talking last week about cash for questions. One said: What should we do about the Sleaze Bill? The other said: Get someone else to pay it.

Neil Hamilton, that Guardian of Tory morals, told the Deputy Prime Minister he had no financial relationship with a lobbying company. But now we hear he did take payments after all.

But will he resign? No. Tories never know when to say sorry. And if John Major is serious about morality, He should let Nolan look into party funding.

On Wednesday I called on John Major to join Labour to clean up British politics. Yesterday he said he’ll give evidence. Well I’m afraid that’s just not enough.

If Neil Hamilton has a shred of honour left in him, he should go and go now.

But John Major can’t afford to lose him, can he? Why? Because this man is his parliamentary majority of one. He is John Major’s immoral majority. And the silent majority have had enough of them.

Because let’s be clear, Morality is measured in more than just money. Its about right and wrong. its about values. its about fairness and it’s about social justice.

I’d like to ask John Major this: what morality is there ……. In one man making £34 million out of rail privatisation, when so many of our people live in poverty?

Where’s the morality in people being bussed from one hospital to another begging to be admitted?

Where’s the morality In record crime? In record unemployment? Record bankruptcies? Record poverty?

All the product of deliberate government policy. That’s what I call immoral.

And where’s the morality in 16 year old kids forced to sleep rough on the streets?

Do you know it’s 30 years since the film Cathy Come Home shocked this nation about the plight of the homeless?

And after 17 years of Tory government, there are thousands more like Cathy -record numbers of homeless people.

But don’t believe the Tory lie that nothing can be done. It’s time the nation was shocked again.

Because – what’s really immoral is this…. There’s £5 billion from council house sales locked up by the Tory government. There’s a quarter of a million building workers trapped in unemployment.

But the Tories refuse to bring them together. Labour will bring together the money, the people, the skills to meet the social need of our people.

Labour’s coming home. And when we are in government, Cathy can come home too.

That’s the moral difference between us and the Tories. There is an alternative. New Life for Britain our philosophy our priorities our programme for government.

It’s a radical document, It will make a real difference to the lives of ordinary people.

And we are not just asking you to sign up to it for the next few months. It’s for the first five years of a Labour government.

This programme shows we are a party with a heart. We will enthuse our supporters and convince the voters.

We are a party of principle. We will earn the trust of the British people.

We are a party with vision. We will give the inspiration people have been looking for. An age of achievement. A decent society.

And we are a party with compassion – who are prepared to stand up for the rights of the poor, the sick, the unemployed and yes pensioners.

And when we talk about our pensioners. Remember it was Labour who brought in the decent state pension.

It was Labour who brought in SERPS – the Earnings Related Pension.

It was Labour who enabled occupational pensions to flourish.

The Tories have never done anything for pensioners.

The only raise they gave them was to put VAT on fuel.

Our commitment shows it. Our history proves it. A Labour government will not forget our pensioners.

We are a Party of ambition and aspiration.

It was Ernest Bevin who warned us against the poverty of ambition. Taking second best for granted.

We want to unlock the potential of our people. To allow people to live their lives to the full to achieve just a few of their dreams.

I was an 11 Plus failure. But I was given a second chance. By my trade union as a matter of fact. When they sent me to Ruskin College.

It opened my eyes. It excited my mind.

Tories will say ‘That shows the system’s working.’ But I was one of the lucky ones. And I know there are millions of people who have been written off.

Who never got a first chance, a second chance or a third chance. And it’s our job to make sure they get a chance in the future.

That’s why Tony Blair was right when he said educate educate educate, to unlock the potential in our people.

Yesterday this conference overwhelmingly endorsed New Life for Britain.

Now for the first time we are asking every one of our members and millions of trade union members to pledge their support.

This will be the one of the greatest exercises in party democracy in history. Never before has a party set out its programme so far in advance of an election. This is not a three week manifesto. It’s for members to vote on, to pledge their support and to campaign on from now until election day. And for a Labour government to implement after the election.

But it’s only as good as you present it, So read it, understand it, campaign with it take the message to the people in your community.

The ballot papers are going out, at this very moment, to millions of homes.1,500 coordinators are ready, in the constituencies.To organise to conduct this ballot; to ensure everyone is involved. Phil Wilson is here with some of those volunteers. Stand up Phil, so we can see you.

Look in your post tomorrow. And when your ballot paper arrives vote Yes for a New Life for Britain. And if you need an extra incentive, just turn on the telly next week, tune in to the Tory party conference.

When they won’t talk about their record, when they refuse to do anything about the crucial issues.

Don’t just get angry, do something positive.

Get the ballot paper off the mantelpiece. Put a cross in the box. And Vote yes for a new life for Britain.

But to all of you who are watching out there on your TV sets, There’s more than that to do.

There’s no more standing on the sidelines now. The time to hesitate is over.

Now is the time to get involved. Come and join us in the Labour party. Join our campaign.

So I ask all party members to vote, to organise, and help us in our campaign.

Because when the vote is over, when you have pledged your support and endorsed our programme, the job is not finished.

We have to put the case to the people of Britain.

In New Life for Britain we have many proposals. But we highlight those five key pledges. Set out on this card.

This card is a campaigning tool to help you take the message to the electorate.

Straightforward pledges which capture our basic principles.

Smaller classes

tough on crime

shorter waiting lists

more jobs for the young

a strong economy.

Let’s take the issue of jobs first of all. To spell out what we mean in that commitment.

To get 250,000 under 25s out of benefit and into work. But it goes deeper than that.

This pledge is symbolic of our ambition to provide job opportunities for all. Because we believe government can make a difference. And it has a responsibility to seek a high and stable level of employment.

That’s why we are different from the Tories. And it will be paid for by a windfall levy on the profits of the privatised utilities.

Yesterday I was sent this pledge card from Northumbrian Water Actually it says: New Northumbrian Water.

It contains five pledges. But I’ll add a sixth.

Pay the new windfall levy and put our kids back into new jobs . That’s what I call jobs and social justice.

In Education, our pledge is to reduce class sizes for 5 6 and 7 year olds to 30 or less. But we are saying more than that. This pledge symbolises our strong commitment to comprehensive education. Which gives everyone a chance, not just a few.

And there will be no return to the 11 plus.

We want a good state education system for the many not just the few. And we will pay for it out of the Assisted Places Scheme which subsidises private schools. And take unemployed teachers off the dole to teach our children. That’s jobs and social justice.

In our card, we pledge to cut NHS waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients, Because we believe in the principle – the socialist principle – of a health service, based on need, not the ability to pay. Giving greater priority to the needs of the patient, not the needs of the market.

And we will pay for it from the money saved from the huge bureaucratic waste of the internal market.

That’s jobs and social justice.

Together with a strong economy and action on crime, these are among the building blocks of a decent society.

Bringing together our traditional values and putting them into practice in modern ways in a modern setting. That’s what we are about.

We are proud of our history. And we are determined about our future.

There are at most 200 days to the general election. The countdown starts now.

Victory will not come easily.

It will mean knocking on doors, canvassing, hitting the phone buttons, good organization.

And we can’t rely just on our sound bites and the media message alone.

Yes they’re important.

But we can’t do without the people who do the work – activists they are called.

Ordinary people talking to ordinary people.

You can make the difference between winning and losing.

The general election campaign starts right here, right now…

We have the best professional organisation.

The best programme for government.

The best and most popular leader.

Now we must deliver.

The minute conference ends, Tony and I will be leaving here to visit key seats on our way home.

Even though Tony and I are carrying on working, you can have the rest of the day off.

But I want you out working tomorrow. And if you can’t visit a key seat this weekend, I want a promise you’ll visit one soon.

Because the key seats are the battleground for the next election.

So during these next 200 days ask yourself each day Did I do enough today?

Could I have done more to secure a Labour victory? Let that question stay in your mind right up to the general election. Think about what you can do to play your full part. Ask yourself: Did I do enough today?

Think of that day on the 10 April 1992. When we faced another five years of Tory government…… And said: If only……, If only…..

I will never forget that day burned into my memory Neil Kinnock speaking on the steps of Walworth Road, conceding defeat, With great dignity and emotion. He echoed our frustration, disappointment and despair.

Never, never, never again.

That image will only be extinguished when we see Tony Blair on the steps of 10 Downing Street, Announcing a magnificent Labour victory in the next general election.

And we will never forget the people who led us through the hard times to the threshold of government today. John Smith, Neil Kinnock, and yes Michael Foot.

Victory is within our grasp after seventeen long years.

A chance to serve – that’s all we ask. And with your help, and the people’s trust, we can win.

That will give new hope to pensioners, new hope to young people, new hope for the low paid and families, new hope for industry.

New hope for the whole of the British people.

We’ve had enough lies.

Enough sleaze. Enough excuses. Enough poverty. Enough unemployment. Enough failure. Enough is enough.

We are united and ready to govern.

This was the week when old and new came together.

A Labour Party united.

A country united

A new Labour government.

New hope for Britain.