Ray Collins – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Ray Collins, the then Labour Party General Secretary, to the 2009 Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Thank you Chair, and thank you Conference.

I am delighted to be here in Brighton for my second Annual Conference, as the Party’s General Secretary – although it is my 36th as a Labour Party member.

Harold Wilson once said that ‘a week was a long time in politics’

Having been in the job for a year, I now know exactly what he meant.

But it has been a productive year, working together with the NEC to win for Labour, and I want to especially thank Cath Speight,

She has chaired the NEC brilliantly this past year, and who has been a constant source of strength and support.

When I spoke at Conference twelve months ago, I outlined my three priorities for our Party:

– putting the Party on a solid, long-term organisational and financial footing.

– promoting equality within our Party, by making it the personal responsibility of the General Secretary.

– and investing in Young Labour and Labour Students, ensuring our young members are the shapers of policy and campaigns today, as well as the leaders of tomorrow.

Last year I was very frank with you about the financial problems we faced, and despite solid progress, our position remains difficult.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic for the future.

I am optimistic because your National Executive has adopted a strategy that over the long term will: reduce our debt burden, by utilizing our commercial income and reduce structural costs, so we live within our means

This enables us to guarantee that every penny received in donations from individuals and organisations will go directly into campaigning.

This Give-to-Win strategy is helping us to meet our objective to secure the funds to fight the next General Election,

And on Wednesday, Jack Dromey, the Party’s treasurer, will be announcing an important new initiative to build upon our fundraising activities.

I want to thank Jack and all the fundraising team for all the work that they have been doing. The Party is in a better place financially because of their efforts.

But whilst we have not been able to do all that we wanted – we have achieved much:

Douglas has already taken you through our campaigning strategy, but let me stress again:

675 thousand marginal seat voters contacted – more than twice as many as in the run-up to the last election

4.5 million pieces of personalised direct mail sent to key voters using Print Creator

5 million pieces of print sold through the campaign shop – a real testament to how much work you are doing on the ground.

And our online Virtual Phone Bank – used by thousands of members from all over the country to make over 25,000 phone calls to target voters so far.

There is much much more, that I could talk about for another hour at least, but as I am a humane General Secretary, I will suggest that instead you go along to the Labour Party stand and collect a General Election handbook.

You will also find there a free street-stall pack for every local party, containing postcards and newspapers to be used in your local high street during next week’s Tory Party Conference.

And it is not just the Party who have been innovative – – our affiliates too, both the trade unions and the socialist societies, have been looking at new ways of reaching voters:

Unison, UNITE and the GMB’s development of member-to-member contact through online surveys, emails and phone calls.

The Christian Socialist Movement is reaching out to faith communities, communicating the Party’s record on combating poverty.

Community’s election magazine special, and their campaign drive against the BNP.

BAME Labour have been engaging our ethnic minority communities, ensuring their voice is heard at the very highest levels of the Party

USDAW’s fantastic campaign materials, that celebrate our government’s achievements.

I said last year, and I will say it again, that though we have invested in new technologies – there is no substitute to local activists knocking on doors and speaking to one another in factories and on shop-floors.

We may be outspent by the Tories, but we will never be outgunned.

You, the Party members, and the union activists who give us a direct link into thousands of communities and workplaces, are the true strength of our Party,

I want to thank you for all you did in the local and European elections, and all that you are doing now.

I want too to thank the Party’s staff, who do everything that is asked of them and more. When money is tight, it is the staff who feel it most, but they are undaunted, travelling all over the country to deliver for the Party, and for you, the members – No General Secretary could ask for more.

And whilst I will do all in my power to secure the funds to fight the next General Election, I also pledge to you that the Party’s long-term financial stability will be sustained.

Because we must end the twenty-first century as we began it – as a Party of government creating a better Britain for all.

But if we are to be a Party of the future, then we must not look like a Party of the past. We must reflect those we seek to represent, not just because it is right but because it is crucial to our electoral success across all our communities.

And here I want to say a few words about our policy of All-Women shortlists.

As a party, we adopted this process for one reason alone: the shameful under-representation of women within our Parliamentary Party.

It was not an easy road down which to travel, but the Labour Party has never been about what is easy, it is about what is right, which is giving women their proper voice in Parliament.

Labour Party leads the way on this, and we cannot afford to slip back.

So as your General Secretary I will make the case for your policy at every opportunity, and to those who argue that it is undemocratic, I say this: what could be more undemocratic than a 21st century Parliament in which less than a fifth of its members are women – eighty years after they won the right to vote?

We hope too, that automatic short-listing for ethnic minority candidates will begin to further their representation at a national level.

Because we are a nation of vibrance and diversity. It is our strength, both as a country and as a party, and we must always stand strong against the voices of hatred, who seek only to divide and to persecute.

We have been here before, at a time of economic difficulty, when a fascist party sought to exploit people’s poverty and turn them against their neighbours.

Only then they were not called the BNP, and they were led not by Nick Griffin, but by Oswald Mosley.

We stood against them then, as we stand against them now, and no one more so than my friend and comrade from the T&G, Jack Jones, who sadly died earlier this year.

From the battlefields of Spain, to the streets of the East End, Jack was adamant that fascists would not pass.

I can think of no better tribute to the man, than that we continue his struggle; driving the BNP from Brussels and local government, and ensuring that they never gain a foothold in Westminster.

To this end, we have established an anti-BNP taskforce, led by Harriet Harman, and we want you to join with us, giving your time and whatever you can afford, to fighting the racists and the fascists, wherever they raise their ugly heads.

I think Jack would have been proud of our young members, who have campaigned not just against the BNP, but for the Labour Party;

– spreading the message of our achievements across the country.

They were there in the local and European elections, and, like many of you, they were there in Glenrothes, when we defied the predictions of the media, by returning Lindsay Roy to parliament.

I know too that they will be there in Glasgow North-East, and I hope to see you all there with them, when we elect Willie Bain to Westminster.

And this is what gives me every cause for optimism going into the next election. The media might have written us off, but let me tell you something: the media doesn’t have the first idea about the commitment and the passion of Labour Party members.

The elections in June were tough for our Party, and I want to thank all our council and MEP candidates, especially those who lost their seats to a climate of anti-politics that was no fault of their own.

But wherever I go in the country, I do not see a party on its knees. I see a Party ready to fight,

To fight for the future of a country that faces a very stark choice.

So let us focus for a minute upon Cameron’s victorious councils, the ones he claims “demonstrate Conservative government”, and represent his ‘modern breed’ of Tory.

Bromley and Lincolnshire where the Conservative council have taken steps to use tax-payers’ money to subsidise private school fees.

Essex, where Cameron’s shadow business minister has advocated wholesale privatisation of all public services.

And Barnet, where the Tories want to see a “Ryanair” approach to council services.

“Cheap and cheerful,” says council leader, Mike Freer.

Cheap if you’re a high-band tax-payer, perhaps -, but very far from cheerful if you’re poor or sick or disabled.

The Tories have opposed every action we have taken to tackle the recession.

They would have let the banks go to the wall, blocked support for families and jobs, and would cut public services for the many, at the same time as giving away millions of pounds to the 3,000 wealthiest estate owners in Britain.

Contrast that with Gordon Brown’s help for hard-working families, hit hard by the recession:

300,000 people helped to stay in their homes

200,000 businesses kept open using the tax deferral scheme

500,000 jobs saved

And over 300,000 additional jobs, training, college and school places created, so that the recession has not claimed another lost generation of the young, as it did in the 80s and 90s under the Tories.

Cameron would jeopardise all this, and when we tell the voters this, they listen, wherever they are in the country. This was demonstrated in June, in Hastings and in Oxford – where we made council gains in Cameron’s own backyard.

When I meet members, I know you haven’t given up, you are fired up, because the dividing lines have never been as clear as they are now.

You are fighting back in your constituencies, and you are fighting back in the marginal seats.

And to those of you who think you could do more, I urge you to go to the Party stand, and volunteer today.

Let us prove the media wrong, and the country right.

Let us keep Britain Labour. I know we’re up to the task.