Owen Smith – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Owen Smith, the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, to the 2013 Labour Party conference in Brighton.


It was 25 years ago this week that I came here to start life as a student at the University of Sussex.

The year was 1988, the year the Lib Dems were founded, and Sussex, renowned for its progressive politics, was among the first universities to establish a Lib Dem Society.

I wondered how they were getting on.

So I looked up the university society listings before I came here today and sure enough there’s a Clegg-shaped hole between the Labour Club and the Mexican society.

The University was also famous as the setting for Malcolm Bradbury’s novel, The History Man.

The story’s anti-hero begins as a nice but naive, bearded and sandal-wearing radical, who open marriage descends into treachery, lies and a trough of ‘moral turpitude’.

Sound familiar, Nick?

In the TV version, our hero ends up voting Tory, for a rotten right wing government which privatised our public goods, put a million young people on the dole, and introduced a tax which united the country in opposition.

Who says life can’t imitate art?

But that’s enough of the jokes. Their conference finished last Thursday.

Ours is just beginning – and what a beginning with that wonderful, welcome announcement that a Labour Government led by Ed Miliband will scrap the bedroom tax.

Of course a Labour Government will scrap it.

We will scrap it because it is an affront to our values of fairness and decency,

Because it neither saves the money they claim, nor solves the crisis in our housing.

We will scrap it because like so many of the policies of David Cameron’s deeply out of touch government it seeks to balance the books on the backs of the poor and the disabled.

And let me tell you Conference, people in Wales – hit harder by the Bedroom Tax than anywhere in Britain – will have heard that news and understood that Labour is on their side.

And just as the bedroom tax has hit Wales harder than any other part of Britain, Wales also has more workers earning less than the living wage than anywhere else – more than one in five of the total workforce.

So Welsh workers and Welsh wages need a Labour Government in Westminster as well as in Wales to fight their corner. And Labour this week is sending a clear message to the hard working people of Wales.

We are on your side. We will strengthen the minimum wage and push for a living wage too.

Our values in action, conference.

And our proof, conference, that there is always an alternative.

In Wales, a Welsh Labour Government, has been getting on with the job of defending those values and articulating that alternative, protecting the living standards of ordinary people that have fallen so drastically under the Tories.

In Wales, we kept the EMA and refused to treble tuition fees – holding firm the ladder of education and social mobility that the Tories are so keen to draw up behind them.

In Wales, we’ve rejected the privatisation of Bevan’s NHS and held fast to its role as a beacon of excellence and equality.

And in Wales we’ve been on the side of working people with policies that have put 6000 young people back to work, and by taking bold action earlier this month to stamp out the disgraceful blacklisting of construction workers.

But conference, despite Carwyn and our Welsh colleagues’ values and innovations and sheer hard work, devolution alone is not enough.

– Not enough to stop Welsh wages from falling by £1600

– Not enough to prevent under-employment become the new norm in our economy.

– And not enough to stop food-banks become a shaming feature of communities across Wales.

No, a Labour Government in Wales alone is not enough – and will never be enough – however much devolution we deliver.

Because the social and economic union between the nations of Britain provides a safety net that Scotland or Wales could never recreate if they chose to fly alone.

And though Labour will always defend and cherish the proud identities of the different nations of the UK, we will also celebrate the centuries of common endeavour and shared history that makes us also One Nation.

And which allows Labour Governments in Westminster to share Britain’s wealth more fairly than the market or the out of touch Tories ever would.

So credibility, yes. And deficit reduction, of course. But decency, fairness and transformation too.

Because we need a Labour Government to rebuild the very foundations of our economy, from the bottom up so that it works for the many, not the few.

We need banks that serve the industry of our country – not speculate idly in its success or failure.

We need companies that feel a duty to the society in which they operate – not just to the shareholders who trade them around the Globe.

We need work that pays a decent wage – a Living Wage, with prices under control and growth that is fairly shared across classes and regions.

And we need a Labour Government to consign the Bedroom Tax to history, to strengthen the Minimum Wage and to deal with the cost of living crisis that is damaging our communities.

Conference, Ed Miliband spoke for Britain on this week when he said we will do these things.

That we can do better than this.

That Britain can do better.

He spoke for Britain…and he warmed hearts in Wales.

He set Labour marching forward once again…

And Wales will march with him.

Led by our First Minister, Carwyn Jones…

Owen Smith – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Owen Smith, the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, to Labour Party conference on 2nd October 2012.

Chair, Conference: in music and movies, they say you’ve only really made it when you’ve made it in America.

Well by that yardstick, and in political terms, Wales has arrived.

First we saw Ann Romney feeding dodgy-looking Welsh cakes to unsuspecting members of the US press corp.

But last week was the real breakthrough – when, on the Letterman Show, David Cameron was asked the killer question.

No not the one about Rule Britannia or the Magna Carta – the one about the Welsh.

“What about Wales”, asked Letterman, “they didn’t vote for you in Wales, did they?”

At last, I thought, 106 years of not voting Tory in Wales, and we finally get some credit for it!

And in a week in which the media has complained that we haven’t laid out our full manifesto yet, I want to offer one cast iron guarantee: Wales won’t be voting Tory next time either.

No, in Wales we’ll be playing our part in returning a Labour Government led by Ed Miliband at Westminster, to work alongside the Labour Government led by Carwyn Jones in Cardiff Bay.

A Labour Government in Wales that is standing on the side of ordinary people:

Tackling youth unemployment, with a Jobs Fund which we maintained when the Tories were pulling the plug.

Reforming and restructuring our hospitals – not marketising them as would the Tories.

And investing in education – building new schools, modernising our curriculum and holding down tuition costs, keeping open the door to social mobility through educational achievement.

We’re able to do these things because devolution – designed and delivered by Labour – is delivering for Wales.

It is delivering increased local democracy and political accountability – things that people hold dear in our globalised World.

But delivering too a confident country – at ease with its place in the United Kingdom.

The Tories, by contrast, have just one interest in Wales – not how to protect it, but how to exploit it for a political game of ‘divide and rule’.

Whether it is the Prime Minister talking down the Welsh NHS, or Michael Gove smearing Welsh Education, the strategy is the same: creating division instead of respecting devolution, attacking Wales, to attack Labour.

In some ways this should come as no surprise, because the Coalition tactic of divide and rule is clear not just in their approach to the nations of the UK – but to its people too.

Public versus private, North versus South, privilege versus the plebs.

These are the faultlines that the Tory-led Government sees in Britain and that they seek to exploit.

In Labour we believe such division can only weaken Britain.

Our heritage is a party that seeks to unite and unify – classes and countries.

And we remain a meeting place for British people of different faiths and nations, ages and wages.

That’s why Labour would be making different choices, choices informed by our deep roots in communities throughout the UK and our understanding of the tough times being faced by ordinary families.

Choices designed to respect devolution – but also to unite the people and the nations of Britain.

That’s why, for example, we reject Government plans to scrap national pay bargaining.

Yes, because UK-wide deals are more efficient – but most of all because they are fair for workers throughout the UK.

Regional pay would increase inequality and division in Britain – at the very time when we must pull together.

On this issue, as on so many, we are so much stronger, so much better together.

And we believe that the majority of the British people – in all our nations and regions – believe that too.

Now that does not mean that Britain will not change.

People in Wales, Scotland and England too want more local decision making, and devolution or other constitutional change may be needed to accommodate those ambitions.

But separation or independence remains a minority interest – outweighed by economic and emotional reasons for Britain and the British people to stick together.

That point was brought home to us all by the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Patriotism and pride in Team GB swept people up, from Plymouth to Perth – and seemed for a few brief weeks to wash away divisions in our society.

They reminded us how successful our society has been at embracing different cultures and capabilities – and so enriching those of the UK.

That solidarity of people across Britain is just as important a legacy of the games as the bricks and mortar left behind.

And just as it fell to us to build those bricks to last, so too it’s up to us to retain the hope and optimism, tolerance and togetherness that were the Games’ richest prize.

A Tory-led coalition can’t do that. They cannot speak for Britain – just for the rich and the rip-off merchants, whose interests they protect.

Only Labour can speak for Britain.

Only Labour can unite people ordinary working people in England, Wales and Scotland too.

We alone can do that because the Labour movement has always believed that together we are stronger.

We believed it a hundred years ago in the Rhondda Valley, when my great grandfather, Dafydd Humphrey Owen, fought for better prices and wages in the Cambrian Combine strike and the riots that followed it.

One of the legacies of that struggle was a campaign for workers’ rights and education which brought people together from South Wales, Lancashire and Lanarkshire.

It was called, of course, The Plebs League – and it’s been tempting in recent weeks to think about reviving it.

Yet the truth is that its moment is past – ours is not.

Unlike Andrew Mitchell, or Alex Salmond for that matter, our movement is about uniting people across these isles.

And especially today, in these difficult times, we have to be the party that says: “we are always better together.”

So let’s unite the nations and people of Britain behind Ed Miliband and his vision of a more equal, socially just and democratic Britain.

Better Together. Better with Labour.