David Miliband – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by David Miliband, the then Foreign Secretary, to the 2009 Labour Party conference.


Let’s start with one simple, undeniable fact. The earth does revolve around the sun… but not the one printed in Wapping.

And the sun that we rely on is the one that has been shining on this conference every day here in Brighton.

Led by Gordon’s speech, this week we have not just shown the idealism to dream of a better future; we have shown the ideas and the courage to make that future possible.

Nowhere is courage more needed than in the defence of our country.

So let me start with the war in Afghanistan.

With the men and women of our armed forces fighting a vicious and unrelenting enemy.

And with questions that are being asked by millions of families across Britain.

They are asking why are we there? Can we succeed? Is it worth it?

It is right to ask those questions. And right for us to answer them.

Because I know that for every British soldier killed, there is a bereaved family, a grieving wife or husband, children who will grow up without their father or mother, parents who will never be grandparents.

Words cannot heal the daily anguish of the families of the fallen, or the pain of the maimed.

But we would not be risking the lives of our soldiers if we were not convinced that the work they are doing is essential to our security at home.

Our armed forces in Afghanistan are not just doing a vital job. They are showing themselves to be the best, the very best in the world and a credit to our country.

We know what would happen if the coalition abandoned its work in Afghanistan.

The clock would be turned back to the 1990s, when Afghanistan was a place for al qaeda to seduce, groom, train and plan for deadly terrorist missions.

With the best of intentions we would be risking the next 9/11 or 7/7.

The British people don’t want that. They do want to know that we have a plan that can work. And we do.

The way to defeat this enemy is to divide it.

Separate the hard core from the rest.

Does that mean the Afghan government talking to the Taleban?

Yes, with a simple message:

…live within the Constitution, and you can come home to your communities and have a share of power, but stay outside, in hiding, linked to Al Qaeda, plotting mayhem for Afghanistan, and you will face unremitting military force.

The biggest problem in Afghanistan is that ordinary people don’t know who is going to win, and so don’t dare give us all the backing we need.

The way for us to win their confidence is to make them feel safe, above all with more Afghan troops.

Three years ago the Afghan Army had 60 000 troops. Today 90 000.

November next year 134 000, properly trained by us today so they can defend their own country tomorrow.

We know that Taliban fighters get orders from leaders living in Pakistan.

So to our friends in Pakistan, fighting for their own future as a country we say this: we support you in defeating the threat to your country, and we need you to support us in defeating the threat to ours.

We also know that a successful plan depends on a government in Kabul acting in the interests of the country, not in lining the pockets of the people close to power.

So, we will wait to get a credible election result, and we will not be rushed into a whitewash.

So we back our troops, our diplomats our aid workers in support of a clear plan.

But there is one other thing.  We expect every other government in the coalition to do the same, not by turning around but by re-committing to the mission.

We came into this together.  We see it through – together.

Strong values and sound judgment for the things we believe in.

There are few places where strong values and sound judgment are more needed than in the Middle East.

On Friday we revealed what we have known for some time: that Iran was constructing a clandestine nuclear facility.

On Monday we saw their missile tests.

Today in Geneva, at talks finally convened after 16 months of prevarication, they need to get serious.

Over the next few months, the stakes could not be higher. The Arab world on tenterhooks.  Israel on alert.

Our message to Iran is simple: do not mistake respect for weakness.

You do have rights to civilian nuclear power, and we are happy for you to exercise them, but not if the price is plunging the Middle East into a nuclear arms race that is a danger to the whole world.

I also remind Conference of this.

We have hoped for many years for a US President to devote himself and his administration from day 1 to the creation of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel; if the international community cannot now define, develop and deliver the deal on peace then we will be paying the price in death and destruction for many years to come.

There is a unique international consensus on the terms of what has to be negotiated.

Borders based on the line of 1967, resolving the issue of illegal Israeli settlements.

Both states designating Jerusalem as their capital city.  Security guarantees for Israel. Fair compensation for Palestinian refugees. The Arab world not just recognising but normalising relations with Israel.

Conference, there would be no more historic achievement a re-elected Labour government to be the first country to open two Embassies in a shared Jerusalem, democratic Palestine and democratic Jewish Israel, living side by side in peace.

The starting point of our politics is that all men and women are created equal.  So I am proud that we have helped Pakistan and Bangladesh elect civilian governments, return to democracy, one person one vote, and I pledge that we will not rest until we have done the same for Zimbabwe… and Burma as well.

And in those democracies, like Sri Lanka, where civil war claimed lives and liberty, we say governments have a duty to uphold the civil, social and political rights of all their citizens, whatever their ethnicity or religion.

We also know that for too many people in our world, equality is a dream.

We remember with shame that in 1997, there was no Department for International Development.  The aid budget was falling.

So we are proud that in the field of international development the UK is not a leader but the leader.

Last month like millions of parents in rich countries, I enjoyed that special moment of pride and fear when I held my son’s hand as he went for his first day at school.

Take pride today that because of a Labour government, across Africa, in countries like Ghana and Tanzania and Botswana, 100s of 1000s of boys and girls are going to school for the first time, with universal education not a dream but a reality, thanks to a Labour government.

And if you and your neighbours and your friends are supporters of Save the Children, supporters of Christian Aid and Oxfam, great British charities doing amazing work with the government around the world, and you want funding for development to continue for the next five years, tell them to trust the people who raised the funding, not the Tories who opposed it every step of the way.

Conference, what makes me angry is that the Tories have failed every big policy test they’ve faced. The Cameron plan to deal with the financial crisis was simple: do nothing, sit on your hands, hope it sorts itself out.

To be fair George Osborne did come out fighting. But fighting for the billionaires who got us into the mess instead of fighting for jobs for hard working families.

Friends first, country second.

So let’s make sure they don’t run away from what they said. Let’s hang it round their necks today, tomorrow, every day until polling day.

But it’s not just the economy they would have destroyed.

If we had followed their advice on Europe we would have been irrelevant, on the margins, resented, and completely unable to fight for British interests.

William Hague recently made a speech about his approach to foreign policy.

He set out five priorities.

He couldn’t bring himself to mention Europe.  Except to say he wanted alliances outside Europe.

Wrong values.  Wrong judgment.  Wrong decision.

In the last two years, we have negotiated the release of diplomatic staff arrested in Iran, launched a naval force against piracy off Somalia, sent police and judges to keep the peace in Kosovo, brought in sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies when the UN failed, and led a step change in the fight against climate change.

Mr Hague, you say you support us on all those things; but all of them, every single one, depended on Britain playing a leading role in a strong, powerful European Union that you oppose.

When you say foreign policy has nothing to do with Europe, you show you have learnt nothing, know nothing, offer nothing, and every single government in Europe knows it.

In the European Parliament the Tories sit with a collection of outcasts.

Last week on the BBC, and you should go through the transcript, Eric Pickles, the Chairman of the Conservative Party, explained without a hint of shame that we should not condemn one of their new allies, the ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’ party, who every year celebrate the Latvian Waffen SS with a march past of SS veterans, because they were only following orders.

It makes me sick.

And you know what makes me sicker?

No one in the Tory party batted an eyelid.

What do they say? All you need for evil to triumph is for good men to remain silent.

I tell you conference, we will never remain silent.

When Edward MacMillan Scott, one of their own MEPs, a former leader of the Tory Group in Europe, took these people on, and won the Vice Presidency of the European Parliament, defeating a man denounced by the Chief Rabbi of Poland for an anti semitic, neo Nazi past, what did the Tories do to MacMillan Scottt? They chucked him out of the Tory Party.

It’s tempting to laugh at the Tory policy on Europe.

But I don’t want people laughing at my country because a bunch of schoolboys have taken over the government.

The Tories are not a government in waiting.  They are a national embarrassment.

David Cameron has shown not leadership but pandering.  Not judgment but dogma.  Not patriotic defence of national interest but the white flag of surrender to euro-extremists in his own party.

We’ve seen this movie before.  The last Tory government ended with a Beef War with Europe.  And what happened?  They couldn’t even win it.

The way to stand up for our country in the modern world is through our alliances not outside them.

Those are my judgments as Foreign Secretary in a Labour government.

Proud of the changes that we have helped promote around the world.  Passionate about the work still to be done.

But as a Labour Party member for 26 years I say this:

In every part of Britain, when you think of the extra teachers, doctors and police; when you see the new schools and hospitals rather than outside toilets and people waiting on trolleys; when you remember the legislation for equality and against handguns; when you speak to people getting dignity from the minimum wage or the £1000 Child Benefit or the Winter Fuel Allowance; when you feel that buzz of the Olympics coming to London rather than the world turning its back on Britain.

Tell yourself. Tell your neighbours. Tell your friends. That for all the challenges that still remain Britain is better because the British people elected a Labour government.

And when members of the party, even Members of Parliament, say that nothing much has changed, that we could use a spell in Opposition…tell them don’t do the Tories’ dirty work for them.  If we do not defend the record no one will.

Of course, we are not satisfied.  Our work is not finished.  That is what makes us the agents of change in British politics.

Because what do the Tories really believe?

Scrap inheritance tax.

The NHS condemned as a 60 year mistake.

Trash anything European.

Their great cause for the future, their burning ambition: bring back fox hunting.

If you look at the opinion polls, they are back. But that’s our fault.

The word that matters most in modern politics is ‘future’.

The work that matters most is making that future possible.

Because either you shape the future or you are condemned to the past.

This week we showed which side we are on.

This is not a country crying out for the Tories. It wants to know what we are made of.

So let’s tell them.

Which party has new ideas on the jobs of the future? We do.

Which party is leading the world on climate change? We are.

Which party is the only party with a plan for social care for the elderly? Us.

Which party is standing up for reform of the welfare state? We are.

Which party will build British influence in Europe and beyond? We will.

Which party has the right values to guide tough decisions? The Labour Party.

Don’t believe that we have run out of steam. We haven’t.

So let’s show the country that we’ve still got the energy, the ideas, the hunger, the commitment.

This is a fight for the future of our country.

It is a fight we must win.