Ed Miliband – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference


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

Conference, let’s be honest.

It’s been a hard year to be a Labour party member,

A hard year for our party,

A hard year too for anyone associated with politics,

And it’s been a hard year most of all in our communities as some people have lost their jobs.

The test for us is as it has always been – whether we can triumph over adversity.

A year ago when we met, we faced an unprecedented economic crisis. Many said we were in for another Great Depression, a repeat of the 1930s.

Why didn’t that happen?

Because one person, more than any other, understood the need to be bold:

– he didn’t stand by,

– he didn’t stick with business as usual,

– he stood up to save the jobs, the homes and the hard-earned savings of the hardworking men and women of Britain.

That man is our Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and we are proud of what he has done at home and around the world.

Conference, we know we are in for tough times on public spending in the years ahead. We know that we will have to be even more rigorous on priorities, efficiency and value for money.

But we know also that Gordon and Alistair were right a year ago to take action, and they are right now to keep spending until recovery is established.

And the Tories were wrong a year ago, they are wrong now, and they will be wrong at the coming General Election to say that before the recovery is established, now is the time to cut public spending.

Make no mistake, and let’s go out and tell the country, recovery, and the Tory risk to recovery will be on the ballot at the next general election.

But our argument at the coming election will be about so much more than that.

Today I want to set out the argument that will inform our manifesto.

And in the coming days my colleagues will set out policy announcements, and on Thursday we will publish our conference document which will feed into the National Policy Forum process.

My central argument is that the events that have made politics so difficult over the last year will not go away: they will shape the next five years.

The implications of the economic crisis, the political crisis caused by expenses and indeed the climate crisis.

Against, this backdrop, business as usual just won’t do.

If we are to create the more prosperous, fairer, greener more democratic Britain we believe in we need to be bold in our manifesto and we will be.

The economy of the future must be different from the past.

What do I say to the kid in my constituency, whose parents are struggling to make ends meet, and he sees people walk off with millions of pounds in bonuses, not for creating wealth in this country but destroying it?

I can’t tell him that’s an economy based on people getting their just deserts.

Being bold means facing up to the fact that irresponsible bonuses don’t just distort our economy, they corrode our society too.

We will reform bonuses, raise the living standards of people like his parents and reform our financial institutions so they properly serve the interests of middle and lower income families.

What do I tell him when he looks around him and asks, “What job am I going to do in the future?”

Being bold means understanding that for him, and for young people in this country, we can’t build prosperity on financial services alone.

That’s why even in tough times, we need to, as we are doing, invest in the industries of the future – like green manufacturing.

And what do we say to his parents, and millions of other people in this country who are worried about their job but also worry about many other things in life too: family time, safety on our streets, caring – all things that make life worth living.

Being bold means doing more in the next Parliament to give parents more time with their kids and our parents’ more dignity in old age.

Anyone who’s been through the anxiety of care for an elderly relative knows our system has to change. That’s why Andy Burnham set out a range of choices of individual and government contributions to reform our system.

Conference, by the time of the manifesto we must complete this process so that we can move, once and for all, from an unfair postcode lottery to a new national service for care in this country.

So we will be bold through the recession and after and we will be bold on politics too.

Conference, one of the most depressing things going out on the doorstep is when people of 30,40, 50 years old tell you that they’ve never voted before. One woman said to me recently, “voting, I don’t do that.”

In those circumstances, business as usual won’t do.

Bold reform starts with MPs’ expenses but it doesn’t end there

We need to make MPs more accountable

It means changing the way Parliament works so we have a system that reflects the 21st century not the 19th  – and that must mean a clear manifesto mandate on democratic House of Lords reform.

And we must debate all the other big issues in relation to our democracy, and we must be the reformers in British politics today.

Boldness in economics and politics and on climate change too.

The single most important lesson that I have learned is that climate change is no longer just an environmental issue.

It’s about how we get our energy, what job your kids are going to do and how we travel around.

And business as usual won’t do here either.

Business as usual says we wait for others to act before we do anything. It’s because we’re bold that we are the first country in the world with a sector by sector Transition Plan to show how we meet our commitments to 2020.

Business as usual gives a veto to the minority who say no nuclear, no wind power, and no clean coal either.

But being bold means reforming the planning system as we are the only party committed to do, and the Tories have refused to do, and standing up in the face of the minority who would say “no” to every form of low-carbon energy.

Business as usual says climate or fairness but not both.

Being bold means being open about the fact that there are costs to the transition to low-carbon, but making sure that the most vulnerable are not ripped off by the energy companies – including those on pre-payment meters.

Boldness in climate, politics and the economy. But to do it we need to reform the state and government too.

It’s the people like us who believe in the role of government who must be its most determined reformers.

Markets need our values, but the state needs them as well.

In the 21st century, public services must be more accountable to the people who use them.

Because of the improvements in our public services, we can offer to people in our manifesto guarantees that were impossible in 1997.

For example, a guarantee that all schools will be a good school.

Sometimes this requires things to change.

For three years I went into a local school and I knew the kids were being failed by the system.

Now because of the changes made by Ed Balls, it’s under new management by another school, and it is starting to be transformed by a change in leadership.

And if it happens to that school why not others: so our manifesto will be one which enables the most talented in the public sector to do more, not less.

That’s what our manifesto is going to be about.

And here’s the difference with our opponents: we want to reform public services because we believe in them and we want maximum quality and value for money.

The Tories’ only vision for the good society is to cut public services.

They would make the wrong choices with scarce resources because they believe in protecting the interests of a different set of people.

And they say they want to spend billions on inheritance tax cuts of £200,000 a throw for the richest estates in Britain

And yet at the same time they say they because of the deficit, they have to cut tax credits for ordinary working people.

What kind of choice of priorities is that?

And they have a completely different view of public services as well.

A Tory council has even given it a name: the Ryanair model of public services:

– lots and lots of queuing and waiting,

– a bare minimum service for the many while the few get to pay their way.

That’s the choice we’ve got to lay before people:

The Ryanair model may be an okay way to run an airline but it is no way to run a hospital, a care home, or any of our public services.

– The 18-week waiting list guarantee – gone under a Tory government;

– The 2-week cancer referral guarantee – gone under a Tory government.

– The guarantee that you can see a GP at the evening or weekends– gone under a Tory government;

So let’s be clear: the Tories would sell Middle Britain down the river, on health, on education, just like they did the last time they had power.

I grew up in the 1980s: an NHS where people died waiting more than a year for an operation, children even in affluent areas taught in Portakabins, our great towns and cities forgotten, a country divided between north and south and rich and poor.

Everyone in this hall knows we can’t go back.

Millions in the country know: we cannot go back.

Everyone in this hall knows and millions in the country know: that was broken Britain.

So don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t big choices at this election.

It’s not a choice between who’s going to be a better manager of the system, it’s about two fundamentally different visions of Britain.

It’s not change versus the status quo, it’s what kind of change you want.

David Cameron used to say ‘let sunshine win the day’. Now what he offers is austerity Britain, pessimistic about Britain today and pessimistic about what can be achieved.

We are the optimists in British politics today.

We are the people who say, despite tough times, we can create a more prosperous, fairer, greener and more democratic Britain.

We won’t  do it with a manifesto for business as usual.

We won’t do it with a manifesto for safety first.

The way we will win is with boldness.