Glenis Willmott – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Glenis Willmott to the 2011 Labour Party conference on 26th September 2011.

Conference, it has not been an easy 12 months in Brussels.

Bad news from Europe has been a constant feature of the daily news bulletins.

First, the deepening financial crisis in Greece.

Then, bailouts for Ireland and Portugal.

And now the wider and still unfolding uncertainty across the entire eurozone.

The implications of this turmoil for the future of the European Union are immense.

And how the EU responds will define the fortunes of our continent for generations to come.

But this is not just an economic and financial crisis.

It is a crisis too for social democracy and a huge challenge for the left, in Britain and across Europe.

I am often asked – does the recent chaos mean that the EU is somehow broken?

Surely, I’m told, this is evidence that the Eurosceptics were right all along?

And Conference, many of these views are increasingly coming from within our own party.

Indeed some of you, here in this hall today, may sympathise with those sentiments.

Well, what is clear is that the EU must change.

There are real and crucial lessons that must be learnt.

Efforts to promote economic cohesion across European economies were just not good enough.

Government financial transparency was pitifully enforced.

Rampant greed was allowed to take precedence over the wider needs of our economy.

But what is also clear is that the supposed remedies to the current turmoil are making things worse, not better.

And friends, this is where the real failure lies.

In the hollow ideology being driven by the European right.

Simply, they say, we must have less;

– less investment in the technologies and industries of the future

– less opportunities for our young people

– less employment

– less power for working people

And not only is the right’s answer to the turmoil not working.

It is also void of any ambition, aspiration or hope for our continent and its people.

So what should our response be to the European crisis?

Conference, the Left across Europe, is at its lowest ebb, since before the Second World War.

As recently as 1999, we were in power, or sharing power, in 12 out of the then 15 EU countries.

Today, despite Helle Thorning Schmidt’s great victory in Denmark that figure is just 8 out of the now 27 countries.

And since the disastrous 2009 elections, the Left in the European Parliament is at its weakest ever.

To paraphrase Harold MacMillan (you see even the quotes are from the right), “We’ve never had it so bad”.

So why are we doing so badly?

Conference, part of the explanation may be that the world our grandparents fought for, has in so many ways, been achieved.

Free health care, universal education, systems of social benefits from cradle to grave, are established across Europe.

Our generation has experienced increased opportunities, wider tolerance and greater freedoms.

Since 1945, social democracy has led the way.

We have achieved great things. But it really doesn’t feel like that.

Partly, because we on the progressive left are never – and must never – be satisfied.

But also because we have failed to move the debate on.

Conference, the social democratic solutions which transformed the last century were forged amid the rubble of European war.

Today we face ruins of a different sort.

But once again, we, as social democrats, must stand together and rise to the new challenges that Europe faces.

It is our duty to meet the growing demand for a different way of organising our societies;

– to rebuild our economies

– to deliver prosperity for the many

– and to address increasing aspirations for fairness and equality

Ed is right to say we have to refound Labour here at home.

But that must be within the broader context of all of us refounding social democracy across Europe.

Answers must come from all parts of our movement and beyond. From trade unions, intellectuals, academics, politicians, activists and single interest groups.

But we also need to learn together with comrades in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and others too.

So as Europe faces its greatest challenge since 1945 let’s not turn our backs.

We must produce a new vision for social democrats, international in scale, since globally produced problems can actually, only be solved, globally.

The answers cannot be for Labour in Britain alone.

In this interconnected world Europe must be part of the solution.

As always the driving force must be our enduring principles, our Labour values, the same values that drove those rebuilding Europe more than 60 years ago, values of

– Solidarity

– Social justice

– Opportunity

The strongest helping the weak

Together, not apart

That is how we will secure the future for generations to come.