Gordon Brown – 2001 Labour Party Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, at the 2001 Labour Party conference in October 2001.


This is no ordinary time. No ordinary conference.

September 11th transformed our times and our task.

And let us be in no doubt: it has now fallen to our generation to bear the burden of defeating international terrorism.

So let me start by speaking not just for the whole conference, but for the whole country in paying tribute to the leadership of someone whose qualities I know from having worked closely with him for nearly twenty years: the Prime Minister, the leader of our party, Tony Blair.

We are proud of the work that Tony is doing.

He is speaking for Britain.

And at this testing time we know our duty.

To stand and not to yield

And so to affirm a cause

The cause that in times past inspired this party to work for a United Nations, for collective security in Europe, for international economic cooperation.

The cause of international solidarity.

The cause not just of one country, one continent, one culture: but of people of conscience everywhere whatever their colour, whatever their race, whatever their background, whatever their religion.

The cause founded on a simple truth – that an injury to one is an injury to all; an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

For friends: how can any of us ever forget where we were, what we were doing, and the overwhelming sense of disbelief, outrage and loss as we watched on TV the unfolding events of September 11th?

All across Britain we know of communities and families affected.

A few days ago I met members of a British family and heard how a son who had just telephoned his mother and father to say he was safe perished in the second wave of explosions in the World Trade Centre.

And his brother said: let this not be in vain.

That family even in mourning thinking of others and their hopes for a better world.

So with them let us affirm:

That while lives have ended, the cause of freedom and justice never ends.

That while buildings can be destroyed, our values are indestructible.

That while hearts are broken, hope is unbreakable.

And imprinted on our memories from that tragic day of September 11th is the heroism of so many people and let us also take inspiration from the firefighters, police, ambulance men and women, caretakers, health service workers, public servants and all those working in New York and Washington that day who gave their lives helping others .

Quiet heroes who showed not just by great individual courage but by an extraordinary common humanity expressed through public service – that duty, obligation and service to others are at the core of every community, and every society.

And in this time of adversity, let us by our actions demonstrate more than ever we hold steadfast to our enduring internationalist ideals of freedom, justice and solidarity.

Tomorrow Tony will set out for us the shared effort being undertaken by the international community.

Today let me tell you what contribution has been agreed by finance ministries round the world.

Ready access to finance is the life blood of modern terrorism.

And no institution, no bank, no finance house anywhere in the world should be harbouring or processing funds for terrorists.

So I can tell conference: it is because here in Britain we have already implemented last year’s United Nations resolution on terrorist financing that bank funds amounting to $88.4m have now been frozen.

And now we call upon all nations to implement financial sanctions to ensure that just as there is no safe haven for terrorists there is no safe hiding place for terrorist funds.

And we must do more to cut off the supply not just of money but of weapons. And just as Britain has now banned export credits for armament sales to 65 countries, it is time now for all countries to restrict credits for arms sold to the poorest countries, because that same money should be spent not on piling up weapons, but on reducing poverty.

And just as we mount a coalition to tackle the tyranny of global terrorism – with Clare Short having announced a 36 million pounds increase in aid to help refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan we will play our part in mounting a humanitarian coalition to tackle the evil of global poverty.

On September 11th terrorists intended to bring the world’s financial system to a halt – to undermine the very possibility of global prosperity.

So we will show by our actions in maintaining the conditions for stability and growth that we do not succumb or surrender to terrorist threats.

It is a tribute to international cooperation that this challenge to the global economy is being met by a global response: not only have interest rates been brought down worldwide to aid consumers and business but the central banks of America, Japan and the Euro area as well as Britain have said that wherever necessary they will not hesitate to take further action to bring interest rates down.

Oil prices – whose rises in past times of trouble exacerbated economic instability – have actually fallen and we will continue our work with the oil producing countries to ensure normal supply at reasonable prices.

And where markets have failed, as on airline insurance, governments have acted – with a new insurance guarantee to keep our airline industry functioning.

And as the events of the last three weeks have again shown we gain strength from our membership of the European Union and are stronger acting in concert with others than we could ever be alone.

And it is in our national interest that we stand with each other not only in promoting common security but in promoting the economic reform in Europe essential to growth and equally in our national interest that on the euro we assess the five tests so we can and will make the right economic decision for Britain.

When I became chancellor I told you that stability would be the precondition of a successful Labour government.

No country can insulate itself from the global economy.

And these are uncertain times with world trade slowing, economic activity down not only in America but in Japan and continental Europe and no one can yet be sure about the impact of the events of September 11 .

So these are times that will test us here in Britain.

And I understand people’s worries about the effects of a global slowdown on their jobs and their livelihoods.

But it is because of the tough decisions we took from 1997 to reduce our debt and to make the Bank of England independent – and we will continue to back the Bank of England in all the difficult decisions it makes – that we are today in a better position to withstand the ups and downs of the economic cycle, and the pressures and the difficulties we now face.

Ten years ago when the American economy slowed at a time of international conflict, British inflation had already risen above 10% and government had to raise interest rates even when unemployment was rising above 2m.

Today with the economic fundamentals now strong – inflation has been at or near our target of 2.5% for four years.

A decade ago British interest rates were above ten per cent for four years and rose to 15%.

Today with the economic fundamentals strong they are 4.7%, for home owners and businesses the lowest for nearly 40 years.

In the last world slowdown borrowing rose to 50 billion pounds.

Today with the economic fundamentals strong we are meeting our fiscal disciplines.

And to answer directly those who say we will have to cut our spending, let me tell conference and the British people: our public spending plans are based on cautious assumptions.

And with debt reduced from 44% of national income to almost 30%, the lowest level of our competitors, we are well within our fiscal rules.

So because our plans are not only good for social justice, but affordable for our country, and right for our economy, we will hold to our three year public spending plans.

Public spending is set to rise by 3.7% a year even after inflation.

Transport and policing by even more.

Education by over 5% a year.

Health by more than 5% a year.

Keeping our public service promise to put schools and hospitals first.

And let me tell conference that our spending plans are affordable precisely because we have not made the mistakes of the last two Labour governments who by refusing to take early action to maintain stability ended up cutting, not increasing, public spending – and were denied the capacity to fulfil their social goals.

And I promise this conference : we will not make the even greater errors of the late 1980s where economic mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility turned a surplus of 4 billion pounds into a deficit of nearly 50 billion pounds; the biggest deficit in our history.

Testing times demand more discipline not less.

So when we are told that this is the time to drop our spending limits, relax our discipline abandon our fiscal rules and break our manifesto promises on tax, I say to you: we shall not relapse back into the irresponsible quick fixes of the past.

We have not come this far together- and together taken so many difficult long term decisions to put our stability and prudence at risk now, when we know stability and prudence are the foundation for achieving the ambitious goals we have been elected to deliver.

So vigilance now is necessary for further progress on our priorities later.

It is only by being cautious now, maintaining our discipline and building public support for the budget and spending decisions we will have to make in the coming months that we will be able to achieve our aim in next year’s spending review – to release further new resources for tackling poverty and for public services.

Because our stability and prudence is and has always been for a purpose.

So when people ask us in these times of adversity: If we are to meet the urgent challenge of the hour, will we have to sacrifice the goals, the progressive goals, of full employment, better public services, tackling child and pensioner poverty at home, and cooperating internationally to protect the environment and combat international poverty?

When they ask now whether in these times of adversity, we have to sacrifice social progress, I reply that because we are more determined than ever to set the right priorities these times of adversity will not diminish but strengthen our commitment to our progressive goals.

We will not sacrifice the goal of full employment, our goal of full employment for every region of Britain.

And at this time of economic uncertainty it is even more important that in the Pre-Budget Report we expand the New Deal again, invest more in skills retraining. And with new opportunities and tougher new responsibilities we will do whatever it takes to help back to work those long term unemployed without jobs, skills, earnings or prospects.

And let me tell conference this government also appreciates the difficulties of men and women in sectors directly affected by the American tragedy and manufacturers and exporters faced with slowing world trade and a weak euro.

And because this government now and in the future will always back manufacturing industry – so vital to our economy – we will in this year’s Pre-Budget Report build on our investment allowances, the new funds for venture capital investment in all regions of the country and the additional resources for regional development agencies pioneered by John Prescott, all adding up to a new regional industrial policy for Britain.

This Autumn Patricia Hewitt and I will set out our plans for a new tax credit for innovation across manufacturing, backing with direct government support the new ideas of today which will become the new jobs of tomorrow.

And because there is no solution to the problems of our high unemployment areas without more businesses, more enterprise and more entrepreneurship, the Pre-Budget Report will extend opportunities for small business creation to places and people prosperity has for too long passed by – public sector working in partnership with private sector to create jobs.

Our task is that Labour is not only the party of employment in Britain, also the party of enterprise in Britain.

And even in these testing times we will not sacrifice the ideal of lifting the low paid out of poverty, helping pensioners to ensure dignity in retirement and giving Britain’s children the best possible start in life.

Because we believe that economic efficiency depends upon social justice the minimum wage rises today by 10% from 3.70 pounds an hour to 4.10 pounds – and as the Low Pay Commission advised we plan to raise it again next October, as we also raise and extend maternity pay and leave, and ensure new rights for part time workers.

And with the pension rising faster this year than prices, faster next year than prices on the way to the new pension credit, and with the winter allowance paid at 200 pounds from next month, we will keep our promises to Britain’s 11m pensioners.

Because it has been a scar on the soul of Britain that when we came into power one child born in every three was being born poor we have not only taken one million children out of poverty in our first term – one million children previously condemned to fail – but as Alistair Darling and I legislate for our new child credit and we prepare future Budgets we are determined to take the next one million children out of poverty – resolutely advancing towards the goal we all share of abolishing child poverty in our generation.

And because our goal of opportunity for all demands more than the relief of poverty but that we tackle the underlying causes of poverty by extending opportunity we will in the reforms Estelle Morris is leading over the coming years-

Extend nursery education and Sure Start;

Help more young people stay on at school;

Radically improve workplace skills moving beyond the old voluntarism of the past.

And as we examine the financing of universities and the problems of student loans and fees, the test will be to break down the barriers that hold people back so that all and not just those who can afford it have the chance to make the most of themselves and their talents.

And even in times of adversity we will advance our goal of world class public services.

And, as this conference agrees, on reform in our public services and I urge conference this afternoon to support the necessary modernisation – our task in our spending and tax decisions in the budget and spending review will be to combine that reform with the necessary resources for the future.

We reject those who argue that our public spending on public services is a drain on our economy and we reject those who advocate privatisation and public spending cuts.

We will implement our pledge to secure a world class National Health Service, a public service free for all at the point of need.

We will continue our progress in education to ensure world class state schools because we believe learning for all is the most important investment we can make for the future.

But those of us who believe passionately in public services have a special responsibility to ensure their effectiveness and we can only deliver world class public services if we change, update and modernise.

Stephen Byers is preparing a white paper on local government matching reform with new local powers to ensure better services.

This afternoon Alan Milburn will tell us how through the Private Finance Initiative we have been able to start 31 new hospital developments

And on London Underground we plan to invest not less public money but more, an extra £13bn of public funds, the biggest public investment programme in the history of the Underground.

And it is precisely because we are determined to avoid a repeat of the unacceptable extra costs of the Jubilee Line’s delays and overruns – nearly 2 billion pounds paid unnecessarily by the public sector to the private sector – that we are requiring that the private sector accepts its responsibilities, tied in to a proper partnership to raise capacity, improve safety, enhance reliability, and ensure that the 13 billion pounds we invest delivers the best public service and protects the public interest.

And in times of adversity we are also not less obliged but more obliged to meet our international responsibilities.

It is in difficult days like these we realise that we are not just isolated individuals, but fellow human beings bound together by common needs, mutual interests, shared, hopes and linked destinies.

And we know that if the idea of international community is to be more than words we are summoned to do not less but more to tackle world poverty.

To those suffering under the burden of unpayable debt we will not relax, but again at the G7 meeting I attend in Washington this week, ask all rich countries to step up their efforts to extend debt relief so that money paid by the poorest countries for debt today can be money spent on education and health tomorrow.

To those children in every continent, the 120 million denied the right to schooling, we will year by year advance towards the goal: by 2015 the opportunity of free primary schooling for every child across the world.

For those who suffer from TB, malaria and aids, governments will this year double the new Global Health Fund from 1 billion pounds in July to 2 billion pounds by December.

But we know that this is just a first step towards meeting the international development target to cut infant and maternal mortality by two thirds.

So conference, in the years ahead let the words spoken of Robert Kennedy now be our guide: we see suffering and seek to heal it, see pain and seek to end it, see injustice and seek to overcome it, see prejudice and seek to triumph over it.

Friends: it has always been deep in the character of our party and our country that even in the hardest times, even when faced by clear and present danger, we have never flinched from international action to right wrongs.

And we have always held true to the high ideals of freedom, social justice and opportunity for all.

We remember the generation that even in Britain’s darkest hour never lost sight of its commitment to social progress.

Our party in that generation – forging a vision for the future while meeting the awesome challenges of the times.

Never losing sight of the values that bind us as a country together.

Not isolationists but internationalists, thinking beyond self interest to the needs of others.

Believing in something bigger than ourselves: a shared faith – that not just some but everyone whatever their birth, background or race should have every chance to achieve their potential.

So conference: inspired by our history, more determined because these are testing times, let the message ring out: we can and we will achieve in our generation that better future.

Security and stability – yes.

And upon that platform a Britain of full employment.

And of enterprise open to all.

An end to child and pensioner poverty.

World class public services.

And not just nationally but internationally justice for all.

These are the great purposes that we as a party have set ourselves, the great goals that are the standard by which over the coming years we will be judged.

This is the vision which can unite our whole country and inspire in Britain a new progressive consensus.

Have confidence: there is a purpose in politics.

Our values are right for this time.

Nationally and internationally, we can rise to all the challenges if we meet them together.

Have confidence and together we can and will build the Britain of our ideals.