Speech given by Gordon Brown on the 24th July 2008 at the Lambeth Conference.
Let me say first of all that I am privileged and I am humbled to be at a conference of so many men and women for whom I have got the utmost respect, the greatest admiration and the highest affection. And let me immediately thank the Archbishop of Canterbury, let me thank Cardinal O’Connor, let me thank Dr Sacks, Dr Singh, Dr Sacranie, Helen, who have all been on the platform, and all those members of the different denominations who are here today. Let me thank you on behalf of the whole of this country for the work that you do for justice and humanity. And let me thank all men and women, Bishops, Archbishops, families from the 130 countries who are represented here today.
Let me tell you there are millions of people whom you may never meet who owe you a debt of gratitude for the work that you do in upholding the cause of the poor, and I want to thank every person from every country for what you do to remind the world of its responsibilities.
This has been one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith that this great city has ever seen, and you have sent a simple and very clear message, with rising force, that poverty can be eradicated, that poverty must be eradicated, and if we can all work together for change poverty will be eradicated.
You know it was said in ancient Rome of Cicero, that when he came to speak at the forum and crowds came to hear him, they turned to each other after he had spoken, and said: great speech. But it was said of Demosthenes in ancient Athens that when he came to speak and the crowd heard him, they turned to each other and they said: let’s march.
And you have marched today under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, you have marched to stand up for the 10 million children in this world who because of our failure to act collectively will die unnecessary of avoidable deaths from tuberculosis, from polio, from diphtheria, from malaria – all diseases we know we have it in our power to eradicate. You have marched today to speak up for the 77 million children who tomorrow, and every day until we change things, will not be able to go to school because there is no school to go to. And you have marched also, just as 50 years ago many of us marched for the Freedom From Hunger Campaign, for the 100 million people who shamefully and disgracefully today face a summer of starvation and an autumn of famine, all because we cannot yet organise and grow the food we need to meet the needs of the hungry people of this world.
And you have marched, because as Rabbi Sacks once said: “You cannot feast while others starve, you cannot be happy while others are sad, you cannot be fully at ease while millions suffer, and as long as millions of people are in poverty, our whole society is impoverished.”
And I believe you have marched because whenever you see suffering you want to heal it, whenever you see injustice you want to rectify, whenever you see poverty you want to bring it to an end. And has that not been the message of the churches and faith groups throughout the ages?
200 years ago was it not men and women of faith and religious convictions who saw an evil and said for the first time that slavery must be brought to an end? Was it not true 100 years ago that men and women of faith and conscience came together with their religious beliefs and said democracy must replace tyranny and every single person should have the vote – a message that we send to Zimbabwe and to other countries where democracy should be flourishing today?
And 50 years ago was it not men and women of conscience and religious faith that when they saw discrimination and prejudice and racism said that you cannot live in a world unless every single citizen, whatever their colour, their race, their background and their birth enjoys equal rights? And was it not the religious movement for change that made it possible for us to talk about a world of equal rights? And was it not you as individuals in these last 10 years, was it not you in the work you did in Make Poverty History that realised the vision of Isaiah, to undo the burden of debt and let the oppressed go free, and that instead of debts being paid to bankers in rich countries, debt relief was used, so that there are hospitals and schools now open in the poorest countries of the world, thanks to your activities over these last 10 years?
And I want to thank you also because it is because of your efforts in Make Poverty History that there are two million people who are receiving treatment for Aids today, where otherwise they would not be alive. In the greatest vaccination and immunisation campaign the world has ever seen, as a result of your efforts, 500 million children have been vaccinated. Three million children who would otherwise have died for lack of vaccinations are now living today. And 40 million children are now at school because you have built the schools and you have made it possible for us to employ the teachers in every continent of the world.
But we know that that is not enough, and we know we have only just begun. The Millennium Development Goals that the Archbishop has just mentioned said that by 2015 we would cut infant mortality by two-thirds, and maternal mortality by three-quarters. But on present rates of progress, let us be honest we will not achieve that change in life, not in 2015, not even in 2020 or 2030 – we would not under present rates of progress achieve it until 2050 and lives are being unnecessarily lost as a result of our failure to act.
Take the Millennium Development Goal on children, our promise that every child would be in school by 2015, and on present rates of progress we will not meet that goal in 2015, or in 2050, or even 2100, not before 2115. And take all our Millennium Development Goals to provide water and sanitation and equality and to cut poverty by half, as the slogan said today, and we will not meet that Millennium Development Goal on current rates of progress in this century or in the next.
And I say to you that the poor of the world have been patient, but 100 years is too long for people to wait for justice and that is why we must act now.
We used to be able to say if only we had the technology, if only we had the medicines, if only we had the science, if only we had the engineering skills then we could meet the Millennium Goals. But we know that with the technology we have, the medicine we have, the science we have, it is the will to act that now must be found.
And each of us has our own personal stories of what we have seen. In Kibera in Kenya I came out of a camp and I saw a young child who was the only person caring for a mother with Aids and with tuberculosis, and that child was only five. And then I met in Mozambique young children of 11 and 12 who were begging me to have the chance of education. I met a young man with Aids in a village hut in Africa who was suffering not just from Aids, but from the stigma of Aids, and he said to me are we not all brothers? I saw the sight of a woman leaving a hospital with a dead newborn baby in a sack. And perhaps the story that I witnessed that influenced me most was a young girl of 12 called Miriam, and I met her in a field in Tanzania, her mother had died from Aids, her father had died from Aids, and she was an Aids orphan being pushed from family to family and she herself had HIV and tuberculosis. And her clothes were in a mess, she was wearing rags, she had no footwear, she was barefoot, her hair was dishevelled. But what struck me most of all was when you meet a young girl of 12 there is hope in their eyes, there is the feeling that their life is ahead of them, a family ahead, work and all the opportunities of youth.
But for that young girl there was an unreachable sadness, hope all but gone. And I decided there and then that if every child is precious – as I believe they are – if, as from my own experience I know, every child is unique, and every child is special, and every child deserves the best chance in life then we must act as a community to change things.
So we need a march not just on Lambeth, we need a march also to New York, to September 25th when the United Nations will meet in emergency session. It is a poverty emergency that needs an emergency session. And I ask you to go back to your countries and I ask you to ask your governments, and I ask you to ask all of civil society to tell people that on September 25th we have got to make good the promises that have been made, redeem the pledges that have been promised, make good the Millennium Development Goals that are not being met.
And I ask you to ask governments to pledge three things, which I pledge on behalf of our government.
The first is instead of 100 years of children not getting education, that
by 2010, 40 million more children are in schools, on the road to every child being in schooling by 2015.
And the second pledge I ask you all to ask of your governments to make is instead of 10 million children dying unnecessarily a year, we invest in training four million nurses, and doctors, and midwives and health workers, and provide the equipment so we can do what medicine allows us to do and eradicate polio, tuberculosis, malaria and diphtheria, and then go on to eradicate HIV Aids in our generation.
And I also ask you to go back to your countries and ask your governments to pledge that in a world where 100 million are suffering today from famine, that we set aside $20 billion for food aid, and not only for food aid but to give people the means, free of the old agricultural protectionism for which we should be ashamed, free of that protectionism to grow food themselves with help from our countries to develop a green revolution in Africa. And it is only by doing that [INAUDIBLE]
And if people say to me that these are unrealisable goals, that we are just dreamers, that we are just idealists with illusions, let us remember that 20 years ago they said it was an impossible dream that apartheid would end, they said it was an impossible dream that Nelson Mandela would be free, they said it was an impossible dream that the Cold War would be over, they said it was an impossible dream that the Berlin Wall would come down. But because men and women of faith and religious belief fought hard for these changes, these changes happened.
And so I would say to you to have confidence today, have confidence today that just as Mandela went free and apartheid came to an end, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it does bend towards justice. And I would say to you, have confidence that just as you managed to achieve debt relief, and just as we have managed to deal with many injustices in the past, that hope even, when trampled to the ground, will rise again and people of goodwill will continue to fight for what is right.
And I ask you finally to have confidence, have confidence that all people round the world of goodwill, people of faith, conviction and religious beliefs, will ensure, in the words of Amos, that justice will flow like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, and there is nothing that we cannot do for justice. If what we do for justice is doing it in unison and together, let’s work together for the transformation we know together we can achieve.
Thank you very much.