Jack Straw – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, to the 2009 Labour Party conference.


I’m hard wired into our party. My mum joined Labour when Clem Attlee was leader.

I delivered my first leaflet in Loughton, Essex in 1955, the month that Winston Churchill resigned.

I’ve been a Labour student. A Labour councillor. A Labour MP for 30 years. 12 years in the Cabinet.

I’m still delivering leaflets – and I’ve even started blogging.

The other day Gordon brought along to Cabinet the man who invented the internet – a Brit – Sir Tim Berners-Lee. With that great gravitas in my voice which befits an alleged elder statesman, I told the Cabinet that being introduced to Sir Tim was like meeting the inventor of the wheel.

Quick as a flash, young Ed Miliband pipes up:

“And what was that like Jack?!”


And Ed’s right. I’ve been around a bit.  And there’s one thing my experience tells me: You never write off Labour.

We’ve faced tougher times before and come through.

We don’t shirk the challenge. And we deliver.

Go back to 1997. If I’d told people in Blackburn then that if they got a Labour government they’d see a £120m hospital, hundreds of old homes replaced by new and affordable housing, and more than twice as many youngsters getting good GCSEs, they’d have thought I’d lost the plot.

But we’ve delivered that and much more.

The first government since the war to oversee a fall in crime. The Conservatives doubled it. Never forget that.

A government which has delivered what has been called a “quiet” constitutional revolution – the Human Rights Act, FoI, devolution, independent national statistics. More open government, more power where it belongs: with the people.

Take Lords reform as well. We removed most hereditary peers in 1999.

Now we’ve got a bill before Parliament to end the hereditary principle once and for all.

Soon we’ll be publishing detailed legislative proposals on a new second chamber to replace the Lords. A chamber elected by the people for the people.

Then there’s the laws to protect the rights of the weak, the powerless, of minorities. We’ve now got the best legislation in Europe on race, religion and women, and it will be better still with Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill.

And it’s only Labour who’s ever acted in this way. Nothing from the Tories – except for just one piece of legislation. On discrimination against gay people. You know what the Tories did? They passed a law to make that discrimination worse – it was called Section 28 and it was disgusting. We repealed it.

Our work is not done but huge progress has been made.

Just look at what we’ve achieved this last year in my department

Stronger protections against forced marriage.

Tougher enforcement of employment tribunal awards.

Opening up family courts.

Measures to prevent house repossessions.

Giving local communities much more say in the criminal justice system.

For example, last December I brought in high visibility jackets for offenders on unpaid work – Community Payback.

Since then more than two million hours have been worked on almost 7000 such schemes and increasingly it’s the local community deciding what the offenders will do.

Conference, we have dramatically improved services available for victims.

We have trebled the money for that great voluntary organisation Victim Support. We’ve provided victims and witnesses with much better services in court.

We’ve appointed an independent Victims Champion, in Sara Payne. Soon there’ll be the first Victims Commissioner.

Now we want to go further, better to bring services for victims together.

So I can announce today that later this year we’ll be unveiling detailed proposals to create the first ever National Victims Service. In a parallel to the way in which the Probation Service is there for the end-to-end management of offenders, the new Victims Service will be there to provide one-to-one care and support for victims of crime.

This service will take some years before it is fully operational but we are going to make a start now. I’ve had to make lots of economies in my department but I have found the money to get this going. £2m for this year, £8.5m for next.

Working with Victim Support, we will start with those bereaved victims whose lives have been torn apart by the murder or manslaughter of a loved one.

Over time the service will be available to everyone who has been a victim of crime – if they want more support we will be there for them.

This is a pioneering idea. It’s what Labour is about. Supporting those who need and most deserve our help.

I didn’t come into politics to cut services. But for sure the taxpayer should get value for money. And sometimes that means making difficult decisions.

We are not going to shirk from them. But we’ll act with care. Treasure the things which matter the most.

Like our key public services. In contrast, for the Tories, public service is almost a term of abuse.

So I say this to anyone thinking of voting Tory:

Be careful of what you wish for. Don’t take the risk.

We’ll make savings when we have to. The Conservatives will cut because they want to.

Entrusting the Conservative Party to reduce the public sector deficit is like asking Sweeney Todd for a quick trim.

George Osborne is already displaying a ghoulish enthusiasm for wielding the knife.

He can’t wait. He can’t resist. It’s in the Tories’ DNA.

It’s why they’ve made the wrong calls on all the big decisions throughout the recession.

And conference, believe me people are starting to wake up to the Tory danger.

My mum, I’m pleased to say, is still going strong, aged 88. She can’t knock on doors these days, but she’s still making the case for Labour.

The other day a friend of hers – a lifelong Conservative – called her to say that at the age of 79 she’s made a big decision. She’s not taking the risk of voting Conservative next time.

She’s voting for Gordon Brown because she says she believes in him.

And if we show self belief we will win next year year.

We all believe in this party.

What it stands for, what it’s done, what only it can do. We have the values, the record, the policies for the future. Now we’ve got to go out and fight for them in a mother and father of a battle – and win.