Jim Murphy – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Jim Murphy, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, to the Labour Party conference on 26th September 2011.


Good morning. Right now it is the afternoon in Afghanistan and there are 10,000 of our Forces there, many of them Reservists. And there are two thousand engaged in Libya and deployed in other countries across the world. They bear the burden of their bravery, they demonstrate their patriotism and they carry our pride.

Afghanistan must remain the biggest defence priority for our nation, and now that a timetable has been set for withdrawal it is essential that the military effort is matched by a new political effort. It is in our national interest and our withdrawal cannot precipitate a collapse but rather a continuation of progress. The UK has fought in Afghanistan four times and we have no intention of doing so for a fifth time.

Tragically, since we last gathered 50 of our people have lost their lives in taking on the Taleban. And it’s important that there remains an all-party consensus over our responsibility to remember them and always care for and support their families.

Today I want to reflect on how we support our Forces, talk about our policy and some of our reforms.

Recent events have again shown that we live in a more interconnected world than ever before – global recession, global terrorism, global warming. New threats are emerging and new technologies are required. Defence is becoming more expensive, more intricate and more unpredictable. The contest for clean water supply and population growth demand our attention alongside terrorism and cyber attack. In recent years we have seen states fail and in recent months we have seen governments fall. We are confronted by violent groups and malevolent individuals determined to do us harm. The pace of change is quickening. Wars amongst the people rather than across borders will be increasingly common. There are 27 States of Concern, from Chad to Uzbekistan. Today there is no opt-out. David Cameron is learning that on the job.

But at this very moment our resilience is also tested: funding is constrained and public opinion is wary. And it’s because our values or interests don’t stop at our shores that we believe in a country with the power to persuade and the ability to act.

We will never wrap ourselves in the cloak of jingoism but the Labour Party will always be strong on defence.

But I want to tell you what can often be the most effective defence policy – and it’s not always a new piece of military hardware. It is a world-class international development policy. Investment in education, democratic reform and viable economies can hinder the spread of conflict. The careful prevention of development policy can be so much better than the painful cure of military action.

And I know that when development and diplomacy don’t succeed the decisions about deployment will always be controversial.

This Government was right to act to prevent the slaughter of thousands in Libya, just as a previous UK government was unforgivably wrong to sit idly by and watch the murder of 800,000 people in Rwanda.

I know that post-Iraq these decisions are even more difficult. We will debate, we may not agree, and so it should be – the decision to place our people in harm’s way will never be taken lightly.

I don’t want the anger that many people felt about the action that was taken in Iraq to defeat the shame we all felt about the failure to act in Rwanda.

I was delighted when Ed Miliband offered me this role as Shadow Defence Secretary. Firstly, because I want to do what’s right for our Forces and their families. Secondly, working with a brilliant Shadow Defence Team, I wanted to challenge the ill-informed orthodoxy of the past which says that Labour is the party of the NHS and the Tories are the party of the Forces. At a time when the Tories are proving that they are neither, a Labour opposition needs to be both if we are to be a Labour government.

Just think what the Tories have done since they came to power:

The Army cut 7,000.

An island nation with aircraft carriers but without aircraft. You don’t need to be a military strategist to know what aircraft carriers are meant to carry – the clue is in the name.

Soldiers serving in Afghanistan opening their inboxes for news of loved ones only to read that they have been sacked by email.

Generations of our troops are losing increased pension payments. This change is permanent while we all know that the deficit is temporary. We should be clear it is quite simply wrong that a man in his late 80s who jumped out of a landing craft at Normandy back in 1944 is having his pension payments permanently cut to pay for George Osborne’s economic policy.

Compare it to Labour’s record:

Doubled compensation payments.

Improved housing and healthcare.

A budget up 10% in real terms.

I’m proud of our record. You should be too and we should never let the Tories tarnish it because we don’t win the next time unless we stand up for what we did last time.

But despite everything the truth is that no party has a monopoly of wisdom or experience on defence.

We often talk about the heroes of our Movement: Hardie, Attlee, Bevan or Gaitskill. Brilliant and bold politicians none of whom sought the description as heroes.

But there is another sort of heroism. That is the heroism of service in the Forces. It exists in all parties and has always been strong in ours. And the wisdom that comes from Service is precious. Jim Callaghan was in the Royal Navy before he was Prime Minister and Dennis Healey served in the Army before he served as Chancellor.

There are many others – and that’s the case today. Let me introduce you to:

Dan Jarvis, the first person to resign their Commission to stand for Parliament since the Second World War.

Jon Wheale, who saw service with the Gunners in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Sophy Gardner, RAF Wing Commander, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a real ground breaker she was the first woman in every job she had.

Frankie Caldwell, Captain in the Royal Tank Regiment, who served in Iraq and was awarded the MBE for his service.

Each of them believed in a better world so they joined our Forces. Each of them believes in a fairer country so they joined our Party.

We should be clear: we are proud of them and want more just like them.

And that’s why today I’m delighted to announce that that is exactly what we are going to do. If you have served and if you want to be part of our Movement we know that we are stronger with you.

Now, from today, if you are a Veteran you can for the first time ever join the Labour Party for just £1. We are the first and only party to change our rules in this way.

So I want to introduce one more person to you. Stephen Burke, Corporal Tank Commander Stephen Burke, who served in Cyprus, Kuwait and Iraq and the first person to join through ‘£1 for the Forces’ campaign.

Conference, even in opposition we are making things better with plans for procurement reform and success on the Military Covenant. The Covenant is the bond between nation and the Services which proclaims that no one should be disadvantaged in the provision of public services if they have served in our Forces – it is a reflection of our solidarity. When the Government reneged on its commitment to enshrine the Military Covenant in law we supported the work of the Royal British Legion in forcing a u-turn and next month the principles of the Covenant will be written into law. The Covenant is not binding on businesses, charities or political parties, but I want our Party in the future to change the way we do our politics so that we are the first to voluntarily sign up to its principles.

But I want us to go further. Today we are setting up a new organisation – Labour Friends of the Forces. Its patrons include our very own Dan Jarvis MP and former General Secretary of NATO George Robertson. This will be a campaigning body within our Movement to expand our engagement with the service community.

Because of all of these changes and the work that many of you are doing Labour can now be the most welcoming of any political party to our Forces community. That is the challenge to me, the team and to all of us together – changing our Party. So when we talk about refounding our party we are rebuilding a political home – and creating a political Home fit for our Heroes.