John Healey – 2022 Speech at Labour Party Conference

The speech made by John Healey, the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, on 27 September 2022.

Conference, it’s always an honour to address you.

Thank you for staying the full course today.

Thank you for the massive welcome you gave the choir and speakers from Ukraine.

Thank you for your contributions throughout this debate.

You showed Labour’s total condemnation of Russia; and Labour’s total solidarity with Ukraine.

You showed we share the same values – democracy, freedom, human rights, respect for international law.

When Putin invaded Ukraine, Labour – like the British people – wanted faster, tougher sanctions. Faster, more compassionate treatment for Ukrainian refugees. Faster, stronger UK backing for war crimes investigators.

But on Britain’s military help to Ukraine, and on reinforcing NATO allies, the Government has had – and will continue to have – our full Labour support.

Conference, we will win a Labour Government.

So, let’s make clear to President Putin, there will be a change to Labour but there will be no change in Britain’s resolve to confront Russia’s aggression and stand with Ukraine to confound Russia’s attempts to divide NATO, hold Europe hostage over energy and flood our society with disinformation.

And I say this, conference: those who call ‘stop the war’ more loudly than ‘win the war’ are playing into Putin’s hands.

A ceasefire cedes new territory to Russia. Risks Russia regrouping their forces; deepening their occupation; legitimising their regime of torture, rape and execution.

We are not fighting. We don’t decide when it ends. Only Ukraine can make this call. Our duty will be to support Ukraine in negotiations, just as we are now in the fighting.

Britain’s military have responded magnificently to support Ukraine. And we pay tribute to the serving men and women of our Armed Forces.

We are the party of public service. Theirs is the ultimate public service.

They defend the country, at home and abroad.

Yet over 12 Tory years, they’ve seen their pay cut, numbers cut, family support cut.

Satisfaction with Service life itself has plunged below half.

We must renew the nation’s contract with those who serve. We will put the Armed Forces Covenant fully into law. We will make Britain the best country to be a veteran. The Tories won’t; Labour will.

And over 12 years, the Tories leave Britain weaker in the world.

They have weakened Britain’s global influence by breaking international law, antagonising our European allies, slashing development aid and failing to stand up for human rights.

They have cut our full time Armed Forces by over 40 000, axed one in five of the Navy’s surface ships; and taken 200 planes out of RAF service in the last five years alone.

They have got the big calls wrong. They failed to see and plan for a Taliban take-over in Afghanistan or a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even as threats to Britain increase, they plan to cut the Army by a further 10 000 troops.

And they’ve overseen a broken procurement system, wasting over £15 billion through bad MoD management.

The NLAW anti-tank missiles have been vital to Ukraine. This is day 216 of Putin’s war. Yet there’s still no MoD contract signed, still no production to restock for Ukraine and for our own Army.

The Tories are failing British troops, and British taxpayers.

When a country is facing threats or forced to fight, its Armed Forces depend on the strength its industry and resilience of its people.

Attlee and Bevin understood this in the late 1930s. And yes, so did Nye Bevan.

As the Party of working people and trade unions, we know when done well spending on defence strengthens our UK economy and our UK sovereignty.

So, in government, we will make it fundamental that British defence investment is directed first to British business, with a higher bar set for any decisions to buy abroad.

The first test is the Navy’s new fleet support ships. The Tories want to build them abroad, in cut-price shipyards with non-union labour.

Conference, I say to you today:

Under Labour, these ships will be built in Britain by British workers.

Under Labour, trade unions will be industrial partners.

Under Labour, defence spending will help lead our mission to buy, make and sell more in Britain.

Conference, let us draw one more lesson from Ukraine.

Ukraine is winning because its people – people of diverse faith, age, ethnicity and language – have a national story of hope to unify them.

To be a democratic country at peace with its neighbours, free to determine its own future. A people with security, prosperity and respect.

These are Labour’s hopes for the British people.

Our surest defence for Britain is to build a country where security, prosperity and respect are guaranteed to all.

A country worth defending and determined to defend itself.

A country whose citizens can say proudly: in the face of the most severe threats, we stood with Ukraine, we stood with our allies, we stood with each other.