Neil Kinnock – 1985 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Neil Kinnock, the then Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1985.

I have long admired your perspicacity, Mr. Speaker, but never more than now.

I warmly compliment the hon. Members for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone), who moved and seconded the Loyal Address. I do so without reservation but with the merest twinge of anxiety. On this occasion last year I offered compliments to the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Loyal Address, and appealed to the Prime Minister that the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) be given a job. For once, the Prime Minister ​ agreed with me and the hon. Gentleman is now Under-Secretary of State for a part of the United Kingdom for which I know he has immense affection and strong commitment—Northern Ireland. I shall not be making recommendations this year—but who knows, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South might end up on some bed of thistles in the Scottish Office, and I know that he would find that very difficult.

The hon. Member for Hall Green is well known and respected as a senior Member of this House. Indeed, he will not take it amiss if I say that he even provokes affection in this place—something that has not a little to do with his personal appearance. He is one of the cherubs of the Conservative party, along with the seraphims, the hon. Members for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) and for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who I am glad to see in his place.

One mystery has been dispelled for me this afternoon. Having discovered the connection between the hon. Member for Hall Green and J. R. Tolkien, through Camp Hill school, I now realise on whom the eminent author modelled Bilbo Baggins. That is a compliment to the hon. Gentleman, which I am sure he will accept.

As the hon. Gentleman reminded us, he has been in this place for 20 years, and there is not the merest blot on his escutcheon, nor on any other part of his apparel or weaponry. There has been not an intemperate word, not so much as an admonition from Mr. Speaker, not a bogus point of order, and not a single rebellion to his name in all those years.

The hon. Gentleman is a model to us all, and to some more than to others. He has a record of concern, of which we heard again this afternoon, for the inner cities. He has been a campaigner for open government and freedom of information, he is committed to the improvement and development of small businesses, and, unlike the Prime Minister, he does not wish to manifest that objective by seeing that all businesses are made small businesses.

Here, indeed, is a paragon, a blameless man—so blameless that that can be the only reason why he is not still a member of Her Majesty’s Government. His speech delighted us. We compliment him strongly on it, and I am sure that the whole House is united in that sentiment.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, the junior member of the Loyal Address partnership today, also delighted us. After hearing of the attention that Mr. Edward Pearce—a rose by any other name—has drawn to the hon. Gentleman’s oracular opportunism, I shall continue to think of him from now on as “Ayes to the right.”

Hon. Members may recall that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South first became a household name, not as the Member for his present constituency, but as the Conservative candidate for Glasgow, Hillhead in 1982. There he gained fame, if not exactly fortune, and, through the medium of The Times, was able to tell us and an unsuspecting public:

“I have always wanted to be a Member of Parliament, the way that some people have always wanted to be engine drivers.”

In view of what the Government have done to engine drivers, I can only hope that, for the sake of us all, they do not have the same intentions for Members of Parliament.

It was a remarkable by-election, as hon. Members will recall. The hon. Gentleman was not, as we have been reminded, elected to represent Glasgow, Hillhead. That ​ seat was won by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), a Welshman, as everybody knows from his accent—[Interruption.] I do not know whether you heard, Mr. Speaker, but I heard an hon. Member comment, “Cheap.” One thing that the accent certainly is not is cheap.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, meanwhile, was obliged to find another locomotive, and off he went to his present constituency. It was unexpected—indeed, some would say that it was even gallant—that he should have gone to Aberdeen, South and climbed aboard there, the then Member having decided that there were more comfortable and possibly safer political pastures.

The House will recall that that Member was Mr. Iain Sproat, affectionately known here sometimes as “Cutya” Sproat. He went off to seek his political fortune elsewhere—in Roxburgh and Berwickshire—and, as we know, he proved to be as good a judge of safe political pastures as he was of social security needs. He was defeated. I am informed by reliable witnesses that on the night of the general election, as Aberdeen, South’s Conservatives joined together in the New Marcliffe hotel in celebratory mood to watch the results coming in, they naturally gave particular attention to the verdict of the electors of Roxburgh and Berwickshire. When the news of Mr. Sproat’s defeat came through, the new Member for Aberdeen, South was observed in a corner to be whooping with uncontrollable grief. That is a testament, indeed, to his human nature, and we heard a testament to his considerable talent during his speech.

We feel some rather more genuine grief when we contemplate the Queen’s Speech which the Government have offered us today. Parts of it will gain some support from the Opposition, although we shall want to scrutinise the details. The reference to Northern Ireland,

“to improve further their co-operation with the Government of the Irish Republic”

is to be commended, but we shall want methods and measures in Northern Ireland which will positively help people in both communities and improve the social environment and the political climate.

The proposals to combat the awful rise in drug selling, drug taking and drug-related crimes will gain support in principle and, depending upon the precise proposals, I suspect support in practice during their progress through the House.

We also welcome the proposals outlined to protect animals used for experiments and other scientific purposes.

A similar welcome cannot be extended to many of the other proposals in the Queen’s Speech—proposals for further privatisation, the demolition of the wages councils and, most of all, for what the Government glibly and euphemistically describe as the reform of social security. They will receive no welcome for that from the Opposition. The Government are not interested in improving protection for the poor, the disabled and the old. They are intent upon removing that protection.

The Government are not reforming the social security system. They are intent upon deforming it. In the course of doing that, they will cause great chaos and cost, as well as greater injustice in our society as they take a lot from the needy, to give very little to the destitute. That will be the result of their income support scheme, their social ​ fund, their cuts in housing benefit and the abolition, or at least, as we are now led to expect, their grievous bodily harm to the state earnings-related pension scheme.

The measures that I have mentioned, and others, will meet with the strongest hostility from my right hon. and hon. Friends. Most of all, we shall be condemning the Government for their complete failure, yet again, to offer in this Queen’s Speech any policies that will help the economy and the people to get work and get on.

On this occasion last year the Prime Minister opened her speech with the triumphant news:

“While the right hon. Gentleman”—

that is me—

“was speaking, Barclays bank decided to cut by half a percentage point, from 10·5 per cent., the basic bank rate. That is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend”—

the Chancellor of the Exchequer—

“for the firmness with which he has controlled the money supply. The money supply figures were published at 2.30 this afternoon, and the cut in interest rates came shortly thereafter.”—[Official Report, 6 November 1984; Vol. 67, c. 21.]

A year later, what do we find? Interest rates have, on average, been 3 per cent. higher this year than they were last, and at the moment interest rates are 1 per cent. higher than they were at this time last year. An average £21,000 mortgage now costs £40 a month more than it did at this time last year. Every business man and home buyer knows only too well what that means. Is that a testimony to the Chancellor’s firmness in controlling the money supply? Of course it is not. It is a continuing record of flop and failure, so much so that the Chancellor had to go to the Mansion House last month and announce that the money supply figures, which have defined all that is good and bad in our economy for the past six years, suddenly do not matter any more.

There is no more talk about firmness in controlling, the money supply. No more claims will be made this afternoon that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the Maginot of the money supply—can pull interest rates down. Graven images have gone and sacred cows are to be butchered. The sacred cows are now turning out to be old bull, as they were all the time. Everything now is ruled by interest rate rises and public expenditure cuts.

In a country where interest rate rises cripple small, medium and large businesses, where public expenditure cuts deprive communities and people of vital services, the Government’s continuing strategy consists entirely of using higher interest rates and public spending cuts as the main weapons of economic policy. That is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Mansion House speech:

“Should it at any time become desirable to tighten monetary conditions, that would be achieved—and let there be no doubt about this—by bringing about a rise in short-term interest rates”.

The trouble is that hardly any of the Government’s interest rate rises, on short-term money or long-term money, ever turn out to be short term, because the ending point of the interest rate cycle is always higher than the starting point of the cycle.

The strategy of shrinking our economy is obvious, too, in the Queen’s Speech. Stripped of virile phrases about firm policies, we are left with a vacuous combination of higher interest rates and more public spending cuts. It is a sure recipe for a further rundown of our economy. I am not alone in knowing that, and neither are the Labour party and the Trades Union Congress. The Confederation of ​ British Industry, together with many others, acknowledges the rundown—and continuing rundown—without significant changes in policy. Indeed, many Conservative Members know it. There are members of the Cabinet who realise it.

I am not speaking only about the Secretary of State for Energy, who said at the Conservative party conference, in the understatement of the year:

“Many now find the Government remote, perhaps uncaring, about what concerns them”.

I am speaking much more of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who, we are repeatedly told, wants more money for housing, of the Secretary of State for Social Services, who wants more money to maintain the real value of child benefit, and of the Foreign Secretary, who wants more money to stop the lethal cuts that have been made in overseas aid to the Third world in recent years. They are the people who are looking for additional resources, and from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, they meet resistance.
If the Prime Minister is asked whose side she is on—on the side of her Secretaries of State or on the side of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the reply is that she is on the side of the taxpayers. That takes some cheek when, in six years of the right hon. Lady’s Government, the tax burden has gone up from 38 per cent. to 44·5 per cent. of the gross national product—an extra £18,000 million on the tax burden. It takes some nerve, too, when the taxpayers are all to pay higher charges for water and for gas than even the boards have been asking for, and when the taxpayers, as mortgage payers and rent payers, are all paying higher charges as a consequence of the Government’s policies.

Audacity laced with mendacity is now the right hon. Lady’s stock in trade. When the Prime Minister talks of taxpayers, she talks as if there are taxpayers who do nothing but pay, and old people, poor people, sick people, disabled people and homeless people who do nothing but make claims. There is, of course, no such division in our society. She talks as if starving people abroad want to sponge on the British taxpayers.

The truth is that the Prime Minister is getting the British taxpayers absolutely wrong. Does she not realise that the taxpayers are also the parents who are worried about the cuts in child benefit, and worried about the rundown in schools which Her Majesty’s inspectors refer to as being inadequate, shabby, dilapidated and outdated? Does the Prime Minister not realise that the taxpayers are the same people who make up the families that are worried about the cuts in house building and the virtual abolition of house improvement grants? Does the Prime Minister not know that the taxpayers, in the most direct and practical way, have been telling the Government that they want their contributions to be used more generously to relieve suffering in the Third world? British taxpayers repeatedly demonstrate those views in every measure of opinion that is made.

It is not only the poor who want the relief of poverty in this decent country, the homeless who want the Government to commence a new house building programme or the jobless who want the Government to combat unemployment. Those are now national demands, and are the products of care, conscience and constructive attitudes. That is not bleeding-heart do-gooding, but the ​ realistic response of millions, who know that division and decay impoverish, demean and endanger the whole of our society. Yet the Prime Minister ignores them and tells the Conservative party conference:

“One thing we will not do. We will not reflate.”

The conference cheered that—the turkeys cheered for Christmas.

In reality, the Prime Minister was saying that the Government would not repair homes, hospitals, railways or roads, invest in modernising Britain’s industries, educate and train our young people, retrain our adult workers, or expand research and development to give British industry an extra cutting edge in competitiveness. Most of all, the Prime Minister was saying that the Government would do nothing to build a strong, modern manufacturing base, which will be even more vital when the oil runs out. As the Government know. British chambers of commerce, the House of Lords Select Committee on Overseas Trade, and just about everyone outside this torpid Government, incessantly say that the Government have provided no answer to the question of what happens “when the oil runs out.”

There is another question which the Government never answer. What will they do about unemployment? There are certainly no answers to that in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps we should follow Black Rod back up the corridor to the House of Peers and find the Secretary of State for Employment. Even on the Government’s fiddled figures, 3·3 million people are unemployed, 1·25 million have been out of work for more than a year, and 1·5 million under 25 are unemployed. When we ask where the future lies and where jobs will come from, the Secretary of State for Employment says that the real hope for the future lies in tourism. [Interruption.] Only a few weeks ago that was in the newspapers, written in his own fair hand. [Interruption.]

If that spellbinding answer does not convince people, as it plainly does not convince Tory Members, the Secretary of State tries to take a second trick. He gets the statisticians and samplers of the Department of Employment to tell us that there is hardly any unemployment. Last week a headline in The Times read:

“940,000 on dole are not seeking work”.

The story that it headed began:

“Nearly one million—about a third—of the unemployed claiming benefit are not looking for work, according to the Department of Employment.”

Of those 940,000, 200,000 were in part-time, low-paid employment or had just commenced work, and the remaining 740,000 were described as “discouraged workers” who had given up—defeated people. Last Saturday night I met one of them after a meeting in my constituency. He came up to me and said, “Do you want to shake hands with a man in a million?” I asked what he meant, and he said, “I am one of those that the newspapers were writing about last week. I am one of the unemployed who has given up looking for work.” He went on, “I have been looking for work since the factory closed in February 1983. I have been everywhere looking for work. I would do anything to get work, but in June this year I decided that I was going to stop. I have even stopped looking at the ‘Jobs Vacant’ pages in the newspapers.”

There are hundreds of thousands of people like that in our country. They have been on courses, they have waited in queues, they have written scores of letters, and made dozens of phone calls. Eventually the day comes when ​ they just stop looking because they do not want the rising burden of repeated failure and refusal to be added to the basic misery of being without a job, without money, without independence and—this is what is beloved of the Prime Minister—without any choices.

Without any self-pity, the man said to me, “Fifty-four and finished.” Then he said, “I saw herself on the telly telling the Tory party conference, ‘Come to the 1990s when people can look forward to their retirement.'” He said, “She just doesn’t know anything, does she?”

Minutes after meeting that fellow at that meeting in my constituency, I met a youngster who told me that he had stopped looking for work when the board and lodging regulations changed. [HON. MEMBERS: “Oh!”] Yes. That youngster came home to certain unemployment in an area where there is more than 20 per cent. male unemployment. Why? Because he was afraid of being stranded.

He said, “I came home because I thought that it would be better to be unemployed at home than without a roof over my head. Of course, if they ask me, I shall say that I am looking for work, just like I am panning for gold and prospecting for oil as well.” He reminded me of a friend of my father’s, Mog Miles. Fifty years ago, when he went before the commissioners and was asked whether he was seeking work, he said, “Seeking work? See this whippet by the side of me? It was a racehorse when I started.” The one thing that can save people from total despair is such an attitude.

Another man who was looking for work said to me, “Of course I want work. Of course I need work, and I am prepared to go anywhere, if only there is some work.” There is no work to be had. This is the insecure society. This is the climate of caution and fear, of anxiety and aggression. Misery can produce tenacity, neighbourliness and humour, but it also spawns great evils, illness, despair and desperation. In some cases it pushes people into resigned aimlessness, and in others it pushes people into dumb resentment. In a few cases misery brings hatred, and that hatred generates its own greed and brutality. I am not saying, nor would I ever say, that unemployment, poverty or hopelessness is the sole cause of crime in our country, still less would I say that those things are excuses for crime. There can be no excuse for the pain, terror and loss that are inflicted increasingly on victims, whoever they are and wherever they live.

This question is asked repeatedly of every Member of the House. I am simply asking, can any rational person believe that a 40 per cent. rise in crime in six years at the same time as the obvious increase in hopelessness brought about by unemployment, deprivation, division and decay, is an accident? Is that a pure coincidence? I do not think that it is an accident. There have always been crimes for gain. Now we have crime for kicks. There has always been crime as an occupation. Now, in our times, we have crime as a brutal, vicious entertainment. That has been the awful change in our times.

The roots of crime have always been in malice and in greed, but a 40 per cent. increase in six years, especially in crimes of robbery and brutality, cannot be explained as a sudden surge of evil and depravity in our generation. It cannot be explained on such irrational grounds.

We want drug sellers to feel the full rigour and the heaviest penalties of the law. We want the law to embrace solvents, gases and all the other awful substances that are used. We want an orderly society, a just society and a secure society. That is fundamental to freedom. The ​ brutishness of crime makes us, like all other decent citizens, angry and vengeful. But anger is not enough. We need action. We need action to help the police to prevent and detect crime. We need action to make their task much easier in many ways. [Interruption.] Conservative Members can help in that, too. We want action to assist the police in catching and punishing criminals.

The orderly society, however, cannot and will not be gained merely by policing the problems or punishing the results of crime. The police know that. A fairly senior young officer recently said—[Interruption.] The whole country will note the amusement with which the Conservatives treat the dreadful problem of rising crime in their period of office. They should have the sense to listen to what the police say. That officer pointed out to me that society could not put all its problems in a dustbin and then ask the police to try to keep the lid on. He was absolutely right. We cannot treat the people or the problems with simplistic answers. We cannot go on making an ever bigger dustbin of decay and unemployment and asking the police to clean it up or to contain it. That is neither reasonable nor realistic. It simply ensures more crime, more criminals, more cruelty and more young people completely alienated and estranged from what the vast majority of our fellow citizens, including the great majority of young people, understand to be tolerable conduct in society.

Clearly, dealing with that problem is not just a matter for the Government. It is also a matter for teachers, for parents and for every responsible citizen in society, but the problem cannot be dealt with unless the Government try to meet it with methods that get at the roots of behaviour, rather than just trying to deal with the results. That is the Government’s duty. A Government who destroy jobs, divide people and deny them homes and hope are not doing their duty by the people of this country. In trying to evade the truth that crime is logically, inevitably, historically and obviously rooted in part in social and economic conditions, the Government are deserting their duty.

It is obvious that the Government wish to dodge the obligations which stem from that truth about the roots of much, though not all, of the crime in our society, but that attempt to dodge will not work. The Government will not be acquitted of the guilt for deliberately worsening economic and social conditions in this country and for dividing and depressing both the economy and society. The Government cannot acquit themselves, and they will not be acquitted by the British people, who, when they get the chance, will throw this Government out.