Owen Smith – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Owen Smith, the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, to the 2013 Labour Party conference in Brighton.


It was 25 years ago this week that I came here to start life as a student at the University of Sussex.

The year was 1988, the year the Lib Dems were founded, and Sussex, renowned for its progressive politics, was among the first universities to establish a Lib Dem Society.

I wondered how they were getting on.

So I looked up the university society listings before I came here today and sure enough there’s a Clegg-shaped hole between the Labour Club and the Mexican society.

The University was also famous as the setting for Malcolm Bradbury’s novel, The History Man.

The story’s anti-hero begins as a nice but naive, bearded and sandal-wearing radical, who open marriage descends into treachery, lies and a trough of ‘moral turpitude’.

Sound familiar, Nick?

In the TV version, our hero ends up voting Tory, for a rotten right wing government which privatised our public goods, put a million young people on the dole, and introduced a tax which united the country in opposition.

Who says life can’t imitate art?

But that’s enough of the jokes. Their conference finished last Thursday.

Ours is just beginning – and what a beginning with that wonderful, welcome announcement that a Labour Government led by Ed Miliband will scrap the bedroom tax.

Of course a Labour Government will scrap it.

We will scrap it because it is an affront to our values of fairness and decency,

Because it neither saves the money they claim, nor solves the crisis in our housing.

We will scrap it because like so many of the policies of David Cameron’s deeply out of touch government it seeks to balance the books on the backs of the poor and the disabled.

And let me tell you Conference, people in Wales – hit harder by the Bedroom Tax than anywhere in Britain – will have heard that news and understood that Labour is on their side.

And just as the bedroom tax has hit Wales harder than any other part of Britain, Wales also has more workers earning less than the living wage than anywhere else – more than one in five of the total workforce.

So Welsh workers and Welsh wages need a Labour Government in Westminster as well as in Wales to fight their corner. And Labour this week is sending a clear message to the hard working people of Wales.

We are on your side. We will strengthen the minimum wage and push for a living wage too.

Our values in action, conference.

And our proof, conference, that there is always an alternative.

In Wales, a Welsh Labour Government, has been getting on with the job of defending those values and articulating that alternative, protecting the living standards of ordinary people that have fallen so drastically under the Tories.

In Wales, we kept the EMA and refused to treble tuition fees – holding firm the ladder of education and social mobility that the Tories are so keen to draw up behind them.

In Wales, we’ve rejected the privatisation of Bevan’s NHS and held fast to its role as a beacon of excellence and equality.

And in Wales we’ve been on the side of working people with policies that have put 6000 young people back to work, and by taking bold action earlier this month to stamp out the disgraceful blacklisting of construction workers.

But conference, despite Carwyn and our Welsh colleagues’ values and innovations and sheer hard work, devolution alone is not enough.

– Not enough to stop Welsh wages from falling by £1600

– Not enough to prevent under-employment become the new norm in our economy.

– And not enough to stop food-banks become a shaming feature of communities across Wales.

No, a Labour Government in Wales alone is not enough – and will never be enough – however much devolution we deliver.

Because the social and economic union between the nations of Britain provides a safety net that Scotland or Wales could never recreate if they chose to fly alone.

And though Labour will always defend and cherish the proud identities of the different nations of the UK, we will also celebrate the centuries of common endeavour and shared history that makes us also One Nation.

And which allows Labour Governments in Westminster to share Britain’s wealth more fairly than the market or the out of touch Tories ever would.

So credibility, yes. And deficit reduction, of course. But decency, fairness and transformation too.

Because we need a Labour Government to rebuild the very foundations of our economy, from the bottom up so that it works for the many, not the few.

We need banks that serve the industry of our country – not speculate idly in its success or failure.

We need companies that feel a duty to the society in which they operate – not just to the shareholders who trade them around the Globe.

We need work that pays a decent wage – a Living Wage, with prices under control and growth that is fairly shared across classes and regions.

And we need a Labour Government to consign the Bedroom Tax to history, to strengthen the Minimum Wage and to deal with the cost of living crisis that is damaging our communities.

Conference, Ed Miliband spoke for Britain on this week when he said we will do these things.

That we can do better than this.

That Britain can do better.

He spoke for Britain…and he warmed hearts in Wales.

He set Labour marching forward once again…

And Wales will march with him.

Led by our First Minister, Carwyn Jones…