Peter Hain – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Peter Hain, the then Welsh Secretary, to the 2009 Labour Party conference in October 2009.

In the past four weeks I have travelled the length and breadth of Wales joining with local party members at a series of fight back meetings. I have been asking everyone a simple, solitary question and I repeat it here:  do we want to win?

Not – ‘Yes, of course we do. Or OK, why not?

No I mean do we really, really want to win? Do we really, really want our Labour Government back in power?

I ask because unless we do, unless you do, then we all might as well wrap conference up now, go home, put our feet up and wait for David Cameron to give that smarmy smile of his from the steps of Number 10 next year.

We must not behave as if a Tory win is inevitable.

Seemingly ready to throw away thirteen years of Labour investment in schools and hospitals, to hand over everything we have achieved – minimum wage, tax credits, massive public spending increases, trebling our overseas aid budget doubling the Welsh budget, devolution for Wales, the Northern Ireland settlement – hundreds and hundreds of concrete Labour achievements – absolutely everything, to those callous, right wing Tories.

The opinion polls have killed us already. The media have written us off, some licking their lips at their Tory mates being back in power again. Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat leaders are preparing to work with the Tories.

But, they have all forgotten something. Not a single vote has been cast yet.  Nobody knows what will happen on election day.

They have forgotten something else:  this labour and trade union movement never gives up: we never have, we never will. Because the Tories have not been winning with the kind of huge leads Labour achieved before 1997.  On June 4th they won Wales – shockingly – with just six out of a hundred people registered to vote. Labour voters have simply stayed at home – by the millions.

So, if we get under the radar – underneath the ferocious media attack on us and speak to voters directly – we can still beat them.  And nobody else can do that except us – each and every one of us.  Because in this general election campaign, more than any election I can remember, direct contact with voters on the doorstep or the telephone will be vital – absolutely critical.

I think it will be decided at the very last moment. If we do our job as a Labour leadership, if you do your jobs at the grass roots, whatever the polls say, when people get into the privacy of the polling booth, then I think the next election will be more like in 1992 when everyone expected the Government to lose but in the end voters considered the Opposition too much of a risk. I think voters might set aside their dissatisfaction with our Government and ask themselves a much more fundamental question: do they really, really trust the Tories?  Trust the Tories with their jobs, their mortgages, their families, their pensions.

Everyone is worried about debt, but do they trust the Tories to manage the crisis when their policies of savage cuts would make debt worse?

Everyone is worried about rising unemployment, but they know savage Tory cuts mean millions more could lose their jobs in future.

Everyone would prefer that the recession hadn’t driven up government borrowing, but everyone also knows if we were not investing now the economy would be much, much worse.

What I find really offensive is how David Cameron and George Osborne so transparently relish chance to make cuts, to exploit this global crisis to do what even Thatcher could not do. Slash and burn local government.  Introduce regional benefit levels, meaning lower pensions, disability and unemployment payments for low income areas like Wales. Also in Wales ending free prescriptions, abolishing free bus travel for pensioners, and abolishing European funding programmes.

And now, we have the extraordinary spectacle of the Liberals trying to out-do the Tories in savagery on cuts!

Over recent months the soft Cameron mask has slipped and the real Tories have emerged blinking into the sunlight.  Tory pin-up, their European MP Daniel Hannan, revealed their true colours: “You would be better off being ill in America than in Britain.” Why on earth does he think President Obama is fighting to reform a health system that leaves nearly 50 million Americans without any health protection whatsoever?

On Europe David Cameron has now joined up with the far right leaders:- one says homosexuality is a disease another called for global ‘chemotherapy’ against muslims.

– one described climate change as a global myth’ another insisted the Holocaust was a myth

– yet another celebrated his city’s local connection to Hitler’s notorious SS

Lets remind ourselves why we want to beat the Tories. Because we all share the same Labour values, and the really encouraging thing is that the vast majority of the British people share these values too. The same values of caring, community, solidarity, social justice, equality, fairness, liberty, democracy.

The same values that brought me into politics through the anti-apartheid struggle – opposed by the Tories.

The same values which motivated the great Nelson Mandela – denounced as a ‘terrorist’ by the Tories.

The same values of the trade unionists who banded together to protect working people – opposed by the Tories.

The same values of the Chartists who struggled for working people to get the vote – opposed by the Tories.

The same values of the Suffragettes who fought for women to get the vote – opposed by the Tories.

And – yes – the same values of mutual care and mutual support that inspired that great Welsh Labour leader Nye Bevan to create the NHS – also opposed by the Tories.

Labour values that today stand for fair taxation. Not greedy Tory values that will reward 3,000 of the very richest people in Britain with inheritance tax cuts of £200,000 each. £200,000 each. Whilst they plan to give nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers the sack.

That’s the threat we face, that’s what we must all stand up and fight against.

I’m proud of what we have achieved as a Labour Government. Yes – we have made mistakes; everyone makes mistakes.

But nobody can take away the fact that, even after the global financial crisis, after all the problems people face, there are still 2.4 million more jobs in Britain under your Labour Government than under the Tories.

Nobody can dispute that under Labour there are still over 800,000 more public sector workers, especially doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers to ensure waiting times for hospital operations are now down from years to weeks,  that school standards are up, and crime is down.

All of these and many, many more concrete and tangible Labour achievements.

We should be much more confident about our policies. This should be our era. After the terrible failures of financial capitalism, this is an era for active not passive government, an era for hands-on not hands-off government, for getting stuck in and helping people, not leaving them on their own prey to the banking blizzards. An era for Labour not Tory Government.

So let’s be proud of our Party, proud of our Labour traditions, proud of our socialist heritage.

And let’s do everything – absolutely everything – in our power to stop the Tories destroying all our achievements and wrecking Britain again.