Ray Collins – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Ray Collins, the then Labour Party General Secretary, to the party conference on 25th September 2011.

Thank you Chair, and thank you Conference.

This is the 38th consecutive Party Conference I have attended, and whilst I hope to be attending many more, this is my last Conference as your General Secretary.

For many conferences now, you have heard me bang on about my priorities as General Secretary.

I am afraid that, for one last time, I am going to bang on about them again here today.

My priorities were threefold:

– To put the Party on a stable organisational and financial footing.

– To ensure that we are the Party of equality, advancing the cause of women, Black, Asian, and ethnic minority communities and other under-represented groups.

– And to ensure we are a party of the future, with a growing and vibrant youth movement.

Being General Secretary has given me the opportunity to meet and get to know many of the Party’s young activists. I have always believed that our young members are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are important voices here and now.

But it is only latterly that I have fully appreciated quite how capable those leaders of tomorrow are. I have endeavoured to support their work, and in response to their extremely persistent lobbying, agreed to fund a full-time Youth Officer in Head Office.

I am also extremely proud to have worked – alongside a great many others – to ensure that we look like the country we seek to represent.

There is very much more to do, and we must never be complacent about the future, but when I sit in the PLP, and look around me at our diverse, talented Labour benches, I feel an incredible sense of optimism.

On the finances, you will see from the Treasurer’s Annual Report, quite how much progress we have made.

In 2010, for the first time in many years, we fought a General Election without adding to the Party’s debt burden.

Our finances forced us to be cleverer in our campaigning, deploying resources where they made the most impact.

We lost, and we lost badly, but I honestly believe that as a Party we campaigned better and harder than we ever have before.

And despite all the media predictions, we stopped the Tories achieving an overall majority.

We have learned the lessons of that campaign by developing Project Gameplan, our strategy to win the next General Election.

These lessons were learnt in many of the constituencies I had the pleasure to visit, campaigning with members on the doorstep.

I know I should not single any out, but I do want to mention a few:

– Chesterfield

– Edgbaston

– Islington South

– Oxford West

– And Hastings

These are constituencies that know:

– That engaging with voters on the doorstep is not something you only do at election time.

– That ‘Will you vote Labour?’ is the last question you ask, not the first.

– That there is no such thing as a safe Tory or Lib-Dem seat where there are dedicated activists determined to buck the trend.

It is these lessons that underpin Refounding Labour. It is how we will become an organisation fit for purpose that will win the next election

Under Ed Miliband’s leadership we can win.

I look forward to playing my part in that victory, but also, in something of a departure for me, to being able to speak with my own voice in the House of Lords on issues dear to me, and to the rest of the country.

It was my experiences as a child that first drew me to politics. The sudden death of my father at an early age meant my mother was faced with the loss of her husband, her home, and her household income in quick succession.

She was determined to provide for her children, and her hard work and resolve secured our future.

Yet hard work and resolve were not enough on their own. It was the Equal Pay Act that provided a level playing-field for women like my mother. It was changes in the law that gave my mother protection from exploitation, and it was changes in the law that enabled her to become an economically active individual, rather than dependant on the state.

The politics is the personal, and we never resonate more than when we are supporting voters in their aspirations for themselves and their families.

I want to wind up by saying a big thank you to all those who have supported me in my work as General Secretary.

They are too numerous to mention individually, and I hope to thank them in person over the course of this week.

But I do want to single out the Party’s staff, who are one of Labour’s greatest assets. They work tirelessly on behalf of the Party they love, and no General Secretary could have asked for more.

I also wish to thank my husband, Rafael. He has put up with me working weekends and evenings for a very long time, and without his support, I would have been lost.

The fact that I am able to call him ‘my husband’ is, for me, one of Labour’s greatest achievements in office. Thank you Rafa – for everything.

But my greatest thanks are reserved for you, the Party members.

The best bit of my job has been travelling to constituencies up and down the country, seeing the work that you do, knocking on doors, and making new friends.

You are the lifeblood of our Party, and your passion for our country’s future is formidable to behold.

I wish my successor as General Secretary, Iain McNicol, all the very best for the future.

I know he will value you every bit as much as I do – indeed, it would be impossible not to.

It has been my very great privilege to serve you as General Secretary, and I look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.