Tessa Jowell – 2010 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Tessa Jowell, the then Shadow Minister for the Olympics, to the 2010 Labour Party conference.

Conference, in three weeks time – the Coalition will announce their spending review – a defining moment.

Because then the Coalition will announce a programme of cuts cloaked in the language of the ‘Big Society’.

They’ll say ‘we’re all in this together’, but what they mean is that ‘it’s your problem not ours’.

And, of course, the question is – what does the Coalition mean by the ‘Big Society’?

If they really believe that people should have more control over their lives – then we agree.

If they mean that communities can and should be more powerful – we know.

And we know because we did it while we were in Government.

David Cameron says that he wants the voluntary sector to grow.

And conference it has grown. It has doubled in size.

Under Labour.

He wants more people to participate in civic life.

And they are.

And it happened under Labour.

He wants a civil society to have more power.

And look what civil society achieved.

Remember ‘Make Poverty History’? Campaigns against smoking in public places, and those campaigns for gay rights? Community movements that captured the imagination of the public and found their champion in our government.

They changed the law and they changed our country for the better.

And it’s all happened under Labour.

Conference, we should be proud of what we achieved and be confident that we can win this argument.

Because their ‘big idea’ is to steal our language of fairness, solidarity and responsibility – and to reduce our movement’s founding values to a marketing slogan.

Not so long ago the Tories believed that there is ‘no such thing as society, only families and individuals’.

Now they say that society alone, through the actions of individuals, should become the sole providers of the very structure and essence of our community life.

They think you can have the state or civic action but you can’t have both, indeed – you shouldn’t have both.

And we know that they are wrong.

Because the fact is that community life is created through our shared investment in our local lives – local schools, hospitals, Sure Start centres, libraries, parks and open spaces.

And it is here that the partnership formed between the enabling Government and the community makes our charities, our mutuals and our society stronger than ever.

So Conference our challenge to the Coalition is this:

You can use our language and mimic our values – but when the next election comes the people of this country will judge you in these ways:

They will judge you on whether civil society becomes ‘bigger’ and, indeed, more sustainable;

Whether local people are equipped, willing and able to shoulder the burden of their new responsibilities;

And on whether Britain is a fairer place than when you came to power.

And I don’t know about you conference, but I think that for a Government that says that it wants to build up our communities – it has an odd way of going about it.

£742 million cut from the ‘Big Society’ in its first 100 days.

And that is before the real cuts follow in 3 weeks time.

A survey published today by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations says that confidence among charity leaders is lower than ever before – and that the little platoons required to build the Coalition’s big vision are afraid they’re being led off a cliff.

But to be a credible Government in waiting we need to spell out our own vision of what the ‘good society’ means.

Because while the policy that underpins the ‘Big Society is so flawed, its rhetoric does echo the popular mood.

That in a post-crash post-parliamentary expenses Britain, people want to feel a sense of ownership, control and accountability; something which neither free market fundamentalism nor remote and centralised statism can provide.

Our people are not seeking empty slogans, but a different kind of society where they feel and are more powerful.

Confident that businesses are run as much in the interests of people that depend on them as they are in the pursuit of profits.

Where public services are developed on the experience of users and the wisdom of their staff.

Where power does not just reside in a political class but is part of people’s lives and their experiences – they know it and they believe it.

So where do we start on building our vision for the ‘good society’?

Financial services that command the confidence of the public through long-term security not short term risk. And that means, Conference, that we should look for a mutual future for Northern Rock and a People’s Bank at the Post Office.

Public services that are indeed responsive and, we know, popular – building on co-operative schools and foundation hospitals to give users real power over social care, housing and Sure Start centers.

And our Labour Councillors, so many with a new Labour mandate, forging a new relationship with their communities based on the co-operative values of fairness, accountability and responsibility.

New trusted institutions across our economy, the state and society – that are of the people, by the people and for the people.

Conference, our Party is renewing and you, our activists, must lead the way.

In our communities, our branches, our councils and our CLPs.

So Conference, seize this moment – be brave, be responsible and radical, remembering our traditions of self-help and colle ctive action.

So that when we return to Government – and we will – we are a renewed political movement that can bring the change to this country – the change that this country will by then so badly crave.