Sunday, July 02, 2006

Tony Blair Speech to Labour Party National Policy Forum

I thought I would post Tony Blair's speech yesterday to the Labour party National Policy Forum, he gets a lot of stick Tony but I think people should remember all our achievements in Government over the past nine years.

Like any government in power for nine years, a need does exist to renew and reform as the world of today is a lot different to the world of 1997. We have a lot to be proud of and a great deal of this is due to the leadership of Tony Blair over the past nine years.

The speech made gave a clear perspective of why we still need to have a Labour Government pursuing policies that have benefited this country along with outlining a forward strategy.

Speech by Tony Blair to National Policy Forum
Straight after the last election, just over a year ago, straight after Labour's only third term victory, coming straight after Labour's only ever two consecutive proper terms of office in 100 years, I said to the PLP that we had to get into the rhythm of government and to lose the rhythm of Opposition. By the rhythm of Government, I meant an understanding that Labour's unprecedented length of time in Government would be accompanied by an unprecedented level of challenge; and to be prepared for it. You win one election, as we did in 1997, by being an acceptable alternative to an unpopular Government; and with luck, as we did, you come in on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm for change. You win a second by governing reasonably. By the time you fight the third Election, people are making a clear choice. They are, by then, open to changing Government but have decided not to. This was us in May 2005, when despite a controversial war, and a fierce attack by parts of the media, we won a majority larger than that of most post-war Governments.

In the third term, the attack becomes fiercer still. Things achieved, are forgotten; things still to do, are evidence of dereliction of duty; things happen, the personal, the political and the perennial that distracts and disrupt the Government. The third term is unknown territory for us. The ground is bigger, more rocky and harder to navigate. The ambushes launched at us by opponents are sharper and more deadly. Look back at the 1980s and the then Tory Government and all of this is very familiar.

This is the time to hold firm; to make the right decisions for the country, no matter how difficult; to face up to the tough challenges no matter how daunting; and to renew not by returning to the past but by showing we have the drive, determination and vision to make the future work, not for a few but for all.

What sustains a Government at this point is self-belief.

We should have confidence in our record in Government. Of course, every focus at present dwells on the negative. But the lowest interest rates and the longest sustained period of low inflation for 40 years, 2 million extra jobs, employment the highest of any major industrial country, is an economic record we can be proud of. NHS waiting lists the lowest since records began and getting lower, cardiac and cancer care amongst the fastest improving in Europe and the largest hospital building programme for half a century is a health record to be proud of. Improving school results at every level, thousands of extra teachers and classroom assistants and the largest school-rebuilding programme ever, is an education record to be proud of. The minimum wage and Sure Start and inner city regeneration and 700,000 children out of poverty and two million pensioners out of acute hardship are things only a Labour Government would ever have contemplated let alone done.

Even in the area most difficult at present – the Home Office – you can set falling crime, record numbers of police and CSOs and asylum applications down to a quarter of what they were a few years back, against the negatives about foreign prisons and illegal immigration.

The point I am making is that in nine years of Government, on any objective basis, much has been achieved as well as much left to do. In our hearts, we know this.

Why have we been able to do this? Why have we won three terms? Because at the core of our project to govern has been an idea, an idea completely in tune with the modern age in which we live. It is the union of individual aspiration and social compassion, the belief that prosperity is not contrary to a society that is just and opens up opportunity to all, but dependent on it; that the more we develop our country's human potential, the more successful we will be, both in terms of economic efficiency and social justice. So much of what, traditionally, politics took as opposites, we have made partners.

This was a very explicit change in the Labour Party. But it was accompanied by something more implicit: a decision to adopt the psychology of a governing party. A governing party governs not for intermittent periods but for significant periods. To govern is to choose. Choosing is hard. Doing it for long periods is even harder.

So becoming a governing party means more than just trying to win. It means understanding and internalising the essence of government, which is leadership and not by a person or a few individuals but by a party. Leadership means doing the right thing, not always the popular thing. Usually doing the right thing ends up by being the popular thing. But it is "in the end". Meantime the pressure is on.So take all these things together and its not surprising it's a tough time. But step back and look at the fundamentals. There is no Big Idea coming back at us from the Tories, merely an ersatz version of our own Idea. The Lib Dems may do well in by-elections. In reality, underneath, they are in a kind of nervous breakdown utterly uncertain whether to go left, right or centre.

There is a saying in football: "form is temporary; class is permanent". Our form is tough right now, but our fundamentals are strong. This isn't a match; or even a cup competition; it's a league and we're not even near the halfway point of the Parliament. There are real issues we need to sort out – illegal immigration and crime at the top of them and we must work hard on them. There are issues which are causing concern now – NHS changes, schools reform, future energy policy, welfare and pensions. But these areas are where we need to have the confidence to see the difficult times through, for the good of the country.

So: how do we do it?

First, we get the policy and ideas right and the politics will follow. There is a myth in politics that strategy wins you elections. But strategy only works if built on sound ideas. We should have the courage to take the long-term decisions that are right for Britain. That's why pensions and energy policy are so crucial. And, of course, in each case there are hard choices. But stop making them and that is truly when the country decides to change. The same with public service reform and the Home Office.

Remember the last Parliament. Tuition fees were to be our poll tax. A few months ago, when opening the new National Science Centre, Vice-Chancellors of some of our key universities told me how the reform had literally saved them. And now even the Tories have been forced to admit their previous policy was wrong. Or take Foundation Hospitals. The end of the NHS, they were called. Today they have ½ million members, most are in surplus and are providing a first-class healthcare free at the point of use; and the Tories again have had to admit they're wrong.

And in each policy area, the twin concepts that have combined to create New Labour were and will be central: fairness and the future: the one about our values; the other about our willingness to implement them sensibly in the modern world. Carry on in this way and we will win. Policy is our strength.

Second, force the Tories also to choose, flush them out, because policy is their weakness. They believe the old rubbish about New Labour as a pure PR exercise. So they've copied the PR. But the PR only ever followed a genuine and painstaking policy rethink. This Tory Party hasn't yet worked out its fundamentals. So they decide to stay Eurosceptics. In order to keep their right wing happy they pledge to withdraw from the EPP and agree to amend the Treaty of Rome unilaterally. They think it doesn't matter. But it does. Tell me: how can they possibly represent Britain sensibly in Europe by breaking relations with Europe's Conservative parties? It's madness, especially with the new German Government, a key ally in Europe.

They know they need a law and order policy; and they know too they have been opposing tougher measures in Parliament – like the 90 days detention of terrorist suspects. So what do they do? They come out with a proposal for a British Bill of Rights, to be drafted by a panel of jurists, apparently. That's meant to appeal to those on the right worried about the Human Rights Act. But then they realise they can't withdraw from the ECHR without offending the centre. So they panic and say they'll have both. It is a recipe for complete and total confusion. And to cap it all, they say they'll entrench it, which would make our present problems even worse.

Or they praise family-friendly policy but vote against increased maternity pay and paternity leave. Or they'll keep our spending – they say – but make a "dramatic difference" to the balance of tax and spending over a Parliament. Where do they stand on energy policy? No-one knows. When you measure a Party up to the big challenges that determine a nation's destiny, then all the P.R. in the world won't compensate for falling short.

So let us test them, hard, on policy, force them to see whether they are willing to face up to the choices that our Big Idea implies, as well as its rhetoric.

And thirdly, of course, let us renew. Renewal is a great word – I used it myself at last year's Conference. But we need to know exactly what we mean by it. I want a Party debate about our future that is open, free-flowing and genuinely about where we go next on policy. Let everyone contribute and not just in this NPF but across the Party, the wider movement, and the communities in which the policy has to work.

By renewing I mean renewing so as to meet the challenges not of 1997 but those of a decade later. The need to renew is a need born of changing times not of changing politics. Renewal shouldn't be code for a reversion to the very attitudes and policies that brought us not three straight victories, but four straight defeats. Party membership won't revive by old ways of Party working but by new engagement and interaction. New ideas won't be about reworking old ideas, but by saying: what are the future challenges and what is a hard-headed modern way of ensuring they are met on a fair and equitable basis.

One theme I am sure will be paramount. To succeed in the early 21st century, we have to be the Party of individual empowerment. We use collective power. We stand for society, for partnership, for working together. But the aim has to be always to use this collective power to fulfil the desires and hopes and ambitions of the individual; not to give people what we think they should want; but what they actually do want. This is an age that needs still the solidarity of collective provision, perhaps more than ever. But it is also an age that demands such provision to be used to empower the individual to have more say, more control, more power over their lives and the choices they make.

The great progressive causes stand plainly before us: ending poverty and social exclusion; rising prosperity for all not a few; the chance not just of a job but a career; public services that are of high quality but based on need not wealth; international action for peace, development, democracy and security. We know them and they inspire us. It's why we are in the Labour Party.

But the hard bit in today's politics is not the 'what' but the 'how'; how do we achieve these causes in a world of globalisation, of rapid scientific and technological change, of changing social, family and community life; a world of mass migration, of global terrorism, of extraordinary prosperity in one part of the world and obscene poverty in another.

This is the agenda we need to work on, in order to renew: it is an enormous challenge for our young Party members and activists for the new generation of Ministers coming through.

And if we do it, we will come through.


Anonymous Chris Gale said...

I dont belong to any faction in the party but this was a good speech.

I think Tony Blair has always summed up very well the need for discipline in order to keep a Labour government in power in a country that is largely conservative minded and which has an overwhelminlgy hostile right wing media.

7:39 pm  

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