I am unable to be at conference (I find having to hold down a full-time job something of a hindrance in terms of being able to be as active politically as I would want). I have never spoken at annual conference and it may well be that I never will but if I were to speak this year this is what I would say:
When Labour took office in 1997, Britain was suffering from what Tony Blair later described as a ‘progressive deficit.’ Some twelve years on and Gordon Brown recognises that today’s Labour party needs to renew and rebuild if it is to avoid its own ‘progressive deficit.’ What Gordon recognises– unlike David Cameron and the Tories - is that ‘change for change’s sake’ is not enough. The forthcoming election will be one of ‘big choices’, one that will shape the future direction of our nation for the next 20-30 years. It is for this reason that we have to be bold as a movement; bold in our ambition and bold in our strategy for how we achieve it.
Most of us here today joined the Labour party to help change the world not to change the minutes of the previous meeting! In seeking further change for the future however we must not forget what lies in store if we fail and surrender that future to Cameron’s Tories. We must not forget that the public sector experienced massive, near-fatal under-investment during 18 years of Tory rule in the 1980s and 1990s. The return of a Tory government would inevitably see the return of a two-tier system in terms of public services with, for example, the ‘best’ schools being either private or in the most affluent areas and access to the best healthcare determined not by need but by wealth. Let us remember that under the Tories the highest crime areas were in the lowest-income neighbourhoods; and public transport was most deficient in serving the most deprived housing estates. In Cameron’s Britain the affluent and the well educated will be given the choice to buy their way out of failing or inadequate provision and universal services will be replaced by services for the poor which will inevitably result in poor services.
Yet still the real challenge to the continuation of the pursuit of a progressive political agenda comes not from a resurgent Tory party but from the defeatists, pessimists and cynics that exist within our own movement. If Labour is to secure an unprecedented fourth term then it must urgently set about renewing itself, its message and its organisation. A renewed party needs to reflect the aspirations of ordinary people but it also needs to be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. Ambition, hope and aspiration are far more appealing than a constant reciting of the achievements of the past ten years - telling the electorate that things are much better than they were in 1997 is the political equivalent of living in the past.
So if a fourth term is to be achieved Labour must continue with its progressive reform package, stop fretting about the opinion polls and how often Gordon smiles and above all else it must not (as it has so often done in the past) end up defeating itself.