Sunday, 24 March 2013

Own Smith Shadow Welsh Secretary Speech at WelshLPC13


Conference,

Thank you for the warm welcome and may I begin what a great pleasure and honour it is to address you for the first time as Shadow Secretary of state for our great country of wales.

Thanks, too, to Peter for his warm word of introduction and for the support that he and his predecessor, my great friend, Paul Murphy, have given me over the last few years.

Welsh Labour and the Welsh people have been  well served by those two men- the latest in long line of welsh men , and women who have played an influential role at the  heart of our British Life.

Welsh representatives in national government and in our communities too, have been the bedrock of our party in past centuries.

And isn’t fantast to look around the hall today to see so many of our current generation of council  leaders and councillors, fresh from the fight last May, and providing the backbone of our party still.

And if our councillors are our bedrock, The unions, Conference, are our roots, our party has sprung from them and we will not flourish without them.

Not because, as the Tories sneer, their members support us financially, but because they connect us to the true wellspring of Labour’s support – ordinary men and women the length and breadth of Britain. 

That is our greatest strength, conference, and Tories jibes can never break it –because they will never understand that we are the Unions and the Unions are Labour. In the past, in the future.in Wales and Britain.

And, conference, it’s partly about that tradition of Welsh Labour within British Labour, and the evolution of Wales alongside our neighbours and friends in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, that I want to talk to you today.

Now, it maybe bit insensitive to be talking today about our friendship and fraternity with the English, just a week after we showed so little in our….

…epic, imperious, merciless, majesterial … leoine.. Performance at the Millennium Stadium.

And I know that not all of us have been able to maintain dignity and magnanimity with our English colleagues in the hours and days since.

But as someone who regularly struggles to maintain composure when George Osborne blames the snow, the Jubilee, the Royal Wedding and the Europeans for his failures on the economy..

I’d like to take this opportunity , live on national television, to thank everyone in wales for managing to keep a straight face when hearing those excuses about the scrum, the roof, the ref and the pitch…

Still not even Austin Healey would have thought he could have got away with blaming Cyprus, as the Chancellor did in his budget on Wednesday.

And what a Budget

Even before he got to his feet we’d been told in very old English that the best George Osborne hope to do was not a to screw it up like he did last year.

Well, that’s going well, isn’t it?

Almost as soon as he sat down the wheels fell off his flagship housing policy when he realised it would give rich people a subsidy from the Treasury to buy themselves a second home.

That’ll go down well in North Wales, I thought…

and within 48 – hours his old mates at the ratings agency – the one blessing he said was his No 1 priority – offered their warm support- and downgraded our credit rating some more.

But who can blame them really, when you look at the extraordinary admissions of failure and incompetence that made up the budget.

Osborne said he was going to level with us- and didn’t he just:

·         Growth – non-existent for almost three years and downgraded by half in just the last three months. 0.6% if we’re lucky – not the 1.2 % he told us to expect in December last year, and certainly not the 3.5% he told us he’d back in 2010.

 

·         Borrowing – not just up but going through the roof - £114 Billion this year, an extraordinary £245 billion more over the spending period than they confidently predicted when they limped to power.

 

·         Debt- the yardstick by which they used to tell us to judge their success- set to rise right through to 2017- to an astonishing 86% of GDP.

Doubly astonishing, conference, when you remember that under Labour in 2010, the same debt to GDP ratio sat at 57%.

And how did he tell us he was going to pay for it, conference?

Well on the backs of working people and those seeking work, of course, with an additional                    £11.5billion cuts to the services on which we all rely.

No wonder he was coughing and spluttering during his speech – he must have been choking on the shame.

Perhaps the same rose in his throat when he thought of the families and individual who sit behind those statistics and whose living standards and life chances are being curtailed by his economic mismanagement.

But I doubt it, conference.       

Because in truth, he, like so many on their benches seem ironclad against such admissions of culpability and callousness, wrapped tight in their cloak of born to rule arrogance.

Yet we know the truth.

Real people in our communities here in Wales and in communities like them across Britain are struggling.

Living Standards are falling.

Salaries are stagnating

People’s optimism about their future -  and that of their children –is falling.

And their faith in our country – and in our ability to heal it- is in peril.

That is the truth of modern Britain – from Land’s end to Llandudno.

And only Labour has the values and the policies – the conviction and the credo – to fix it.

How do we do that. Conference?

How do we persuade people to trust us anew? By telling them what they know to true, that we can only truly solve the problems of our economy, our society and our democracy? we pull together , in  the interests of all, not the vested interests of a few.

That is Labour’s credo:

A simple , democratic faith –  by Nye Bevan 60 years ago as:

‘… the assertion of the common against the special interest.’

And echoed by Ed Miliband, on Wednesday, when told us we will only succeed:

“ if it is made by the may, not just for a few at the top.”

And Conference, if , as a Welshman I was proud on Saturday watching Warburton battle for Wales, I will tell you I was prouder still as a Labour man on Budget Day, watching Ed Miliband speak for Britain.

Not for the Britain of plutocrats and press barons, not for the Britain of elite, the establishment, not for power and privilege.

But for our One Nation of ordinary men and women:

wage earners and mortgage holders, mams and dads , pensioners and students , the unemployed and underemployed.

In Wales , Scotland , England and Northern Ireland where our combined history and heritage, our integrated markets and our collective means – our ‘commonwealth ‘ as we might have called it in an earlier age – holds us together.

And, conference, today, in these difficult economic times, that truth stands starters than ever.

In our economy and our democracy, we stand together or we fall apart.

The Tories understand that.

That’s why they sow division and disharmony

Their divide and rule tactics are as familiar as they are despicable 

Their credo is not about unity, fraternity or collective endeavour.

It is about individualism, private gain and public construction.

It set rich against the poor, north against South, brother against sister- those who aspire against those who allegedly do not.

Do you know what, colleagues?  I think that particular Tory division ,evoked on Wednesday in the seemingly innocuous reference to an ‘ Aspiration Nation’ is the one that makes my blood boil hardest of all.

How dare they imply that some of our citizens lack such aspiration? who are these people?

Are they those on low wage or none, those in poor housing or in need of state support , those with fewer qualifications or greater difficulties?

And what does George Osborne understand of such problems anyway?

Divide and rule, conference, that’s their credo.

And for Wales there is any danger we might succumb to its cruel charms.

Our political heritage is too strong for that.

But because there is a danger that some within Wales will exploit it for their own narrow ends, and will encourage us to look inwards, or to look out any for ourselves.

That is not the Labour Way, conference.

It is the nationalist way course.

That’s why none of us should have been surprised to hear Leanne Wood call last week for the breakup of social security, one of the lasting legacies of Labour’s titanic post war Government.

Reflecting on the hardship being forced by many in our communities as result of Tory cuts to social security programmes – like the 300,000 hit by the cuts to Tax Credits, or the 40,000 hammered by the Bedroom Tax.

Plaid Cymru called for the devolution of Welfare, implying that it would allow us to protect people and insulate the most vulnerable from the Tory-driven hardship.

The reality, conference, as we all know, is the reverse, breaking up our Welfare State, and standing alone we would be weaker- and those people in need of support would be power.

As the Silk Commission most recently spelled out: we raise around £18 Billion per year in Wales and we spend around £ 30 Billion – a reflection of our location and our industrial past- a past which helped secure the wealth of Britain , but which has left an enduring and challenging legacy in Wales.

But there is no shame in acknowledging that modern Wales –along with Scotland, the North of England and even London itself – enjoying the benefit of support redistributed from wealthier past of Britain.

Because in Labour we believe in that concept of the common of a commonwealth.

And is dishonest too with its false implication that provision for the most vulnerable, or prosperity for the majority, might be strengthened by our acting alone.

No less incredible and irresponsible are Welsh Tories claims that they would cut taxes for wealthy individuals in Wales.

Their predictable response to the Silk Commissions’ suggestion that income tax might be devolved to Wales was to announce last month that they would cut the top rate of tax.

Not content with the Millionaires ‘windfall that their Westminster Colleagues are introducing on April 6th, the Welsh Tories want to go further and cut millions more from the tax bill of the richest.

Of course, there’s no credible plan as to how they’d pay for this giveaway and the fact that they’ve received so little scrutiny is testament to their marginal significance in Wales.

But their proposal to use taxation to play off Wales against other parts of the UK and the corresponding plans from Plaid to segregate Social Security are- just like the referendum in Scotland- a reminder of the risk that unless we are vigilant, devolution can risk division and dilution of our collective means and our redistribution principle – and of the fiscal union which allows us to exercise them.

But I know, conference, that we in welsh Labour will not let that happen.

We, who campaigned for Devolution for a hundred years- and delivered it too.

We, who truly understand the value devolution.

Enhancing our democracy, increasing political accountability and improving decision making for vital public services.

We will us devolution to deliver to for wales- not to deliver us from our brother and sisters in Liverpool, or Lanarkshire, Lisburn or London.

Because wherever Devolution takes in the years to come – and it will shift and evolve , ebb and flow –

we will remain both Welsh Labour and One Nation Labour- a Welsh party and a British Party – and proud of being both.

And as One Nation Labour- in Wales and Westminster- we always argue for hope and optimism, equality and opportunity for all of our people , not just the fortunate few.

 The Tories can’t lay claim to that title, or to those ambitions.

Theirs is a Little Britain.

And their policy priority? Tax cut for millionaire and austerity for the rest will shrink it further still.

They will shrink our economy, our standing abroad, and our hope at home.

And that is why we have to get them out!

We’ve got to get them out because it is now crystal clear that we cannot afford to let the Bullingdon Boys run Britain.

Because despite their new catchphrase about aspiration, the real hallmark of this Tory government is resignation.

They are resigned to a flattening economy.

And resigned , it seems, to managing the decline of our country.

Because – as they keep on telling us- there is no alternative.

What a load of rubbish,. What patronising guff.

Of course there is an alternative, conference.

We heard it this morning in that brilliant speech by our Welsh Leader, Carwyn Jones.

And we will hear it again tomorrow when Ed Miliband speak from this stage.

It’s a Labour alternative that refuses to accept that capitalism cannot be reformed, that greed cannot be curbed or equality pursued.

We can see that Labour alternative here in Wales:

Where we are not privatising our health service;

Where we care protecting learning through investment in schools; maintaining EMAs and low Tuition fees;

and where are prioritising jobs, science , infrastructure and skills;

Building for the future and looking for growth, not mooning over a Thatcherite fanstasy while managing decline.

And it’s a Labour alternative in Westminster that Britain needs too.

With priorities like the creation of a National Investment Bank- with a home here in Wales- to work alongside Finance Wales- and deliver finance for the industry and infrastructure that we need to recapitalise.

Consumer to provide for the future through getting our young people working and at a fair rate through a job guarantee and a living wage.

Policies which acknowledge mistakes of the past. and at either end of the income spectrum by reintroducing a 10p rate and taxing unearned wealth with a mansion charge.

One Nation policies that could head off a decade of decline and kick start the growth our economy needs.

We would cut VAT and put money back in peoples’ pockets and stimulate demand.

And we would introduce a NI tax break for small businesses to help them take on new staff and deliver jobs.

And the tragedy, Conference, is that George Osborne knows he should do those things- that’s why he adopted a version of our NI policy on Wednesdays.

But so firmly is he lashed to the wheel of his political strategy that he will not do what he should and introduced it tomorrow- instead  we have to wait until next year and hope our country is not broken on the wheel of his hubris instead.

Our policies , conference- Carwyn’s policies and Ed’s too- are aspirations to be proud of , aspirations that are making a difference to the people of Wales today, and would make a difference across the UK too.

But to implement them we have to win.

And you don’t need me to tell you, conference, that winning will not be easy.

The Tories are their Lib Dem stooges will cling to one another as they each cling to power.

And their strategy of dividing our country will grow sharper and uglier as the election draw near.

But win we must.

And Welsh Labour must play a central role in that victory.

We play it by delivering on our promises, of course.

By protecting and reforming public service.

By support the small businesses and industry that create jobs and wealth, and by holding open the door to social, economic and intellectual advancement for all our people.

By showing, quite simply, that there is an alternative.

We play it by campaigning had for one another as we did so brilliantly in the Council election of last year.

And as we will again on Anglesey in just a few weeks’ time.

As we will once more for Derek Vaugham in the European poll next year.

And as we must in the General Election of 2015 in Arfon and Aberconwy , Carmarthen East and West Preseli Pembrokeshire, Cardiff Central and Cardiff North, The Vale of Glamorgan and maybe even Clwyd West.

Labour gains if we want them, conference, and if we work hard to show the people of those constituencies that we deserve them.

Finally, we must play our part, as we have always done, by looking outwards from Wales and speaking cross Britain for our values , our conviction and our credo.

Because that is also part of the historic mission of the Welsh Labour movement.

From our pioneers who first began organise in ILP: Mabon or Hardie.

Through the syndicalist and Trade Unionists –Noah Ablett or Arthur Horner- whose ideas shaped our founding philosophy.

And the Council men and women who first put it into practice: Rose Davies in the Cynon Valley, Tom Platt and Dai Thomas in the North and the West, or the legendary Elizabeth Andrews, in the Rhondda.

To the Parliamentarians who legislated for freedom from poverty, squalor and oppression: Edwards and Watkins and Griffiths and Davies and Bevan of course.

Welsh Labour has given our party a rich seam of men and women who have fought, figuratively and literally – in Parliament and in the International Brigades.

And a rich seem of ideas and values too: solidarity and equality, freedom and unity.

They are our history.

And our enduring faith in a common good and a common wealth is their legacy.

Let’s honour it and honour them.

Let’s refuse to accept there is no alternative

Let’s restate our belief in the many not the few.

Let’s declare our faith in a better tomorrow.

Let’s win for Labour, win for Wales.

Let’s Speak for One Nation, and speak for them all.