Live Blog: Brown's speech

Minute-by-minute coverage of the Prime Minister's conference speech from 2:30pm

I'll be blogging on Gordon Brown's keynote speech to the Labour Party conference from 2:30pm. Can he top Peter Mandelson's virtuoso performance yesterday?

14:27 A surprise as Sarah Brown appears on stage to introduce her husband. Most thought that last year's appearance was a one-off.

She says that the pair will be together "for all times".

"He's messy, he's noisy and he gets up at a terrible hour . . . but I know that he loves our country. And I know that he will always put you first."

14:34 Brown begins: "We've changed the world before and we'll change the world again." Picking up where Mandelson left off yesterday, he says the party must "fight to win".

14:35 Brown pays tribute to his "closest friend and brilliant deputy leader", Harriet Harman, and commends her Equalities Bill.

14:37 Praise for Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson. "The Labour Party has really learned to love you," he says of Mandelson.

A decent joke: "I go to America and people ask how the special relationship is going. I say that Peter and I are getting on fine."

14:40 Twice declares that Labour's economic policies benefit the "hard-working majority and not just the privileged few".

14:42 Says Labour chose "internationalism over isolation" by supporting a G20 agreement that will save "15 million jobs".

14:42 Attack on the Tories begins. Brown says Cameron's party made the "wrong choice on Northern Rock, the wrong choice on jobs and spending, the wrong choice on mortgage support and the wrong choice on working with Europe".

"The only thing about their policy that is consistent is that they are consistently wrong."

14:45 An effective critique of neoliberalism: "What let the world let down last autumn was not just bankrupt institutions, but a bankrupt ideology. What failed was the Conservative idea that markets always self-correct but never self-destruct." Brown at his most left-wing. The hall laps this up.

14:47 Brown discusses his family's personal debt to comprehensive education and the NHS. Describes the NHS as "the best insurance policy in the world". Rebuts the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan's attack on the service: "It has not been a 60-year mistake, it has been a 60-year liberation."

14:57 Promises a new "Fiscal Responsibility Act" to enshrine Labour's deficit reduction targets in law.

Pledges "to raise taxes at the very top" to protect and improve front-line services.

14:59 Attacks the Tories' spending plans: "These are not cuts they would make because they have to, but cuts they would make because they want to."

None of the personal attacks on Cameron's leadership we've heard in the past. Brown has stuck to a robust critique of Conservative economic policies.

15:02 Pledges to increase the minimum wage. Reminds the hall that it was "one of the achievements of Tony Blair" and thanks the former prime minister.

15:03 Promises that child benefit and tax credits will continue to rise. Announces that the government will fund 250,000 free childcare places for two-year-olds.

15:05 On teenage pregnancy: "It cannot be right for a girl of 16 to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and then be left alone."

Brown promises that all 16- and 17-year-olds with children will now be placed in a network of supervised homes.

15:06 The much-discussed section on antisocial behaviour begins. Warns that parents whose children receive Asbos will "pay the price" unless their children's behaviour changes. It's assumed this means cutting off state benefits.

15:08 Local authorities are to be given new powers to restrict 24-hour drinking in their area.

15:10 Applause as Brown confirms that there will be no compulsory ID cards for British citizens.

15:11 A vigorous defence of the Union as Brown attacks the "separatists and nationalists" who would "sever the common bonds" that hold the country together.

15:12 Praise for British troops in Afghanistan prompts a standing ovation and the loudest applause so far.

15:13 Brown repeats his claim that Britain's military presence in Afghanistan ensures terrorism will not come to the nation's streets again.

15:14 An appeal to Iran to "join the international community now or face isolation".

15:15 Reaffirms Labour's commitment to raise international development spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP. The pledge will now be enshrined in law.

15:19 Promises to combine social care and NHS services to create a new local care system.

15:22 Moves on to constitutional reform and the expenses scandal. "Just as I say that the market needs morals, I also say that politics needs morals.

"Never again should a member of parliament be more interested in the value of their allowances than in the value of their constituents."

Brown promises to give constituents the right to recall MPs guilty of financial corruption.

15:24 Announces that Labour's next manifesto will include a commitment to hold a referendum on the introduction of the Alternative Vote (AV) system early in the next parliament. Ends speculation that a referendum will be held on election day.

Brown vows to end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords "once and for all" and declares his support for an elected second chamber. But there's no mention of a written constitution.

15:28 Returns to his central attack on the Conservatives: "The financial crisis forced them to show their hand and they showed that they had no heart."

15:31 A coded reference to the election: "There is nothing in life which is inevitable; it is about the change you choose."

15:32 Brown ends by urging Labour "to fight, to win, to serve", having promised that "because the task is difficult the triumph will be even greater".


A strong speech that eschewed personal attacks on David Cameron's leadership in favour of a critique of conservative ideology. The Tory leader wasn't even mentioned. Nor were the Liberal Democrats. Was this mere indifference, or is Brown reluctant to criticise Labour's potential coalition partner?

Brown's attack on the "bankrupt ideology" of neoliberalism was convincing, but as chancellor he presided over a lightly regulated City. His claim that the Conservative Party would "do nothing" lacks credibility and overshadows his more effective arguments. Voters are still likely to blame Labour for the economic crisis and give them little credit for the recovery.

After this speech it's clear that departments such as Defence and Transport will bear the brunt of spending cuts. Brown made no new pledges in those areas but did promise to maintain support for schools, hospitals and the police.

He did well to promise cost-free constitutional reform, more suitable in these straitened times. His decision to back a recall mechanism for errant MPs was a genuine innovation. He was right to bury the idea of an election-day referendum on voting reform, which would have drawn attention away from the main choice. But reformists will be angered by his rejection of proportional representation.

The unambiguous pledge to remove all hereditary peers from the House of Lords was welcome, yet it was surprising that Brown didn't promise a written constitution to underline this new settlement.

His populist pledge to remove state benefits from the parents of troublesome teenagers was a crude reversion to New Labour's old habit of headline-chasing.

The speech was competent and passionate enough to ensure that Brown will lead Labour into the general election, but it will change little beyond this. Those figures, including Alan Johnson, who declared that the Prime Minister needed to make "the speech of his life" forget that leaders' speeches very rarely change the political weather; they merely reflect and occasionally reinforce it.

Best line: "What failed was the Conservative idea that markets always self-correct but never self-destruct."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder