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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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.