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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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.