Harriet Harman's speech to Labour conference: full text

The full version of the Labour deputy leader's closing speech to the party's conference.

Hi Conference.

I'm Hattie, 62, from Camberwell.

And here’s today’s news in briefs.

It’s been a great week for the Labour Party.

And it’s been a great week for Ed Miliband.

I've known Ed for more than 20 years.

In fact, it was me that gave him his first job in politics.

And, you know, when Ed worked for me, people were always saying, I don't know how you do it, with all that you do and so busy with 3 young children, you make such brilliant speeches.

But my secret weapon was Ed Miliband.

Ed, with your speech you showed everyone, the qualities you've always had:

  • Your conviction.
  • Your confidence.
  • Your compassion.
  • Your courage.

And when you told us the story about your family, you showed everyone why you have

  • Such faith in this country.
  • And such faith in the power of politics as a force for good.

Ed, we all know you love baseball, of course, you're a Red Sox fan.

So, can I just say to you...

You knocked the ball right out of the park.

Conference, since we met last year, I've taken up my new role as Shadow Culture Secretary.

I was lucky enough to go the Brits.

The wine was flowing, the music was loud and I did that thing that politicians must never do.

I hit the dance floor.

I know what you're thinking.... why is it that our Deputy Leaders always have to make such a prat of themselves at the Brits?

The next morning I was mortified.

As I feared, someone had tweeted about it – ‘LabourMP in dodgy dancing cringe fest’.

But the good news was it then said - 'honestly.... you'd think @tessajowell would know better'.

And the other good news is that people are still stopping me in the street and saying:

"Thank you so much for bringing the Olympics to Britain, Tessa!”

And I say, “you're welcome.”

And we all want to say a huge thank you to Tessa for all her years on Labour's front bench and the brilliant job she did on the Olympics.

Thank you, Tessa.

And in my new role as Shadow Culture Secretary, I'm always asked what I'm reading.

And just the other week, I had an awkward moment when a journalist asked me if I'd read "that" book.

Women here will know the one...

The one about a sado-masochistic relationship - you know...

…with a dominant superior controlling a naive submissive...

And I said: "don't be silly - of course I've read the coalition agreement."

Now, as it happens I have also read ‘50 Shades of Grey’ - for ‘research purposes’.

But I have to say I don't think it's very realistic.

Because, let's be honest, what most women want is not a man who ties you to the bed, but one who unstacks the dishwasher while you watch the Great British Bake-Off.

Each and every Conference has its own defining point.

This is the Conference - here in Manchester 2012 - where Ed fired the starting gun for the next general election.

Because of what Ed's done since he became leader – we are now in with a fighting chance of forming the next government.

But we all know that we still have a long way to go.

We've got to fight the Tories.

We've got to fight the Lib Dems.

We've got to work as a team.

And we've got to have no no-go areas for Labour.

Because people all over this country are suffering with this Government. Young people are finding it really hard to get their first job.

And women are finding it hard to hang onto their jobs - and that's just the women in David Cameron's Cabinet.

You know Angry Birds used to be David Cameron's favourite computer game - now it's his pet name for Caroline Spelman and Nadine Dorries.

But there is one woman who can always rely on David Cameron's unswerving, unconditional support – Rebekah Brooks.

But when it comes to the next election, I suspect women in this country will have seen enough and won’t give Cameron one of those famous 'second chances' he's so fond of.

And what about the Lib Dems.

They claim to be a brake on the Tories – but they are nothing of the sort – they are their accomplices.

They boast of the pupil premium – all well and good – but then they vote with the Tories for the biggest education cuts since the 1950s.

They boast of taking people out of tax by raising the tax threshold – all well and good – but then they vote with the Tories to slash those people’s tax credits.

They boast of a clamp-down on tax avoidance – all well and good – but then they vote with the Tories for tax cuts for millionaires.

People say you get the politicians you deserve.

But no-one deserves Nick Clegg.

Calamity Clegg who has propped up this miserable Tory Government every step of the way.

It's no wonder Vince Cable is on manoeuvres.

But let’s not forget Saint Vince is in it up to his neck too. After all, it was his policy to treble tuition fees.

So I have a message for Vince. Don't bother texting Ed - he's changed his number.

We have a first-past-the-post system and voters get just one vote - we're saying to them vote Labour.

We are not fighting to be part of a coalition Government - we are fighting to win.

So now, in that all important by-election in Corby:

 

  • We have got to campaign as never before
  • And make sure people use their vote - their one precious vote
  • To elect our fantastic local Labour candidate Andy Sawford.

To win the next General Election we must – all of us – adopt a marginal seat mindset and listen to the people where we don't have Labour MPs as well as where we do.

That's why every one of our Shadow Ministers will adopt a marginal seat – working alongside our Labour candidate, to listen to and understand the concerns of people there.

Ed Balls has twinned with Clair Hawkins in Dover and Deal. Chuka is backing Clive Lewis and Jessica Asato in Norwich and I'm proud that I'm twinned with Andrew Pakes in Milton Keynes.

Conference, we’ve got to be the voice speaking up for the young couple in Dartford, as well as the young couple in Darlington.

We’ve got to speak up for the pensioner in Gloucester, as well as in Grimsby.

The commuter in Milton Keynes as well as in Manchester.

And at a time when many people have no faith in politicians and think that politics is a dirty word – it’s even more important that people can see, in Parliament:

  • Someone like them.
  • People they can relate to.
  • People they can trust.

And over the months ahead, in your local parties, you’re choosing your candidates for the next General Election I know you will want to choose candidates from all walks of life - from our factories and shop floors, from business to our armed services, people from all different backgrounds and cultures and a balanced team of men and women.

We must reflect the country we seek to serve.

And because we're determined to achieve the difficult task of making this a one-term coalition there's no place for complacency - or business as usual.

We have to – and are – doing things in a different way.

We’ve got to reach out beyond our Party faithful into communities, connecting with people who otherwise feel that politics has nothing to offer them.

We have to build our Party with more members and more supporters – so let's each and every one of us play our part in Labour’s Plus One Campaign.

Which has already been a great success. Since just the start of this conference, more than 1200 new members have joined, and 5000 have registered as supporters.

Conference, we all celebrated the Olympic games-makers who came here this week. I want us to thank our very own conference games-makers - our fantastic army of stewards.

And there's another group of people I know we'll all want to pay tribute to - our brilliant and hardworking party staff.

This has been a difficult year but the work you put in – in our headquarters and all around the country – is nothing short of heroic.

Thanks to each and every one of you.

And I want to thank our General Secretary Iain McNicol.

Iain, you have led the party staff through those difficult times and I have no doubt, with you at the helm, our party will go from strength to strength.

It's always great to be at Conference.

But this week has been special.

This week – the game has changed.

We know we have big challenges ahead.

But we leave Manchester emboldened, enthused, with a strong sense of purpose.

We have grown in confidence.

We have grown in self-belief.

This country needs a government of and for all its people, not a coalition that plays divide and rule.

This country needs a One Nation Labour Party and a One Nation Labour government.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman delivers her closing speech at the party's conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The DUP scored £1bn for just ten votes – so why be optimistic about our EU deal?

By March 2019, we’re supposed to have renegotiated 40 years of laws and treaties with 27 ­countries.

If Theresa May’s government negotiates with the European Union as well as it negotiated with the Democratic Unionist Party, it’s time to cross your fingers and desperately hope you have a secret ­Italian grandfather. After all, you’ll be wanting another passport when all this is over.

The Northern Irish party has played an absolute blinder, securing not only £1bn in extra funding for the region, but ensuring that the cash is handed over even if the power-sharing agreement or its Westminster confidence-and-supply arrangement fails.

At one point during the negotiations, the DUP turned their phones off for 36 hours. (Who in Westminster knew it was physically possible for a human being to do this?) Soon after, needling briefings emerged in the media that they were also talking to Labour and the Lib Dems. In the end, they’ve secured a deal where they support the government and get the Short money available only to opposition parties. I’m surprised Arlene Foster didn’t ask for a few of the nicer chairs in Downing Street on her way out.

How did this happen? When I talked to Sam McBride of the Belfast News Letter for a BBC radio programme days before the pact was announced, he pointed out that the DUP are far more used to this kind of rough and tumble than the Conservatives. Northern Irish politics is defined by deal-making, and the DUP need no reminder of what can happen to minnows in a multiparty system if they don’t convince their voters of their effectiveness.

On 8 June, the DUP and Sinn Fein squeezed out Northern Ireland’s smaller parties, such as the SDLP and the Alliance, from the region’s Westminster seats. (McBride also speculated on the possibility of trouble ahead for Sinn Fein, which ran its campaign on the premise that “abstentionism works”. What happens if an unpopular Commons vote passes that could have been defeated by its seven MPs?)

The DUP’s involvement in passing government bills, and the price the party has extracted for doing so, are truly transformative to British politics – not least for the public discussion about austerity. That turns out to be, as we suspected all along, a political rather than an economic choice. As such, it becomes much harder to defend.

Even worse for the government, southern Europe is no longer a basket case it can point to when it wants to scare us away from borrowing more. The structural problems of the eurozone haven’t gone away, but they have receded to the point where domestic voters won’t see them as a cautionary tale.

It is notable that the Conservatives barely bothered to defend their economic record during the election campaign, preferring to focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s spending plans. In doing so, they forgot that many of those who voted Leave last year – and who were confidently expected to “come home” to the Conservatives – did so because they wanted £350m a week for the NHS. The Tories dropped the Cameron-era argument of a “long-term economic plan” that necessitated short-term sacrifices. They assumed that austerity was the New Normal.

However, the £1bn the government has just found down the back of the sofa debunks that, and makes Conservative spending decisions for the rest of the parliament fraught. With such a slim majority, even a small backbench rebellion – certainly no bigger than the one that was brewing over tax-credit cuts until George Osborne relen­ted – could derail the Budget.

One of the worst points of Theresa May’s election campaign was on the BBC ­Question Time special, when she struggled to tell a nurse why her pay had risen so little since 2009. “There isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want,” the Prime Minister admonished. Except, of course, there is a magic money tree, and May has just given it a damn good shake and scrumped all the cash-apples that fell from it.

That short-term gain will store up long-term pain, if the opposition parties are canny enough to exploit it. In the 2015 election, the claim that the SNP would demand bungs from Ed Miliband to prop up his government was a powerful argument to voters in England and Wales that they should vote Conservative. Why should their hospitals and schools be left to moulder while the streets of Paisley were paved in gold?

The attack also worked because it was a proxy for concerns about Miliband’s weakness as a leader. Well, it’s hard to think of a prime minister in a weaker position than May is right now. The next election campaign will make brutal use of this.

Northern Ireland might deserve a greater wodge of redistribution than the Barnett formula already delivers – it has lower life expectancy, wages and productivity than the British average – but the squalid way the money has been delivered will haunt the Tories. It also endangers one of the Conservatives’ crucial offers to their base: that they are the custodians of “sound money” and “living within our means”.

Labour, however, has not yet quite calibrated its response to the DUP’s new-found influence. Its early attacks focused on the party’s social conservatism, pointing out that it is resolutely anti-abortion and has repeatedly blocked the extension of equal marriage through “petitions of concern” at Stormont.

This tub-thumping might have fired up Labour’s socially progressive supporters in the rest of the UK, but it alienated some in Northern Ireland who resent their politicians being seen as fundamentalist yokels. (Only they get to call the DUP that: not Londoners who, until three weeks ago, thought Arlene Foster was the judge who got sacked from Strictly Come Dancing.)

And remember: all this was to get just ten MPs onside. By March 2019, we’re supposed to have renegotiated 40 years of legislation and treaties with 27 other European ­countries. Ha. Hahaha. Hahaha.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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