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.
Photo: Getty Images/Ian Forsyth
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The big battle in Corbyn's Labour party will be over organisation, not ideas

Forgotten and near-moribund institutions of the parliamentary Labour party will become vital once again, explain Declan McHugh and Will Sherlock. 

“Decidedly downbeat” was Chris Mullin’s assessment of the first Parliamentary Labour Party meeting following the 2001 landslide General Election victory. Blair was “received well, but without elation … the managing director was treated to some blunt warnings that this time around the boys and girls on the shop floor expect to be treated with more consideration.”

Assuming he wins the leadership, Jeremy Corbyn’s first PLP meeting will be anything but downbeat. The ‘shop floor’ will be more akin to a Lions’ Den. Labour’s new figurehead will face a PLP overwhelmingly opposed to him. Many will question the legitimacy of his election and some will reject his authority. From day one, he will face a significant number of Labour MPs not merely against him but actively out to get him. There has probably never been a situation where a leader of the Labour Party has been so far removed from the parliamentary party which he supposedly commands.

The closest historical parallel with Corbyn is arguably George Lansbury, another ardent socialist who took charge of the party after serious electoral defeat. But the comparison doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Lansbury may have been on the left but he had been a leading figure at the top of the party for many years. Corbyn has never been anything but part of the Labour fringe – rarely even attending PLP meetings.

Nevertheless an immediate move to oust him is unlikely. Whatever their concerns about the circumstances of his election, the scale of the contest will make MPs nervous about executing a coup. And crucially there is no obvious alternative leader waiting in the wings.

The internal battle against Corbyn will instead be more drawn out and fought through the internal structures of the party. The number of Labour MPs showing a sudden and hitherto undiscovered interest and expertise in the PLP Standing Orders is an indication of what is to come. When Labour is in government, journalists pay little notice to obscure internal committees. Now they are going to be the centre of attention. The PLP may be energised on an organisational front in a way that it never was during the Blair, Brown and even Miliband years. Conflict is likely to be focused in the following arenas:

  • Shadow Cabinet

Corbyn is now understood to populate his shadow cabinet by appointment, but opponents in the PLP are seeking a return to the system of elections. That will not be straightforward. Although the 2011 decision to end elections was primarily achieved by means of a PLP vote to change Standing Orders, it was subsequently agreed by the NEC and passed into party rules by Conference. It will be harder to undo that constitutional knot than it was to tie it. The PLP can vote to change Standing Orders again but the NEC and Conference will need to reflect that in further amendments to party rules if the decision is to have constitutional authority. That sets the scene for a messy clash between the PLP and the NEC if Corbyn chooses to defy the parliamentary party.

 

Even if elections are restored, it is not clear how Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP will respond. MPs seeking the return of shadow cabinet elections hope to run a slate of candidates who will work to emasculate the new leader. But others have already resolved to boycott the front bench, regardless of how it is selected. Corbyn’s opponents face a dilemma. On the one hand abandoning the shadow cabinet may be viewed as walking off the pitch at a time when others are prepared to get stuck in and organised. On the other, it will be impossible to take a shadow cabinet post without signing up to some level of collective responsibility. That means undergoing the daily grind of defending the party line in front of the 24 hour media spotlight, with all statements scrutinised and recorded by Conservative researchers for future use.  How many Labour MPs would be willing to support a Corbynite line on foreign affairs, defence and economic policy? The new Labour leader will soon find out.

 

  • PLP meetings

The Monday evening meetings of the PLP are a weekly arena in which the frontbench and the party leadership are held to account by the wider parliamentary party. In the Kinnock, Smith and Blair days, although occasionally raucous, there was a degree of deference to the Leader. That has waned of late but will likely be non-existent under Corbyn. No one can remember the last time the PLP voted on a matter of policy, but Standing Orders permit it to so – expect opponents of the leadership to use this device.

 

  • PLP Chair

John Cryer, the current PLP Chair, will have his work cut out trying to manage what are likely to be stormy meetings. Moreover, the annual election of the Chair is an important barometer of the parliamentary party’s mood and the easiest means of organising a proxy vote on confidence in the leader. Importantly, the Chair of the PLP approves what motions can be tabled at the weekly PLP meeting. 

 

  • Parliamentary Committee

The parliamentary committee are effectively shop stewards for the backbenchers and the election of representatives is similarly a reflection of political sentiment in the PLP. New elections won’t happen until next May but the PLP could decide to initiate earlier elections. Labour MPs will ask whether the current committee, which includes one Corbyn nominator, is representative of the majority view. If not, a slate opposed to the leader could be organised. The Parliamentary Committee has executive powers that it rarely uses but this may change and will be significant. 

 

  • Departmental Groups

The PLP’s internal policy committees have been in decline since the early years of Tony Blair and have rarely made waves but have potentially important powers, including the right of Committee Chairs to speak from the Despatch Box. MPs may use these bodies to challenge frontbench policy positions in a way that no leader has experienced, promoting alternative agendas at odds with the leadership line on foreign affairs, defence and the economy. The Chairs have not yet been elected and this could be a key focus in the autumn.

 

  • Whips Office

The idea of Jeremy Corbyn directing the PLP to follow three-line whips is, to many, a source of amusement. A man who regularly topped the charts of rebel MPs will struggle to maintain the traditional system of party discipline – and indeed he has already indicated that he has no intention of “corralling” MPs in the traditional way. Most likely the whips will play a distinctly different role in the future, acting more as shop stewards for backbench MPs who want their concerns made clear to the Leader’s Office. And the likely deputy keader Tom Watson, who hails from the right wing union tradition but is close to some of the left, will play a major part in trying to balance the needs of the new leadership with the real anger of backbench Labour MPs.

Corbyn’s lack of authority and support within the wider parliamentary party puts a major question mark over his long term prospects as Labour leader. He would certainly lose any direct trial of strength against the PLP.

But the Corbynite group will seek to avoid confrontation inside Westminster. They believe their strength lies in the party outside Parliament and in the new influx of members and supporters. Their agenda will be to capitalise – though they might not use the term – on the leadership triumph by instituting rule changes that will revive the left within the party machine. Not just inside the NEC, the Conference and the party HQ but in the regional and constituency party organisation.

Most particularly, they are likely to seek to convert supporters into members, with a role in the selection of parliamentary candidates. By such means they will seek to apply external pressure on MPs from their own constituency parties. Labour members may be understandably wary about moving to decapitate a new leader so soon after his election. But they face a race against time to prevent him and his supporters from reshaping the party machine in ways that will undermine them from below.

 Will Sherlock and Declan McHugh are former Labour special advisers who now work at Lexington Communication.