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
Show Hide image

What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.