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
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.