Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Sadiq Khan's speech on the future of public services: full text

"The Tories just don't understand that there is a difference between public services and businesses."

Delivered at UNISON political conference

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.

The power of ordinary people working together to create a fairer society – trade unionism – is at the heart of my beliefs and those of the founders of the Labour Party more than a century ago.

And friends, it should fill us all with hope, not just that there are so many people in this hall today, but there are so many UNISON members and other trade unionists completely dedicated to building a better future for Britain.

Many of you have dedicated your careers to our beloved public services and then go above and beyond - getting involved in the union and in politics - to help create a better society.

UNISON - you are true public service heroes.

So, can I begin with a thank you? A thank you for everything you do for our movement and for our country.

Friends, today I want to talk to you about the future of our public services.

The institutions of cooperation, community and mutual support that hold our society together.

The only institutions which are owned by all of us, run in all of our interests and on which we can all rely.

And the institutions - from the NHS to the education system, access to Justice and local government - that the British public truly treasure.

Because friends, I don't need to tell you that our institutions are at a crisis point.

Some will have you believe that this is the consequence of the austere times. A price we all have to pay. But we know better.

This is a crisis of deliberate design by the Tory and Liberal Democrat Government.

The Coalition is systematically demolishing the pillars of a fair and just society.

The pillars which our movement fought to create, forged from the horror of the Second World War and which to this day we fight to protect.

They have gone further than even Margaret Thatcher could have dreamed in attacking our welfare state and our public services.

Three years on from their unnecessary, top-down reorganisation of the NHS - we are beginning to see the true impact.

A health service that despite the best efforts of our dedicated doctors and nurses and thousands of UNISON members - is in chaos.

Waiting times have gone through the roof, treatment delayed and patients suffering.

There’s the crisis in our A&E's. Ambulances waiting to get patients in the door. and those that do left on trolleys.

Not a winter crisis as you might expect. But a summer crisis. Caused by the Coalition's policies.

It should give none of us any pleasure to say “we told you so” but we shouldn’t shy away from reminding many of our communities what we know to be true.

You can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.

And the same is true in local government.

How many of you are Councillors?

Thank you. Thank you for all you do even when massive cuts are being made to your budgets by central government.

Every week I meet with Councillors and Council Leaders who tell me just how desperate their situation is.

They tell me that by the time of their next elections they won't be able to afford to deliver anything other than their statutory services.

That the crucial public services they provide - from libraries, to children's centres and employment support - will have to be severely cut if not close. All directly as a result of the actions of this Government.

And we are beginning to see the same in education too - with the complete lack of accountability and democracy of Michael Gove's free schools coming back to bite him.

You simply can't run an education system centrally from Whitehall. No matter how hard Gove tries.

And access to Justice has been severely limited too.

Individual union members have seen their rights watered down and their ability to secure justice curtailed.

This Government’s attacks on access to justice are unprecedented.

They’ve slashed legal aid for the most vulnerable.

They’ve made judicial reviews more difficult.

They’ve slapped a huge fee on Employment Tribunal cases

Meaning your rank and file members are being denied basic workplace rights.

And, if the Tories have their way, they’ll abolish the Human Rights Act, and take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

And do you know what really rubs salt in the wound?

When you hear the likes of David Cameron extolling the virtues of British values, preying in aid the Magna Carta ahead of its 800th birthday next year, and championing the rule of law.

When at the same time they’re weakening the rule of law left right and centre.

And we know who it is who’ll suffer.

It’s the marginalised, the vulnerable, the weak and the poor.

That’s why we need to oppose these cuts and stand firm against any further attacks on access to justice

Now the Tories say - these are crises caused by austerity  - and that we would be in the same position whichever party was in Government.

And there is no doubt that the cuts have placed a huge amount of strain on our public services.

But they miss the underlying point.

That this crisis is about something far more fundamental than just budgets - it is about values.

Because the Tories just don't understand that there is a difference between public services and businesses.

Public services do more than just provide a service to a set of customers.

They are the institutional bonds that tie our communities together.

They embody the power of cooperation and working together.

And they are there to serve us as human beings – as citizens - not merely as customers.

And it is this failure to understand the values of public services that is behind some of the most damaging attacks made by this Government - even more so than the lack of funding.

It's this failure that makes the Coalition believe that there need be no level of accountability to local communities ordemocracy in free schools and that instead they should be run directly from Whitehall.

It's this failure to understand public services that is behind the Work Programme.

Which outsourced huge contracts to the Tories private sector chums, but created a programme with no links to real communities or local knowledge and that is failing as a result.

And it's that failure to understand public services that is behind Chris Graylings desperate rush to privatise probation.

Disregarding evidence or facts and blinded by the Tory ideological belief that private sector is good and public sector is bad.

So conference, the next Labour Government will face a monumental task.

We will have to repair the damage done to our beloved institutions.

We will have to root them back in our communities.

And ensure they serve the people of Britain - rather than making their lives more difficult.

And we will have to do this at a time when public finances are tighter than ever before.

We will be left with a massive financial debt on May 8th next year

We should be under no allusion - It will not be easy.

But friends, under Ed Miliband the Labour Party is up to the challenge.

I know the man, seen him at first hand.

Seen him take on Rupert Murdoch – and win

Seen him take on the big 6 energy companies – and win

Seen him take on the headlong rush into a war that was ill thought through with no planning or strategy - and win

There has been a lot of criticism and chatter about our party recently.

We have too few policies. And we have too many policies.

We don't have a story to tell. And we have too many stories to tell.

We don't have a vision for Britain. And our vision for Britain is from the 1970's.

This is complete nonsense created by a Tory party that knows it is in trouble.

Ed Miliband's vision for the future of Britain has resonated with the British people.

And the public can see the damage caused to their cherished public services by the Tories.

They sense their time is up.

And are desperately scrabbling to cling to power.

Ed Miliband is a winner and he will walk into Downing Street as Prime Minister in just over 10 months.

It’s because he’s a winner that he’s getting flak in the media.

He’s got them worried and their instinct is to play the man not the ball.

I want to make two predictions.

First.

As we get closer and closer to the election the attacks on Ed and on Labour will intensify as the Tories sense their time is up and Cameron desperately tries to cling to power.

Second.

There WILL be a Leadership election after the general election. But you’ll only get to vote if you are a Tory or a Lib Dem. When we unceremoniously boot them out of office after just one term, the Tories and Lib Dems will dump their failed leaders and look for new ones.

This week alone Labour has clearly demonstrated our vision for the future of Britain - under a radical and reforming Labour Government.

A vision that will not just rebuild our common institutions, but will renew them for the challenges of the century ahead.

And make them stronger than ever before.

In the last week we have heard from the IPPR's 'condition of Britain' report.

We have published a strategy for growth.

And next week we will publish our Local Government Innovation task force, devolving powers down to local communities from Whitehall.

All of them tell the same story for Britain's future.

And while not all of their recommendations are Labour Party policy yet, together they show how the next Labour Government will save our public services.

By devolving power away from faceless Whitehall bureaucrats to local people who understand local communities and needs.

By empowering our great cities and local Councillors like those in this room.

And by building up local institutions - like our public services - to support our communities.

It's why we will repeal the Coalition's hated Health and Social Care Act and push real integration between the NHS and our care services.

It's why we will increase the local accountability of free schools, rather than trying and failing to run them from Whitehall.

It's why we will devolve power and money to local Councils. Because they will spend it more effectively than Whitehall.

It's why we will devolve the work programme to a local level - embedding it within the communities it is supposed to support. Because we know local people will get better results.

And it's why I will not sign any contracts to privatise probation that are on my desk when I become Justice Secretary in May 2015. And one of the first things I will do is to see if we can unpick the contracts that are being hurriedly signed before the General election

Conference - this coming election is a choice more stark than any in a generation.

Between those that understand that individuals cannot succeed alone and need help and support and those that don't.

Between those who devalue our common institutions, bonds and links.

And those who cherish them more than anything else.

Between those who believe in the power of cooperation and mutual aid, and those who believe only in the individual, competition and the market.

Between a Tory party that will manage Britain into decline and create a less equal and more fragmented and divided society.

And a Labour Party that will renew our bonds of community. Create a more equal society. And build a better future for Britain.

Between racing each other to the bottom or working together in cooperation to get to the top.

But conference; the Labour Party can’t do it alone. We can't do it alone.

We need your help.

You dedicated, public service heroes, will be more important to the outcome of the next election than us politicians.

We need your help to tell your friends, your family, your neighbours and your communities about the choice we face.

To convince them that this time it really matters.

That the choice has never been so important.

I look forward to working with you over the next ten months to ensure the election of the next Labour Government.

Thank you.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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