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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Leader: Corbyn’s second act

Left-wing populism is not enough – Labour must provide a real alternative.

Since Jeremy Corbyn first stood for the Labour leadership he has been fortunate in his opponents. His rivals for leader ran lacklustre campaigns in 2015 and failed to inspire members and activists who longed to escape the tortured triangulations of the Ed Miliband era. Later, at the 2017 general election, Mr Corbyn was confronted by a dismal Conservative campaign that invited the electorate’s contempt. Theresa May’s complacency – as well as Mr Corbyn’s dynamic campaign –has helped propel the Labour leader to a position from which he could become prime minister.

With greater power, however, comes greater responsibility. Mr Corbyn’s opponents have for too long preferred to insult him or interrogate his past rather than to scrutinise his policies. They have played the man not the ball. Now, as he is a contender for power rather than merely a serial protester, Mr Corbyn’s programme will be more rigorously assessed, as it should be. Over the months ahead, he faces the political equivalent of the “difficult second album”. 

Labour’s most electorally successful – and expensive – election policy was its pledge to abolish university tuition fees. Young voters were not only attracted by this promise but also by Mr Corbyn’s vow, in an interview with the free music paper NME, to “deal with” the issue of graduate debt. The Labour leader has since been accused of a betrayal after clarifying that the phrase “to deal with” did not amount to a “commitment” to wipe out student debt. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, he explained that he had been “unaware of the size of it [graduate debt] at the time”. (The cost of clearing all outstanding student debt is estimated at £100bn.)

In fairness to Mr Corbyn, Labour’s manifesto said nothing on the subject of existing student debt (perhaps it should have) and his language in the NME interview was ambiguous. “I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that [graduate debt], ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off,” he said. There is no comparison with the Liberal Democrats, who explicitly vowed not to raise tuition fees before trebling them to £9,000 after entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Yet the confusion demonstrates why Mr Corbyn must be more precise in his policy formulations. In a hyperactive media age, a single stray sentence will be seized upon.

At the general election, Labour also thrived by attracting the support of many of those who voted to remain in the European Union (enjoying a 28-point lead over the Conservatives among this group). Here, again, ambiguity served a purpose. Mr Corbyn has since been charged with a second betrayal by opposing continued UK membership of the single market. On this, there should be no surprise. Mr Corbyn is an ardent Eurosceptic: he voted against the single market’s creation in 1986 and, from the back benches, he continually opposed further European integration.

However, his position on the single market puts him into conflict with prominent Labour politicians, such as Chuka Umunna and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, as well as the party membership (66 per cent of whom support single market membership) and, increasingly, public opinion. As the economic costs of Brexit become clearer (the UK is now the slowest-growing G7 country), voters are less willing to support a disruptive exit. Nor should they. 

The worse that Britain fares in the Brexit negotiations (the early signs are not promising), the greater the desire for an alternative will be. As a reinvigorated opposition, it falls to the Labour Party to provide it. Left-wing populism is not enough. 

The glory game

In an ideal world, the role of sport should be to entertain, inspire and uplift. Seldom does a sporting contest achieve all three. But the women’s cricket World Cup final, on 23 July at Lord’s, did just that. In a thrilling match, England overcame India by nine runs to lift the trophy. Few of the 26,500 spectators present will forget the match. For this may well have been the moment that women’s cricket (which has for so long existed in the shadow of the men’s game) finally broke through.

England have twice before hosted women’s World Cups. In 1973 matches were played at small club grounds. Twenty years later, when England won the final at Lord’s, the ground was nearly empty, the players wore skirts and women were banned from the members’ pavilion. This time, the players were professionals, every ticket was sold, and the match was shown live around the world. At the end, girls and boys pressed against the advertising hoardings in an attempt to get their heroes’ autographs. Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, and the rest of the team: women, role models, world champions. 

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue