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'Let us discuss Iraq in a fraternal manner': Chair

Let us discuss Iraq in a fraternal manner
Friday 14 February 2003

Speech by Labour party chair Dr John Reid at Labour's local government, women's and youth conferences, SECC, Glasgow



It is my great privilege to open this spring conference of the Labour Party.

Over the next few days we will have a chance not only to take part in sessions and seminars on local government, womens’ and youth topics but also to address some of the major issues confronting the Party and the Government.

- To take stock and to set a course.


I know there is widespread anxiety about the possible use of military force in Iraq.

It couldn’t, indeed it shouldn’t, be otherwise. We wouldn’t be in this Labour Party if we didn’t concern ourselves about the potential loss of human life.

It is a duty of leaders to listen. That is why I have specifically asked that a series of small seminars to discuss Iraq be added to the conference programme.

If you do have concerns you wish to raise on the issue I hope we can discuss them there in a fraternal manner.

But it is also the duty of leaders to lead, to say it as they see it. To be honest with the Party and with the people. Especially when they believe this country and this world to be in peril.

We can’t avoid these difficult decisions, precisely because we have been chosen to lead the people of this country.

The Prime Minister will set out his views tomorrow. When he does, I’ve no doubt there will be those who will want to stress what divides this party.

I want to stress what unites us. What unites us more than anything is our commitment to the United Nations.

And what unites the UN

Unnanimously –15 votes to nil

Is resolution 1441

which our Prime Minister and government worked so hard to get agreement on

I urge every delegate to this conference to read that resolution

It is the very basis on which progress can and must be made


And today, I also want to stress what unites this party in other areas

In terms of our values, our history.

Whatever may be happening on the international scene, for the vast majority of people, their world is formed when they open their front door in the morning

when they walk through their own community

when they visit the doctor

when their family needs hospital care

when their kids need a decent education

Many of you, as councillors, know that better than anyone.

So we will never forget the fundamentals.

That’s what brought us to power and it’s what will sustain us in power.

Being on the side of ordinary folk

Folk like the 11 million pensioners who used to wait for the winter fuel bills dropping through their door with fear and trepidation. They know we’re on their side.

The 350,000 young people who were on long term unemployment when Labour came to power and who are now in jobs, education or training. They know we’re on their side.

The million and a half people who now benefit from the minimum wage. They know we’re on their side.


Of course, there are those – like the SNP here in Scotland, who say that there has been no difference between a Labour Government and a Tory Government.

That’s what they always say.

That’s what they said in 1979 when they trooped through the lobbies to bring down the Labour Government, and give Scotland and the rest of the UK eighteen years of Thatcherism.

They told them then there was no difference.

Ask people of Scotland whether there was no difference

between mass unemployment under the Tories and thousands of new jobs under Labour

Between our old folk being left to freeze in winter or given a winter fuel allowance.

Between our children being pushed into poverty or families being given a minimum family income.

The truth is that, as ever, the SNP are putting at risk all of the hard won gains of the last few years.

The choice here is clear. Take the SNP road of instability, constitutional chaos and divorce

or continue with Labour to build on what we have started.


And let’s take the Tory myth head on.

Does anyone really believe that a Conservative Government would have created one and a half million jobs,

reduced unemployment to a historic low,

introduced the legal right to be a member of a trade union

or extended full-time rights to Part-time workers?

Or given the biggest ever increase to health and education?

Or planned to create 400,00 more jobs in the public sector?

The truth is that the Conservatives would have given us the same old Tory story – tax cuts for the rich and massive cuts in public services.

And that’s exactly what they are promising today again.

A 20% cut in public services

- Fewer teachers, fewer nurses, fewer police

They know we’ve argued the need for public services to be properly funded.

- and won that argument

They know the extra cash is going into the NHS which this party founded.

So far

We’ve got 39,000 more nurses. But that’s not enough.

We’ve got 10,000 more doctors. But that’s not enough.

Because we want a want a world class health service for everyone not just the few that can afford to pay.

It isn’t enough, but it’s a dam sight better than anything the Tories ever gave the people of this country.

I believe the Tories cuts agenda will be rejected again, as they have been twice before.

Because the election victories of 1997 and 2001 were not just the victory of one party over another.

they were the victory of one set of values over another.

Because everything that our Labour Government has done is based on a set of values entirely different from that of the Conservative Party.


When we came to power, almost six years ago now, we set our course in simple terms. We told the people of this country that we would build:

a strong and stable economy

a fairer Britain

Quality public services

Communities in which rights went along with responsibilities

- And a Britain that was a Force for Good in the world

We didn’t pick these out of thin air. They sprung from a set of values long-held by this party.

It was our belief in opportunity for all which shaped our commitment to a strong and stable economy

- because economic security and the chance of work is the very basis of opportunity

It was our belief in the value of social justice which committed us to a Fairer Britain. A national minimum wage,

a guaranteed minimum pension of over £100 per week benefiting 2.1 million pensioners,

750,000 children taken out of poverty all of these are driven by our desire to see a fairer, more just society.

Our latest initiative -pensioner credits- which from this September will help not just the poorest but a those not well off but who have saved a little for their older years. The biggest ever transfer of money to our senior citizens.

Our belief in the value of collective provision which underpins our commitment to quality public services. It is our belief in collective provision, in social solidarity, in offering the best to the most, which has driven our commitment to education and health.

The biggest ever increase in NHS spending since Labour set up the National Health Service. That means we can look forward to five years of real terms increases of about 7.5 percent

- £41 billion more by 2008.

Big figures. But what does this commitment to our public services mean in simple understandable terms

- More teachers, More Nurses, More Police.

It was our belief in social solidarity

central to the very idea of socialism

that has led us to stress responsibilities as well as rights

and to combat the anti-social behaviour which mars so many of our communities.

And it was our belief in Internationalism

the belief that just as citizens at home had rights and responsibilities

- so too, as citizens of the world, this country had our rights to defend and our responsibilities to discharge

That’s what led to our commitment to a Britain that is a Force for Good in the world

In the midst of all that is going on never forget it was this Labour Government that led the industrialised world in the campaign to reduce the debts of the developing world.

It was this Labour Government which led the world in the movement to stop the use of land-mines.

It is this Labour government which is the only one in Europe increasing our overseas aid budget.

reversing the disgraceful cuts in overseas aid made by the last Conservative government.

I’m proud of all of that, and so should everyone in this party be.

So as we debate and discuss this weekend let us remember the real difference this movement has made to the lives of millions of working people in the last few years.

Our ability to discuss and debate is not a weakness as some may portray it but a strength.

And that is why I finish on one further value which has long been held dear by this Party. ON his death bed, Nye Bevan told Michael Foot:

"Never under-estimate the instinct of this Party for Unity."

That was wise and sound advice.

It is as true today as it ever was.

So let this weekend be another step

-in shaping a modern practical programme for progress

-based on a set of enduring values

That’s what we came into politics to do

and it’s what the people of this country deserve


© Scoop Media

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