"I am delighted to be here this morning with the National Council of Voluntary Organisations.
I pay tribute to the work of the council under your inspiring leadership, Stuart.
And I pay tribute to all of you here today from the voluntary and community sector for the passion and commitment you bring to your work and the extraordinary things that you achieve, each and every day, on behalf of those you serve.
The reason I am here today to speak to an audience of people that makes change happen in our communities - day in, day out - is very simple.
It is because I believe that the big challenges we face as a country - security, global competition, climate change, rising aspirations, the desire for stronger, safer, more sustainable communities - can no longer be solved by the old politics.
I believe that Britain needs a new type of politics which embraces everyone in this nation, not just a select few.
A politics built on consensus, not division.
A politics built on engaging with people, not excluding them.
A politics that draws on the widest range of talents and expertise, not the narrow circles of power.
This is the politics of the mainstream centre ground in Britain.
It is a politics that takes a hard look at the tough questions, not the easy path of short-term slogans.
It is the politics of the common ground and draws upon the common sense of the British people. And it is where the new progressive consensus will be built so that we can meet the challenges of change for the long term national interest of the country.
Quite simply it rejects the old politics of dividing people, not uniting them; of quick fixes not long term solutions.
It means debating issues, like housing, crime, the NHS and schools, that affect local communities directly, not just in the corridors of power, but in the country.
So let me set out what this means for the next stage of our development as a country.
I know that in this room today each of you is working in very special and dedicated ways in your different organisations - committing your energies and lives - to the good of the people of this country. Shaping new ways of strengthening our communities, improving our public services, meeting new and otherwise unmet needs, and enriching our civil society.
For although ours is an era in which many of the traditional structures of society, association and voluntary engagement have declined, I have seen, all around the country, new and vibrant forms of civic life, social and community action, and multimedia technologies that have transformed the scope and nature of civic participation.
Indeed as I travel around the country outside Whitehall and Westminster I see in social enterprise, in local environmental action, in new forms of neighbourhood engagement and in non-governmental organisations such as make poverty history, a new Britain that is being born.
A Britain that we must recognise and celebrate.
It is actions that not even the words 'voluntarism' and voluntary action fully capture, that are happening daily in our communities.
Today Gift Aid is worth £800 million, up from less than £150 million in 1996.
The number of charities has risen by over 48,000 and there are 55,000 social enterprises, with a combined turnover of £27 billion.
And half of the population volunteers at least once a month.
I want the voluntary and community sector to become more involved in an even wider range of community action and service provision. And I want us to ensure that both central and local government respects and supports your advocacy and campaigning role, which plays such an important part in making social change happen in our society.
We have proposed in our Local Government White Paper a new duty to consult and involve local people in policy development, which will include working with the voluntary sector.
Building a better society demands that we reach out and connect with this energy and enterprise.
And it is urgent that we do so because today each of the profound new challenges cannot be solved by top down solutions, simply by saying the man in Whitehall knows best.
These challenges that each community faces require us to devise new ways of responding to the concerns and aspirations of the British people.
Climate change demands we combine international action and investment with the direct personal and social responsibility and the commitment of the British people.
Crime and security demands we build support in each community for tackling violent crime.
Increased global economic competition demands people themselves make decisions about upgrading their own skills.
New pressures faced by children and their parents can be addressed only by the engagement of parents themselves.
And the yearning for stronger communities requires us to play our part as local citizens in building these communities.
I do not agree with the old belief of half a century ago that we can issue commands from Whitehall and expect the world to change.
Nor can we leave these great social challenges simply to the market alone.
Instead, when we think about how to tackle the big challenges we face, it is increasingly the culture in which we live our lives that matters: our beliefs and aspirations, the values and norms that shape our goals, and the boundaries we set for the way we behave in our families and in our communities.
So only a new kind of politics can help us meet these challenges.
Whether it is crime and gang violence, the future health of the nation or climate change, the solutions will not come simply from a narrow debate between states and markets. We found in the twentieth century the limits of that paradigm. It is people themselves - through cultural and social change - who will make the difference.
It is people who are engaged in changing the world as individuals, parents, neighbours and active citizens.
Many will recall that when taking office I emphasised that the government must listen and learn.
Now I say we must do more. We must engage and involve with people on the issues they face in their everyday lives.
And that means each challenge we face requires new ideas and new ways of doing things.
This is the unique and pressing requirement that demands a new politics.
September usually sees the resumption of Westminster politics.
But while party politics resumes its normal routines, it cannot --- and should not -- be 'business as usual'.
Facing serious challenges we must address together as a nation, the British people deserve better.
And I believe I am not alone in thinking normal politics, this old tired sloganising politics of the past, should not resume in the old ways this autumn.
I believe Britain has been held back too long by three great failings in our political system:
- that political parties have not reached out enough to the people, so we have to rise to the challenge of forging a better party politics;
- that the political system too often ignores or neglects the new ideas that flow from outside Westminster and often in the past has failed to listen and learn, so we have to rise to the challenge of opening up our political system to new ideas;
- and that our participatory democracy is too weak at a local level, so we have to rise to the new challenge of engagement.
Indeed, the power of progressive politics rests in the empowerment of the people it serves. This is our purpose and I believe that progressive politics in this country will only truly succeed in shaping a better Britain if we actively reach out to new ideas, find new ways of engaging the people in our communities, and then build a consensus for change.
So I don't want to carry on with politics as usual.
Let us not delude ourselves.
Once nearly 84 per cent of people voted, 17 out of every 20.
In the last general election it was less than 62 per cent, just over 12 in every 20.
In the 1950s, 1 in every 11 people joined a political party.
Today it is 1 in every 88.
Once political parties aggregated views from millions.
Now they need to broaden their appeal to articulate the views of more than the few.
In 1987, nearly half the electorate identified "very" or "fairly" strongly with a political party; now only 1 in 3 does so.
And twenty years ago four in 10 people trusted the government "to put the needs of the nation above those of political party". More recently it has been only one in five.
This is not because politicians are necessarily any less trustworthy or because they work less hard.
Nor does it mean the end of political parties. Party politics remains at the heart of our representative democracy because it reflects inevitable differences of values and principles and because it is fundamental to citizens to have a clear choice of programmes and policies.
But I believe that the evidence shows that the depths of our new concerns cannot be met by the shallowness of an old-style politics.
And the breadth of the new challenges cannot be met by the narrowness of the old tired political discourse.
To make change happen, to secure the national interest and to fulfil our potential as country, we need to reach out beyond governing parties - indeed outside the party system.
So we must be open to new ideas and be ready to take them on, from wherever they come. Change happens when we involve people who are rarely involved beyond the opportunity to cast a vote at elections.
Change happens when we enhance rather than constrain democracy at the local grassroots level.
So I believe that we need new ways of reaching out.
New ways of listening to people.
New ways of consulting on new ideas.
New ways of engaging in a dialogue and deliberation.
And thus new ways of building our democracy for the future.
I want to propose ways of reaching out today. Reaching out so that voices outside my party are heard.
And that means voices outside normal political processes, for politics cannot resume in new ways without recognising the need to engage people of no party as well.
So here are my initial proposals.
In the constitutional statement before the summer I suggested how the executive should give up power to the legislature.
And that both executive and legislature must be more closely in touch with the British people.
I now have three proposals that enable us to reach out beyond governing parties and strengthen the link between people and parliament, citizen and government.
First, if we are to meet the challenge of engagement, the old models of consultation need radical renewal. While they have been useful in shaping policy, we have come nowhere near realising the potential of the public to make better policies. I am determined that the wisdom and experience that resides among the British people will be better utilised in future.
In the old days when politicians went round the country the principal method of communication was party political speeches from a platform.
More recently as political meetings withered, politicians went round the country offering to do question and answer sessions.
Often I admit - at least in my case - the answers were far longer than the questions.
Now we need new ways and means to bring together citizens to discuss both specific problems that need addressing and concrete proposals for change.
We have already taken the unprecedented step of publishing the legislative programme in draft and inviting comments and views.
And for the last six months I have been discussing and working through how to do this is a consultative way that involves people in debating the issues that matter to them: drugs, Asbos and crime, housing development or even foreign policy issues like Iraq.
So starting this week, we will hold citizens juries around the country.
The members of these juries will be chosen independently.
Participants will be given facts and figures that are independently verified.
They will look at real issues and solutions - just as a jury examines a case.
And whenever these citizens juries are held the intention is to bring people together to explore where common ground exists.
The first citizens jury will be held later this week on children: how to ensure that every child can be safe, secure and successful at school; how parents can get the support and advice they need as they bring up their children; and how we can ensure that our education system reaches the very highest standards.
I know too that parents are concerned about whether children are exposed to harmful violence and sexual imagery in video and computer games and on the internet.
So as we launch the consultation on our children's plan we will be looking at all the evidence on the effects of this material; whether we need new rules on the advertising and sale of these products to children and young people; and what more can be done to help parents regulate access to inappropriate material on the internet.
The second citizens jury will be held next week on crime and communities.
None of us needs reminding after the tragic events of recent weeks of the horrific consequences of gang violence. We will do everything in our power to catch and convict those responsible for such heinous crimes.
And we know that for the police and criminal justice agencies to take effective action to enforce the law, the involvement and support of local people is crucial - that crimes falls when communities become stronger.
So the citizens jury on crime will look at how we can empower people in their neighbourhoods to work with the police and other agencies to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
It will be followed by nine simultaneous citizens juries on the NHS - one in each region - linked by video. These will bring together patients, staff and the public. They will examine major questions of concern to people, like access to services, the quality and safety of care, and how we can reduce health inequalities.
So in the next three weeks we will tackle these big issues in citizens juries.
But this is not a one-off event. It is an on-going process of reaching out - of doing the business of government differently.
So for example, I believe we can only win 'hearts and minds' in the fight against terrorism if we engage people at the grassroots, in their communities.
This will therefore be an issue that we will put to the people directly, particularly those in the areas most affected, in local debate and dialogue.
I also propose that representatives assembled from every constituency come together in a nationwide set of citizens juries held on one day. The juries will look at a range of issues like crime and immigration, education, health and transport.
I hope these will receive the enthusiastic support of MPs and local councillors.
Citizens juries will help government shape the policies in ways that the people for whom they are created want. Direct citizen involvement in policy-making can be the ally rather than the enemy of a renewed representative democracy.
And a citizens summit, composed of a representative sample of the British people, will be asked to formulate the British statement of values that was proposed in the green paper 'The Governance of Britain'. This has to be a living statement of the British people. It won't take root unless there is a real sense that it has been raised by the people themselves.
This will be part of a wider programme of consultation, led by Jack Straw and Michael Wills, on the British statement of values, the idea of a British Bill of Rights and Duties, and components of the Constitutional Reform Bill.
Jack Straw will be announcing details of this programme shortly.
Citizens juries are not a substitute for representative democracy but an enrichment of it. And the challenge of reviving local democracy can only be met if we build new forms of citizen involvement in our local services and new ways of holding them to account.
So as we expand opportunities for deliberation, we must extend democratic participation in our localities.
I want to see a vibrant, reinvigorated local democracy - from neighbourhood level engagement and community calls to action, to a renewed focus on the devolution of powers and responsibilities to local government and the accountability of our local police and health services to their communities.
In this way, people can connect neighbourhood meetings, local ballots and elections, and new forms of community action, with decision-making and the exercise of power over issues they care about in their daily lives.
As part of a new concordat between local and central government Hazel Blears will be working on proposals for the extension of local democracy and decision making in these areas.
My second proposal is that we set up new standing commissions where we can bring in not just all parties but representatives from outside the party system to examine continuing issues of concern.
These issues would be usually long term, usually non ideological.
Take for example carers.
As our society ages our need for care is rising. Care is an issue that will affect us all in some way in the future. Nobody understands this better than the many organisations in the voluntary and community sector who support carers and the cared for, and advocate for them.
I believe that the thinking that will be of best help for carers and those cared for will draw upon the ideas, the views and the values of the six million British carers themselves.
Last year I went to visit one carer and I heard at first hand of her struggle and yet her desire to help others in the same position as she is in. She wanted to train carers, to advise them, perhaps even to help service carers with her own company.
She told me that she does not want government to walk away. She wants a government on her side. And it is when government works in partnership with the voluntary sector, local authorities and carers themselves that we can do most to make lives better.
But in future working in partnership must mean not only listening and learning but involving and engaging carers themselves in the solutions we need.
So building on the consultation we have been undertaking this year with carers, I believe we should now establish a standing commission on carers.
Philippa Russell, a leading expert and advocate for carers, will work with Ivan Lewis, as Minister for Carers, to take forward this proposal.
And because I favour breaking through the old sterile party divides I want to ensure that advice can be given by the best people of whatever political persuasion and reviews can be done irrespective of party label by people who have important contributions to make.
So I have asked Patrick Mercer MP, a recognised expert on security issues, to advise lord west on security of our infrastructure and crowded places.
John Bercow MP, Chair of the All Party Group, will lead a review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs, reporting to the Secretary for Children, Schools and Families and the Secretary for Health. Full details will be announced next week.
Matthew Taylor MP will advise on land use through the planning system in support of sustainable rural communities, reporting to the Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Minister of State for Housing and Planning.
Third, in order to address the problems of the political system itself, I want to revive the idea of the Speaker's Conference.
A Speaker's Conference brings together all the parties at Westminster to look at issues that can only be dealt with on a cross-party basis.
In the last century there were five Speakers Conferences. Each looked at different aspects of the electoral process - reform of the franchise, the distribution of parliamentary seats, registration of electors, and other such matters.
Today I am proposing to the Speaker that he calls a conference to consider, against the backdrop of a decline in turnout, a number of important issues, such as electoral registration, weekend voting, and the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the House of Commons.
The Speakers Conference could also examine, in parallel with the Youth Citizenship Commission, whether we should lower the voting age to 16, so that we build upon citizenship education in schools and combine the right to vote with the legal recognition of when young adults become citizens.
And let me also confirm that discussions are now being held to arrange a sitting of the Youth Parliament in the House of Commons.
Instead therefore of dividing along party lines, I propose a Speaker's Conference to unite the parties in search of solutions to the disengagement of the people from the electoral process.
In the next few weeks I will talk about terrorism and security; global economic competition and how together as a nation we meet it; the environmental challenge and what we can achieve by working together; the rising aspirations of the British people and how there is a shared agenda for new and better opportunities.
I believe that this is the wrong time in history for politics as usual: the wrong time for empty partisan posturing which focuses on what divides us; faced with common challenges the wrong time for continuing to treat citizens simply as members of contending groups as if there was no scope for common ground; the wrong time for perpetuating the sterile divisions and the archaic battles for territory that dominated the ideologies of an ever-more-distant past.
Instead this is the right time to discover what we have in common, to cooperate across party lines, to work together with patriotic purpose to do what is right in the British interest and to move from common ground to the higher ground of each doing what we can to advance our country's best interests and ideals.
The voluntary and community sector understands these principles better than anyone. You are putting them into practice everyday. You share our commitment to changing our society for the better.
So this is a new kind of politics.
It is not an easy politics. It is not about gimmicks. It is about doing things the hard way - to find real solutions to the challenges we face.
It is a politics of consensus, because our progressive ambitions for Britain will only be met in the mainstream centre ground where all the talents and energies of the country come together.
It is a politics built on the empowerment and engagement, because lasting change only happens if people make it happen.
It is a politics of common purpose, because our country is built on the fairness of the British people."