As-it-happened: Brown’s speech
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Gordon Brown is about to deliver his leader’s speech to the Labour party conference in Manchester. Follow it live here on politics.co.uk.
The prime minister’s address is a crucial test of his ability to unite his party – and is being trailed as one of the most testing of his political career. How will he perform? Will he persuade the people of Britain, as well as his own party, he is the right person to lead Britain through the current economic crisis? politics.co.uk will bring you updates from the G-Mex conference centre in Manchester throughout the speech.
We’re now just minutes away from the big speech – “ladies and gentlemen, take your seats” is heard as excitement grows. There’s been a lot of build-up – now it’s time for Mr Brown to deliver.
As usual, the appointed time arrives – and passes. We couldn’t possibly expect the government to be punctual, could we?
Sarah Brown receives cheers as she faces the Labour conference on the podium. She looks nervous – more than a little scared actually – and somewhat shy. The applause continues and finally settles down. “I remember the warm welcome you gave me and Gordon after our wedding,” she tells us, before introducing a video about the bad old times under the Tories and the good old times under New Labour. The video states: “We’ve beaten the Tories three times – and we’ll do it again.” What a great government we’ve got, eh? Celebrity endorsements from Barack Obama and. Alan Sugar? From the sublime.
And here’s the man himself, in a hideously surreal moment. A full-on snog! This is surely unprecedented in modern politics. All reasonable commentators are appalled.
Finally he’s on the podium and getting started. “I’m very proud to be her husband,” he said. “Let’s come straight to the point,” he begins. Crikey. He’s got a point. It’s all about what he wants to achieve. “A new settlement for new times” is his goal, he reveals.
“I didn’t come into politics to be a celebrity,” he says, grinning. The smile is awkard, the joke terrible. His delivery is tentative, to be sure. The pace is less than convincing. But then he moves on: “People say I’m serious. Quite honestly, there’s a lot to be serious about.” He’s ticking the box here, talking about getting “angry” about things. And he answers his critics on keeping his family out of politics: “My children aren’t props – they’re people.”
But before we get the handkerchiefs out he’s back on to his fairness agenda. Tepid applause and awkward pauses abound. Then the message comes through: “A new settlement we must build” for a “global age”. A comparison to the industrial revolution: “the week the world was spun on its axis and all certainties were turned on their head.” This is a deliberate attempt to mirror Tony Blair’s post-9/11 rhetoric. It worked for Blair in terms of authority. Mr Brown wants a piece of it for himself.
The “defining moment” he talks about is one of judgment and values, Mr Brown says. It’s about applying these to change, he argues – giving him the opportunity to produce this new “settlement”. What matters? Hard work and enterprise. How does it work? Not through markets. How far will he take left-wing rhetoric after this week’s changes? “Market forces have been proved wrong again,” he says, before laying out his goal: “Nothing less than rebuilding the world financial system.”
The proposals he and the chancellor will make to the US are: transparency, sound banking, responsibility, integrity and supervision. Placing himself as a statesman pushing for change on these issues could win him the next election. That’s what he hopes, at least.
Keeping on with the statesman role, Mr Brown moves on to the environment. Here’s a shock: the move to an 80 per cent emissions reduction target rather than 60 per cent is real news.
It’s a quick-paced speech. Already he’s providing us with a shot of economic optimism, talking about the opportunity to double the economy. He pledges a “British century”. This is more than upbeat, it’s visionary.
And then we have a series of further pledges: Labour can be the party of law and order, a party for pensioners, a party of the family. He’s flitting through policy areas like a casino attendant shuffling a pack of cards. His conclusion is less flashy but more weighty: even more than in 1997, he argues, “this country needs a Labour government”. The crowds like that one.
Every political speech should have a section relating a party’s ability to “change lives”. Mr Brown is working through that now, whether it be creating more jobs, the minimum wage or the NHS saving lives. He’s getting a lot of applause for this. The PM nods appreciatively, a bit like the Churchill dog. “Oh yes,” he tells us. “Fairness is in our DNA.”
The tactic of inserting fighting talk into the wider speech seems to be working well. “When things get tough we get tougher. We don’t give in and we never will,” he says, but it’s sandwiched in between more general ideological rhetoric. There’s no lengthy section on it – just yet.
Here’s an interesting bit – thanks for a select bunch of government ministers. Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband, John Denham, Ruth Kelly and John Hutton all get mentions. No surprises who doesn’t. the foreign secretary is conspicuously absent. It’s as if he’s not a part of Mr Brown’s domestic mission.
It’s issue-by-issue time now, with a bit more time spent on each. First, education: and a commitment to “groundbreaking legislation to end child poverty”. Legislating political commitments just took another big step forward.
I’ve just spent a little bit of time flicking through the copy of the speech that’s been handed to the press when Mr Brown got up. It turns out he will name-check all the major domestic players – before chucking in David Miliband alongside Douglas Alexander in a final international section. At the very least, it’s about leaving the foreign secretary sweating about whether he’ll be included at all. At the most, it’s a deliberate attempt to place him at the bottom of the list.
Huge amounts of applause for his statement on the NHS that it is “a right to be enjoyed by all”. The PM gets so excited he starts clapping himself. Steady on, Gordon – you don’t want to be seen as quite that self-congratulatory.
Here’s a personal touch: another story about his (literal) vision problems from his rugby accident while a teenager. It’s again rolled out as an explanation of his commitment to the NHS. Which, incidentally, now has the lowest waiting times in its history.
Back to Brown in visionary mode: the £15 billion invested in medical research will be directed into turning advances into actual treatments and cures for NHS patients. Were they not doing that before then? Never mind. It’s time for more big announcements: no prescription charges “at all” for all those suffering from cancer, and none for those with long-term conditions. He finishes his health section with a series of pledges which are “worth fighting for”.
Fairness, of course, is about playing by the Labour-set rules. These will be rewarded and punished accordingly – “that’s what fairness means to me”. It’s time for the big assault on the Conservatives. He reels off a list of all the things we wouldn’t have with them in government. And then he directly addresses their accusation: “We did fix the roof while the sun was shining.” Cheers greet this. A half-smile glimmers across Mr Brown’s face. He narrows his eyes, Martin Sheen-like, before continuing with an appalled assessment of George Osborne’s plans. “Everyone knows I’m all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice.”
The anti-Tory attack continues. He says they are “smart” and accuses them of a strategy of accusing what they really think. “I’m a man for detail,” he says, surprising no one as he talks about the shocking details of a Tory government. The inheritance tax proposals are an easy hit. He scores more points over SureStart – clearly under threat from Tory cuts, Mr Brown claims. Why? “Because they are still prisoners of their past.”
And now it’s time to address the Tory claim of a broken society. What about the neighbourhood watch, the sports volunteers, the carers? “I believe in Britain,” he says, underlining his support for the union, before going off-script briefly: a mention of “completing devolution in Northern Ireland.
We finally get to that mention of David Miliband, but it’s not pretty. The emphasis is on the countries he wants to tackle: Burman, Zimbabwe, Darfur.
Close to the end now, as Mr Brown sums up his own political identity. “I know what I believe. I know who I am. I know what I want to do in this job. And I know that the way to deal with tough times is to face them down.” It’s not overstated – if anything the opposite. You could cut the silence in the conference hall with a knife. Not one to be used for stabbing, of course.
He finishes: “Together we will win for the sake of our country.” The applause begins, the cheering erupts. Again, it’s hardly a grin of pleasure. More a grimace of grudging acceptance. Finally, only when Sarah Brown reappears, does he walk through the crowd accepting the plaudits, the adulation, with a real smile on his face. But will it be enough?