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Southport Reporter®

Edition No. 89

Date:- 07 March 2003

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Labour North West Regional Conference.
Photographs by Patrick Trollope.
 
 
THE Southport Press were given an exclusive interview with John Reid.  Relaxed and in a chair backstage John Reid told the Southport Media that "We are happy to be in Southport and the people are fantastic towards us."  When asked by Martin Hovden why they chose Southport considering that the party has had no representation in Southport for years he told the media that, "It is impossible to win every area of the county.  We don't regard ant area as a no-go area because ever area has areas of deprivation in which Labour can do things that the Conservatives would not contemplate doing.  And although we have no representation in Southport, we have had here today the deputy Prime Minister, the foreign Secretary, the Chairman of the party and other ministers.   We are here because the facilities are here.  We certainly don't take the view that we penalized an area because they haven't rewarded us locally with councilors" adding "When are the Conservatives going to bring their leadership here?  What is scaring them?  Why don't they turn up in great numbers?  Maybe it's because the local Tories believe bringing their leadership here would lose them votes."

Earlier in a press briefing John Prescott MP NW Regional LP, in Southport on 1 March 2003 told the media that "I am delighted to be back in the North West and especially here in Southport which is where 1 fought my first Parliamentary election in 1966. In a few months' we will become the longest serving Labour government ever. We are no longer a party of opposition passing resolutions, marching and protesting. We are a party of government with tough choices making difficult decisions that affect the lives of millions of people. For all of us - in government, in local authorities, in trade unions - leadership is easy when people agree with you and when you are popular. But when times are tough, when people slop agreeing with you that's when leadership is difficult. Good government is not all about quick easy wins, but about difficult, long-term decisions. Chair, this is not an easy time for the Government or for the Party. The question of Iraq is the most important issue facing the world at the present time. The protestors here this morning are calling for the world to give peace a chance. And they're not alone. I'll bet there is not a single person in this hall, or in the entire Labour movement, that doesn't want to give peace a chance.

 
We all agree that Saddam is a tyrant and that war is a last resort. The debate in Parliament this week showed overwhelming agreement to support UN resolution 1441, to await the Blix Report and a second resolution. We all agreed that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical, which he has used against 5 of his neighbours, and his own people. And that it is only because of an army on his doorstep that he is making any limited concessions to the authority of the United Nations. The only areas of disagreement are on how much time is needed for the inspectors to do their work, and whether Saddam has any serious intention to disarm. And that debate will continue, hopefully with the same respect for differing views, the absence of rancour and the same constructive way that it has begun. Chair, this entire Government wants to give peace a chance, and especially the Prime Minister. Over the vicious civil war in Sierra Leone, over ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and over the terror machine in Afghanistan, Tony Blair provided great leadership despite strong opposition. People were saved from genocide, tyranny, brutality, or suffering and today they have a chance to rebuild lives, communities, and democracies. They have expressed their gratitude. I am proud to be a member of a Labour Government that helped them. Chair, we in this great movement, have an honourable record of trying to resolve conflicts before going to war. We know war is the very last resort. But it must be a resort.
 
Nearly 70 years ago, our conference debated whether the League of Nations should take action to prevent Mussolini's coming invasion of Abyssinia.
 
It was controversial and it split the Party. But despite opposition from our Leader, George Lansbury, a decent man and a pacifist, conference voted to support the League of Nations.
 
But we were only in opposition. Nothing we decided really mattered. The League failed to act in time and the whole world suffered the terrible consequences.
 
Today we are in government. Today we can defend international law. Today we can help promote the integrity of the United Nations.
 
Chair, the upholding of international law and the United Nations mandate is not just limited to Iraq. The UN has passed resolutions on Palestine and Israel too.
 
We need to be even handed. The plight of the Palestinian people is both a scar on humanity and the seed corn of further tension and strife in the whole region.
 
The world must show the same courage, the same dedication, and the same commitment to providing justice for the Palestinian people and peace in region.
 
Chair, it is right to give proper attention to the international situation but we must not forget our responsibilities at home. On the domestic front, there is much to do but there is also much to be proud of already.
 
Our job as Labour activists is to remind the electorate of those achievements.
 
At this time when the world economy is struggling, we have the lowest interest rates for 48 years, the lowest inflation for 40 years, and the lowest unemployment since the mid seventies. And unemployment is still failing.
 
One and a half million more people are in jobs since 1997 and hundreds of thousands of them are in the public sector.
 
That achievement alone would justify a Labour Government.
 
How different it all is from the 1970s, the 80s, and the 90s.
 
In those days we used to hear all about the wonderful German and Japanese economic miracles. We now outstrip them in jobs, economic growth and investment in our public services, despite the world's present economic difficulty.
How did it happen? Not by accident. We had the courage to make controversial decisions at the right time.
 
Yes, we kept to the Tory Government's spending plans for two years to reduce debt repayment.
 
Yes, we made the Bank of England independent.
 
Both decisions were opposed at our conferences. Resolution after resolution said, "borrow more", "spend more".
 
But we didn't. We took the essential long-term steps connecting economic prosperity with social justice. We made the case and we showed leadership.
And we know the result: A stable economy, with record extra investment in our public service.
 
That's the kind of investment that will improve the quality of life for generations to come. In our schools. In our hospitals. Fighting crime. And yes, in local government services too. We needed these extra resources to repair the legacy of decades of Tory disinvestment and to meet the increasing demands of our public services. Look at the record. In 1997 spending on health was 50 billion pounds. By 2008 it will be 100 billion. In 1997, spending on education was 29 billion pounds. By 2006 it will be 58 billion. That's a doubling of investment. Finding the money was, and is, controversial. It needed more money than the public finances alone could provide. So what did we do? We developed public private partnerships. Instead of waiting 20 years for new hospitals we started building them straight away. New schools are needed for today's children, now. It's too late by the time they've started their working lives. And I haven't heard of anyone refusing to be admitted to a brand-new hospital because they didn't like the accountancy that was used to build it. Or taking their children out of a brand new school. We had to unlock sources of private capital, to make it work for the public good. The public private partnership has increased the amount of money on public service investment from 24 billion in 1997 to a record 42 billion now. And in the work of my

own department too, local government, helping public and private investment work together is producing real benefits for local people. But 1 believes better services for people should not be at the expense of local authority workers. So two weeks ago 1 announced the decision to end the two-tier workforce in best value authorities. From now on any contractor tendering for local services must offer terms and conditions no less favorable than those local authority employees currently enjoy. We have established a level playing field. Conference, it's not just about extra investment though. It's about reform and change as well. Because hand in hand with the reform agenda in our public services goes democratic accountability. We have started to shift the balance of power away from Whitehall putting decisions closer to the people whose lives they affect. I'm proud to be part of a Labour Government that established the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the GLA. We've achieved a lot. It's not always been easy. But the fact that we are now giving the English Regions the same choice as the people of Scotland, Wales and London is an achievement of which we should all be proud. Of course the Tories have opposed devolution. They opposed it in Scotland and Wales. They did the same with London.

And they'll do the same again with regional government in England. We are now coming to a critical time in the delivery of our Manifesto commitment for elected Regional Assemblies. On Monday, the exercise to assess the level of interest in holding referendums in each region closes. We've had an excellent response, and we will decide in the coming months which region or regions should go first. 1 believe there's is a hunger for English regional government in several parts of the country, and it is growing. The Regional Assemblies Bill is making good progress and we're on track for the first referendum in the autumn of next year. That's only 18 months away, which means not just Government getting the process right but the Party preparing its campaign. This is an opportunity which 1 relish and which 1 believe - with your support we can make happen ~ not just in a few regions but, in time, across the whole of England. Chair, our national sustainable Communities Action Plan that 1 published a couple of weeks ago is about more than just good housing. Its also about the need for a strong local economy, jobs, good schools and hospitals, good public transport, clean streets, good parks and public places and much more. We have made a step change in resources - £22billion - a 40% increase over the next three years and more than double what we inherited from the Tories. Over the past 30 years all governments have failed to meet housing need properly. 

We failed to invest in our communities for the long term and we used land wastefully. All governments ignored the mistakes of the past - when all too often we built soulless, poorly designed housing estates, not communities, many here in the North West. But, don't forget it was the Tories who walked away from our deprived communities when they were crying out for help. It was the Tories who let the housing stock collapse and who left us with a staggering 19 billion-pound backlog of repairs.   

It was the Tories who stopped local authorities from reinvesting the capital receipts from the Right to Buy. And, it was the Tories who let the market rip with out-of-town shopping, urban sprawl and low density building anywhere and everywhere. Labour's first priority was to halt the decline. That's why we released £5bn of capital receipts for housing refurbishment. It's why we committed ourselves to make all social housing decent by 2010 - and we are on track to do that ~ with over half a million homes already improved So, we are reversing the decades of under-investment and neglect. That 22 billion-pound Communities Action Plan included 11 billion for housing investment; 5 billion programme for more affordable homes, including a billion for key worker homes;

 
Nearly 3 billion more to improve local authority housing; and a £500 million Pathfinder programme to tackle the problem of low demand in the nine worst hit areas. For the first time for decades Labour has put housing at the top of the agenda, and not before time. We have already granted local authorities an extra £1bn in the Local Government Funding Settlement to improve the local environment. We will now back that up with an extra £250m with a new fund to help transform our parks and public spaces. Of course the extra funding makes a difference. But, it's not just about resources. Our new Housing Bill will tackle abuses in housing. We will give local authorities the powers - for the first time - to bring empty properties back into use through compulsory leasing. This, and ending council tax discounts on empty homes, will end the scandal of boarded up properties in areas where people are desperate for a roof over their head. We will stop unscrupulous landlords exploiting the housing benefit system for their own profit at the expense of their tenants and the standard of the housing they provide. And we are taking action on the Right to Buy in housing crisis areas, not because we are against home ownership - that's increased by a million under Labour. Right to Buy helped [one and a half million] people buy their own home. But it has cost around 40 billion pounds in subsidies since 1980. And it is only one way of helping people into home ownership. There are other ways - run by local authorities and housing associations - which don't involve the loss of a social home - that help tenants buy their own home, but leave the social housing for someone else. We want to boost these schemes and end once and for all the stigma that surrounds local authority housing - so that we no longer talk about 'public housing bad', private housing good'. Conference, that's the Labour choice. To grasp this opportunity to leave our children a legacy of decent homes in communities of which we can be proud. Chair, Labour's great strength is the partnership between central and local government. We believe in local government unlike the Tories who tried to destroy it. For this year's May elections, the Tories have chosen to fight us on the Council Tax and local government funding. Great. That suits me. Let's compare the record. This Labour Government has increased grants to local government by 25 percent, in real terms, since 1997. That contrasts with The Tories who cut 7 percent in real terms from local government funding in the four years before 1997.
 
And people see through the cynical Tory propaganda about robbing the South East for the benefit of the North.
 
Why? Because every single authority, North, South, East or West, received a grant increase greater than inflation. No one was robbed. They all got more. Every single one of them.
 
So there are few excuses for large Council Tax rises. Council Tax is set by individual councils, not by central government.
 
This Government has abolished the Tories' crude universal capping.
 
But it only fair to warn those authorities proposing excessive Council Tax settlements, some as high as 40 or 50 percent, that 1 do not rule out, on a case by case basis, using reserve capping powers.
 
A cap can be applied now to this year's budget, or to next year's budget, or the year afterwards, to ensure that Councils aren't accepting generous extra funding from the government and unfairly increasing the burden on local council tax payers at the same time.
 
There are plenty examples of councils who have had real terms, but modest increases in grant who have managed to set responsible council taxes.
 
So, for local government, it has been more money, more jobs, more services, more powers, more freedoms, more flexibilities. Given all that, the government has a right to expect that local authorities will act responsibly.
 
Chair, rebuilding sustainable communities is part of Labour's democratic socialist agenda. At home and abroad, we promote peace, prosperity and social justice.
 
The Labour Party has a proud history of fighting injustice born of want, of disease, of ignorance, of idleness and of squalor. We are all proud of the record and we have all played our part.
 
But that work is under threat. And that threat comes from where it always has: from the right. The Tories are our opposition, make no mistake. Never ever let us forget that the main danger here at home is the revival of the Tory Party.
 
They want to turn back the clock. Back to boom, bust and borrowing. Back to tax cuts for the few and cuts in essential public services for the many to pay for them.
 
Remember Oliver Letwin? He popped up in the last general election campaign and let slip secret Tory plans to cut public spending by £20 billion. When his Leader found out he spend the rest of the campaign in hiding. We looked for him there we looked for him everywhere.
 
That was then. Now they've a new Leader. Letwin's has been promoted. His replacement is Howard. Not Michael Howard but Howard Flight.
 
Howard Flight is ashamed of Letwin's 20 billion-pound cuts. He says they're not enough. He too wants to slash spending on public services. He confirmed it in Parliament last week.
 
But not by 20 billion. Or even 40 billion.
 
No, he's looking for 80 billion pounds of cuts.
 
He's not in hiding. He's actually proud of himself.
 
So, it's the old, old story. Fewer teachers, fewer nurses, fewer police. Cuts in transport investment and local government services. Eroding workers' rights and a return to poverty pay. Conference, in some parts of the country the threat from the right is more menacing still. The racist BNP have donned new a new uniform and a new veneer of respectability. Smart suits and polite behaviour. They may be starting to look like respectable politicians. They may even persuade a few people that they have changed. But racism is racism is racism. They can take their suits to the dry cleaners but they will never rid themselves of the stain of discrimination against their fellow citizens. But calling them racist will not be enough to defeat them. We must out campaign them. Reconnect with people on the doorsteps. Re-engage in our communities. Show the British people that the Labour Party stands where it always has: on their side and will act as it always has: in their interests. This Party believes that every single person is of equal worth and every single person deserves equal respect. We have always stood on the side of minorities facing injustice and we always will. Our job is to get out there and tell people that. Chair, while I'm talking about out-campaigning other parties, let's not forget the Liberals. They are what they have always been opportunist parasites on the body politic. They are up to their old tricks putting out leaflets claiming the credit for Labour's achievements, locally and nationally. They are different things to different people in different parts of the country, in a cynic and pathetic bid for power. We all know this about them but it's not enough just to say so. We do need to expose them, but we must out campaign them as well. Chair, we need to take a warning to the electorate. We need to remind those who have been seduced into thinking that a mid-term protest vote for the Liberals or the nationalists, or even staying at home, is cost free. It not. It comes with a price and those who depend on a Labour Government pay the price. Attacking a Labour Government from the left does not bring about a more left-wing Labour Government. History has shown us that it merely hastens the return of a Tory right-wing Government. So when you are on the doorsteps, give some credit where credit is due. Be proud of what we've done. Be proud of your Labour Government. On 1st May in 1997 we secured our greatest election victory ever. On 1st May this year, Labour candidates in local government, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly will face their electorates. So let us tell people what we promised and what we did.
 
Tell them how the unemployed was given jobs. And how we reduced poverty. Tell them how education has improved. How the health services is on the way to being restored as the jewel of Labour's achievements. Our record is there for all to see. Our commitment is to do more. Our belief is in peace, in prosperity and in social justice. Millions of people are dependent upon us for the quality of their lives. So let May 1st be another step towards that historic third term Labour government."

A few pictures of the exhibitions inside.

Southport Reporter is Registered Trade Mar.   Copyright © Patrick Trollope 2003.