North West Regional Conference.
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
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
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
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
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
The world must show the same
courage, the same dedication, and the same commitment to
providing justice for the Palestinian people and peace in
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
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
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
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
Yes, we made the Bank of
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
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
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.
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
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.
sustainable communities is part of Labour's democratic socialist
agenda. At home and abroad, we promote peace, prosperity and
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