Gordon Brown: 'I joined this party as a teenager ... Its values are my moral compass'

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Indy Politics

This is an edited version of Gordon Brown's speech

It is with humility, pride and a great sense of duty that I accept the privilege and the great responsibility of leading our party and changing our country.

I will endeavour to justify every day and in every act the trust you have placed in me. Leadership is an awesome responsibility.

So let me begin by personally thanking Tony Blair - a man who for 10 years has borne the burden of leadership of our country.

Let us never forget his towering presence in the international community, his work on Africa, climate change, his work to win the Olympics for Britain, and the skills and determination he brought to securing peace in Northern Ireland.

Tony - on behalf of the Labour Party, thank you.

And John Prescott - for his determination, his strength, his commitment to social justice, and a lifetime of standing up for working people: let us applaud John Prescott. And we know there is a worthy successor in Harriet Harman who has done so much to increase women's representation in Parliament.

This week I will form a new government with new priorities to meet the new challenges ahead.

Having visited every part of Britain and listened to and learned from the British people, I have seen at first hand a Britain of rising aspiration and I see the need for change to meet new needs.

I grew up in Kirkcaldy, the community I now represent in Parliament.

I went to my local school and was one of the people in my class to get to university. When at 16 I suffered an injury at rugby and lost my sight in one eye, I was fortunate enough to have the NHS which saved the sight in my other. It is for me a matter of fundamental principle that the best education and the best health care I received should be there not only for me and my family, but there for all families in all parts of Britain.

This is what my parents taught me and will never leave me: that each and everyone of us should have the chance to develop their talent, and that each of us should use whatever talents we have to enable people least able to help themselves.

And so I say honestly: I am a conviction politician. Call it "the driving power of social conscience", call it "the better angels of our nature", call it "our moral sense", call it a belief in "civic duty".

I joined this party as a teenager because I believed in these values. They guide my work, they are my moral compass. This is who I am.

Half a century ago, housing became a national priority and there was a promise of a property-owning democracy, but then unfortunately it was just for a few. Now in 2007, housing will be a priority.

The Housing minister will attend Cabinet and will lead the national debate on the new homes we must build. And this time the promise of a property-owning democracy must be open to all those wanting to get on the housing ladder for the first time.

Our national mission is to be world class in education. Step by step we will raise investment in state school pupils - now £5,500 per pupil - to today's levels for private school pupils: £8,000 a year. For every boy and girl the right to education until 18, and for every young person the offer of a college or university place or an apprenticeship, or pre-apprenticeship course, as the route to a career.

I've spent a lot of time in the last six weeks talking to patients and doctors, nurses and NHS staff. Every person I have met believes in the NHS, but I know also from everything I have heard round the country that we need to do better - and the NHS will be my immediate priority.

We need to and will do better at ensuring access for patients at the hours that suit them; better at getting basics of food, hygiene and cleanliness right; better at helping people to manage their own health; better at ensuring patients are treated with dignity in the NHS; better at providing the wider range of services now needed by our growing elderly population, and while implementing our essential reforms, better at listening to and valuing our staff.

Today we also face all the challenges that globalisation brings. I believe in a British economy founded on dynamic, flexible markets and open competition. But for workers undercut by employers in this country who break the law by paying less than the minimum wage we will act.

And we must be far clearer in speaking up for the common ground upon which we stand - the shared British values of liberty, civic duty and fairness to all. In return for opportunity for all we expect and demand responsibility from all: to learn English, contribute to and respect the culture we build together.

Also, no matter your class, colour or creed every individual citizen has the right to rise as far as your talents take you. Our way of life is to reject the prejudice and discrimination practised by those who preach xenophobia and racism.

Just as we work with the European Union, America and the rest of the world on global warming, we will also work with them to build the strongest multilateral response to all the security challenges we face.

In Iraq, which all of us accept has been a divisive issue for our party and our country, in Afghanistan and in the Middle East, we will meet our international obligations, we will learn lessons that need to be learned, and at all times be unyielding in support for our dedicated armed forces.

Our foreign policy will reflect the truth that to isolate and defeat terrorist extremism now involves more than military force - it is also a struggle of ideas and ideals. An essential contribution will be a Middle East settlement upholding a two-state solution, that protects the security of Israel and the legitimate enduring desire for a Palestinian state.

And just as our policies must change to meet new challenges, so too our party must change.

I can announce that the new Deputy Leader will be the Party Chair - from today not appointed by the leader but elected by the party.

And I can also announce that Douglas Alexander will be the general election co-ordinator so that we are ready not just to fight but to win a general election.

I want a new constitutional settlement for Britain. And the principles of my reforms are these: Government giving more power to Parliament; both government and Parliament giving more power to the people; Parliament voting on all the major issues of our time including peace and war; civil liberties safeguarded and enhanced; devolution within a Union of nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - a Union that I believe in and will defend; local government strengthened with new powers - local communities empowered to hold those who make the decisions to account; and with community ownership of assets - greater power for more people to control their lives.

Don't let anyone tell you the choice at the next election will be change with other parties and no change with Labour. Because when I take office on Wednesday I will heed and lead the call of change.

So for young people wanting the first step on the housing ladder to their first home, we will meet the challenge of change.

For families wanting their sons and daughters to get the chance of college or university, for parents wanting affordable child care, for families and pensioners who want an NHS there when they need it, for people wanting a stronger democracy, we will meet the challenge of change.

This week marks a new start. And I say to the people of Britain: the new government I will lead belongs to you.

I will work hard for you. I shall always try my utmost.

I am ready to serve.