Prescott harks back to traditional values: Speech emphasises party's commitment to social justice

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Indy Politics
JOHN PRESCOTT yesterday played all the great chords of Labour's traditional values in a speech which he firmly claimed was about the European elections and was not his personal manifesto for the Labour leadership.

The speech, he said, was 'not my manifesto, my credo, my launch for the leadership', but in it he emphasised Labour's inheritance from 1945, its commitment to jobs and social justice, and its belief that there 'are certain things that government does better than the private sector'.

In a speech containing none of the 'modernising' themes that Tony Blair has been emphasising but nothing directly to attack them, Mr Prescott lambasted the Government's 'obsession with de- regulation and privatisation', promising that railways and prisons would be brought back into public ownership. Privatisation of prisons 'is more about making money for the few than providing decent standards for the many'.

He also told the Prison Officers' Association's annual conference in Portsmouth that along with trade union rights at GCHQ, Labour would restore prison officers' trade union rights if they are removed in the Criminal Justice Bill. In a cleverly crafted speech, laced with humour, he said Labour's task was to win the European elections on a programme to opt-in to the Social Chapter and the values of the decent society which Labour had created in 1945. Every other country in Europe wanted to embrace such values with European Commission documents recognising that 'governments have a right to intervene in the economy to secure high employment and get people back to work'.

Europe recognised that 'economic prosperity marches along with social justice and that one cannot march without the other. That is the way the rest of Europe is going. That is the way that Britain wants to go', Mr Prescott said.

John Major and Baroness Thatcher had taken Britain back to the 1930s. 'What we have seen after 15 years of Tory government is a return to Beveridge's five evils of idleness, want, squalor, disease and ignorance.' Back to mass unemployment, mass poverty and the return of diseases such as TB.

'Back to a time that it took an economic and social revolution by a Labour government to wipe out - with full employment, the National Health Service, the Welfare State, mass education and mass rehousing programmes. In 1945, a Labour government showed Europe the way to economic prosperity with social justice - that they were intertwined and two sides of the same coin. Jobs and social justice. That has always been our cry. It is always our philosophy.' Britain had set a model for a civilised country, with civilised standards in which all were of equal worth.

Mr Prescott said government was 'the best provider of a universal health service, a universal welfare service, a universal education system and, yes, even, a national railway service' - as could be seen in every other European country. That was so because 'they meet public need, not a private greed. They perform a public service and carry out their social duties and obligations. That's why there is a role for the public sector'. Such services, along with defence, the police and the prison service 'are not factories or tradeable commodities to be flogged off for a quick profit,' he said.

'They are an integral part in the maintenance of a stable society and they cannot be left to companies whose primary goal is profit.'