'The events of the past weeks have proved once and for all that the Tories have failed. And what we have seen is the devaluation not just of a currency but of a prime minister and an entire government,' he told the conference.
Mr Smith's style, mixing witty ridicule of Mr Major and his ministers with a restrained statement of his belief in individual opportunity and social justice, was a marked contrast to Neil Kinnock's rousing conference oratory. He opened the 49-minute speech with a warm salute to his predecessor's 'courage' and 'determination' in carrying Labour forward.
The party had nothing to be ashamed of in its election defeat, Mr Smith said. It had fought an honourable campaign and the Conservative vote had been a reluctant one. Six months later, he wondered how many of those who gave Mr Major the benefit of the doubt now regretted their decision.
'Two weeks ago, confronted with a sterling crisis of their own creation, we saw a government gripped by indecision, paralysed by fear, and a Prime Minister plodding on to disaster. John Major had only one policy - to wait and see what happened. The result was total humiliation. The man who dreamt of toppling the Deutschmark carries the responsibility for the single most disastrous day in our post-war economic history. Our people are entitled to be angry - the cynical deceit of the Tory election campaign; the easy promise that all the economy needed was the reassurance of a Tory victory - all now exposed in the harsh light of the real world.'
It was the result of years of economic error compounded by mismanagement for which Mr Major had no alibi. As Chief Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister, he had designed and delivered the disaster.
Turning to the role of government in modern society, Mr Smith said the principles which formed the bedrock of the Labour movement - individual opportunity and social justice - were also the values of the British people.
'People live in communities, not in isolation. I believe they want to be citizens of a country which shows care and responsibility for all its people and which does not pass by on the other side.'
He went on: 'Active government is what Britain needs today. And it needs it urgently if we are ever going to lift ourselves out of this downward spiral of decline. I believe our people want government to take responsibility for the things they as individuals cannot provide. Safe streets. An efficient transport system. A high standard of education. Good health care. Training for jobs. A strong economy. Without these things, people are not free, nor do they have real choices.'
It was not difficult to see where action needed to be taken in Britain in 1992, Mr Smith said. It was needed to get the economy moving again with measures to stimulate investment, create jobs and boost the housing market. Government had to invest in training, toughen regulations on waste disposal and pollution and strengthen the rights of people at work.
He restated his commitment to an NHS free at the time of need, to a minimum wage, to a Freedom of Information Act and to devolution for Scotland, Wales and English regions.
It was the role of active government to ensure that everyone could contribute to public life, not just half the population. 'We need women to participate fully in all fields of work if we are ever to respond successfully to our country's needs and I have to say that this is as true in politics as in any other field.'
To loud applause, Mr Smith said action was needed to stop turmoil in schools. 'For far too long, they have been used as an ideological battleground by the Tories. Children, teachers and parents have been pushed this way and that by one failed reform after another. We must restore stability and confidence to our classrooms,' he said.
Leading article, page 22
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