Blair: My Decent Society

Key passages of the Labour leader's speech in Blackpool yesterday

Tuesday 01 October 1996 23:02

Today I offer you, and we offer the country, a new vision. If we are to build this new Age of Achievement, you and I, and all of us together must first build the decent society to deliver it. A society in which every individual is valued, every person given a chance to develop their potential, a society to which we contribute and which contributes to us.

History will call it the Decent Society, a new social order for the new Age of Achievement for Britain. We will respect family life, develop it and encourage it in any way we can, for strong families are the foundation of strong communities.

New Labour, new members. I am proud of them. But let me say to you: I don't forget that this party only survived for new members to join because the old members stuck with it through thick and thin.

Let me try to explain this to you. I wasn't born Labour, I became Labour. And when you look back on your past you try to think of the things that shaped you. My father was a very ambitious man, he was successful, he was a go-getter. One morning I woke to be told he had had a stroke in the middle of the night and might not live through the day and my whole world fell apart.

It taught me something: it taught me the value of the family, because my mother worked for three years to help him talk and walk again. But it taught me something else too: when that happened, the fairweather friends, they went - that's not unusual.

But the real friends, the true friends, they stayed with us, they helped us, and they stuck with us for no other reason than that it was the right thing to do. I don't pretend to you that I had a deprived childhood: I didn't, but I learned a sense of values in my childhood.

And, yes, we are a democratic socialist party. It says so in the new Clause IV that I drafted and the party overwhelmingly supported. But it stands in a tradition bigger than European social democracy, bigger than any "ism". Bigger than any of us. It stands in a tradition whose flame was alive in human hearts long before the Labour Party was thought of. A tradition far above ideology but not beyond ideals.

We are not a sect or a cult. We are part of the broad movement of human progress. The marriage of ambition with justice, the constant striving of the human spirit to do better, be better. It is that which separates us from Conservatives.

When the Tories talk about the spirit of enterprise, they mean a few self-made millionaires. Best of luck to them. But there should be a spirit of enterprise on the shopfloor, in the office. In the 16-year-old who starts as an office girl with the realistic chance of ending up as the office manager; the young graduate with the confidence to take initiatives; in the secretary who takes time out to learn a new language and comes back to look for a new and better job. Ask me my three main priorities for government - I tell you, education, education and education.

I say to the British people, have the courage to change now. We are coming home to you. We are back as the party of the people, and that's why the people are coming back to us.

When a 76-year old widow from Liverpool, a party member since before I was born, sends me a Christmas card that says "Tony, please, for me, win", then I tell you, we have a duty to win.

In 1945, when miners voted Labour, they did it so that their sons would not have to go down the pit as they had. And in 1964 their children voted Labour because they saw the next generation's chance to go to university and do better than their parents had done.

Labour's coming home. Seventeen years of hurt never stopped us dreaming. Labour's coming home. As we did in '45 and '64. I know that was then, but it could be again.

Britain can take on the world and win. And we will be envied throughout the world not just because of our castles and palaces and our glorious history, but because we gave hope back to the generations, we turned this country round by the will of the people in unity with the party of the people, and we built the Age of Achievement in our lifetime.

All I ask is a chance to serve. At the time of the next election there will be just 1,000 days until the new millennium; 1,000 days to prepare for 1,000 years.

The true radical mission of the Labour Party, new and old, is this; not to hold people back but to help them get on. Our task is to restore hope, to build a new Age of Achievement in a new and different world.

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