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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK


UK Politics

Labour's opening speech


This is the full text of the 1999 opening conference speech by Brenda Etchells, Chair of Labour's National Executive Committee:

Welcome to our Centenary conference!

Bournemouth holds good memories for me. Because the 1985 conference, held here, was the first I ever attended as an AEU delegate. Back then I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would ever be back here opening conference.

Conference99
But I am delighted to do so, especially in our centenary year.

Particularly as we have a Labour government that, despite being in office for less than three years, has delivered so much for working people. The hard working,decent majority in our country. Who we all knew deserved better than they got under the Conservatives. Deserved better than they got for that long 18 years when we were in the wilderness. That is why we must never forget those years of frustration.

If I ever need reminding I will re-read the book "Things Can Only Better". The Labour Party described was the Labour Party I love for all its faults. But it also captured the feelings I know we all shared when no matter how hard we worked we could not win a general election.

So to the cynical, who say Labour governments, don't make a difference I ask would Tory Governments have extended health care, education, equal rights and decent pay to the British people?

Would Tory governments have created the National Health Service, the Open University, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act or the National Minimum Wage?

Would they? Of course not. These are the actions of Labour governments. That is the difference Labour governments make. The difference that a Labour Government made to me.

I grew up in the early-forties, the fourth of five children in a one parent family. My mother had no child benefit. She didn't even get a widow's pension as my father had left us. We had to be looked after by aunts when she went out to work to earn the money to keep us.

But she did it. And she was helped in doing it by the 1945 Labour Government. Thanks to them she was able to draw 5 shillings per week in child benefit and call the doctor without having to pay 7/6. It might not seem much to people in this hall but to my mom, my brothers, my sisters and to me it made all the difference in the world. It probably enabled us to stay together as a family.

That is the difference Labour Governments make. When they have the chance. When they are elected.

So whilst we must never forget our roots, and I know I never will, the other thing we must never forget is that our party, the Labour Party, has always been about a better future not nostalgia for the past.

We must make sure we continue to update ourselves so we can remain the modern, forward looking party of government. Because being in government means we are able to effect real change that enhances the quality of life for the many not just the few.

So, speaking from experience, I say to those who are attending conference for the first time, appreciate how lucky you are. Lucky to be attending the conference with a Labour government in office. For too many of us in this hall the majority of our memories are of conferences in opposition. Conferences where we could resolve and remit, debate and discuss, composite and caucus to our heart's content. But where our deliberations went nowhere because they went into manifestos that were ultimately not supported by the British people.

So, enjoy the week, whether this is your first time or your thirtieth. Enjoy it but remember we are here for serious business. For building the policy for our next manifesto. A manifesto that must be endorsed not just by members, not just by the NEC but by the British people. A manifesto that needs to lead to our first-ever consecutive working majority. A manifesto that will see the first general election of the new millennium won by the Labour Party.

Thank you.



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