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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 April 2005, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Text of Blair's education speech
Here is the text of Tony Blair's speech to local Labour members in Sedgefield on education:

It's good to be here. The place that gave me my first big break in politics. The place that has sustained me ever since.

You are the people who sent me to Parliament. You are the people whose interests I represent.

And as I look around this room, I see not just friends, colleagues and supporters. I see symbols of the journey we have made.

In this hall are some of the stories of progress that keep telling me why I am in politics and why I seek the mandate to take Sedgefield forward as your MP, and to take Britain forward as your prime minister.

I think back to some of the early surgeries I did as an MP. I remember the faces of men broken by unemployment and poverty, big, brave men in tears because they saw no hope ahead of them.

I remember the families of three generations of men, none in work. I remember mothers, their families on benefit, nothing to look forward to, ground down by a life that was a struggle without a future and asking me what I was going to do about it.

I remember the feeling of utter helplessness and impotence at the honest answer I had to give - nothing. There was nothing we could do to help. Because my impotence in the face of that woman's misery was matched by our party's impotence in the face of a Tory Party that ravaged communities like this.

So today what do I see? I see people here once without work now in work. I see people once desperate for any job now running their own business. I see families once on the breadline now doing better thanks to the Working Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the National Minimum Wage. I see children in better schools.

I see Sedgefield Community Hospital up the road, brand new. On the edge of the constituency the totally rebuilt General Hospital. I see pensioners lifted out of poverty. I see hope about the future where once, here in Sedgefield, there was only fear.

Anyone who thinks politics doesn't matter or who says it's all spin and no substance I say go to the schools with the additional teachers, go to the hospitals with the nurses and doctors. Go to the Sure Start children's centre at Ferryhill and now others in Chilton and Newton Aycliffe.

Any of you visiting Sedgefield go to see what's happening in the real world to the lives of real people. That is a New Labour Government in action. We can be proud of it. And then think what more we can do, given the support of the British people to do it.

And what's been happening here in Sedgefield has been happening in every single constituency throughout the length and breath of Britain.

And then I see those Tories across the floor of the Commons and I say to you, to everyone in this Party, and to the country - never, ever let them do that damage to our country again.

There is a fight. We have to win it.

There is a choice. Labour or Tory.

But it's not just a choice of Government or political party.

It is a choice of values. Our belief in representing the interests of the many, the hard working families which are the backbone of Britain. Their belief in furthering the interests of the few, those at the top.

It is a choice of records. Ours in 8 years of government. Theirs in 18 years of government.

And above all it is a choice of futures.

Ours: to accelerate the changes of the last 8 years

Theirs: to reverse them, to go back to 1997 and continue where they left off.

We will publish our manifesto this week "Britain forward not back". I can tell you now: at the heart of it will be education.

Education has been, is and will be the driving mission of a New Labour Government: to give our children, all our children not just those at the top, the best start in life, the best chance to succeed.

Don't let anyone tell you there's been no progress in education or, as the Tories say, the money is all wasted, it's gone on bureaucrats. Just up the road from here is the Trimdon Grange Infants School with its new learning centre.

Further afield is Middleton St George C of E primary school re-built. At Sedgefield is the comprehensive now a specialist sports college with a quarter of a million pounds new investment.

At Wingate the new Wellfield maths and community college. Four or five miles away is Ferryhill comprehensive now a specialist business college, results doubled in just two years. And everywhere across County Durham standards improving.

When I became leader of the Labour Party we made education Labour's number one priority.

We did so because the education system under Michael Howard's Tories was in a state of crisis. 42nd in the world education league: hundreds of thousands of children and young people failed every year, while the need for skills and qualifications was greater than ever in the developing knowledge economy.

Let's be clear about the scale of the education crisis we inherited. Ten facts about Tory Britain in 1997:

1. 600 schools still with outside toilets.

2. 500,000 five, six and seven year olds in classes larger than thirty.

3. Barely half of eleven year old up to standard in reading and maths in national tests.

4. More than half of sixteen year olds failing to get five decent GCSE's nationwide

5. In some inner city authorities, only a quarter of 16 year olds getting five decent GCSE's.

6. Seven million adults in the workforce without functional literacy.

7. The country spending more on interest on the national debt than on the entire school system.

8. Fewer than 300 out of 3,500 secondary schools with a specialist centre of excellence.

9. Graduate teacher recruitment far short of targets year after year.

10. University funding cut by a third per student in the previous decade.

Are you remembering what I'm remembering?

That was 1997 under Michael Howard's Tories. And as Gordon will make clear when he speaks later today, their policies today are even worse, even more unfair, even more elitist, with money taken out of the state sector to subsidise a small minority of children in private schools.

And contrast that with Britain in 2005 after two terms of a Labour Government putting education as its top priority:

1. Nearly 1000 more per pupil per year than in 1997;

2. Investment in school buildings up seven-fold from 700 million to 5 billion;

3. 29,000 more teachers and 106,000 more school assistants;

4. Infant class sizes of more than thirty now eliminated, with nursery places for all 3 and 4 year-olds whose parents want them;

5. Nearly 80,000 more 11-year olds passing their literacy and numeracy tests and England now with the third best reading scores in a key international study.

6. A 70 per cent increase in graduate applications and a 10 per cent real increase in teachers' starting pay.

7. The number of failing schools sharply down, 750,000 adults trained with basic skills and the proportion of 16-year olds leaving with no qualifications halved.

8. More than 2,000 secondary schools with a specialist Centre of Excellence and 17 Academies open, with 200 to come.

9. The best ever GCSE and "A" level results and record numbers going on to apprenticeships and on to higher education

10. A billion pounds extra for science and an end to cuts in university unit funding.

This is the difference the Labour Government makes. And this is how we will move forward to create a genuine opportunity society, empowering every young person in Britain to make the most of themselves.

Here is what I mean by putting education at the heart of our Manifesto. Here is how we will accelerate the change, making standards rise even faster.

1. We will increase investment every year and raise spending on education as a proportion of our national income, so that spending per pupil will rise from 2,900 in 1997 to 3,850 in 2005 to 5,500 by 2008.

2. We will guarantee every school 3 year budgets with year on year increases so that heads, staff and parents can take charge, enjoy greater freedom and are able to use that investment to develop their school in the way that they want.

3. We will provide the resources to hire more primary and secondary school teachers. They will be better paid. There will be more classroom assistants, better paid.

4. We will provide, for 1000 secondary schools and thousands more primary schools either to be completely rebuilt, or with the new classrooms, sports halls and computer centres they need.

5. We will provide proper school meals

6. We will guarantee 4 hours sport per week for every child who wants it

7. We will provide more free nursery education. More pre-school and after-school clubs, properly funded

8. We will have 3,500 children's centres by 2010, extending Sure Start, not in some parts of Britain but in all parts of Britain

9. We will guarantee 300,000 apprenticeships for school leavers and new vocational diplomas in schools

10. We will guarantee free training for all young people and adults who left school without decent GCSE's.

Education: the best economic policy, preparing Britain for the future.

Education: the best social policy, helping create a Britain where work and merit, not privilege or class background, decide how far you go

Education: the best liberator of any human being's potential

Education, education, education, then and now the key to the door of Britain's future success.

Every penny of further savings from reduction in unemployment devoted to it.

Every part of the government focused on it.

Building on the progress made. Accelerating the change. Faster, further in pursuit of our ambition for Britain, not 42nd in the world education league as we were in 1997, but at the top, where Britain needs to be and where, with the right values and the right policies and a sense of national purpose and commitment, the talent of Britain will take us.

All of that investment, all of that progress underpinned by a strong economy. And over the coming days, Gordon and I will explain why the economy is at the centre of this election campaign.

Each and every step of our economic success was born of hard decisions taken and maintained in the face of difficulty. The fact that Britain has the lowest interest rates, inflation and unemployment for 30 years or more isn't coincidence.

It isn't a chance happening any more than the Tory record of high interest rates and three million unemployed, when Michael Howard was in office.

And the reason the economy is at stake in this election and along with it the mortgages and living standards of Britain's hard working families is that just as we have an economic record and economic plan so do the Tories.

If people don't come out and vote for us on May 5th, then shortly after, Oliver Letwin produces his first Tory Budget.

And we know what's in it. Because he's told us. He and his colleagues have been busy promising. Tax cuts on the one hand. Spending increases on the other. All at the same time as also promising to reduce Labour's investment programme by 35bn by the end of the next Parliament.

He and Mr Howard are promising 4bn of tax cuts. Yet they have authorised spending increases in defence, pensions, prisons, police, overseas aid, agriculture and many more. You name it and the Tory spokesmen are committed to spending more, though not the New Deal for the unemployed which they say they will scrap.

These extra spending pledges total 15bn of extra annual spending by year three of that government. That's equivalent to an enormous rise on the standard rate of income tax.

It is a complete nonsense. Everyone knows you can't cut taxes and spend more with the same money, at the same time. And that is the risk. Because if they were to try to do it, Britain would be right slap bang back to the mess the last Tory Government got us into before.

Are you remembering what we're remembering? Recession, ten per cent interest rates for four years, one million home repossessed, people thrown on the scrap heap.

Their values haven't changed. Their sums don't add up. And they would be a risk to hard-working families.

There is a real danger in this election that people take the economy for granted, as a given. It isn't. It was won by hard work. It would be undone by the shoddy, slapdash promise 'anything to anyone' nonsense that is the Tory economic plan. We do remember and that is why we never want to go back.

So over the coming weeks we will stay focused on the economy, public services, our values, our vision of the future.

As alongside it we will expose the fraudulent prospectus of the Tories based on their flawed economic plan.

In 1983 I became your MP. Days of darkness for the constituency in so many ways.

Days of powerlessness for your MP.

Now here we are, the longest ever period of sustained Labour government with your MP as your PM.

On May 5th, as the polls open, power is not in my hands but in the hands of the British people. They're the boss. Their judgement, their choice, their decision will be the only one that matters.

And I know they will take the choice seriously, listen to the arguments, engage in the debate, understand the importance of the decision they make.

I just say this.

If you value economic stability you have to vote for it.

If you value the New Deal or the minimum wage or tax credits, you have to vote for them.

If you value more childcare, you have to vote for it.

If you value the NHS you have to vote for it.

If you value investment in state schools you have to vote for it.

Only if you want to take Britain back to economic failure, public service cuts, communities torn apart, should you opt out of this election.

Finally, I want to say this, to the people in this room, and in the constituency.

Throughout the days with power and without it, two things have never changed.

Your loyalty to me

My gratitude to you

Throughout the times of desperation to move from opposition to government and the times, often frustrating in government, I have only ever wanted one thing: to serve you: to make the change you want; to help the hard working families here in this constituency of Sedgefield and in this great country of Britain to have a better life, a better chance of cherishing hopes and fulfilling ambitions, and do so within a compassionate, decent society, where we care for those who can't fend for themselves and reach out a helping hand to all within our borders and beyond.

We have never won a third term before. I ask you now for a mandate to do it, for our country and our party. For a future fair for all.



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