In his keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference yesterday, Chancellor Gordon Brown declared for ‘New Labour renewed’.
Assuming he will succeed Blair as Labour leader and prime minister, Brown proceeded to lay out his Thatcherite ‘vision’ of a ‘home-owning, share-owning, asset-owning, wealth-owning democracy’.
He began his speech by paying tribute to Blair’s leadership, adding that Labour will continue with its privatisation agenda, insisting ‘the only future of the Labour Party is as a party of reform’. He said the party’s task was ‘finding modern answers, meeting rising individual aspirations’. He claimed the UK economy was doing well, but slow growth rates elsewhere in Europe and high worldwide oil prices were adding to pressures.
He warned the trade unions that ‘there can be no inflationary pay rises’ and attacked ‘sectional interests’ but offered a few sops to union leaders. These included increasing the minimum wage and including 16-17 year-olds, promising a corporate manslaughter bill, to weed out gangmasters and end the two-tier workforce.
However earlier, in a debate on the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) emergency resolution on Gate Gourmet, which called for a repeal of legislation outlawing sympathy strikes, Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson insisted that the anti-union laws are here to stay.
Referring to the 1970s, Johnson said: ‘Back then, this party supported secondary action and opposed the minimum wage. Now it’s the other way round – and that’s how it needs to stay.’
Campaign Group Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn told News Line that Brown’s speech was ‘disappointing because he refused to put a distance between himself and Blair over Iraq Afghanistan’. Asked about domestic policy, Corbyn added: ‘It seems to me he’s got too much of an obsession with a “share owning democracy”. What we really need is a policy that will eliminate poverty among working people, the unemployed and pensioners within our society.’
The trade union leaders welcomed Brown’s speech with some reservations. TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley said: ‘It was a visionary speech from a leader in waiting. Brown could have spoken more about strengthening workers’ rights and no further privatisation. However, all in all, it was a very good speech and well received.’
UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said Brown ‘gave a leader’s speech’, adding: ‘The Chancellor had a vision and purpose and his speech articulated Labour policies clearly, which will have struck a chord with core Labour supporters. We welcome that Gordon Brown did not try to defend New Labour policies of competition in public services. We are pleased that he wants to listen and spend the next few months listening to people around country and we hope he will listen to us and our concerns about introducing the market into the health service.’
Paul Kenny, GMB Acting General Secretary, said: ‘GMB particularly liked the big visions set out by Gordon in his speech today. We do think that he missed the button in one regard. He failed to address the lack of employment rights for workers, when faced with a rampaging big business. There is a problem here and it will need to be dealt with.’