Tom Watson speech to Labour party conference
It’s been quite a different experience. I think I’m going to like being your Deputy Leader.
As Jeremy said yesterday, we’ve done 37 events together, though we decided not to gatecrash the Labour students’ disco like I normally do.
This is a great gathering of the Labour clan.
Unlike the Lib Dem conference last week, with their 8 MPs, which could have been held in a broom cupboard. Or, as the Tories call it, the servants’ quarters.
The entire Lib Dem parliamentary party can now fit into two minicabs.
More people joined Labour in a month than the total membership of the Lib Dems. That’s a fact. 2,200 joined yesterday alone.
Did you see the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth? The slogan was hashtag Lib Dem Fightback. But the only coverage they could get was talking about Jeremy and Labour.
I did go too far though when I compared the Lib Dems to a Banarama tribute band. Some people were angry, and I accept that I crossed the line. What I said was demeaning, unjustified and wrong. Siobhan, Sara, Keren – I should never have compared your tribute acts to that useless bunch of lying sellouts, the Lib Dems and I’m sorry.
And as for the Tories, within hours of Jeremy being elected, that master of understatement, the Prime Minister, tweeted: “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security.”
This from a Tory Government that axed 20,000 service personnel, doubled public debt to £1.5 trillion and increased child poverty.
So we’ll take no lessons from Cameron and Osborne.
I want to thank Jeremy Corbyn and Harriet Harman.
Harriet’s served our party in Parliament since I was at school. She championed the cause of women more consistently than any British politician since the war. As a role model, an advocate, an adversary, she is formidable.
Take it from me, you don’t want to mess with Harriet. And British women have benefited from that.
It’s funny, one of the problems I had to solve then I took over from Harriet was to work out what to do with that famous pink bus. We asked the Lib Dems if they wanted to borrow it for their conference, but apparently they didn’t need a vehicle that big.
Jeremy, you’ve opened up an exciting, energetic debate about the future of the Labour party and the future of our country.
Every fringe meeting, every debate, every discussion this week has fizzed with the opportunity for change.
You’ve been like an asteroid smashing the old certainties.
It’s been very exciting and I’ve enjoyed it.
Because it would have been easy to slide into factionalism this week.
The media would have loved that.
We didn’t do it.
We’ve shown that we can have different opinions, and argue for them passionately, but remain friends.
It’s what normal people in the real world do all the time.
How often have you disagreed with work colleagues, had a bit of an argument, but stuck to a common position?
It’s called working together.
And how often does your family put its differences aside so the whole family can face the world together?
It’s called solidarity.
And how obvious is it that what unites us as a party is far more than what divides?
It’s called unity.
And from unity comes strength. That’s why we’re stronger now, as we prepare to leave Brighton, than we were when we arrived.
We speak with one voice.
We are One Labour.
And let me tell you one thing that unites us, not just with each other, but with comrades in sister parties and mass movements all over Europe and the rest of the world:
We are an anti-austerity party.
To our core and unequivocally, we stand against austerity as a pure expression of our values.
It’s not just what we believe; it’s who we are.
There can be no doubt after yesterday’s speech that we have an anti-austerity leader.
And there should be no doubt at all after today that we have an anti-austerity Deputy Leader too.
Tory austerity’s wreaked havoc on ordinary people. Over 3 million working people are worse off. This winter they’ll have to choose between keeping their children warm or keeping them fed. In one of the richest countries in the world.
That’s what austerity means. It’s disgusting.
For the first time since the war, people now in their twenties and thirties are worse off than their parents’ generation. And unless something changes, they always will be.
And the only change there can be is Labour.
That’s us. We’re the difference.
Leaving the elderly to struggle, closing refuges to desperate women and children, sanctioning disabled people and people with mental health problems,
thousands dying after being declared ‘fit for work’:
That’s why they’re called the nasty party.
It’s horrible. I hate the powerlessness of opposition.
So I’m determined to change it in the only way we can – by winning.
Being an anti-austerity party isn’t just about fairness and decency though; it’s also economic common sense.
George Osborne doubled the debt in his first term as Chancellor.
He racked up more debt than any Labour Chancellor in history.
He’s now presiding over the slowest recovery in 300 years, all because he can’t admit the truth: that austerity doesn’t even work.
You don’t grow your economy with austerity. You grow it with investment, and kill it with it austerity. Ask an economist: killing public sector demand kills private sector demand kills growth and obliterates tax receipts. It’s not rocket science. That’s what’s happened, what’s still happening now.
It’s what always happens under the Tories.
We need to grow our markets for tech and innovation – across all our public services and beyond them. Long-term investment in growth industries, in talent and skill, is what’ll make us prosperous and relevant.
The Tories conned people into believing that austerity was pain we had to go through. It’s not true.
It’s actually austerity that’s making our recovery so slow.
And faster growth – which means more successful businesses – is the antidote.
Yet I still sometimes talk to Labour people who can’t understand why I talk about small and micro-businesses. The 0-9ers, as they’re known – businesses with less than 10 employees.
But if you don’t think these are our people, think again. That’s why Jeremy spoke yesterday about extending basic employment rights to self-employed people. Because these are the same people, with the same values and vulnerabilities that we’ve always stood up for. The woman whose great grandfather was forced by the company to buy his own tools in the slate mines of North Wales now works as a data entry contractor in a call centre forty miles away.
Maybe she’s on a zero-hours contract. Or maybe she’s got no employment contract at all. Maybe she’s self-employed. She works for an agency. On little more than minimum wage, with no holiday pay, no sick pay, no entitlement to nothing, working 60 unsociable hours a week to just about put clothes on the kids’ backs.
That’s one face of the modern-micro business in Cameron’s Britain.
Or the man I met campaigning over the summer who employs 6 people in his low-margin startup, all of whom have mortgages, because they have regular incomes – but he can’t get one because, as the business owner, he doesn’t.
And there are millions like them. 5.2 million private sector businesses in the UK, employing more than 25 million people.
96 per cent of these are micro business, with 0-9 employees. That’s a third of all private sector employees in the UK. More than 8 million people in 5 million businesses. And the proportion’s growing all the time, faster than any other segment of the economy.
These people are not posh. They’re not privileged. They’re not greedy or selfish or stupid. They work hard, they want to get on, but they also care about their neighbours and the communities we share.
They’re our people, and we’re their party - or we are nothing.
If we don’t speak for the 0-9ers, we will never win another election.
And they need a political voice. The Tories don’t care about them. As John McDonnell said on Monday, the Tories are the party of the 1 per cent, the super-privileged who own the land and the money. They live in a different country. They don’t use our schools or hospitals, which feeds their contempt for our public services.
And just as they sneer at our nurses, teachers and local government workers, they have the same patrician disdain for the white van drivers and the self-employed web workers who are the hard-pressed proletarians of the gig economy.
These people need a voice in our democracy: the outsourced self-employed, the web workers who crunch data and information as consultants, the dairy farmers reliant on a few powerful retailers - they all need a collective voice and they need organising.
This whole party, this movement was founded on the belief that workers need their voice amplifying in the age-old struggle with the vested interests of capital.
None of that has changed.
If I was setting up a union today it would be the Union of Web Workers - organising the interests of information workers who use screens and keyboards as the tools of their trade.
We have to be the party of everybody, or we’re the party of nobody.
And we have to be a party that’s – genuinely - led by its members.
We’ve just taken a huge step down that road. We’ve got a leader, and, dare I say it, a deputy leader, who’ve just been resoundingly elected in a great outpouring of democracy.
On which note, please can we pay tribute to John Smith? He started the process 22 years ago that led to the surging wave of democratic engagement we’ve seen this summer. He was a man of great vision and we still feel his loss.
And let’s also recognise what Ed Miliband did. He drove through the rule changes which enfranchised hundreds of thousands of new people who weren’t even members of our party. They’ve utterly changed the face of Labour.
Shaken it up and made it into something it could never otherwise have been.
That’s Ed’s radical legacy that Jeremy now takes on.
Yesterday in his speech Jeremy poked fun at the pundits, as well he might:
He wasn’t the pundits’ choice, after all; he was the people’s choice, the members whose party this really is.
And let’s be clear: because he’s the people’s choice, he’s the right choice.
He wants to reciprocate the trust of our members.
Our party was founded as a democracy. But over the years we began to think the leadership knows best.
Well that was wrong. It didn’t. And that’s why the old days of central command and control are now gone.
Jeremy and I will give Labour back to its members.
Because the party is the membership.
The shadow cabinet and leadership are just privileged servants of the 600,000.
All those members will be part of the big decisions we have to make.
We need to be a truly inclusive party – and the way we’ve conducted ourselves this week has been a great start.
We need to welcome all our new members better than we used to.
And we also need to thank those members who’ve been with Labour for years.
Who stuck by us when thick turned to thin and it wasn’t much fun any more.
You did the right thing. We can make the world a better place.
And Digital technology will be crucial to this process. People think I’m boring about it, but the reason I’ve been banging on for 20 years is that it’s important. It changes everything.
We can only refashion ourselves as a modern party by making ourselves digital. There’s no alternative. We have to relocate online.
Not that there won’t be any meetings any more, but increasingly we’ll do things online that can’t be done in any other way. And there’ll be more and more things we do in the physical world that are only made possible by the digital.
So when I talk about a digital revolution, to be clear, I’m not just talking about doing social media better and spamming members less with fundraising emails - but that would be a good start.
I’m talking about changing the nature of what we are. So that Labour’s embedded in our daily lives through technology we no longer even notice. The party will be in your pocket, on your smartphone, on the tool bar of your tablet - wherever you want it.
Look at what’s happened to books, newspapers, travel agents, factories, shops.
You don’t just sign up to Twitter but carry on as you were.
The very nature of what you are and how you relate to the world changes.
Organisations that survive don’t just do the same things differently. They do different things.
And that’s where we are as a party now. Our challenge is to become a different kind of organisation, doing different things, but with the same objective: a fairer and more equal society.
So reshaping our party for the digital age and returning our party democracy to the members is a single process.
A party in which every member can talk to every other member.
Communities of interest, of all different kinds, inside the online entity we need to become.
And reaching out to communities outside the Labour party.
As the Leader said yesterday: let’s start with voter registration. Let’s mobilise our new army of members and volunteers to make sure that millions of our citizens aren’t cheated of their democratic rights from December.
I’ll be leading that charge, and alongside me will be the unsung heroes of our movement: Labour councillors. We’ve got thousands of them. They do so much, and we thank them so little.
So to every Labour councillor in the United Kingdom, on behalf of the Labour party, as its Deputy Leader, I thank you for the hugely important work you do.
You’re the bridge between the party and communities, the most crucial cogs in our organisational machine. We couldn’t do a fraction of what we do without you.
Thank you all.
There should be no important decision made at the national level on which Labour councillors are not consulted. It’s councillors who actually run services and represent us every day on the front line. They’re among our most undervalued resources. I’m going to put that right.
And an even greater waste of our natural talent is the lack of working class Labour MPs. We need more. Simple as that. No offence to any individual, but there are too many Special Advisers at the top of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Don’t get me wrong, we need Special Advisers, but we can’t afford to be a party which only promotes people like that. We can’t afford a Shadow Cabinet which is monochrome and monocultural. Our movement and our country are richer and better than that.
We need to look like the nation we seek to represent.
So we have to be the party of women. We’re not an old boys' club like the Tories. We’re nothing like that. The women’s struggle is our struggle. It’s in our DNA. We have to be a feminist party. A party for gender parity, equal representation in the House of Commons and in local government.
Rooting out abuse and misogyny wherever it occurs, as Jeremy rightly said yesterday.
Supporting groups like the Labour Women's Network, who mentor women in politics.
Supporting the third sector in their fight to restore the vital services women need to be safe from fear and violence, cruelly cut by the Tories.
Labour women will continue to demand the changes we need in our society until we get real gender equality in Britain. And Labour men are going to have to listen.
We can’t let our commitment to women slide. It’s fundamental to who we are.
And so is our identity as Britain’s party for black and minority ethnic people. Labour’s always been the BAME party. We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with new communities as they’ve grown and become part of our national fabric.
We mustn’t take that for granted now. We have a far better record than the rest, but we need to be better still. We need more BAME representatives and leaders. I was elected on a mandate to make that happen, and I mean to see it through.
And we need to be a European party. In the referendum, we’ve got to campaign to stay in, and working people need us to win.
And after this conference no one can be in any doubt they’ll have a choice at the next general election.
The difference between us and the Tories is that we see the great British spirit of enterprise as the engine of our Welfare State.
To the Tories, the market’s an end it itself.
They’re completely fixated on money, but they don’t understand what it’s for. That’s the Tory tragedy.
We want to build a prosperous Britain.
But we also want a kinder, fairer Britain, in which everybody has a chance for a decent life.
And we’re still a long way off.
The biggest determinant of your wealth at death in this country is still your postcode at birth.
If you’re born poor, you die poor. Born rich, you die rich. Chances are.
And that’s what this is all about. That’s why we’re still in this room after these four amazing days and a frantic four months of campaigning.
Born poor, die poor; born rich, die rich.
That’s not fair.
Every child in our country should have the chance to make something of themselves.
With Labour, they will.
They have before and they will again.
In government we made this country a far, far better place:
Record numbers of new schools and hospitals.
Far better pay for public sector workers.
Led the world on climate change and international development.
The minimum wage.
The pension credit.
The Disability Discrimination Act.
The Human Rights Act.
The Gangmasters Act.
Union recognition rights.
Temporary and agency workers’ rights.
And literally a thousand more progressive things we did to change our country for the better.
That’s what a Labour government means:
A country that we can be proud of.
And that’s why we have to get back into government.
I’m not in politics to play the game; I’m here to change the game.
Ten minutes of Tory government is too much. Ten years is a nightmare that our people can’t afford.
So now we’ve had our summer of introspection, let’s get back out into the country and start talking to people.
Let’s get out onto every street in every suburb of Britain and start listening to people.
Then let’s harness the power of the great movement we’ve always been.
And let’s kick these nasty Tories down the road where they belong.