After the sudden death of John Smith in May 1994, Tony Blair defeated John Prescott and Margaret Beckett for the leadership.
The real battle had already been won, when Gordon Brown pulled out. I discussed this in Granita 1994 : The Night New Labour Was Born…And A Bromance Died. When Blair came to power he quickly looked to break from the Smith ‘one more heave’ strategy, and cement Labour as the new party of Middle Britain.
Here is the Text of Tony Blair’s leadership acceptance speech, July 21, 1994.
It is an honour to lead this Party. I accept it with humility, with excitement and with a profound sense of the responsibility upon me. I joined this Party through conviction, because of what I believed it would do for our country. I have not wavered in that conviction.
You have put your trust in me and I vow to you I shall repay that trust with unstinting service and dedication to our Party and our country. And I shall not rest until, once again, the destinies of our people and our Party are joined together again, in victory at the next General Election. Labour in its rightful place – in government again.
Two years ago we chose to put our trust in John Smith. I know I speak for everyone in this hall, in our party, and in our country when I say that we wish he was still with us, leading our party as surely as he would have led our country had he lived.
He gave our country something important and our party something precious. He showed the British people that public service is still an ideal to live up to and breathed hope into a politics grown weary and cynical. What he was seen as representing, even after death, was in a sense the crowning achievement of his life.
While we remember him, we celebrate a pride reborn:
– pride in our convictions
– pride in what we are and what we stand for
– pride in our socialist values.
We are proud to be Labour. There is one way, only one way, we can repay the debt we owe to John Smith. Ensuring the Party in which he believed and to which he gave his life becomes the next Labour government of Britain.
Look at how we have changed. There was a time when such an election would have been watched with trepidation by our friends and glee by our enemies; now it is an advertisement for Labour.
We see the way that Margaret Beckett stepped into the leadership of the Party, did so without falter and hesitation and performed brilliantly in the House of Commons and let me thank you Margaret for the confidence and pride you have given the whole Party.
We see the way that John Prescott’s campaign showed we can combine passion for our values with hard headed practical policies to bring them to life and how he succeeded and let me thank you John for the dynamism and energy you have brought to all our campaigning – and the pride you have given the Labour Party.
We see the way that the election was fought, without bitterness and with dignity and we feel pride.
We look at the involvement of literally hundreds of thousands of the British people – the largest exercise in party democracy this country has seen and we feel pride.
I say this about the involvement of levy-payers in this election. They have been voters. Now is the time to make them members and I will make the central priority of party organisation the creation of a genuine mass membership party, with roots in our local communities speaking up for those communities because it represents them and their aspirations.
There is one other debt of gratitude I should like to pay for our party and for myself. I came into Parliament in 1983. Those were dark days. They required great courage and determination from our new leader then. We got those qualities in full measure. It was a great achievement to make Labour electable once more, and we will never forget the contribution to us and our country’s history by Neil Kinnock.
Now it is our values and ideas that are the battleground of politics in the 1990s.
The Tories tell us to judge them on their wishes and on their aspirations.
Let us tell them after 15 years of Government, we will judge them on one basis only, and that is on their record.
Let me say to them.
You have had your chance.
You have had 15 years to get it right.
If you can’t change this country for better after 15 years, you never will. It is time for you to go and let the future rest with those who have the courage to face it.
The British people, north and south, the haves and the have nots, the old and the young, share Labour’s instincts. As the Tories move yet again to the right it is Labour that speaks for the aspirations of the British people. Labour is the party of the majority.
But let me say this to you.
They have failed. But, I will wage war in our Party against complacency wherever it exists.
The Tories have lost the nation’s trust.
But that does not mean we inherit it automatically.
We have to work for it.
We have to earn it.
Above all, we must show not just that they have failed, but how we can succeed.
And let me tell you how.
I will tell you what our task is. It is not just a programme for Government. It is a mission of national renewal, a mission of hope, change and opportunity.
It is to lift the spirit of the nation, drawing its people together, to re-build the bonds of common purpose that is at the heart of any country fit to be called one nation.
And where we say we are part of a community of people
We do owe a duty to more than ourselves, where if its not good enough for my children its not good enough for theirs.
Where there is no corner of Britain, not in its length and breadth, where we shield our eyes in shame and look away because we dare not contemplate what we see.
A country with pride in itself because it has pride in its people.
A country that knows it is not just individuals and families struggling on their own, but a society, strong and united and confident and where we harness the power of that society to advance the individuals within it.
The power of all for the good of each.
That is what socialism means to me.
And I will tell you how it works.
Not through some dry academic theory or student Marxism.
It works when every person who wants to, can get up in the morning with a job to look forward to, and prospects upon which to raise a family.
When our kids go to school in classrooms with teachers, books on desks, and a roof on the school building and when they come home, they can go outside and play without fear.
When our nurses are nursing not filling out forms, our doctors are caring for patients not billing them and our elderly are looked after properly not cast upon the scrap heap in some misguided mess of community care.
That is why we need change.
Because it is right to change and wrong to drift without direction as we are.
Right to build a fair and just society and wrong to deny our people its hope and opportunity.
It is wrong that we spend billions of pounds keeping able-bodied people idle and right that we spend it putting them to work to earn a living wage as a Labour Government will do.
Wrong that we spend more to keep families in miserable bed and breakfast accommodation than we do to build homes for them to live in and right that we allow local authorities to use capital receipts locked up by Tory dogma to give them a home and Labour will do that.
Wrong that we are wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on bureaucrats and accountants in the NHS instead of spending it on doctors and nurses who care for patients and Labour will make sure we do so.
Wrong that we have people appointed to run local services because of Tory patronage, that people in the House of Lords make the laws of this country simply because of their birth, and right that those who wield power do so on democracy and merit and Labour will insist this is so.
Wrong that we live in a society where our elderly are terrified in their own homes, women can’t walk in the streets at night, and children can get drugs even in the school playground, and right that we are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime and Labour will make our communities safe for people to live in.
And wrong that we should tell old age pensioners that they will have to choose between paying VAT on fuel or freezing in their home, while the executives of gas and electricity companies pay themselves six figure sums for three day weeks and seven figure pay-offs, something no civilised society should tolerate and a Labour Government will not tolerate it.
There is a place for anger, for passion when we look at our country today.
But ours is a passion allied to reason.
A society that is unjust,
a society that rewards privilege not hard work,
a society that ignores its industry and undervalues its skills,
a society in which only one in fifty crimes is punished and the majority unrecorded,
a society that is divided, unequal, set against itself,
is not only unjust, but inefficient, not just unfair but impoverished.
Socialism in a Changing World
Look around the world today its chief characteristic is change. The force of change outside our country is driving the need for change within it.
Change in the world order following the end of the cold war between capitalist and Communist blocs.
Change in the economy to a global market based on new technology, high skills and perpetual innovation and competition from corners of the world regarded as backward only a decade ago.
Change in patterns of work, with most people having six or seven jobs in a lifetime instead of just one, where unemployment is not just about why you lost your last job but why you cannot find a new one.
Change in society where millions of women want to use their talent to work and bring up their family and where men learn they have a responsibility for sharing the burden of family life to allow them to do so.
These changes affect not just the poor or the unemployed; but all of us.
We can’t hide from this change; and nor should we simply let it wash us away.
The task of national renewal is to provide opportunity and security in this world of change.
That can only be done if we act together as a society, to equip our people and our industry for change, allowing them to prosper through change.
But let us be clear. That requires neither a return to the past nor standing still.
It can’t be done by a return to the past or staying with the failed policies of the present.
It means taking our historic principle of solidarity, of community but applying it anew and afresh to the world today.
It won’t be done either by seeing society as just state control, central power or sectional interests; any more than it can be through crude free market economics, junking public services or running the country for a tiny Tory elite in the vain belief that their wealth will trickle down to the rest of us.
That is why I said at the beginning of this campaign that we needed neither the politics of the old left nor new right but a new left of centre agenda for the future, one that breaks new ground, that does not put one set of dogmas in place of another, that offers genuine hope of a new politics to take us into a new millennium.
I said then that socialism was not some fixed economic theory defined for one time but a set of values and principles definable for all time.
In the detailed speeches that followed those principles were applied.
On the economy, we replace the choice between the crude free market and the command economy with a new partnership between Government and industry, workers and managers not to abolish the market, but to make it dynamic and work in the public interest, so that it provides opportunities for all.
On education, that we do provide choice and demand standards from the teachers and schools, but run our education system so that all children get that choice and those standards, not just the privileged few.
On welfare, that we do not want people living in dependency on state handouts, but will create a modern welfare system that has people at work not on benefit.
On Europe, that we should be committed Europeans, restoring influence and dignity to our country after the shambles of the past few years and then using that influence to cut waste, bring democratic reform and end the scandal of a food policy that costs British and European families 20 pounds a week.
On the constitution, that we reject the desire of Governments to centralise, that we will not run the quango state of the Tories with different managers, we will get rid of it and return power to local people over local services.
That is the platform on which I stand. That is my mandate.
We change the method of Government, we change its standards too.
I would expect Ministers in a Government I lead to resign if they lie to Parliament.
I would expect Ministers to pay their own legal fees if they get into personal difficulty.
I would not allow foreign business men to bank roll a political party while not even paying any taxes in this country.
And I would expect to know that if a Member of Parliament in the Labour Party asked a Parliamentary Question they did so out of duty to their constituents not because 1000 pounds had been sent to their home address.
These are the foundations of policy on which we will build.
In October the Social Justice Commission will produce its report.
This week we produced a document for environmental change, next week one on industry and education.
This autumn our new Policy Commissions will become new powerhouses for ideas and thought.
That is socialism in action today. Changed of course, but change rooted in our values, in our traditions, learning from our history but never chained to it. With both the certainty of conviction in our principles and the confidence that only real conviction breeds, to let those principles work anew, in different ways for a different age.
It is the confident who can change and the doubters who hesitate. That is why we were right to change under Neil Kinnock and right to continue under John Smith. One Member One Vote was right for our Party. And we will go on changing it as our people demand.
A changed Labour Party, with the vision and confidence, to lead Britain in a changing world: that is our pledge to the people of this country.
And one purpose more.
The challenge of the Labour Party is not just to govern but to inspire, not just to show how politics matters to us, but what it can do for them.
I say this to the people of this country and most of all to our young people – join us in this crusade for change.
Of course, the world can’t be put to rights overnight. Of course, we must avoid foolish illusions and false promises. But there is amongst all of the hard choices and uneasy compromises that politics forces upon us, a spirit of progress throughout the ages, with which we must keep faith.
There is much to be done, but much has been done. It was done by individuals of will and principle, working together for change.
These are the people who at the beginning of this century saw a land of ignorance and squalor founded our Party and brought us mass education and housing.
Who created the NHS in the teeth of Tory hatred and opposition.
Who formed the United Nations and the European Community out of the rubble of world war.
Two days ago, I sat and talked with a man who only a few years back had been a refugee, fleeing from his country because he campaigned for freedom and democracy. Today, he has the right to vote and he is Vice President of South Africa. Is that not progress?
And how did it come about? Not by chance or accident.
Because he and millions before and after him have been prepared to risk all for what they believed, they refused to accept that the world as it is, is the world as it is meant to be.
They have changed it through courage and compassion and intelligence; but most of all through hope, the small, broken moments of hope, which are worth all of in human existence, an eternity of dull despair.
We stand in their tradition today.
“A chance to serve, that is all we ask.” – John Smith
Let it be his epitaph.
And let it be our inspiration.
I am ready to serve.
We are ready to serve. And together we will change the course of our history, take the shattered remnants of our country and build a new and confident Britain for a new and changing world.