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Preston Campaign Launch: Let's Renew Labour
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Former Shadow Home Secretary, Ruan Preston, launched his campaign for the Labour leadership with a speech at his local constituency party in Midlothian. The Preston campaign slogan “Renew Labour” could be seen throughout the hall:


Thank you for coming out today!

Many may wonder how we find ourselves here once again, seeking a new leader after a general election. Indeed, some of you may even wonder why the day after the election, I felt I could no longer continue in Shadow Cabinet, and had to resign. Or why I am standing here before you now, seeking the leadership of the Labour Party.

So I want to tell you about the day I first became a Labour MP, back in 1983. We felt we had it all. An unpopular Prime Minister. Then a war. Even the longest suicide note in history. 

We had it all - and we lost. We lost devastatingly. And one would think, as a fresh-faced young man from the world of PR: that’s when you start to think. But our leadership seemed only interested in pointing out the blame. It was the SDP wot lost it, they said. It was the people who simply hadn’t understood what was good for them. The manifesto would prove right, said Michael Foot.

Now compare that to last election. We had it all. The most unpopular, scandal-ridden, incompetent and corrupt government. A whole range of unpopular Prime Ministers. Then a war.

We had it all - and we lost again. And even though the size of it wasn’t as devastating, the fourth time running made it just as devastating at the first. And one would think as an experienced frontbencher who knows the party inside and out: now that’s when you start to think. But again, our leadership only seemed interested in pointing out the blame. It was the Falklands again, they said. Once more unto the breach, they said. The manifesto wasn’t the problem, they said.

Spot the differences, my friends, and you’ll know why I resigned. Spot the differences, and you’ll know why today, I am starting my campaign to become Labour’s next leader.

Because Britain, like our movement, is at a crossroads. Down one road lies more of the same divisive, cold-blooded Tory policy that ruins our communities and the lives of so many working people. With our Napoleonic Prime Minister at the head, we’ll march straight into the valley of a Britain where there is no such thing as society, where there are only lonely, cynical individuals struggling for advantage. That’s no future for our country! That’s no hope for the new millennium, no hope for all our communities, in the north especially, that felt the sting of Thatcherism! No hope for Scotland that was used as a guinea pig for the poll tax, and was denied a proper parliament! And yet, it seems the path Britain is stuck on, has been stuck on for so long, and the tunnel grows ever darker.

So the question facing us this leadership election is no more and no less than this: what lies down the other? What beautiful vision, what shining light can Labour offer? What is this Jerusalem, that we shall not cease from mental fight before we have built it in this green and pleasant land? I put it to you that we had a detailed offering at the last election, which is more to be said of us than of the Tories. But as much as we talked about the new millennium, what we did not do was lead Britain into it. We need a new story, a new appeal for 21st-century Britain. One that broadens the frontiers of our movement and brings along those who’d dreamed of that vision - but will yet be surprised that they’re dreaming the dream of Labour.

What is this dream? The destination is the same as it ever was for our party: a genuinely free society, where people can dream, can aspire, can be free to be who they want to be, can realise their potential and can live together. A society of equal opportunity, of civil liberty and of compassion. With the best public services in the mold of our NHS. That is - should not! - be in question in this leadership election. We need to realise, as we did with the Policy Review for the 1990s, that it is not the destination but rather the point of departure that’s different. This is not the Britain of the 1970s, just like the Britain of the 1970s wasn’t the Britain of 1945 when Attlee took us to victory and brought sweeping change to Britain.

We cannot appeal to those who dream our dreams today as a single group. Today’s working Britons all have different goals, different aspirations, different circumstances. They have become individuals - and this is, in general, a good thing. No longer is the ambition to a better future determined by oneself the preserve of an upper class. But it takes a different appeal. Too often in the past campaign, we’ve been tarred with the brush of wanting to stifle those individual dreams, push them into conformity with our plans for the whole. We could explain a 85% tax rate every single time we were asked, not a penny in taxes on those people - but to them, the emotional message was clear: Labour does not want you to be successful.

And it’s a shame that that’s happened, because the alternative is a society where they can strive but never attain, where they can say everything they want but are never heard, where they have all the choice in the world but can’t afford to wield it. We let it happen in 1983. We spotted our mistakes in 1987. And we let it happen again in 1992.

We need to renew Labour to be there for every Briton who dreams of the life they want to lead. We need to listen to them, to their stories, and then make policies that allow them to pursue these dreams without taboos on our part. I’ll give you an example. Owning your own home is an example of the kind of aspiration everyone has nowadays, whether you were born on a council estate or in your parents’ own home. And yet, we have never acknowledged this fact. No, instead, we - and very validly I should add - worried about the right to buy depleting council housing stock. And we opposed it. But in so doing, we opposed the aspirations of so many working Britons.

Why, exactly? Because the problem was never the right to buy itself! Rather, it was that the right to buy didn’t truly work for council tenants or for their communities. It worked for the speculator who bought it on resale more than the steelworker who had the dream of buying it first. But that doesn’t mean we should ever have had to tell that steelworker no. We need to tell him “yes, we’ll make it work! By all means, dream of owning your own home, dream of passing it onto your children! We’ll worry about the rest.” And if we make sure that that house can be bought back for the community upon resale, rather than be passed to speculators; if we make sure that any proceeds from the sale get channeled right back into more affordable housing for that community, we don’t just make this steelworker’s aspiration work - we’ll have made his entire community a better, more equal place!

So many of the conflicts of the past decades are false dichotomies upon closer inspection, unmasked when we ask the simple question I just asked: why, exactly? Why can’t strong unions go with strong businesses? Why can’t a strong public ethos go together with economic efficiency? Why can’t a Europe without borders also protect the consumer and the worker? Why can’t we have public services that offer choice without sacrificing equality? Why can’t Scotland and Wales have their own devolved parliaments within a strong union? Why can’t we be tough on crime as well as tough on the causes of crime, if just being tough on crime hasn’t worked for a decade?

Let’s stick with that last one, because it’s one of the areas I’ve worked on previously. That no-nonsense, no-compromises crime strategy resonated with many people I met on the doorsteps. From the suburbs of London to a council estate in Glasgow, every single person was sick of rising crime rates, and hungry for something new. It’s the prototype of the Labour policy I want to see throughout our party: take people’s concerns, find out what works, and push forward based on the evidence. For crime, that doesn’t just mean more bobbies and tougher sentencing like the Tories have been pushing year on year: it means local crime prevention strategies, getting firm with young offenders and combating the scourge of drug addiction that leads to crime. That is the kind of evidence-based policy we need to push.

And why exactly do we have to choose between the best education for every child and a fair start across the board? Why do we still cling to the mistaken belief that we cannot offer our children, and their parents for that matter, the things they need to flourish without separating them into all sorts of different levels of achievement? Every Briton, whatever their talents, has the right to the education that allows him to dream and reach for the realisation of that dream. And that is why, instead of the mirages offered by LibDems, a Labour government will truly focus on education as its first priority. Not just because every Briton deserves it, but because it’s a must for the new millennium and a boost to our prosperity, both as individuals and as a society. We’ll invest in training those who go from job to job, especially those who’ve lost their jobs to the savage deindustrialisation programme of the Tories. And we’ll ensure that early education and childcare are available to a broader set of people, so that all our children get the good start they deserve in life, no matter whether their cradle stood in a council home or in a detached home, in a cottage or in a high-rise flat. That is the promise we should make.

These are but the first ideas I share with you - but I hope the vision is clear. We need to renew Labour. To stand once again for the dreamers of this country, for the voiceless who are aching to tell their story and make it reality. For the steelworker with a council house that wants to buy it, for his child that would benefit from childcare which his parents cannot afford, for that entire family that wants to live in a safe, vibrant community. But also for the small business owner down the street, who has struggled but always found the determination to come through. For the children of immigrants, who look forward to many firsts in our country.

For the dreamers of Britain, for the aspirers of Britain, for the people of Britain who are aching for something new, to be taken down that crossroad and finally see light at the end of that dark tunnel, we must renew Labour.

We need to have the courage to keep asking “why, exactly?” Why do we have to accept that Britain cannot be better than it is today, fairer than it is today? Why do we have to accept a Britain where communities and society have to be bulldozed out of the way of the individual, when they are what lifts individuals up? And why do we have to accept that government work with society and communities to be the force for good this country so badly needs?

This is not a task for a moderate. But I am no moderate, whatever they may call me - I am just a new kind of radical. Because the point of departure may have changed, and the road may have to change - but that destination, that vision of a future where people can realise their full potential, where they have equal opportunities, where they can be truly free is still the object of the Labour movement - as it was in 1945 under Attlee, as it was in the 60s with Wilson, and as it was for Neil Kinnock. As it will be for the Labour Party under my leadership.

And in five years time, or earlier, we will be ready. We will stand renewed, so that together, we can renew Britain for the new millennium.

But I cannot do it without your support. So today, I ask you to join me - help me renew Labour. Help me build momentum for the new millennium. Help me return hope and dreams to Britain, for all of its people. Together, we can do it.

Thank you.

Correction - in the second-last full paragraph a word is missing (bolded for clarity):

Quote:We need to have the courage to keep asking “why, exactly?” Why do we have to accept that Britain cannot be better than it is today, fairer than it is today? Why do we have to accept a Britain where communities and society have to be bulldozed out of the way of the individual, when they are what lifts individuals up? And why do we have to accept that government cannot work with society and communities to be the force for good this country so badly needs?
the Rt Hon. Ruan Preston MP
Labour MP for Midlothian (1983-present)
Shadow Home Secretary (1990-1992; 1992-)
Progressive | Biography | 5 XP | Safe Pair of Hands

"The true purpose of democratic socialism and, therefore, the true aim of the Labour Party, is the creation of a genuinely free society, in which the fundamental objective of government is the protection and extension of individual liberty."
- Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley, Democratic Socialist Aims & Values

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