Speech by Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party. 12 September 2006.
(Check against delivery)
5 years ago at this time, I had to cancel my address to you because of the terrorist attack in the USA which killed thousands, and the anniversary of which was yesterday, September 11th. Before speaking to you today, I want to remember all those who died, including the many British people, repeat our sympathy and condolences for the loss of their loved ones and rededicate ourselves to complete and total opposition to terrorism anywhere, for whatever reason. I also wish to pay my respects to the British Armed Forces who since that time have fought, and in some cases sadly lost their lives, and express our thanks for their bravery, professionalism and commitment to duty.
Go back even further and you may recall, some of you, the first time I made a keynote speech at the Labour Conference in 1990, when I was Employment Spokesman. I listed the policy agenda for a labour Government. I re-read it the other day. We've done most of it - the big headline items like the minimum wage but also things like restoring union rights at GCHQ, things small in themselves, but massively symbolic of a changed Government.
And now we have had 3 terms of Labour Government for the first time ever in 100 years of trying. And every year I've come to the TUC as Prime Minister. But remember the 18 years before, when you never had sight nor sound of a Prime Minister. For 18 years, you were addressed by the Leader of the Opposition. The problem with that title is that its true to what it says on the tin: the leader opposes. The leader doesn't do, because he has no power to do anything. However difficult it is, however fraught our relations from time to time, make no mistake: I want the TUC to carry on being addressed by a Labour PM not go back to being addressed by the Leader of the Opposition.
The key to ensuring this doesn't lie in today's headlines, but in the answers to tomorrow's challenges.
I will have time to answer some questions after the speech and I know you want to talk about the NHS and other issues, but in my speech I want to talk about the real question which should dominate politics today: who has the answers to the challenge of global change?
Globalisation is so often debated today that it can just elicit a yawn. "The world is interdependent" has become a cliché.
What isn't clichéd, however, is the response to it. For the first time, I can sense building up, here and round the world, a division, not of ideology but of attitude, as to how we deal with the consequences of globalisation.
10 years ago, the response was reasonably clear and adopted by consensus.
Yes, globalisation was at one level frightening, in its pace and reach; but the only rational response was to manage it, prepare for it and roll with it.
I don't think there is that consensus today. There is a mindset of fear that is different and deep. People see the burgeoning economic power of China, India and the emerging economies threatening jobs and stability. But, in a sense they are fairly comfortable with it - it's been coming a long time.
What has changed is the interplay between globalisation, immigration and terrorism. Suddenly we feel under threat: physically from this new terrorism that is coming onto our streets; culturally as new waves of migrants change our society; and economically because an open world economy is hastening the sharpness of competition. People feel they are working longer, but are less secure. They feel the rules are changing and they never voted to change them. They feel, in a word, powerless.
This is producing a pessimism that is pervasive and fearful because there seems no way through, or at least a way under our control.
So here we are: recently praised by the OECD for economic success, unemployment at record lows, employment at record highs. For all the problems there is no serious doubt the NHS and the schools are improving. No Western European country in the past few years has made more progress than Britain in tackling child poverty. And we produced the growth in business and prosperity at a time when introducing the minimum wage, statutory rights to union recognition, an end to blacklisting, full-time rights for part-time workers, and a host of other employment protection, most recently the Gangmasters' legislation. In virtually any objective comparisons of 1997 with 2006, the present wins out over the past.
But it is the future which rightly concerns the country. And, incidentally, similar concerns would be felt in virtually any European nation or the USA.
So people are fearful. Myself and other world leaders are trying hard to get a WTO Deal by the end of the year. The benefits for global prosperity, would be much greater than the last trade round, lifting millions out of poverty. But I tell you frankly: the leaders do not have swathes of public opinion with them in this endeavour and in some countries have swathes of it, against. In respect of terrorism, there is a large part of the Western world inclined to believe the true threat is George Bush not Islamist extremism. And go to most countries and do a Focus Group and immigration will come out top of the list of anxieties. There is a debate going on which, confusingly for the politicians, often crosses traditional left/right lines and the debate is: open -v- closed. Do we embrace the challenge of more open societies or build defences against it?
In my judgement, we need an approach that is strong and not scared; that addresses people's anxieties but does not indulge them; and above all has the right values underpinning it. The challenge won't be overcome by policy alone; but by a powerful case made on the basis of values, most especially those that combine liberty with justice, security with tolerance and respect for others. We have to escape the tyranny of the "or" and develop the inclusive nature of the "and".
The answer to economic globalisation is open markets and strong welfare and public service systems, particularly those like education, which equip people for change.
The answer to terrorism is measures on security and tackling its underlying causes.
The answer to concern over migration is to welcome its contribution and put a system of rules in place to control it.
Over the past few months we have witnessed both the dire conflict in Lebanon and the attempted terrorist conspiracies in the UK. At the same time there has been a raging debate about immigration from Eastern Europe and about sentiment within our Muslim communities. In one form or another, such debates have been convulsing politics in many disparate nations.
It is no surprise that people are worried: shocked by the fact that terrorists can be home-grown; shocked at death and destruction on our television screens whether from Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan or Turkey; confused as to what is the right answer.
These past three days I have been in the Middle East. I've talked to many different people there. In media terms, there is a natural desire always to concentrate on the surface eruptions of conflict - the tragic death of so many innocent people. In an age where the picture dominates, the graphic human suffering has most impact.
But go even a little beneath the surface and the suffering is not less, but an understanding of what is really happening is so much clearer. You might have thought from the news coverage that everyone I met in Lebanon was hostile. Some were. Most, including members of the Cabinet still bearing the scars of previous assassination attempts by outside interests were desperate for our help. Why? Because they know perfectly well that the conflict in Lebanon was just a proxy for another, deeper, conflict. They know their suffering wasn't the product of a chance event, but part of a strategy of outside powers in a bigger game.
The Palestinian leadership are passionate in their condemnation of their treatment by Israel. But don't believe that they don't know why the crisis in Gaza was started and who was responsible.
In Iraq and Afghanistan likewise, there is no doubt what is happening. From
the beginning America, UK and the troops of 25 other nations have been there with a full UN mandate; in Iraq with such a UN mandate for over three years. People focus again on the terrible suffering of the innocent and the loss of so many brave soldiers. But again, there is a deeper reason for the suffering; and it's nothing to do with so-called failures of planning.
There is a war being fought there, by proxy. Afghans and Iraqis have voted for their Governments. Those attacking them are doing so to destroy those slender democratic roots. We are defending them. We should be absolutely proud of doing so. The world should be grasping the full impact of the fight and devoting its energy and resources to it. But let us again be frank: a large part of it is hesitant and even lukewarm in its support.
Meanwhile, the global Muslim community feels humiliated and angry. They feel pinned between the policy of the US, the UK and its allies on the one hand; and the extremists within, on the other. The result is that in the Lebanese conflict, many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, will rail against Israel but often with barely a mention of the deaths of innocent Israelis, admittedly fewer, but each life is a life, or the 4,000 Iranian supplied rockets fired into the north of Israel.
So: what is the way through? It is to stand strong and fight where we need to: for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan; against terrorists, home-grown or otherwise. There is no justification for this terrorism, never was and never will be. Fight it wherever it is.
But also to stand strong for the values of justice as well as democracy. Investing against global poverty in Africa is investing in our own future security. Peace in Palestine is not only just and right, it is the indispensable pre-condition for rolling back the momentum of this global terrorist movement which threatens us. The peace must be on the right terms. I have shown my support for Israel's right to be secure and I will continue to do so. Peace which threatens its security is no peace. But on the right terms it must be done.
Yesterday's announcement of a Government of national unity in Palestine is precisely what I hoped for. On the basis it is faithful to the conditions spelled out by the Quartet - the UN, EU, US and Russia - we should lift the economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and be prepared to deal with the Government, the whole Government. Then piece by piece, step by step, we must put a process of peace back together again.
This must go alongside a more intensive and more frank engagement with the Muslim community here. Some days ago, I met some of the younger mainstream activists within the British community. I was excited by their intelligence and determination. They don't want to pander to this extremism but confront it. We should support them. For example, it isn't acceptable that some Imams, who cannot even speak our language, come here to preach hatred; or that women are not allowed into certain Mosques. Where the mainstream challenges such behaviour, we will be on their side.
There is no reason therefore, to despair of this tide of extremism. It can be turned back. By strength in fighting it; and wisdom in how the fight is conducted.
The same is true of the issue of migration. I applaud your TUC statement on this issue.
It is so close to my own view that I thought of simply reading it out and letting it stand as my speech. That may be both the first and the last time I can say that of a motion to the TUC.
As you say: "If migrant workers are treated fairly and paid a decent wage, they represent no threat to the livelihoods of people who are already living and working in the UK, and... it is good for the people of Eastern Europe because it provides them with growth, better jobs and wages, and spreads and deepens European democratic values. Creating a common market means that workers must have rights as well as businesses, and there must be freedom of movement for workers as well as for capital, goods and services".
I couldn't agree more.
We have recently had historically high levels of economic growth at historically low levels of inflation. This is in no small part due to migrant labour. The DWP has found no evidence of a link between immigration and unemployment. And it is not true that the earnings of most UK-born workers are lower than they would have been. Migrant workers have a positive impact on the economy - increasing growth rates over the last few years by between 0.5% and 1%, and making a net contribution to the Exchequer.
You point out, again in your statement to Congress, that migrant workers have filled many stubborn vacancies, in education, health, social services, transport in the public sector and in agriculture, construction and hospitality in the private sector. They have filled labour gaps in key regions like East Anglia.
But there are real challenges. This is particularly the case in those areas, where immigration has not been a feature of life in the past. This can create short-term funding problems and unexpected pressure on local authorities. There are problems of overcrowding in private housing, homelessness and some anti-social behaviour. A small number of schools are struggling to cope with a sudden influx. There can be additional costs associated with language teaching. Primary Care Trusts in Southampton and Slough are ensuring that new migrants working come to hospital services through their GP rather than through A&E. We need therefore a thorough overhaul of how we help local authorities and public services cope with such unprecedented demands.
There is a lot we can learn from other countries about how to support integration. Canada has introduced state funded host programmes, intense language training, orientation lessons and short-term health cover. New Zealand sits migrants down through a highly interactive course of CDs and videos. Australia offers immigrants a comprehensive workbook system on Australian life and values, and is adapting the UK's Citizenship test model.
And we do also, of course, need to be vigilant about the rights of the migrants themselves. Migrant workers will typically be less adept with the language and less aware of their rights. Pay levels below the minimum wage, unlawful deductions, low wages, long hours, poor accommodation - often contrary to the law, are completely unacceptable and must be stopped. The Polish and Lithuanian workers engaged for the daffodil season in Cornwall who did a 70 hour week and who, after all the deductions were left with just 21p.The three Polish workers living in the back of a trailer lorry on an abattoir loading bay. This is utterly barbaric and wrong. The Gangmasters' Licensing Act must not simply be in effect, but must be enforced and vigorously.
These rules and their enforcement are not just important for migrant workers; they prevent organised gangs bringing more people in to Britain than we need or can cope with. And this is at the heart of public concerns. People want migration controlled. Now, they may also argue about more or less migration, but there is no argument that we should, by right, be able to decide that ourselves, not have it decided by forces, often global in nature, outside our control.
That is why we must have secure means, in so far as that is possible, of identifying who comes in, who goes out, and who stays in Britain. In today's world, the old methods won't do. 30 million people came to the UK last year. 227 million passed through our airports. The vast bulk of course do so, not just legitimately, but vitally for our economy. Overseas students are part of the life blood of our universities; tourists and visitors, an essential part of our earnings; companies come and locate here as part of global business. Put this at risk and we're sunk.
So we need a means of identification which allows our open economy still to function.
The sophistication of document forgery means we can only be confident of people's identities if we have their biometrics - their fingerprints, irises and digital measures of their face. By April 2008, all visas applicants will have their fingerprints taken. All visa nationals will need biometrics to get through border control. By April 2009 people here for work or study will have biometric identity cards, and biometric travel documents will be issued to refugees by the middle of 2007. The first ID cards will be issued by 2009.
Alongside this and as fast as we can, we need the electronic border system, checking in and checking out all visitors, a system which we and most other similar economies will have to develop in the years to come.
I know this answer isn't popular, at least in some quarters. But I tell you, without secure ID, controlled migration just isn't possible. You can have armies of inspectors, police and bureaucrats trying to track down illegals but without a proper system of ID - and biometric technology now allows this - it is a hopeless task. And as identity abuse grows - and it is a huge problem now across parts of the private as well as public sector - so the gains for consumers and companies will grow through a secure ID database.
Migration from an enlarged EU is a particular issue. There has been a big influx of Eastern Europeans and not just here but elsewhere. The evidence is they have helped and not been a burden. 97% work full-time. Only 3% of A8 migrants bring their children with them. Preliminary figures suggest up to 50% are returning home. Forget the notion that Britain is the only country affected. It is striking that Spain, Portugal, Finland, and Italy have now followed our example by opening their labour markets to new members. But the prospect of Bulgarian and Romanian accession raises its own issues and means very careful decisions will have to be taken about labour market access. Although even without it, there will be freedom of movement.
The danger with the public concern is we lose the argument over enlargement. Remember how fragile is the agreement in Europe that Turkey should be allowed membership. Yet a denial of membership even if Turkey were to meet the membership criteria, would be a seismic decision, with consequences far beyond Europe for obvious reasons.
Be clear: an enlarged Europe has been good for Europe and for Britain. Yes we have had to support it financially. We supported Ireland too and Portugal and Spain but today our trade with them far outweighs the subsidy and I believe that Irish progress in the EU has been a crucial dimension of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
So lose the argument over enlargement and we will rue the long-term consequences.
The true answer is at the same time as enlarging Europe, to support economic development in the new states as last year's budget deal does; and to tackle the problems that can accompany enlargement - organised crime and gangs crossing into Europe through the enlarged member states - with strong pan-European measures to combat the threat; crack down on illegal working and exploitation; and insist on full cooperation from all member states in doing so.
My point is this. There are answers. It's just that they are new answers and ones that combine our values with hard-headed policy that realistically analyses the dangers and minimises them.
Now is the right time to debate these issues. The stakes are high.
I don't want to live in a closed society. One that hides away in the face of terrorism or leaves others to do the dirty job of fighting it. One that sees immigrants as "swamping us". One that concentrates on protecting a job at the expense of creating others. I want an open society with rules; one that delights in its tolerance and pursues justice not only within our borders but outside them.
Such a society has in-built confidence. It is optimistic by nature. It sees opportunities before threats; looks to potential first and anxiety second. It knows there is a price to pay but knows also that to refuse to pay it, costs us much more in the longer-term.
Protectionism in the economy; isolation in world affairs; nativism within our society; all, in the end, mean weakness in the face of challenge. If we believe in ourselves we can be strong. We can overcome the challenge of global change; better, we can relish its possibilities.
Over the coming months, we will be conducting this debate and refining policy on the basis of it. Participate in it. Organised labour has a crucial role to play. It is exactly where modern trade unionism should be. And if we can shape the debate in the right way, and obtain solutions that are fair and practical, we will do well by the country but will also show that when the politicking of the previous two weeks passes, politics, true politics can deliver the progress we all want to see.
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