What Andy Gilchrist really said: "I want real Labour, not new Labour"

Submitted by AWL on 7 December, 2002 - 3:08

All of the media misrepresented, some of it with gross lies, Andy Gilchrist's speech to the Socialist Campaign Group conference on 30 November. They said he wanted to bring down the Government. In fact it was a "loyal" appeal to activists in the labour movement to fight for a change in the political direction of the Labour Party. As a service to the movement, we print a straight transcript of the speech here.

I am so proud to be a representative of the FBU people here today. Every one of the representatives will do everything we can to support the campaign, which is now led, and being run, and will be won by the membership of this union. Well done.

I was reflecting this morning on what this New Labour Government is trying to do with this strike. Whether, in fact, with its hysterical rantings it is indeed trying to run the country or trying to direct some sort of spaghetti Western. Some of the abuse and criticism that has been levelled at firefighters and control staff borders on the insane. They talk of taking us on, but firefighters and control staff routinely take on one of the most feared elements in the world - that's fire. So we are up for challenges and, I tell you what, we are not overcome easily.

The public support is truly magnificent. It can, in some cases, almost bring you to tears. And I say to the pollsters, take off your earmuffs, take off your blindfolds, even dare to leave Westminster and talk to some real people.

I'd like to say something about the title of this conference - "After New Labour". My first thoughts were "Thank God there might be a time after New Labour."

I was asked as I came in here "Don't you think being at events like this is exactly what the Government wants? It's about challenging the Government." Absolute nonsense. This party for decades has welcomed the support, contribution and voice of people who might not always agree with the leadership of the Labour Party. One great sadness I have is that some in the leadership of this party have treated contemptuously anyone who doesn't slavishly follow the leadership line. I think we should go back to the old way of debating democratic politics.

I have no hesitation in saying that I am quite happy, quite prepared to work to replace New Labour with what I call Real Labour. I have no nostalgic romanticism about Old Labour but there are Real Labour values, built on real social progress, on real justice for working-class people and indeed fairness for all. Those are the things I believe the Labour Party was built on and the sooner we can return to some of those things the better.

This New Labour Party has got a different agenda. I spend all week being told by various people in the New Labour Government that we can't afford to pay firefighters a significant rise, but look at some of the things we did manage to find a few quid for.

New Labour put aside a billion pounds for the war... I think it's disgraceful to say that for the people in this country who are prepared to risk their lives to save others you can't find any more money, but you can find at least a billion pounds to bomb innocent men, women and children in Iraq…

A billion for the Dome.

The billions to prop up the failing nuclear industry.

They've only found a few hundred million for the failing privatised rail companies.

And they've found a few million for themselves, with quite astonishing pay rises for Members of Parliament.

I think Real Labour needs to be linked to the trade unions because the decisions that affect our lives are made in that Parliament building. But people are cheesed off with the doings of New Labour.

So we need to have a debate about the link and I think we should have the debate in the trade union movement. I think we should ensure that we have funds in our political funds to fight specific campaigns. The great sadness here, of course, is that if there was any damage done to the link, this party would have to find itself thousands of new foot soldiers to ensure the election of councillors and MPs.

Does anyone now believe after the goings-on of the last week that this Government hasn't intervened in this dispute at key moments and has in fact provoked this national fire service strike? In order to defend the quite indefensible public sector pay policy, they are quite prepared to play with people's lives; with the suggestion, more than the suggestion, from John Prescott that we can do without 10,000 firefighters across the country. That equates to the entire fire cover in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together.

We're quite happy to have a debate about modernisation and improvements to the fire service. We were having the debate up to that dispute and we're quite happy to have that in the future. But let's just have a look at a few of the items of modernisation that are problematic.
So a real, Real Labour government would look at real modernisation. And a Real Labour government would have the vision, the courage to say, "Yes, we've costed that sort of modernisation and the potential savings to the UK economy, according to Ernst and Young, run into billions." So any pay rise for firefighters and control staff is not just affordable - it makes economic sense.

Real modernisation - that's an option. But the price of a pay rise for firefighters will not be taken out of life-saving firefighter jobs. So our campaign for fair pay goes on. Stick together as we've done this week. This is a campaign that's in the interests of every single working person to ensure we win. And win we will.

And again on Real Labour

"Undoubtedly some New Labour policy wonks would welcome a growing separation, followed by divorce of Labour and the unions. If that were to happen it would be a bleak day for working people and the Labour party. The party's unique strength is its links to the organised working class.

If Labour were to abandon it, the party would become just another rudderless organisation totally controlled by the professional political class. It's already well down this road. My call last Saturday was to change direction and for rank and file members to work for such a change before New Labour destroys Real Labour.
(From Guardian 4 December)

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