Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Progress rally: Alison McGovern – ‘We all must be better’

Alison McGovern told activists at the Lab18 Progress rally ‘not to walk away’. The full transcript of her speech:

I have a hard message for everyone here today. I expect no applause, and I am sorry to say that this year I have descended from bad jokes to no jokes. It is not easy to say it, but I believe it: we must all be more than we have been.

I want to talk about the difficulties and complexities of politics and how we can move forward. But first let me say what we should dismiss.

We should dismiss arguments that are glib. For example, the last Labour government was perfect, and all that is required of us is to defend the record: glib. The last Labour government was neoliberal, and all that is required of us is to embrace the defeat of neoliberalism and we will win: glib. And another thing that is glib: all that matters is one faction in our party beating another, and that this conference starting today is a straight re-run of Bournemouth 1985, win it, and we will get the party back. That is just glib.

Harking back to the past whatever side you are on – that is glib. If what you have come here for tonight is the greatest hits of the Labour moderates, you are going to be disappointed. I am not a moderate. I am a progressive.

That is why however proud we are of our party’s past, we should never be satisfied. And I am not satisfied. I have always believed we are fighting for a basic idea, the principle of our movement.

Yes, stopping the Tory Brexit mess is the job in front of us. But what is really at stake is the success of the central mission of the Labour party.

That mission is this: that ordinary people are good enough to run the country.

This was the idea that began our political party at the turn of the 20th century. That working people wouldn’t just vote, but be in the cabinet too. That they would not just deliver leaflets, but that they would write manifestos. That no matter the circumstances of your birth, you were good enough to be the prime minister.

It is a great age of irresponsibility, where people commit catastrophic errors and simply carry on.

The Labour movement did not want an elite party that talked about socialism or liberalism in Westminster, but built a structure that meant all could rise. Trade unions made the connection between the rules at work and the power to make the rules in parliament. That is why our party exists, that is what we are fighting for, whoever is the leader.

I know that life in the Labour party at the moment is far from easy, I know that sometimes it can seem too hard, and I know that the behaviour of some on the hard left who think they act on behalf of the leadership is causing us distress, but I want to talk about who we really are.

Other political parties may think they understand aspiration and the desire of all to grow and progress, but in reality, they are elite organisations set up for those who are already powerful. And that will be true of elite parties formed in the future too.

And if you want to see the damage that elite politicians representing a party that is a hollow shell can do to our country, just look at the record of David Cameron and George Osborne. It is not a bug in the Conservative party that their words about equality never make life better for the majority in our country, it is a feature. It is a feature of a party that only ever pretended to have a real base in the country, and has given us seven prime ministers who went to Eton. They speak in patriotic terms, but serve only themselves, and never the vast majority of people who take pride in being British.

Only Labour was built on the idea that there ought to be no barriers to the aspirations of each of us to be who we truly want to be. Others may wish those ends, but only the Labour party built the means.

And when you look at the state of our politics, not just in Britain but around the world, you see the same thing.

People in power who feel there are no real consequences to their actions. Or at least, no consequences for them.

It is a great age of irresponsibility, where people commit catastrophic errors and simply carry on.

Where the mess is always left for someone else to clean up.

An age where there are always second, third, fourth chances for the powerful- and no chances at all for too many people.

And it is not just those in power who have shaped this culture, these years with no responsibility and no shame. It is those who stand by, and those who walk away.

We are in Liverpool this week because we will not stand by, we will not walk away.

But ask yourself this: has our generation been good enough to fulfil our Labour idea? And surely the answer is no.

Our problem is, that strong and powerful though that idea is, we haven’t done enough to win the argument and win elections on that basis.

We have not been good enough and that has to change.

I want to tell you about the most important day in my life as a politician.

Yet these women, they get paid the least of anyone in this country. That, my friends, is a fucking disgrace.

A couple of years ago I spent a day working in a local care home. I shadowed two brilliant women who were collecting the laundry and spending time with the residents. We beat a path around the nursing home gathering sheets and making sure those near the end of their life had some comfort and some company.

People might think that working in a care home is not a great job, but I found that to be completely wrong. These women were skilled, physically, but even more so, mentally. They had the bravery to understand when death was coming and to chose to be there alongside people as they faced it.

We venerate midwives, but what about the women who hold our loved ones as they leave this earth? Surely that is a job worthy of status?

Yet these women, they get paid the least of anyone in this country.

That, my friends, is a fucking disgrace.

And I have concluded that I am a disgrace because I have not succeeded in getting a Labour government to make sure that can happen no longer.

Poverty pay for those that care for our families in their last days. The shame of it burns me every day.

These women deserve – as everyone does – dignity at work. But they deserve so much more. They deserve proper pay, so they can save and invest in themselves. They deserve a say over how the job is done. They deserve a chance to grow, to gain skills, to be all the things they might want to be.

As it is, they are denied not just dignity, but also the chance to make progress.

They and millions in Britain.

So, I have concluded that I must be better. And I am telling you today that we all must be better.

When we see injustice, it is not enough to stand with people as they protest. You have to find practical ways to help and empower. I could start a petition about care home pay. I could stand outside the Treasury and wave a placard at Phillip Hammond every day. But those women would see through it. They would see how in the end, that is useless to them.

Families are stretched everywhere, and that is why we need to work out genuinely progressive plans. For example, free universal child care. A social care system that means people are recognised for the work they do, not treated like crap because their job is deemed to carry less status than the work men do. I want an education system that does not forget that further education exists. I want to work towards a four-day week so that people have time to learn, the time to beat a path towards their dreams.

I want to look care workers in the eyes and say that they have every chance to work hard and get on in life.

So, I have one question for you as you listen to our speakers today. Do you genuinely want to make Britain a place where everyone has the chance to be and do all that they could wish? Do you genuinely want to people to be able to be themselves?

If you do, then I have not a thing to offer you but the hard work of getting a progressive Labour government elected.

I want to look care workers in the eyes and say that they have every chance to work hard and get on in life.

I want to look those families that they care for in the eyes and say that Britain is a country that values hard work and dedication, not privilege and where you went to school.

I want people to look at the government of the day and see people just like them working for people just like them.

I cannot abandon this idea.

At times, we have all seen the Labour movement at its worst, and that hurts us. But I believe that the next generation to come will take the idea of the Labour party and make it their own.

I know young people who are demanding not just that their own ambitions be fulfilled, but that their generation is the first in which education never stops, that chances for all to grow have no limit. I know the next generation is hungry to deal with the mistakes of the past, and I know that they have the capacity to do it.

Vincent Van Gogh said we should always have more hope than memories and he was right. The possibilities for change are there.

As long as we stick to the simple and correct idea that ordinary British people are good enough to do whatever they might wish.

That is why I am here. That is why I am in this party

And that is why I am staying.

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Alison McGovern MP

is chair of Progress

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