Mary Creagh's Speech to Labour Party Conference

27 September 2011

Get in touch with Mary Creagh on twitter here

- CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY -Mary Creagh
 
Conference.

Imagine you work in a job where your home is tied to your employment and you are on call at all hours.

I'm talking about rural workers, who live in tied accommodation and work in the wind and weather all year round.

The Agricultural Wages Board, set up by Clem Attlee in 1948, which sets the pay and conditions of 140,000 rural workers in England and 12,000 workers in Wales, is to be abolished by the Tory-led Government.

What will that mean?

For 42,000 casual rural workers, it's an instant pay cut as soon as their current job ends.

For permanent rural workers, the constant worry that your employment contract will be downgraded, your tied home at risk if you say no.

It'll mean no minimum wage for child workers who currently get £3.05 an hour.

So much unfairness in an industry where four out of five workers has no company pension scheme for their retirement.

The Government calculates it'll take £9 million pounds a year of spending power out of the village high street.

That's not the plan B the economy needs; that's the same old Tory unfairness.

And we are not going to let the AWB be scrapped without a fight.

I'd like to thank our animator Chloe Rodham, for bringing the Agricultural Wages Board to life, Tony Robinson and Gloria de Piero for the voice overs , David Puttnam for telling us how to make a film and Unite the Union for helping us to fund and fight this campaign.

Cath Speight who leads on this issue for Unite is standing down from the NEC this year. Cath thank you for your support and friendship.

And I'd like to thank my wonderful team: William Bain, Jamie Reed, Gavin Shuker and Peter Soulsby in the Commons, and Jim Knight, John Grantchester and Joyce Quin in the Lords for working so hard this year.

Labour is the party of jobs and growth, not just in the cities but in the towns and villages across Britain.

We stand up for fairness in the countryside.

We want strong rural communities with fair pay at their heart: Where housing is available to local people;

Where people can catch a bus to go to school or college, visit friends and the local shops;

Where older people keep their independence for as long as possible.

George Osborne's plan A is hitting the countryside hard.

He is making it harder to earn a living, harder to raise a family, harder to run a business.

Labour promised universal broadband by 2012, so rural businesses can sell their goods and services direct.

The Tories have put this back to 2015 - and only then if cash-strapped councils stump up half the money.

Mr Osborne, speeding up rural broadband shouldn't be in your plan B it should have been your plan A.

But whether it’s plan A, plan B or plan X Y Z, the Tory plans for the country and the economy will always end with a great big F - Failure.

But let's face it.

At the last election, people in rural areas thought Labour had lost touch. They voted us out.

The Tories told them "Vote Blue, go green". But people found when they voted blue they got - well blue. And they found that with a coalition government when you voted yellow - well you got blue as well!

Vote blue and we'll try and sell off the national nature reserves until we realise no one wants to buy them.

Vote blue and we will sell off England's forests. No, I don't remember reading that in their manifesto.

Vote blue and we'll tell you we can't ban wild animals from British circuses because - it would breach the European Convention on Human Rights. Vote blue and - we'll send in the clowns.

Across the country people who voted blue have started to question the Tory and Lib Dem's environment record.

Why are they so keen to scrap the Commission for Rural Communities, the independent voice of rural areas across government? What are they so frightened of?

How can they get rid of Labour's housing targets, and then change the planning system so communities are left in chaos?

Why should people have to pay £1,000 to protect their village greens?

How can the government that has cut £2 billion pounds from the environment budget possibly deliver a better environment?

How can a government that believes in the small state and is anti-regulation deliver policies that protect our precious planet?

The answer is simple.

They can't.

People have realised that to go green you have to vote red.

To protect the countryside, you vote Labour.

Which is why Duncan Enright, in January 2011 became the first Labour councillor in Witney.

Why Jude Robinson won her seat off the Tories on Cornwall County Council in January.

And why we won 9 seats on the Forest of Dean Council after the Tories' forest sell-off fiasco.

One short year of Tory-led government has shown people that the way to marry social justice with environmental progress is to vote Labour.

Conference, this is just the beginning of Labour's fightback in rural areas.

The fight to keep England's forests for the people showed this land is our land. And we're not going to be kept off it. Labour is the party of the countryside.

The first time I said that in Parliament, the Tories laughed. They're not laughing now.

Throughout our history Labour has protected the environment.

We set up the national parks in 1948. We established the Green Belt. The world's first climate change law.

A huge increase in recycling thanks to Labour councils like Wakefield, Leicester and Copeland.

Green policies but it took Labour values and Labour politicians to make them happen.

That was yesterday's work. Our policy review is grappling with the global challenges that will define the decade to come.

In the past, no one in this country worried about food prices, or food security.

Today, food prices have risen 6% in the last year and famine has returned to the horn of Africa.

In 10 years’ time will we have tackled commodity speculation to prevent a system-wide failure in our food supply chain?

Will we have the courage to define food poverty and start the debate about how we ensure that no-one goes hungry in 21st Century Britain?

Recycling used to be a minority interest. Today, most of us sort our household rubbish.

In 10 years’ time, what do we need to do to achieve a zero-waste economy?

In the past, businesses set up shop where they pleased and made free use of raw materials, water and people.

Now the best companies realise that the only long-term business strategy is one which puts sustainability at its heart, which respects its people and our planet.

In 10 years’ time how would our buying patterns change if we could see the carbon footprint of the products that we buy?

We plan for the future but our generation must remember the battles of the past.

The first trade union was set up in 1832.

The six Tolpuddle martyrs, deported to Australia for protesting against the lowering of their agricultural wages.

For dreaming of a better way, for working together, for not accepting the Tory way.

A petition of 800,000 people brought them back from Australia as national heroes. And that was before the internet!

Whether it’s Dorset in 1832 or Kent in 2011, our fight for justice in the countryside goes on.

Labour has always been the party of jobs, growth and fairness in the countryside.

Today I am asking everyone here to sign up to backtheapple.com, Labour and Unite's campaign for fairness in the countryside.

I want you to get out your phones and text the word APPLE to 60022. I want you to take a juicy apple grown by the Co-op in Hereford on your way out and take it home to your friends and family.

When we took on the Tories over forests - we won. But it was only because of the support we generated inside and outside the party.

These texts are free and they’re important - they show the level of our support.

So get out your phone and text the word APPLE to 60022.

Our campaign is also online at backtheapple.com.

And you can follow us on Twitter #backtheapple.

There will be a vote on the AWB in Parliament before the year is out.

Make sure your MP knows which way you want them to vote. We have to win this battle.

Back the countryside, back the apple, back Labour's fight for fair pay for farm workers.