Tessa Jowell's speech to Labour Party Conference

28 September 2011

Get in touch with Tessa Jowell on twitter here

Tessa Jowell

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Conference, we meet today over a year since David Cameron told us he wanted to create the Big Society.

How do we think he's getting on?

Are our local communities thriving? No.

Have people got more power? No.

Are people giving more of their time? No.

Because David Cameron's problem is ideological.

He thinks you can either have the state or society, but that you can't have both.

Cuts too fast and too deep, have cost so many communities, so much.

Our centres of local life are under threat.

A small state obsession that gives us a small society in practice.

And what we lose in the next two years may be impossible to rebuild in ten.

The newspapers say the Tories have stolen our territory.

But we know they have stolen only our language.

Take a look at what they've actually done:
•    You can't be called a mutual if you are trading equity on the capital markets
•    Acclaimed Big Society award winners like Central Surrey Health are at the same time losing their government contracts
•    And 40% of young people dropped out of the flagship National Citizen Service

Just look at what happened here in Liverpool.

David Cameron gave his big speech here, but it was a big flop.

He offered you the big society, but all you got here in Liverpool was £140m of cuts.

When he was here he said: "You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility."

I say you can call it anything you want, because it's nothing but empty words.

I've got a message for David Cameron.

You may have given up on our communities.

You may have given up on human nature.

You may write off millions of people whose lives you don't understand.

But Labour never will.

Let me tell you a story about a service in my constituency four days after the looting of Brixton.

The congregation were asked to write which single thing they would like to see happen to change their community.

Nearly 200 responses.

Not one asked anything of the Government.

Not one asked anything of the Council.

Not one asked for any money.

Instead they asked what they could do, together, to get their community through this toughest of times.

Two hundred ideas that expressed the power of collective action.

Because they know, as we know - that we can achieve more together than we can alone.

I tell the story of my congregation because I think it says something about the future of our politics.

Whether secular or religious - these congregations are everywhere.

Groups of people working together to achieve change in their communities.

That's where our Party came from.

And that's where our Party always needs to be.

The challenge for us is to move beyond the tired clichés of the 'new politics' - and to become different kinds of politicians.

I learnt this when I trained as a community organiser with London Citizens this year.

There I learned anew about the power of coalition.

No, not Cameron and Clegg's cosy club of two.

But community organisations, schools, churches, trade unions and charities uniting together in a common purpose whether it be for the living wage or safe havens for young people caught in the wrong post code.

When we move beyond tribalism and embrace all those who share our values - even if they won't fill in a membership form.

This is why the work of Refounding Labour and Movement for Change are so important.

But there is a lesson for the way that we will need to govern too.

When Beveridge created the welfare state it was always meant to be, as Ed Miliband said, a something-for-something settlement.

A roof over your head, but your responsibility to maintain it.

A health service that treats you when you're sick, but your responsibility to be "fit for service".

A state that will find you a job, but your responsibility to take it.

And as we look at our public services, I think we need to go back to that.

People to take more responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities.

And knowing that when they contribute we all get more in return.

Building the relationships which will help us solve our problems together.

We measure a lot of things in government:

Outputs, inputs and value for money. And these can be important.

Just look at what the Tories are doing to waiting times.

But however we measure, for most of us it's the people who help us and the relationships that we form that are the most important things to us.

The dinner lady who gets your child to eat their greens.

The classroom assistant who inspires your child to read.

The nurse who holds your child's hand at the A&E.

Building our relationships doesn't just make our lives better, they are both part of the treatment and part of the cure.

Relationships that allow doctors to heal, teachers to teach and carers to care.

And the relationships with those who share our common experience - that can often be as important as the time we spend with professionals.

So what does this mean in practice?

A government that asks for more.

We will ask more people who use public services to give something back in return.

We can learn from a community hospital like Lehigh hospital where when you are discharged you're told someone will come to visit you, turn on your heating and make sure you've got food in the fridge.

But that person is not a professional. They're a former patient. And when you get better you're asked to do the same for someone else.

A government that offers more for those that help, making sure that those who contribute are the most rewarded in return.

As a Co-operative Council, Labour Lambeth is rewarding residents who give their time with credits for council tax, discounts for council services, or time in the gym.

Can we build on this across the country?

A government that offers more power in return.

We should look at the case for expanding the role of personal budgets.

Putting power in people’s hands but more responsibility too.

Conference, this is a time to be bold, be brave, and be radical.

Even in opposition we can still change people's lives.

Labour local councils give us that mandate.

Street by street, ward by ward, city by city.

By our actions locally, we will show our intent nationally.

And in so doing begin once again to change our Party, our politics and our country for good.