Speech to Welsh Labour Party Gala Dinner

Lords and Ladies, members of parliament, members of the Welsh Assembly and ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege to be with you this evening here in Cardiff

Or, if you will indulge me:

Noss-why-th thar ee bowb

(Noswaith dda I bawb – which means Good Evening everybody in Welsh)

Can I begin by thanking you for inviting me to this evening’s dinner, and allowing me the opportunity to address you

I am following in distinguished footsteps

I understand my two predecessors were Peter Mandelson and Alan Johnson .

I would also like to thank Trosol for supporting this evening’s dinner.

Without your support the dinner wouldn’t be possible.

I would like to pay tribute to Chris Roberts who is standing down as General Secretary of Welsh Labour Party

Chris magnificently organised the Labour Party through the challenges of the recent general election

Let me also comment on how much I look forward to working with Carwyn Jones

Carwyn has picked up the baton as First Minister at a crucial time as we head towards next year’s critical assembly elections

It is Carwyn who will lead Wales to victory next year in the first major electoral test of the coalition government

It is absolutely fundamental that we take the battle to the coalition next year and deliver a strong Labour-run assembly here in Wales

The people of Wales need Labour in charge, and I hope we can all rally behind Carwyn and his team and deliver that victory

And Carwyn will provide that crucial leadership as the referendum in March fast approaches on increased powers for the assembly

Arriving in Cardiff this evening, I’ve noticed that there is a rugby match on tomorrow

I believe Wales are hosting the world champions, South Africa

I know that many of you are pretty passionate about the game

As you can tell by looking at me, I’m hardly built to flourish in the game with the oval ball – I’m more a cricket man myself

But I would like to pay testimony to one more person who is probably going to have split loyalties tomorrow at the Millennium Stadium – Peter Hain

Peter and I go back many years through our shared connection of Wandsworth’s politics

Peter brings to the shadow cabinet enormous experience and passion

And rest assured, the interests of Wales will be high on our agenda in the shadow cabinet because of Peter’s efforts

And I’d also like to mention Chris Bryant, who is one of the key members of my shadow ministerial team

Chris has gained a reputation in Westminster….

Yes, Chris is in that small group of people that have put Sky News’s Kay Burley firmly in her place, which will long be remembered

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the efforts of Labour here in Wales at the General Election.

I know as well as anyone how tough that election was

My own experiences in Tooting were pretty bruising

We lost comrades along the way

We must not forget the dedication and hard work of all of the candidates across Wales – both those who were successful and those that were unsuccessful

We held on to some key seats

Albert Owen up in Yns Mon who held off Plaid. And I can see around the room some of my Westminster colleagues Wayne David, Huw Irranca-Davies, Owen Smith, and Jessica Morden, successfully fighting off the Lib Dems in Newport East.

My politics are shaped by my background. I grew up in a cramped flat on a council estate in Tooting, With my six brothers and one sister. My parents came from Pakistan in the 1960s

My dad drove a London Transport bus for more than 25 years. My mum balanced raising us with being part of a cottage industry of Asian women making clothes at home for pennies. There wasn’t a minimum wage then.

All 10 of us lived in a cramped 3-bedroom council flat, my parents had to work hard and they gave me a real sense of responsibility.

A sense of what is right and wrong

A sense of fairness and justice

And, an overriding sense that unfairness and injustice and inequality can be tackled

And, moreover, it is right and proper that for a better society we tackle the root causes of injustice and inequality

I attended a good socialist school named after one of the heroes of the Labour movement, Ernest Bevin, who was an MP in Wandsworth.

The funny thing is, my local Tories have at times in the past been indignant at the name of the school

On one such occasion, they publicly bemoaned a school being named after a Welsh socialist firebrand

Now, you don’t need me to tell you that they were confused with one of Wales’s foremost products of the Labour movement, Nye Bevan

Speaking of Labour politics here in Wales, I’ve spent a lot of time recently with one of the leading couples in the Labour Party

I’d go so far as to term them Labour royalty

I’m of course talking about Neil and Glenys Kinnock

When I was being shaped by the politics in the 1980s, it was Neil as leader of the Labour Party whom I looked up to.

I recall his famous quote about being the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university

Because that was me –my sister, my brothers and me being the first in a thousand generations to get to university. This changed our lives, and now we see this government depriving others of this important ladder.

During the recent election campaign for the new leader of the Labour Party, I had the privilege of getting to know your very own Neil Kinnock

For someone like me, whose formative political years were shaped by the battles and challenges of the 1980s, Neil is a towering figure

He is someone I admire

That I looked up to in the 1980s

He was real inspiration for me in my early politics

It was Neil who started the hard work that firmly placed the Labour Party back on a trajectory towards power after a period in the wilderness

I cut my teeth in local politics, spending 12 years as a local councillor

This was in the hotbed of London politics

In Margaret Thatcher’s favourite borough, Wandsworth

Let’s not forget what David Cameron said

He said that if we wanted to know what a Tory government would be like, we only had to look at Tory local authorities

Well, in my neck of the woods, it’s a pretty stark picture

One in which the most vulnerable have been marginalised and squeezed over many years

In which services for those most in need have been cut back

And charges have been hiked and hiked and hiked again

It is no place for those in society that have no choice but to rely on the welfare state to protect them, be it because they are elderly or long-term sick

There is a ruthless, ideological streak that drives all of their policies in Wandsworth

And that is why we all need to fight the coalition’s policies

It is humbling to have the opportunity of serving the Labour Party as your shadow secretary of state for justice and constitutional affairs

It has been a steep learning curve over the past weeks as I get to grips with the pressing policy issues

One policy issue in my shadow brief has shown the coalition’s new type of politics in its starkest light

I believe it demonstrates the utter disregard the coalition has for local communities

And is one that will see Wales disproportionately affected

I am talking about the proposed boundary review

In which the coalition has a policy of reducing the number of MPs to 600

We SEE no justification of why the number should be 600

The tories went into the election campaign pledging to reduce the number of mps by 10%, to 585. The liberal democrats wanted to reduce the number of mps to 500. Why the change of mind?

Because cutting only 50 mps has the biggest impact on labour – aything more would affect all the parties and be fairer. This is why it has been ditched.

And just in case anyone thinks that cutting the number of mps can be justified in an effort to save costs ,in these difficult times, it is worth remembering that at the same time as cutting the number of MPs, the Government are proposing to flood the House of Lords with new Peers!

Creating a bigger, unelected upper chamber that will cost more to run

The people of Wales stand to lose representation in Westminster

Wales represents some 5% of the UK’s population

But under these proposals, in which 50 MPs will disappear, Wales stands to lose 10 MPs

So for 5% of the population, 20% of the MPs that will be lost will be from Wales

On the face of it, having constituencies of equal size sounds like a sensible idea

One that not many of us could disagree with

But, as is often the case, in practice it is never always quite that easy

The Boundary Commission have warned that the coalition’s policy will result in a total re-drawing of constituency boundaries

With the focus on equalising populations, we will witness an explosion of constituencies dividing wards and cutting cross local authorities boundaries

But more than this, local communities will be stripped of their right to challenge boundary decisions through public inquiries

Let’s be clear – some of the wackier proposals have been tempered over the years by the sane voice of local people and community groups

Making sensible, grass roots representations through the inquiry process on why boundaries ought to be altered or preserved

In nearly 2/3 of areas that have been under review, recommendations were revised following a public inquiry

There will also be a loosening of the impact of local ties, history and geography in determining boundaries

Already, I have been contacted by local campaign groups that are mobilising against the unpicking of years of history

We will see much more of this grass roots opposition

No longer will sensible decisions based on an area’s sense of place be a key determinant of boundaries

I know how sensitive this will be in many areas, including my own constituency

Communities across Wales will similarly be affected

Towns and villages in South Wales, protective of their sense of place, hesitant for a wholescale redrawing of boundaries that take no notice of mountains or valleys

Where historical boundaries, and long-standing constituencies are carved up and redrawn

Riding roughshod over the views of local people

For a government that has prized itself on a drive to greater localism, this is a massive sweeping away of the rights and powers of communities

And let’s also remember that a constituency is more than just its registered electorate

It’s estimated that 3 ½ million people eligible to vote aren’t registered to do so

They are often the young and those in lower income groups

The most vulnerable in society, often most in need of their democratically elected officials

We need a much fairer assessment of the sizes of electorates than the rather crude method proposed in these plans

A forthcoming census next year offered such an opportunity

This could have been used to assess the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register

But this data would not report until 2014

Unfortunately, the coalition is determined that the new boundaries will be in place by 2013

From this, it’s difficult to not conclude that this is nothing but a politically motivated move

To fix the boundaries in time for the next election

This is political gerrymandering of the worst kind

We need to fight this

The people of Wales need to fight for their representation

And Labour in Wales needs to be at the forefront of this fight

Over 6 million people voted Lib Dem at the last general election

How many of them would have done so if they’d known what kind of coalition government this would turn out to be?

We no doubt have all come across aggrieved Lib Dems

Deeply uncomfortable at what kind of government they have got themselves involved in

Providing cover to the decisions of their Conservative partners in the coalition

Let’s not forget, this is a party that tried to position themselves as the progressive alternative to Labour

Remember when David Cameron was asked what his favourite political joke was, and he said “Nick Clegg”

I suspect that there are many people across the UK who would now say “I agree with Dave”

It would be remiss of me to not mention one of the fallen at the last General Election

Lembit Opik, formerly one of Wales’s Lib Dem MPs

I see he has now embarked on a career as a stand up comedian

And just at the time when his party has become a laughing stock

How appropriate

And let’s not forget the Conservatives

Cameron campaigned at the last election for change

But there’s been no change

They are the same old Tories

Inflating the state of our country’s finances as cover for ideological cuts to public spending by claiming wrongly we were on the brink of bankruptcy

And that’s not just my opinion

Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman has stated in the past couple of weeks that the spending cuts are dangerous in their depth and speed

And that the coalition is using the deficit as an excuse to cut the welfare state

Let us only think back to the spending review, and the way the Tory backbenchers whooped and hollered at the end of George Osborne’s cuts to public spending

This is not something to cheer

It will lead to many people in this country losing their jobs

And it riles me when Labour is accused of failing to fix the roof while the sun was shining

In my constituency I see the new roofs on the hospital, on the children’s centre and the health centres

This is repeated across the whole country in hundreds of constituencies

People’s lives made better through Labour’s investment in our public services

And in our infrastructure

We should be proud of our record

One thing is very clear

The Tories want to rip the roof off while the rain is pouring down

This is the wrong strategy at the wrong time

But I am an optimist

This country is a fantastic place

It allowed my parents to make a home for themselves

We are a confident nation with much to be confident about

It is this optimism that we must convey on the doorsteps come next year’s assembly elections

And through our new leader, Ed Miliband, I believe that we can project this optimism

With Ed, the Labour Party has a fantastic opportunity to rebuild and learn from our recent election defeat

But then again, you might think I would say that, given I ran his leadership campaign

But the reasons I supported Ed are because I believe he has the vision, the mindset and the policies to be a fantastic leader of the Labour Party

And in turn it is this freshness and optimism that will represent the breath of fresh air the people need

And exactly the kind of hope and inspiration I believe the people of Wales will be looking for

And it is Labour’s role to bring that positive outlook

To connect with the hopes of people

And show that we are on their side

A direct contrast to the policies of the coalition

Your victory in Wales next year will be the springboard to ensuring this coalition is a one-term government

Let’s get the message out

Based on our values

Our principles

Fighting for the people of Wales

Standing up for the people of Wales

Thank you


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