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FULL TEXT – Yvette Cooper MP speech

This is the full text of the speech Yvette Cooper MP gave at our annual summer conference today. 



This is the full text of the speech Yvette Cooper MP gave at our annual summer conference today. 

Thank you Andy for inviting me to speak to you today.

Britain’s oldest political think tank at the forefront of the future fight for social justice.

A society founded against a backdrop of the Match Girls’ strike and London Dock strike, united in its rejection of political violence in favour of democracy and trade unionism as an engine for change.

The thinkers of our movement.

The doers too.

So let me start by saying thank you for the work so many of you did in this election.

Thanks to your hard work, to Jeremy Corbyn, the Shadow Cabinet, Labour candidates and Labour members across the country, we have 30 more Labour MPs, 22 new Labour women MPs. Women now 45 per cent of Labour MPs. We now have our most ethnically diverse parliament – with 27 ethnic minority Labour MPs and more out LGBT MPs than ever before. Winning back seats in Scotland, in Wales and in parts of England that have never had a Labour MP before.

Because more people voted Labour:

  • the vote to bring back fox hunting has been ditched
  • the plan to bring back grammar schools has been dropped
  • we’ve stopped them abolishing free school meals
  • we’ve stopped them abandoning winter fuel payments
  • and thanks to Stella Creasy’s amendment Northern Irish women needing an abortion in Britain will no longer be forced to pay £900

So don’t tell me voting Labour doesn’t make a difference. Already those Labour votes have changed lives.

But we know it isn’t yet enough.

The Tories are still in government even if they aren’t properly in power. Their weakness is making them desperate. For our country, their desperation makes them dangerous.

Already Theresa May has proved ready to play fast and loose with the Northern Ireland peace process just to protect her position.

They found a billion pounds to stay in power.

But nothing more for public sector staff.

A billion pounds to end austerity in Northern Ireland.

But what about the schools, hospitals and police everywhere else?

One Yorkshire woman told me her elderly mother died of the cold this winter. In 2017. In hospital. Staff shortages so severe, she waited for hours getting cold in A&E, then in a draughty corridor. She caught hypothermia.

The poorest families lose over £2,000 from Universal Credit cuts this year.

While rich investors gain over £2,000 from capital gains tax cuts this year.

Still a Tory government, a Tory, Tory government.

So here’s our challenge now.

To use the hung parliament the voters have delivered.

To hound government ministers for every dangerous move they make.

To halt every mad policy they try to impose.

To challenge their lack of mandate and their lack of a majority as our Shadow Cabinet have done every day this week –

  • John Ashworth on nurses pay
  • Keir Starmer on Euratom and Europol
  • Angela Rayner on school budget cuts

And let me put the Government on notice now.

This week we heard the story of a teenage refugee who fled from ISIS in Iraq. He had a legal right to join his uncle who lives in Manchester. But when the Home Office interviewed him in Dunkirk, they didn’t tell him his rights, didn’t ask his circumstances, they just sent him back to a fetid, dangerous camp.

So then he hid under the axel of an articulated lorry all the way to Oxfordshire – where he died under its wheels as he tried to get out.

He had a legal right to be here, should have had the chance to be safe.

So let me give notice; I will seize any chance we get in this hung parliament to reinstate the Dubs amendment so our country stops turning its back on child refugees.

Politics matters.

It’s why on a hot Saturday in July, hundreds of us gather for the Fabians conference. Out on the street, thousands are celebrating Pride.

And it’s certainly unpredictable.

A new French president in his thirties with a landslide Parliament who six months ago didn’t even have a party.

A billionaire reality TV star elected as US president.

Elected after the FBI said they were investigating his opponent.

Now Congress and the FBI are investigating him.

We’ve a prime minister who called an election to get a landslide and ended up with a hung parliament.

Who started the general election campaign more than 20 points ahead. And three months on is now 8 points behind.

Who promised us strong stable leadership under the Tories and warned of a coalition of chaos under Labour.

Now Labour has the strong, stable leadership and the government is a coalition of chaos led by Theresa May.

And here’s the bit you really couldn’t make up.

Our Labour leader at Glastonbury to cheers and roars.

Our last Labour leader on Radio 2 learning Death Metal roars.

The former chancellor editing the Evening Standard.

The former shadow chancellor dancing Gangnam style dressing up as a Korean popstar.

The kids tell me it could be worse. It could be Love Island next.

All these men enjoying their midlife crises.

While the rest of us have to cope while politics is going through a midlife crisis too.

It is an uncertain time.

Theresa May called a referendum on herself and lost it.

The Tories have lost their mandate, lost consensus in the country, lost any consensus even amongst themselves.

It feels like October 1992 after Black Wednesday. John Major’s government lost support, lost its authority and sense of purpose. But it still clung onto power for another four and a half years.

Both the Brexit vote and the general election show the powerful  yearning for change.

But the Tories can’t deliver it.

They can’t pull the country together. All they do is divide us.

So Labour must.

Today’s conference is Pathway to Power.

So here’s a starter for four – four things for Labour to do next, the first two the obvious, the second two crucial to who we are.

  • First the task of holding the new voters we inspired, whilst reaching out beyond them to others we lost – and staying a broad based party to do it
  • Second to chart a course for a progressive Brexit – the most important challenge facing our country over the next two years that will scar us for years to come if we let the Tories get it wrong
  • Third to overcome the new and growing divide in Britain between city and town
  • Fourth to make sure that the new politics – and especially our politics – is kinder, gentler and democratic.

Most inspiring of all in this general election has been the powerful emergence of young voices that have been silent in our democracy for too long.

It is tribute to Jeremy and the campaign he ran that in this general election young people turned out like never before. That they talked of hope and optimism for the future.

We have to ensure each new generation keeps believing in the power of political change and the power of Labour to help them build a better future.

Our manifesto rightly championed new investment in our overstretched schools, hospitals and police, and a pay rise for hard pressed public sector staff. That helped us win support among thirty and forty somethings too – those wanting better schools for their children and an NHS to rely on, as well as those worried by hard Brexit.

George Osborne may be enjoying himself running headlines attacking Theresa May’s dreadful government – but people were voting against his failed austerity budgets, not just her weak leadership.

Labour candidates and party members worked hard too to hold on to older voters who were more sceptical. And to win back votes from Ukip.

We won a big increase in support from middle class voters in cities and university towns. We had to work much harder to hold on to working class voters in the coalfields and industrial towns.

People had different reasons for voting for us – for Jeremy, for schools, for an end to student fees, for their local candidates, for the NHS, against Theresa May, against a hard Brexit, for a fairer Brexit, as a protest, for a government, for our values, for our history, out of old loyalties, for a better future.

But that’s OK, because we are – as we have always been – a broad based party. That’s who we are, that’s how we stay.

From our founding over a hundred years ago we were Fabians and trade unionists, Marxists and Methodists, Suffragists and Suffragettes.

Just as we did when our party was founded, we pulled together as a broad based party in this election. We didn’t navel gaze or squabble with each other. We pulled together around Jeremy and Tom and worked together for Labour and for the people who need a Labour government.

And that’s our best chance of reaching out too. All Labour together. Because there will be hard tasks ahead. To convince older voters worried about security or immigration. To withstand the much greater scrutiny Labour will face this time round, on the economy, on Brexit or our fiscal plans.

Now more than ever, when ideas spread so fast, when worlds change so quickly, we need hard thinking and diverse inspiration.

Second, as the Theresa May’s approach to Brexit falls apart, Labour will need to set out a fairer plan.

Theresa May asked for a mandate to do things her own way.

She didn’t get it.

On Brexit she cannot keep pretending that the election didn’t happen. “Nothing has changed, nothing has changed” just won’t cut it.

She is still pandering to the fantasies of the free market right who hate the employment rights and environmental standards in Europe so much they want to ditch the customs union and single market even as a transitional deal.

They dream instead of a future made up of free trade deals without safeguards with far away places. A dream that would be a nightmare for our exporters, our importers, our workers and our planet.

The truth is that getting a good Brexit deal that lasts – that builds consensus on jobs and immigration – will be hard work.

And it can’t be done by a narrow Tory cabal.

They need to start being grown up about this and set up a cross party commission charged with building consensus as well as getting us the best possible deal.

And Labour should be part of it. We can’t sit on the sidelines, too much is at stake

Third, we have to do more to heal the Brexit divide – and that means we have to start talking more about towns.

The new divide between cities and towns is already heavily shaping US politics and economics, and is increasingly shaping European politics too.

We saw it in the Brexit vote – city folk who wanted to remain, town folk who wanted to leave.

We saw it in the election. Urban middle classes, diverse city communities, and university students swung to Labour. Working class voters in coalfields and steel towns swung to the Tories.

In the US, the Democrats won in the cities. But Trump won in towns.

2/3 of the seats Labour must win to get a majority are in towns. We will not get a Labour government as a party just of the cities.

Nor is it who we are. Working class communities in our coalfield and industrial towns built the Labour party. We won’t abandon that heritage and those values now.

Throughout our history we’ve drawn together urban intellectuals and the industrial working class, and the different political traditions they often reflect – both liberals and communitarians, internationalists and patriots.

We need to stand up both for those who care most about freedom and diversity, and those who worry most about security or the impact of immigration on cohesion.

But this isn’t just about political values or culture – there is a very real a economic divide that no one is tackling, so little wonder so many townspeople were attracted by the possibility they could “Take back control”.

Towns are being hit harder by austerity as public services shrink back into the cities and hospitals, libraries, swimming pools, and courts all close. Many of them are being harder hit by economic change, their town centres hit harder by Amazon – losing the old jobs as the new ones emerge somewhere else, lacking the investment that crowds into the cities. But they aren’t benefiting from city devolution deals.

Towns are getting a bad deal from the Tories. But many towns don’t yet feel we speak for them – if we want to win their support we need a clear economic plan to get towns a fairer deal on jobs, investment and devolution too.

Fourth, we need to make sure our new politics is inclusive and compassionate.

Across Western democracies we’ve seen new passion and energy in politics itself.

A yearning for change in the face of injustice and austerity. A yearning for bold answers in an age of uncertainty. A yearning to take back control when all seems distant and impersonal.

And all of it on steroids thanks to the empowerment, creativity and networks of social media – spreading ideas fast, giving everyone a voice in public debates, mobilising millions around causes from the WASPI women on Facebook to the Twitter crowds sending birthday wishes to a young boy called Olly who was being bullied at school.

All creating a new, restless, dynamic politics. Challenging old institutions, challenging complacency, demanding change.

It is inspiring. And we’ve seen its strengths. Young people voting like never before. Communities coming together to show solidarity in the face of extremist attacks.

But there’s also a darkness at the edge of the new restless politics and the social media debates.

When passion turns into poison exploited by people like Donald Trump. When anger turns into inchoate rage.

And when the challenge to old institutions and failed traditions is turned instead into the undermining of our democratic rights.

The leader of the free world built his campaign for the Presidency on vitriol and abuse. The aggressive misogyny, the violent language towards Hillary Clinton, the islamophobia, the xenophobia, the hatred.

And he hasn’t stopped since he got into the Oval Office.  Launching personal attacks on Sadiq Khan during the London terror attacks. On women journalists – for breathing and bleeding.

Abuse and vitriol that should be pushed to the margins of political debate. But instead is being pushed right to its heart.

And it is not just the abuse. Mr President is using 140 characters each day to undermine the safeguards in democracy.

Threatening CNN and the rest of the independent media that might hold him to account.

Attacking the independent judiciary that force him to abide by the law.

These aren’t just harmless rants from a sad man in his bedroom.

This is the bully pulpit of the most powerful man on the planet, broadcast direct to millions of people, echoed and amplified by the Breitbarts, the cheerleaders, the echo chambers.

We are treating this as the new normal.

We are forgetting to be disturbed any more.

Outrage? It’s so overblown.

The British prime minister delays condemning the attacks on the London Mayor.

The British foreign secretary applauds Trump Tweets – says they engage people.

So that’s alright then?

We are normalising a level of vitriol and violence in our lives.

Normalising hatred. Undermining the values of democracy.

Here too, we’ve seen the poison targeted at some on social media.

Worse for women. Worse if you are gay. Much worse if you are black, Muslim or Jewish.

Silencing people because of who they are. Escalating hatred and contempt for others. Driving people out of political debate.

In politics, some of the worst and vilest abuse has been targeted at Diane Abbott – who has bravely spoken out against the racism, misogyny and violent threats. For years she has challenged prejudice, smashed through glass ceilings, only in the age of social media to see an escalation of appalling abuse.

Luciana Berger bombarded by antisemitic abuse online and facist threats – powerfully testifying in court while pregnant against the person who harassed and racially abused her before he was sent down for 2 years.

There’s more.

Stella Creasy told “hopefully you will join that woman Cox”

I’ve seen racist vitriol targeting black and Asian Tory MPs too.

And it’s not just those in politics

Even more troubling is when people in all walks of life are targeted with abuse, threats, racism or misogyny just for who they are.

Its why we set up Reclaim the Internet – inspired by Reclaim the Night in the early 80s – to challenge the abuse so every voice can be heard.

And frankly I am sick to death of the vitriol poured out from all sides towards Laura Kuenssberg

It is her job to ask difficult questions. It is her job to be sceptical about everything we say.

Nothing justifies the personal vitriol, or the misogyny. It’s straight out of the Trump playbook.

And as with Trump, it is part of a wider attack on the very institutions we need to sustain our democracy.

Institutions like the BBC which save us from the demagoguery of tyrants or the megaphones of media moguls

Now facing a frenzied level of criticism

From Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox accusing the BBC of lack of patriotism for asking questions on Brexit

From Alex Salmond accusing the BBC of running Scotland down

And from all sides – including many in Labour – for systematic bias.

In a world of fake news, whether we agree with them or not, we need independent, impartial news broadcasting more than ever.

And it’s time we did the unfashionable thing and started defending the BBC.

But here’s the difficult thing we have to face

The attacks, the abuse and the attempts at intimidation don’t just come from the right.

Sometimes our party members and supporters target each other.

Frankly Labour Party members should be united in supporting Luciana not targeting her or trying to intimidate her. Unacceptable always in the Labour party. Utterly shameful against someone who has stood up to facists, someone who is on maternity leave.

Nor is there any excuse for vitriolic abuse against our opponents. During this General Election campaign some Tory women MPs and candidates were targeted with unacceptable personal abuse from the left.

And we’ve seen Labour supporters at rallies holding placards with the severed head of Theresa May.

Maybe it was meant as a joke. It isn’t funny.

I’ve spent 20 years opposing Theresa May. 20 years challenging almost everything she’s done. I feel huge anger at what she is doing to this country. But I never ever want to Labour people mocking up pictures of her head on a stake. I never ever want our party to dehumanise our opponents. That’s what the far right do.

It’s what the Trump cheerleaders did to Hilary Clinton. It’s the normalising of vitriol and hatred that if we let it go on corrupts our democracy, undermines human kindness and respect.

And in the Labour Party we should know. Because we’ve already lost someone to hatred.

Above where we sit in parliament is a coat of arms with suffragette colours, a Labour red rose, and a Yorkshire white rose, a coat of arms for Jo Cox.

Jo who reminded us that we have more in common.

And here’s the thing.

Aggression and hatred towards others isn’t what won us votes in this election. And it isn’t what has won us growing support we’ve seen in the polls since.

Quite the opposite.

What struck people about Jeremy Corbyn when he went to Grenfell Tower was his empathy and compassion.

I believe there is a real appetite now for the politics of kindness and humanity. Jeremy understood that two years ago when he talked about the kinder, gentler politics.

It should be at the heart of what we stand for – as the party that fights against cruel Government policies and injustice. We can fight for our values without vitriol, stand up against bullies wherever we find them. For us anger is the well-spring of change, not of mindless abuse. We can disagree and debate both within our party and without and still show some kindness and respect.

These are the values of democracy. And frankly they are the values we need if we are to pull the country together, build a consensus for the plans and policies we care about, and find a pathway to power for a fairer Britain.

Because it really matters.

Last weekend, while chatting in the street to a man in his early twenties, he told me how optimistic and excited he felt about politics.

Two hours later a man in his late forties with similar politics, similar values, told me how worried and pessimistic he felt.

The older man worried about what the Government was doing, and feared things falling apart. The younger man optimistic at the possibility of change.

The Tories can’t help either of them right now – can’t reassure the pessimists or satisfy the optimists. So we must.

The Tories lost their mandate and sense of purpose.

The country wants change – the Tories can’t deliver it, we must.

The country wants a fair Brexit deal – the Tories can’t deliver it, we must.

The country wants a sense of cohesion, purpose, towns and cities together – Tories can’t deliver it, we must.

And the country wants new politics they can be part of – optimistic, hopeful, Britain at our best.  Labour at our best.


Yvette Cooper MP

Yvette Cooper is chair of the home affairs select committee, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and chair of The Changing Work Centre.


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