In today’s conference speech, reported in press around the world this morning as crucial to the Prime Minister’s survival, Gordon Brown barely mentioned the Conservative Party until he approached the end.
Brown’s attack began as to much applause he claimed as Labour achievements such progress as giving working men and women the vote: "Every single blow we have struck for fairness and for the future has been bitterly opposed by the Conservative Party". In fact, it was a Conservative government under Benjamin Disraeli which extended the vote to working men in 1867 -decades before the Labour Party was formed. It was also a Liberal/Conservative National Government that gave women over the age of 30 the vote in 1918 and a Conservative government under Stanley Baldwin that in 1928 established an equal voting age of 21 for men and women.
On the economy, Brown said angrily that the Conservatives were wrong, in the ongoing crisis, to have opposed nationalisation of Northern Rock and to oppose the ban on short-selling: "What has become clear is that Britain cannot trust the Conservatives to run the economy".
Brown mentioned David Cameron only once by name, but referred to a smart "Conservative leaders’ team" with a plan that they are implementing "ruthlessly": give the appearance of having changed as a party and conceal with they really think. Brown compared them to the salesman who won’t tell you what he’s selling because if he did no one would want to buy it. After giving his list of Conservative proposals, Brown concluded that Tories had "changed their tune but haven’t changed their minds". He went on to deny that Britain’s society was broken – "by anyone or anything".
The full text of Brown’s attack on the Conservatives:
You know our party so often in its history has been home to the big ideas – ideas later taken for granted, but revolutionary in their time. Just think, the vote for working men, and then for women, the NHS, legal protection from race or sex discrimination. These are no longer just Labour policies, they are established British values – they are the common sense of our age.
And we should never forget one thing – that every single blow we have struck for fairness and for the future has been opposed by the Conservatives.
And just think where our country would be if we’d listened to them. No paternity leave, no New Deal, no bank of England independence, no Sure Start, no devolution, no civil partnerships, no minimum wage, no new investment in the NHS, no new nurses, no new police, no new schools.
And so let’s hear no more from the Conservatives – we did fix the roof while the sun was shining.
And just think if we’d taken their advice on the global financial crisis. Their policy was to let northern rock fold and imperil the whole financial system, our Labour government saved northern rock so not a single UK depositor lost out.
Their policy said, in this week of all weeks, that speculative short selling should continue. We acted decisively to end reckless speculation.
And the conservative policy would mean that at this very moment, there would be no regulation at all to protect homeowners. We are the party of protecting of homeowners rights.
Do you know what their Shadow Chancellor really said? In the week that banks were collapsing the man who wants to run our economy not only said: this is not a problem caused by the financial markets but went on to say and, I quote, "that it’s a function of financial markets that people make loads of money out of the misery of others."
Just imagine where we’d be if they’d been in a position to implement their beliefs – no rescue of Northern Rock, no action on speculation, no protection for mortgages, doing nothing to stop banks going under.
What has become clear is that Britain cannot trust the Conservatives to run the economy.
Everyone knows that I’m all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice.
But I believe in giving credit where it’s due. The Conservative leader’s team are smart – they’ve got a plan, and they are implementing it ruthlessly.
Their strategy is to change their appearance, to give the appearance of change, and to conceal what they really think.
And when salesmen won’t tell you what they are selling, it’s because they are selling something no-one should buy.
But I’m a man for detail and I’ve discovered some clues about what would be in store in a Conservative Britain.
They want us to believe that, like us, they now care about public services. But when Mr Cameron actually talks to his party about their spending plans he says the difference between Labour and Tory levels of public investment will be "dramatic" and "fundamental".
They want to tell us we’re all progressives now but the day that Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint were announcing a one billion pound package to support millions of homeowners, the Conservatives were confirming that their first tax priority is to take that one billion pounds from hard working families and hand it over to the 3,000 richest estates in Britain.
And they want to tell us they now believe in investing in education, but they are committed to slashing 4.5 billion from the schools building programme, axing the educational maintenance allowances that help poorer students stay on and opposing the raising the education leaving age to eighteen and stopping training programmes. And yes friends, they would even take away Sure Start from infants and their parents. One of our greatest gifts to the future – one of the first priorities for Tory cuts.
The Conservatives may want to represent the future, but whether its Europe or energy, planning or tax credits, university places or 42 days, whenever they are tested on substance they have nothing to offer to meet the big challenges of tomorrow, because they are prisoners of their past.
If you look beneath the surface, you’ll see that the Conservatives might have changed their tune, but they haven’t changed their minds.
The Conservatives say our country is broken – but this country has never been broken by anyone or anything. This country wasn’t broken by fascism, by the cold war, by terrorists.
Of course there are problems, but this is a country being lifted up every day by the people who love it.