Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons am 1:46 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown Llafur, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 1:46, 26 Mawrth 2015

I wish to start by thanking all those who have helped me during my time as a Member of Parliament. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your stewardship of this House, your dedication to our parliamentary democracy and your unfailing courtesy to all sides, even when provoked. It is customary, of course, for the new Speaker to give up his previous party when he becomes Speaker. You, of course, had given up your previous party long before that.

Let me also thank the staff of the House: the Clerks, the cleaners, the catering staff, the librarians and the doorkeepers for their non-partisan and always unselfish support. Let me thank my colleagues on the Labour Benches, who have been so brilliant to work with and to work alongside. Their wisdom and friendship have sustained my family and me at times of personal loss. Let me also thank all colleagues, especially those who leave the House today, for their outstanding contribution to what we are right to believe is the greatest democracy in the world. Most of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to my constituents who sent me here and who accorded me the privilege of trust and service more than 32 years ago, in which time I have always tried to represent their needs and aspirations.

When I first stood for Parliament in 1983, I asked constituents to elect me as a candidate of youth and fresh ideas. I had to change tack in 2010 to ask them to elect me as a candidate of maturity and experience.

When I first arrived here in 1983, I was so unknown, so patently here just to make up the numbers and so clearly forgettable that The Times confused me with one of the many other Browns in this Parliament—there were as many MPs named Brown as there were Liberals or Social Democrat MPs. That may never happen again. The newspaper published a photo of me when I was a student, but then said that I had been born in 1926. In each successive newspaper in London, the error was repeated—not so much the power of the press, but the power of the press cutting. I was labelled as “elderly”,

“veteran” and “old Labour stalwart” —definitely old Labour—with the result that, a few days later, I received a letter from a pension company saying that I had joined a new job late in life and would want to make provision for an early retirement.

Now, 32 years on, it is for others to judge what has been achieved between then and now. Today, it is not my constituents, Scotland or public service that I am leaving, but Westminster in London. I leave to live full time in the place in which I grew up and in which my children will grow up and complete their schooling. I leave this House feeling not just a huge amount of gratitude, but some concern. As Sir George Young said, the UK is fragile, at risk and potentially at a point of departure. Countries at their best, their strongest and their truest are more than places on the map and a demarcation of borders. Great countries stand on shared foundations. They are guided by unifying ideals. They move forward in common purpose, and so it must be in Britain.

Whatever the future, in the constitutional revolution that is now under way I will fight and fight and fight again to renew and reconstruct for a new age the idea of Britain, based around shared values that can bring us together and advance a common Britishness, with a shared belief in tolerance, liberty and fairness that comes alive in unique British institutions such as the national health service and in common policies for social justice.

It is because I believe in Britain’s future that I am saddened—I am sorry to have to say this—that for the first and only time in 300 years of the Union, it has become official Government policy to create two classes of elected representatives in this House: a first class who will vote on all issues, and a second class who will vote on only some. That mimics the nationalists by driving a wedge between Scotland and England, and is meant only to head off opposition from the extremists with a direct nationalist appeal to the English electorate. It is not so much English votes for English laws as English laws for English votes. I ask this House to remember that our greatest successes as a country have come not when we have been divided and when we have turned inwards, but when we have confidently looked outwards and thought globally, our eyes fixed on the wider world and the future.

With the unwinding of what is called the pax Americana and in the wake of the recent retreat from global co-operation, we have today no climate change treaty, no world trade treaty and no global financial standards. We must recapture what now seems a distant memory—the heightened global co-operation of the past, which Britain led. We must never allow ourselves to become spectators and watchers on the shore when the world needs us in Europe and beyond to lead and champion global action to deal with problems from poverty and pollution to proliferation and protectionism.

This is about more than economics. Over 30 years, I, like most people on this side and on both sides of the House, have condemned the discrimination and prejudices of the past, which should now be consigned for ever to that past. I welcome the new freedoms, the new rights for equality and the anti-discrimination laws we have enacted and embraced. All societies need a moral energy that can inspire individuals to self-sacrificial acts of public service that come alive out of mutual respect and obligation. Yes, the predominant feeling in our country is an anger at elites that I can see in people’s eyes and hear in their voices. Yes, too, of the many social changes I have witnessed in 30 years, one of the most dramatic has been the fall in religious observance, but I also sense that the British people are better than leaders often presume. They are ready to respond to a vision of a country that is more caring, less selfish, more compassionate and less cynical than the “me too, me first, me now, me above all—me whatever” manifestos.

I sense that there are millions of us who feel, however distantly, the pain of others today; who believe in something bigger than ourselves; who cannot easily feast when our fellow citizens go hungry to food banks; who cannot feel at ease when our neighbours, in hock to payday lenders, are ill at ease; who cannot be fully content with poverty pay and zero-hours contracts when around us there is so much discontent. I repeat that it is not anti-wealth to say that the wealthy must do more to help those who are not wealthy; it is not anti-enterprise to say that the enterprising must do more to meet the aspirations of those who have never had the chance to show that they too are enterprising; and it is not anti-market to say that markets need morals to underpin their success. For this, and for showing me when I was young that when the strong help the weak, it makes us all stronger, I will always be grateful to my parents, who taught me these values of justice; to my party, which taught me how to fight for justice; and to my constituents, who taught me every day the rightness of justice.

We must never forget that politics at its best imbues people with hope. In 1886, Tennyson wrote one of his last poems, “Locksley Hall”, with its pessimistic refrain:

“Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell when all will end?”

The then Prime Minister, Gladstone, was moved to remind Tennyson that in his first poem of that title he had said:

“When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;

Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.”