Sadiq Khan MP speech to Labour Conference 2014

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Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, in a speech to Labour's Annual Conference 2014 in Manchester, said:

 

Conference, when I grew up in south London in the 1980s, the Tories were wreaking havoc on our country. Not caring about discrimination and injustice. A bit like now, you might say. People like me judged on whether we passed Norman Tebbit’s cricket test.

 

If I didn’t support England at cricket I was treated as an outsider. For a Muslim son of Pakistani immigrants it was a hostile time.

 

But things changed.

 

I saw that it didn’t have to be like this. Role models appeared that looked and sounded like me. Labour MPs - Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz – leading the way.

 

And because of Labour school governors and a Labour education authority, one of the country’s first Asian heads was appointed to my school. Naz Bokhari.

 

He transformed the school. He became my role model and mentor. Helping me realise your skin colour or background wasn’t a barrier to making something with your life.

 

Thanks to the Labour Party, I saw politics could make a difference.  Change was possible if there was political will.

 

Conference, that is why I joined the Labour Party.

 

A wonderful local member called Bert Luthers, himself an immigrant from Guyana, and the first ethnic minority councillor in Tooting, took me under his wing.

 

Starting small, delivering leaflets, going to party meetings. You know how it works. Next thing I know, I’m standing for the local council.

 

And before you know it – and I’m fast forwarding a bit – I’m stood here today as your Shadow Justice Secretary.

 

Me, the son of Pakistani immigrants, from a council estate in south London. Because of Labour, anything is possible.

 

That same burning desire to fight for justice led me to be a human rights lawyer. Taking on tough cases.  Bullying, deaths in custody, and standing up for workers’ rights. Lives turned upside down and families ripped apart because of injustice. Defending people’s dignity, and righting wrongs.

 

And, yes, transforming lives because of Labour’s Human Rights Act.

 

That’s why I’m so appalled by Tory plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and walk away from the European Convention of Human Rights.

 

They want to strip people of their rights and make our justice system the preserve of the rich. Tories rubbing their hands at the prospect of governments free to ride roughshod over the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable.

 

Enlightened Tories who get this, like Dominic Grieve, have been sacked.  Forgetting that without enlightened Tories like Winston Churchill, Europe wouldn’t have the human rights we have today.

 

If Churchill were a minister today, David Cameron would have sacked him for his views on human rights. Showing how you can’t trust the Tories to protect people’s rights.

 

So Conference, our first battle is stopping the Tories in their tracks.

 

Yes, let’s get the European Court working better.

 

But I say to you Mr Cameron, we’ll stop you stripping the British people of their rights.

 

We’ll block attempts to abolish the Human Rights Act – Labour’s Human Rights Act.

 

We won’t stand by while you block access to justice for the vulnerable.  And we won’t walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

But we need to recognise the rights of people who’ve been neglected for too long – victims.

 

Rotherham and Rochdale are seared into the public’s conscience.

 

Hundreds of girls – some as young as 12 – abducted, raped and trafficked. Yet disbelieved or ignored by the police and the authorities.

 

This must never be repeated.

 

Labour will act.

 

We will bring in the country’s first ever victims’ law.

 

Transforming the culture in the police and in our courts. Giving a voice to the most vulnerable. And we’ll do all we can to stop people becoming victims in the first place. Punishing criminals but reforming them too.

 

But we’ll have to pick up the pieces of the Government’s almighty mess.

 

Prisons in crisis, courts in chaos and probation in meltdown. Dangerous offenders absconding on a weekly basis. Report after report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons painting a picture of a system on the edge of collapse.

 

And what does Chris Grayling, the man whose job I want think about all this?

 

The man who thinks the Magna Carta is a bottle of champagne? Chris Grayling thinks all is hunky dory. Ignoring the surging violence, deaths and overcrowding in prison. Turning his back on morale, hitting rock bottom in probation.

 

98 per cent of probation staff said they have no confidence in Chris Grayling. 98 per cent.

 

Utterly shocking.

 

The real question is; who are the two per cent who do have confidence in him?

 

And conference, last week Scotland showed there is an appetite for politics.

 

Faced with a massive choice over their future, millions of Scottish people flocked to polling stations. Many voting for the very first time. I’ll never forget the first time I voted. The importance of voting instilled in me by my parents. Because they’d been denied the vote back in Pakistan.

 

The thrill of walking with my parents to the polling station for the first time, putting a cross against the Labour candidate’s name.

 

That thrill has never left me.

 

Queues at polling stations across Scotland showed it isn’t just me that gets the thrill. 

 

So writing off the British people’s interest in politics is foolish. They are interested and engaged. But I get that they feel frustrated and powerless. Vested interests go unchallenged and nothing changes.

 

Westminster has become a dirty word.

 

We ignore this at our peril. That’s why Labour will overhaul our democracy. Making it as easy as possible for people to vote. Transforming elections so that voting is in tune with the busy lives people lead.

 

Holding elections at weekends to raise turnout. Polling opened a week in advance to allow early voting. Electronic voting, making sure it’s affordable and isn’t open to abuse.

 

Seeing 16 and 17 year olds vote last week in their thousands was inspiring. Fuelled by schools and colleges holding mock elections and debates. Conference, votes for 16 and 17 year olds is an idea whose time has come.

 

We’ve committed to lowering the voting age.

 

But I challenge the Government.

 

Why wait? We'll work with you. Let’s legislate now. And let's get 16 and 17 year olds voting in the next general election.

  

But democracy is more than just voting. People should play a part in the way the country is run at all times.

 

Civic society, community groups, charities and trade unions playing a genuine and vibrant role. Unlike this Government, we won’t gag them.

 

And we'll repeal their wretched Lobby Act.

 

We’ll also extend Labour’s freedom of information law. Giving people a legal right to know how their money is being spent when private companies deliver public services.

 

G4S, Serco, Capita, ATOS and others subjected to the same openness we demand of the public sector.

 

Scotland’s vote made clear running the country in a centralised way is no longer tolerated in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

 

But nor is it in Cardiff, Cornwall or Coventry.

 

Our country is changing. The way our country is run needs to change too. Decisions made closer to the people. Every corner of this great nation represented fairly.

 

Politicians looking and sounding like the communities they represent.

 

Labour’s ambitions match this demand for change. Devolution in England. An elected senate of the nations and regions. Recall of MPs.

 

But this is not enough.

 

People want change, and that change must come from, and involve the people. Because change can’t be imposed by Westminster.

 

We need to bring together civic society, members of the public, community groups and faith communities. Looking at how people have more power to hold their politicians to account. How the nations and regions take on more responsibility.

 

So that every single person knows where they stand, and fully grasp their rights and responsibilities. Bringing people’s rights up to the standards taken for granted by people in other countries.

 

With the Magna Carta celebrating its 800th birthday next year, there is no better way to celebrate than a national conversation on the common principles binding us together as a nation. 

 

What we don’t need is the Tories petty and rushed announcement.

 

Asking a failed Tory leader – William Hague – to rewrite our constitution, behind closed doors, in distant Westminster, all done in a matter of weeks.

 

That is a stitch up.

 

It won’t wash with the British public.

 

That’s why we need a radical new approach, and why a constitutional convention is such an exciting prospect. But that’s also why the Westminster vested interests hate it. Because it is putting power in the hands of the people.

 

We, Labour, should not be afraid.

 

This is something to champion and be proud of.

 

Conference, four years ago here in Manchester we saw Ed Miliband elected as leader of our party.

 

He told us that we are at our best when we are restless reformers. Ed stood on this stage and sent out a clear message that a new generation had taken charge of Labour. A generation optimistic about the power of politics to change the lives of millions.

 

And yesterday he told us of his bold and radical plan for Britain.

 

Showing why we were right to put our faith in him as the leader of our party. 

 

And together we have shown the country this week that Labour has the plans for the future of our country. A vision of a better, fairer Britain that people can invest and believe in.

 

For the many, not the few.

 

Standing up for ordinary people.

 

Rooting out injustice.

 

That’s why I’m Labour, and Labour is the right choice for the country in May 2015.

 

Thank you.

 

Ends

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