There is so much to say in this debate: so much ground to cover. But in fact, I did not want the first word today, so I sat down with one of my colleagues who I felt should kick off today’s debate.
Our Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.
And of course, yesterday, John declared that parts of the Bank of England will be coming here to Birmingham. So, John, I look forward to the day when you have to get on the train to see the Governor of the Bank of England and get off here in New Street to meet her.
Friends, it was 56 years ago, that Harold Wilson said "The Labour Party is a moral crusade, or it is nothing". That’s the starting point for today’s debate.
John’s question was: what kind of economy do we want?
It is not the economy we have today
Because you know the truth is, these last few years have been good for some:
- The number of Britain’s billionaires has almost doubled since 2012
- As of last night, the stock market is up by an incredible £672.8 billion since 2010
- The property market is up 34%
These have been good years for some.
Yet the people we serve have faced the Devil’s Decade:
- The number of children living in poverty is now 4 million - up 100,000 in the last year alone
- The number of people going hungry has risen - the Trussell Trust tells me 52,000 people needed food parcels in just the last 6 months
- The number sleeping rough on the pavements has risen up and up and up
- Hunger, homelessness, debt - they seem out of control
Many of you won’t have heard of Paul Williams
He had, said his brother, a heart of gold, always thinking of others before himself. But Paul had been sleeping rough. And on the Sunday, before Christmas, half a mile from here, outside the Bullring, he was found cold and unresponsive.
He had frozen to death on the streets of Britain’s second city in the world’s fifth richest economy.
Friends, it takes a special sort of muddle, of malice, of moral failure, to craft an economy where corporate bank accounts are full and children's tummies are empty.
Where in the city of London, the streets may once again be paved with gold, but where our fellow citizens are making a bed and sometimes their death bed on our pavements.
I tell you conference, this Tory economy is an immoral economy - and it will fall to our Labour government to sweep it away.
We will build the good economy - and we should start that task here in the West Midlands.
An economy where we restore, once more, the promise of good working class jobs, that reconnect people with a share of the national good.
Where we build houses that are homes and not one more class of speculative instrument.
So to start this debate, I want to set out the five point plan I discussed for our region with John.
Britain in a Customs Union with our closer market, the European Union
As Jeremy said on Monday, when a Mini crosses the border four times before its ready, we need the friction-free border a Customs Union will bring - safeguarding the 47,000 jobs in the car industry and hundreds more in our supply chain.
Only Labour will deliver the best Brexit for manufacturing.
We have to mobilise investment that will make us the workshop of the world once more.
That’s why we need a National Investment Bank, and Regional Investment Banks, to mobilise £50 billion a year - £25 billion through public capital investment, with £25 billion more from the Bank, each year, for every year, for ten years.
That is the way we revolutionise our infrastructure: for roads, rail, air; green cooperatively-powered energy, and digital.
We need a skills revolution and that is what the National Education Service will bring.
Today, our technical education system is in meltdown:
- The number of higher level apprenticeships has almost halved in the last year alone.
- Schools face cuts worth millions
- Students face debts that haunt them for life.
So we offer a different way: we will safeguard our schools, transform further education - and end tuition fees once and for all
We will offer an Industrial Strategy - led by a national sense of purpose, and a global sense of mission.
First to ensure that we de-carbonise our energy system.
And second, to create an innovation nation with the greatest proportion of high-skilled jobs in the OECD, and 3% of our GDP spent on Research and Development by 2030, transforming the funds available for science
On Housing, a New Deal that wills at least a million new homes built over the next Parliament, with at least 100,000 genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy a year, offered by the final year of the next Parliament.
A better Brexit. Transformed investment. A skills revolution. An Industrial Strategy for the 21st century. Houses for homes, not speculation.
Think of the difference this could make.
Conference, what I propose today is nothing more the Labour promise and what we need to debate is not just a set of promises, but a set of challenges.
So, let’s create the group John has called for to talk about our preparations for a future Labour government,
What we can do now with collaborative councils after this year’s elections,
What are our priorities for the National Investment Bank, and its regional arm? How do we need the bank set up?
What are our priorities for skills? Who needs what skills, where and in what sectors?
Where do we need research funding to unlock the possibilities of science, and bring our great universities, colleges, businesses together?
We are the home of the Industrial Revolution: Dudley was the home of the first modern steam engine, Handsworth the home of the first modern factory, Bournville the home of the first great industrial village.
How does this region, of Boulton, and Watt, and Cadbury and Herbert Austin help turn a country that was the superpower of the steam age, into the great power of the cyber age?
And how, with the new wealth that we can create, do we renew the communities of homes for working people; working people who don’t want to be priced out by speculators - but who want communities in which to relax and enjoy the good life they have earned.
These are plans that should inform the work of our councils, inspire the work of our activists and earn the support of our voters
Now: As some of you know, my Labour hero is the practical idealist of Clem Attlee: the man with the best haircut in Labour history.
On the eve of our victory in 1945 he made one last appeal to the country:
"We call you," he said, "to another great adventure. The adventure of civilisation, where all may live free, free from the fear of want"
Let’s rediscover that radical tradition and offer this region not just our anger, but our analysis
Not just our principles, but a plan that will change peoples lives for ever.