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FactCheck: Brown's conference speech 2009

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 29 September 2009

Did Gordon Brown get his facts straight in his final conference speech before the general election?

Gordon Brown at conference (Reuters)

The claim

"There is now a stronger case than ever that MPs should be elected with the support of more than half their voters - as they would be under the Alternative Voting system. So I can announce today that in Labour's next manifesto there will be a commitment for a referendum to be held early in the next Parliament it will be for the people to decide whether they want to move to the alternative vote."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, speech to Labour conference, 29 September 2009

The analysis

Is there a stronger case now than back in 1998, when the Jenkins Commission recommended a form of Alternative Voting (AV+)? Although Blair expressed support for the proposal, it was never put into effect. Brown was among ministers reported to be against proportional representation.

"I've always said that I remain to be convinced about PR for the House of Commons," he told Radio Five Live in September 1998. "I think what people have said about the House of Commons, and Tony Blair has said it himself, is that he remains to be convinced because the link between an MP and the constituency - when you are drawing from that Parliament a government - is very important indeed."

And when Brown talks manifesto commitments and electoral reform, it would be remiss of us not to note Labour's broken promise from 1997. Pre-election, they promised to find an alternative to first-past-the-post, saying in the manifesto that they were "committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons."

But Labour won a landslide and the referendum never happened, much to the annoyance of the Lib Dems.

The sources
Labour Party 1997 manifesto

The claim

"In the next five years we cannot and will not cut support to our schools. We will not invest less, but more."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, speech to Labour conference, 29 September 2009

The analysis

Has Brown told his schools secretary? Last weekend, Ed Balls grabbed headlines with talk of £2bn savings in the form of cuts to senior school staff such as headteachers, education quangos and teachers' pay restraint. Balls did say he wanted small, real-terms rises in frontline schools spending overall; teaching unions countered by saying they considered headteachers to be frontline staff.

According to the Budget, investment spending on the whole children, schools and families department will fall next year from £7.2bn to £6.8bn (we won't get a breakdown of spending within this until the next comprehensive spending review). And in total, let's not forget that investment spending is set to halve in cash terms from £44bn this year to £22bn in 2013-14.

The sources
Budget 2009
The Telegraph: Ed Balls sets out £2bn of schools cuts

The claim

"And then we faced the mortgage choice - to do nothing as repossessions rose or save the family homes people have worked so hard to buy. 200,000 homeowners have been given direct government support to stay in their home."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, speech to Labour conference, 29 September 2009

The analysis

We looked at this in detail two months ago, when Brown claimed to be helping a quarter of a million people stay in their homes. We found the claim to be true, but the majority of the people getting government financial help had been doing so since long before the recession.

The sources
FactCheck: help for homeowners

The claim

"[The Conservatives] want to cut inheritance tax for the 3,000 wealthiest estates, so that means even less money for frontline services."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, speech to Labour conference, 29 September 2009

The analysis

The Tories say their commitment to raise the threshold at which people are liable for inheritance tax is fully funded - by a proposed flat tax on non-doms. We haven't been able to stand up whether the tax would in fact bring in the required cash - there are too many question marks about how many non-doms there are in the UK, let alone how these wealthy foreign residents would behave if hit with the new levy. This doesn't necessarily prove that the Tories have got their sums wrong, though - it's a case of "don't know" rather than a tick for Brown.

The sources
FactCheck: do Tory tax cuts add up?

The claim

"And so conference, I can say to you today, in the next Parliament there will be no compulsory ID cards for British citizens."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, speech to Labour conference, 29 September 2009

The analysis

He can indeed say that to conference today. He could also have said it two months ago, when Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced plans to make ID cards compulsory for some airport workers and pilots were being dropped, meaning only foreign nationals living and working in the UK will have to have the cards.

The sources
Climbdown on compulsory ID cards

The claim

"Let no one be in any doubt: as a result of Labour's economic management, Britain started the downturn with the second lowest debt of any G7 economy."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, speech to Labour conference, 29 September 2009

The analysis

In 2007, the UK had the second lowest - not the lowest - debt in the G7. Only Canada was better off.

However, if you compare us to the 30-strong OECD countries, it's not half as rosy. Eighteen countries were less indebted, 13 of which, including the likes of Ireland, Sweden, Norway and Australia, were running a surplus.

Brown doesn't mention it here, but we also entered the downturn running a higher structural budget deficit (the short-term books were deeply in the red, meaning debt was set to rise).

And how much of a pat on the back Labour deserves for this is debatable: respected independent think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out that the UK had done "less to reduce our debt than most other industrial countries since Labour came to office".

The sources
IFS briefing note

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