I warn you …

Neil Kinnock’s speech in Bridgend, Glamorgan, on 7 June 1983, rates as one of the finest speeches ever made in British politics.

It was two days before the General Election. He scribbled the notes from which he delivered the speech in the car on the way to the rally, and his voice was hoarse from campaigning.   He was elected leader of the Labour Party at the party conference in October 1983, after Labour’s resounding defeat. He went on to transform the party to make it fit for government.

Here is the full text of what he said.

If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment.

I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.

I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.

I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

I warn you that you will have defence of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–

– I warn you not to be ordinary

– I warn you not to be young

– I warn you not to fall ill

– I warn you not to get old.

37 thoughts on “I warn you …”

  1. Ah. You refer to the Sheffield Rally on 1 April 1992 (a date pregnant with resonance), in which Neil Kinnock punched the air and shouted “we are all right” to 10,000 supporters in the Sheffield Arena. At the time, it had no impact on the polls, and reporters who were there said it was a great success, but it has subsequently passed into political folklore that it had appeared too triumphalist and diminished Neil Kinnock’s image as a serious statesman.

    Neil Kinnock said afterwards on the Frost programme:

    The only difference it makes is to scar my memory! Three seconds that I would not repeat had I had another chance.

  2. Well, twenty years have passed so we’re now in a position to judge the accuracy of Kinnock’s rhetoric.

    It seems a bit, err, hyperbolic, no?

    Owen replies: err, no. The only bit that does not look prescient to me is the stuff about not being able to borrow.

  3. Tim

    The benefits of Lawson boom, to its peak in 1989, were not widely shared within the country. They were focused on London and the South East.

    J K Galbraith referred to private affluence and public squalor. With growing inequality, poverty within deprived communities outside London, the erosion of public services – I think Neil Kinnock was prescient in his vision of what would happen to British society.


  4. What’s scary is that under the current administration many of these things are happening :

    “ignorance” – the State education system is a disaster

    “poverty–when pensions slip” – and companies abandon final salary schemes as fast as they can

    “you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system” – no comment.

    “not to go into the streets alone after dark” – a lot of old people on our estates obey this principle.

    “I warn you not to fall ill, I warn you not to get old.” – for the Govenment will send a representative into a courtroom to argue for the State’s right to starve a hospital patient to death, if the doctors consider it to be “in the patients best interests”


    PS I didn’t notice unemployment jumping and people taking less holidays after 1983 – nor do I now.

  5. Pingback: Chicken Yoghurt » At last the 1983 show

  6. Pingback: Pigsaw Blog » Blog Archive » Form over function at Fopp

  7. Hi,I’m a 36 year old ,comitted Labour voter in southern England.As a teenager,raised by working-class grandparents,I saw Neil Kinnock as a ‘ modern-day Aneurin Bevan’-his conference speeches,whilst long-winded,were warm,fulll of humanity.It is the longest regret of my adult life that Neil Kinnock was not elected Prime Minister in 1992-he was decent,courageous,and throroughly deserved to take the ultimate prize-good on you,Neil!

  8. Some years ago when Neil Kinnock was leader of the opposition I accompanied him on a number of calls and meetings with various Commonwealth leaders, and spent a good deal of time with him in the car on the way to and from these calls and back at the office between them, over three or four days.  I can testify from this experience to his remarkable command of the key facts and figures relating to a host of political issues and a rare capacity for switching rapidly in conversation between them;  to his sound, humane and liberal judgement on all of these issues;  to the speed with which he would absorb points made to him (for someone with a well-known tendency to long-windedness unless checked by Glenys, he’s a remarkably good listener, a rare quality among senior politicians);  to his wicked sense of humour;  to his courageous self-knowledge;  and to his charm.   He was terrific company. 

    My respect and admiration for him as a socialist, a politician and a person were reinforced by a number of social contacts with him in subsequent years.  He is now widely and in my view unfairly underrated.   I believe that he would have made an excellent prime minister, perhaps even a great one.   If only….

    PS:  You can still see and hear a clip with scenes from the controversial Sheffield Labour Party rally of 1992 here.  I agree with Kinnock’s (and Owen’s) view that while aspects of it were misjudged (he had not wished for or intended the embarrassing triumphalism of the opening minutes), it had no effect on the result of the election, for which Kinnock was in no way to blame.   

  9. I wish I understood all your fancy words Owen when you repond to more fancy words. I am just a working class mother of 3, not very educated but I really like that speech. It appeals to ordinary people. Unlike the wordy words of academics. Le sigh…

  10. alternativeonlineidentity

    It’s 21st October 2010 – the day after the coalition spending review and those words seem more relevant than ever.

  11. Pingback: If Republicans win tomorrow I warn you « The Conservative Lie

  12. I was actually there that night – it was totally electric, as in your skin pricking with the adrenalin. Sadly, the speech could be delivered today with as much relevance – were there anyone in the Labour Party able to summon half as much oratorical skill.
    Neil, I always supported you and feel we miss the voices of the ‘Old Hands’ now.

  13. It was powerful, it was timely but it was utterly of its time. The very saddest thing is its redolence now, almost 30 years later! We, the electorate, the supposedely empowered, have been buffered and lied to for at least 2 generations! There need have been no “New Labour”, who were after all just tories with a different coloured tie, which Mr Kinnock ushered in, we should have NEVER sold off social housing, totally divisive, we should have BLOODY IINSISTED ON BEING ORDINARY! Bloody insisted that some are weaker than others and bloody insisted that that was not their fault, the stronger are here to protect them! PLEASE! The TUC did a wonderful thing in March, the Nurses did a wonderful thing today (voted no confidence in Andrew Lansley and his bill). WAKE UP, WE NEED YOU! See Coalition of Resistance site and PLEASE HELP!

  14. Pingback: Going, going … | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

  15. I have to say I stumbled across this page by accident.  I was looking up Kinnock’s speech to 1985 Labour conference about the militant tendency.  An incredible speech too.  I can’t recall any moments like that, since.  On the ‘I warn you’ speech, perhaps he should have depersonalised it and said ‘Conservatives’ instead of Margaret Thatcher.  His loathing of a particular politician and everything she stood for, perhaps spoiled it.  It was a great bit of rhetoric of which few politicians now are capable of.  But I remember feeling at the time that it somehow didn’t feel right.  It didn’t chime with the times.  In spite of everything, many people, not all by any means were quite upbeat throughout the 1980’s.  They were still prepared to accept Margaret Thatcher’s medicine, particularly after her victory in the Falklands

  16. Today, both the Commons and the Lords voted to allow David Cameron to carve up the NHS and give the pieces to all his friends.

    A moment ago, I tweeted a link to this page. Neil Kinnock’s ‘I warn you’ speech is nearly 29 years old, but right now it seems remarkably prescient.

  17. Thanks for this Owen. I remember is more and more every day of this appalling ConDem coalition, and was looking for a transcript so I can quote it accurately.
    I was 23 in 1983 and had to combat unemployment then, but I was young, healthy and reasonably well educated.
    I’m 53 now and seriously scared about the kind of country I am going to grow old in.

  18. I remember listening to this in the early 80s after I’d moved from north to south.  Moved from trawlers laid up in Grimbsy, steel mills shut in Scunthorpe and the miners strike in full flow to the rat race mentality of thatcher’s south east.  One thing I will thank her for is giving me a passion for social justice.
    This speech inspired me then and how prophetic and apt it seems for today.

  19. Pingback: I WARN YOU | victedy

  20. lynn charlton blore

    Neil Kinnock had a passionate inspiring flair he was brilliant as a debater and sitting in opposition, but his broad Welsh accent was unappealing to many southerners who are often swayed by dialects, racist and class distinctions and his voice was beautifully working class despite his silver tongued eloquence. The emotion was unsettling and ill fitting amongst the old speech impeding Etonians- its a great shame Kinnock’s popularity waned as it did…today he would have made minced meat out of the namby pambies that stand for the labour leadership today. The labour party were warned about Milliband…they were stupid. Blair was a plastic evangelizing prince and a liar who seemed to have double agent for the tories…no body seems to car anymore or have authenticity and grit. No more lies…represent the people particularly the underclasses, and the most vulnerable..tax the rich screw the bankers and get rid of Nuclear.
    The non voters are not lazy they are disenchanted and I am one of many.



  21. Wasn’t it Tony Blair that made Labour fit for government (at the very least, electable, something that Labour seems to have disdained of late).

    1. We voted for Blair because he was not Maggie or Major.  We thought he would stand firm to Labour’s principles because we did not know then what we know now – that he was nothing more than a Tory wolf in Labour sheeps’ clothing.  When Blair was elected prime minister, we had had 18 years of Tory misrule, the demolition of Unions, the breaking up of public services, selling off social (council) housing and the utter destruction of communities across 2/3rds of the country.

      Maggie started the rot, Blair failed to treat it.  We are still trying to repair the damage done by it.


  22. Pingback: General Election 2015: Dear UK, We’re F***ed | Notes from Self

  23. I love this speech – I remember well hearing it on the news at the time – even though I was only 13 – those were the days when teenagers were actually political aware!   Years later I was interning for a Labour MEP (just before John Smith died) when Walworth Road were just starting to disown the term ‘socialism’.  I found a typed copy of this speech in the constituency office (and kept it – still have it somewhere).  It made me cry in frustration then (that the party I belonged to was moving away from my ideals), and it makes me weep with sorrow now that nobody bloody listened.

    Somebody made the comment that he should have referred to Conservatives rather than Margaret Thatcher.  In 1983 it was ALL about Maggie – we didn’t shout ‘Tories Tories Tories Out Out Out’ did we?!    Yeah for sure we hated some of the others too, but the real passion was reserved for her and her alone.

    So now the Labour Party have an opportunity to vote another rarity that is the honorable socialist politician.  I really hope they do, and if they don’t I think that the party should change it’s name – it would be more honest.

  24. I was searching for the quote “Don’t get old, don’t get sick” as I knew it existed but not who said it, and Google threw up this site.

    I was a primary school teacher during the 1980s and well remember the the turmoil caused in education by the political interference of Thatcher’s government. The Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker was probaly the most hated individual in education, possibly eclipsed by Michael Gove, because of the government’s education policies which essentially instructed teachers how and what to teach. Would they have tried to tell a civil engineer how to build bridges? Had they done so, how many bridges would have collapsed? Likewise, this attitude has led to the parlous state of education today, but the rot started during Thatcher’s time in government.

    I’m now a pensioner with a disability as a result of an accident more than 50 years ago and can testify that Neil Kinnock was prophetic in that speech. I’m now old and sick and fear for the future, not so much for myself but for my son and his generation and his children.

    Having read Kinnock’s speech again I think it is as apposite today as it was in 1983. Basically, never trust the Tories to control a state education or or health service. We shouldn’t really be surprised, after all their name comes from the old Irish word tóraidhe, meaning an outlaw or highwayman.

  25. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, fuelled by anger at the present which Kinnock here foretold, Kinnock got it right. In the present of a wrecked Bridgend, with the highest suicide rate in the UK, factories closed, and the life of the city centre shops sucked out by designer outlets by the M4 in McArthur Glen , Kinnock got it right. And in the future of the unequal society whose inequalities can now be shown by economists to begin in 1983, Kinnock got it right.  Time to re-build; time to re-group; time to build a new Jerusalem as the post war government did. And time to have a proper, red-blooded opposition that is more than just a Corbynista protest group. We need an Opposition who wants to win, can win, will win. Time for a re-born Labour and Lib Dems.  Time to build a real future of the people, for the people and by the people.

  26. Whatever you think of Kinnock and his policies he was always a great talker. I remember as a 14 or 15 year old growing up in South Wales, Kinnock was one of the only politicians who could get this disinterested, disengaged teenager to look at the TV when there was a suggestion of politics being discussed.

    Not a trait I’ve since noticed in his son?

  27. We are on the threshold of GE 2019 and Neil Kinnock’s words resonate still. I have watched TV programmes where old men have stated that they’ll vote for Boris and then concede that their parents would probably turn in their grave
    How did people come to pin all their hopes on a better life after we Leave EU?
    Have they any sense of history that might make them fear the future?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *