Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon George Osborne MP, to the Board of Deputies of British Jews 250th anniversary dinner

Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon George Osborne

Chief Rabbi, Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen - good evening.

And thank you Lawrence for the very kind introduction.

Let me start by saying that it is a huge pleasure to be here tonight to address such a distinguished audience on such a special occasion.

In every walk of life and across every aspect of our civil society, from business to charity, from the arts to the sciences, I can see many people here who have made a massive contribution to British life.

I am delighted to be your guest.

I asked a friend of mine what to expect tonight and he said 500 people, 600 opinions and 700 cars. I told him that this sounded exactly like the Coalition Government.

And it is also a great pleasure to speak tonight alongside Tony Blair.

I think this is the first time we have shared a joint platform since we last appeared together at a ‘who does Gordon Brown like least’ competition.

I am sure everyone here is really looking forward to hearing Tony speak. His will be a great speech, full of humour, drama and insight.

And you can buy a signed copy in the foyer afterwards.

When he was Prime Minister, of course we had our differences. I wanted to win an election. He made sure I kept losing them.

But he is a dedicated servant of our country, who has taken hard decisions to promote liberty and democracy around the globe and I pay tribute to him and his achievements.

Let me also pay tribute to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on this its 250th Anniversary year.

For centuries the Board has fought against the prejudice, ignorance and discrimination so often faced by British Jews.

Over that time, you have helped your community become a vibrant, generous and fully integrated part of our society today.

You represent the views and defend the rights of the Anglo-Jewish community.

The Board of Deputies does a tremendous job, and I applaud you for it.

Tonight  we meet together in celebration of your work.

But we celebrate more than that. We celebrate our united determination to advance the causes of freedom, of enterprise and of community.

First, freedom.

In this room, there are many of you, perhaps most of you, with family stories to tell that give testimony to the value of freedom.

Stories of family members murdered, of property stolen, of whole communities wiped out by those who are the enemies of freedom.

There are very few Jews, anywhere in the world, whose lives, through their families, haven’t been touched by the politics of totalitarians and the crimes of dictators.

This country’s proudest boast is that here, in Britain, in our land, refugees found a home. Here they lived in peace. Here they rebuilt  their lives.

Because here we live in freedom.

For me freedom is the most important guiding principle of any moral or political outlook.

In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt spoke of his belief in four freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

This belief guided him and his great country through a terrible war. They should guide us still.

When I say this I know that I am today among friends, among those willing to engage in the hard arguments and the controversies necessary to ensure that these freedoms are enjoyed across the globe and extended to those who are denied them.

For you, in different times in history and in different places in the world, the quest for freedom has defined the Jewish faith.

But I find it deeply upsetting that still after all that we have been through anti-Semitism has not been eradicated across Britain and Europe.

While anti-Semites daub gravestones and attack Jews in the street we do not have freedom of worship.

I have friends who send their children to school behind big fences and security guards just because they choose to send their children to Jewish schools.

While the guards stand outside primary school classes we do not have freedom from fear.

Which reminds me - I would like to acknowledge the work of the Community Security Trust and their many volunteers who are right outside here tonight watching out for us - thank you.

It is my deeply held view that civilised societies are defined by the attitudes of the many towards the few.

So this Government will fiercely oppose anti-Semitism wherever we encounter it both at home or abroad.

As part of this, I made sure that we maintained funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust at the Spending Review.

The visit I made as a child with my parents to Dachau gave me a more vivid life-long understanding of the suffering of the Holocaust than any school textbook could.

And I think the Holocaust Educational Trust do an amazing job organising trips for British schoolchildren to visit Auschwitz, helping each new generation understand the enduring horrors of the Holocaust.

But we need to do more than fighting prejudice.

We must and we will protect the Jewish community’s right to self-expression.

Whether it is your right to observe the Sabbath, celebrate Rosh Hashanah or buy kosher meat - you will be protected.

We are also determined to bring to an end the wholly unacceptable situation that sees many high-profile visitors from Israel threatened with arrest in Britain under the excuse of universal jurisdiction.

British laws should not be manipulated to threaten visitors to this country with arrest.

While this travesty continues, we do not have freedom of speech.

I know how important this issue is to your community. It is an important issue to me as well.

And I can confirm that we will introduce an amendment to fix this situation, with legislation published very shortly.

We have waited long enough, politicians have talked long enough, it is time to act. And act we will.

In this country, your Government will fight with you for freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom of worship.

And we will fight for freedom from want too. 

As Chancellor, I believe in the economic freedom of people to see the fruits of their labour, to provide for their family, to aspire to a better life for them and their children.

That’s why we in this hall are united as believers in a second core value - enterprise.

The priority for our coalition Government since we came into office has been to provide much-needed macroeconomic stability.

You in the Jewish community recognise and value stability, as it is the foundation on which everything else can be built.

It is the foundation of sustainable growth.

This May, when I became Chancellor, I inherited the largest budget deficit in the G20 at a time where questions were being asked about the solvency of governments across Europe.

I wanted to make sure that these questions were never asked about the UK.

So we took action:

  • We made immediate in-year cuts to spending;
  • We restored confidence in official figures by creating an independent Office for Budget Responsibility;
  • We presented an Emergency Budget within 50 days;
  • And within six months we completed a far-reaching Spending Review that set out a credible plan for restoring confidence in our public finances.

Our decisive actions have taken Britain out of the financial danger zone.

And for those who still wonder whether this was necessary, whether we needed to be so decisive, I say - look at Europe today.

The fears about debts and deficits have not disappeared - they have grown.

I’ve spent the last few weeks dealing with the situation in Ireland.

They are our closest neighbours. It is in our national interest to help them in this time of need.

But let us be grateful that we are now part of the solution not part of the problem.

That will help promote stability - but stability is not enough to secure growth.

To grow we need to make annual cuts to our corporation tax rate to keep it one of the most competitive in the world - and the Budget did that.

We need to improve the quality of teaching and make sure our schools equip our children with the skills they need for tomorrow’s economy - and our education white paper we publish tomorrow does that.

We need to invest in infrastructure, science and research - and our Spending Review made them the priority.

We need to promote our exports in new markets - and the PM’s recent trade missions to India and China have taken the lead on that.

We are allowing the spirit of enterprise to drive the economic recovery.

And I really believe that the Jewish community embodies that spirit of enterprise to the full.

With so many members with a keen business acumen and unrivalled entrepreneurial flair you are a central part of Britain’s economic fabric.

It is rather telling that the Board of Deputies was founded 250 years ago at the Bevis-Marks synagogue in the City of London.

Out of that ancestral event have emerged hundreds of household company names.

In retail, giants like Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Shell all have Jewish roots.

Across banking, Jewish innovators were the driving force behind merchant banking and stock broking.

Towering figures in the history of the City such as Siegmund Warburg and Marcus Samuel.

And even more important are the thousands of small businesses run by members of your community and which are the true lifeblood of the British economy.

It really is no exaggeration to say that the Anglo-Jewish community encapsulates the spirit of enterprise and innovation.

So tonight I would like to pay tribute to your entrepreneurial achievements and thank you for making such a significant contribution to the British economy over the past 250 years, and thank you for the contribution you make to our economy today.

And economic prosperity is instrumental in achieving social cohesion.

This illustrates the third of my political values that I want to touch on tonight alongside the value of freedom and enterprise - the value of community.

I would like to offer you the following observation.

There is precious little in life where the endeavour of any one of us alone can surpass the efforts of the many working together.

Society is made stronger when we all take part in trying to achieve our common goals.

This is my personal belief.

It is my belief as a Conservative politician.

And it is what this coalition Government believes.

We together face huge challenges - economic, social, international - and we will only overcome them if we all work together in the common interest.

This motivates us to build the Big Society.

Of course, we could learn a thing or two about big societies from the Jewish community…

You have an enviable tradition of charitable endeavour and voluntary work. In other words, you look out for each other.

Institutions like Norwood, Jewish Care, World Jewish Relief, the Community Security Trust, they are hugely successful and are exactly the sort of thing we need to make the Big Society a reality.

Let me say something about the institution at the heart of our communities - schools.

I know some of you have concerns about the future of single faith provisions and the impact of the equalities act.

Jewish schools are a model for community and family involvement in children’s education.

And that’s a model that helps inspire Michael Gove’s policy of free schools.

I am absolutely delighted that two of the very first sixteen free school proposals are Jewish faith schools.

And I would also say this - whether it is providing care for the elderly at single faith homes or providing education for the young at single faith schools - I urge you to remain outward-looking.

There is some great work going on - hugely admirable - but the answer for the Jewish people running them is to reach out and connect the rest of society.

Some of the most successful schools of all faiths already do this.

At times it means working with different faiths and secular organisations.

And this speaks to the deeply ingrained value of community that defines the Jewish world.

So we in this hall are the friends of freedom, the friends of enterprise, the friends of community.

But there is one more thing that unites us.

I stand here proud to say: I am a friend of Israel.

On Holocaust Memorial Day there are plenty of politicians to be found to review the history of fascism and say “Never Again”.

But after the war when the United Nations studied the fate of Jewish refugees it became obvious that never again had a practical meaning. That the Jews needed a home, a safe haven.

So when I say never again let me tell you what I mean.

Never again will the Jews be driven from their homes with nowhere to go, and no one to call a friend.

Never again should the land of the Jews fear destruction.

Never again should the enemies of freedom and peace and justice make the Jews their victim.

We must stand by the land of Israel, see its existence and its safety as our duty.

To Iran, to Hezbollah, to Hamas, to terrorists everywhere who make the Jews their target, understand that this nation is a friend of the Jewish people.

Understand that this nation is a friend of Israel.

A candid friend at times, yes.

Like many, many people in this room we want to see the Israeli Government negotiate peace, and we urge upon them an end to settlement building, and an opening up of Gaza.

I remember very clearly my first trip to Israel.

I visited Jerusalem, met with the Government, and went to Tel Aviv.

And while I was there in that city, a suicide bomber brought death to the bustling market of Carmel.

In any other country in the world they would have taken the visiting politician as far away as possible from the terror threat.

In Israel, they took me - within the hour - to the exact spot where three innocent people had just died.

I remember as if it were yesterday the scene of destruction:

  • The twisted metal of the market stalls;
  • The distraught family of the young Russian lady who had come to Israel to build a life and instead met with her death;
  • The people from the ZAKA organisation doing their extraordinary work.

I saw all this.

And the next day I went back to the market, to the same place, and I saw something else remarkable:

  • I saw the market bustling with shoppers;
  • I saw the market stall where one of the young market-traders had died reopened;
  •  saw the return of life, a people fighting back.

So, yes, I am a strong supporter of the peace talks.

Yes, I believe in a two-state solution in the Middle East.

But I have seen how Israelis live in daily fear and I say to its opponents - whatever you believe the justice of your cause to be:

  • You cannot bomb your way to peace with Israel;
  • Or murder your way to peace with Israel;
  • You must talk your way to peace with Israel.

Ladies and gentlemen.

Perhaps in 50 years time our successors - yours and mine - will meet in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Let us hope that when they do, they will do so in celebration of the peace and security of the Jewish people everywhere.

Let us hope they will also be able to drink a toast to Britain, a land of freedom for all, of enterprise and prosperity for the many.

And let us make sure we have passed to our children and our grandchildren an even stronger community than the one we were all born into.

Thank you.

Published 23 November 2010