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David Cameron: Yes, we can get the change we really want

Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum today, David Cameron said:

"Today I want to talk to you about a simple ambition that I have for our country. It's at the heart of what I believe, and what I believe our country needs. My ambition is to make Britain more family-friendly. To make our country a better place to bring up children. Not just because it's the right thing to do, not just because my family is the most important thing in my life, but because families should be the most important thing in our country's life.

Why? We all know why. Because those kids at the end of the street, causing mayhem, smashing up the bus shelter…we know what the problem is. It goes back to the home, the way they were brought up, the lack of a strong family to teach them that you just don't behave like that. It's families. Those young people who leave school without qualifications, expecting nothing but a life on welfare. We know what the problem is. The problem is they never had that strong family saying: go on, try hard at school, do your homework, make something of your life. Those people in jail, time after time, addicted to drugs and unable to break free of their habit and a life of crime. We know what the problem is. It's families and be clear: there are single parents, divorced parents, widows - all working hard to keep their families together, to keep their children on track. The modern Conservative Party is the party of families, and we need to support them all.

Of course there are other factors, and all individuals are responsible for their actions. But we will never get to the heart of the big problems we face, whether it's crime, anti-social behaviour, welfare dependency or anything else, if we go on pretending that government can pull levers and find the answers. Real, lasting, long-term change means backing parents, backing commitment and helping the best institution in our country - the family - to do the vital work it does. So we'll need to make some big changes, because the truth is, Britain is far from being a family-friendly place today. Last year, we had some shocking news. The United Nations carried out a survey of childhood in all the richest countries. It said that our country is not just doing badly when it comes to families. It said that Britain is the worst place in the developed world for children to grow up. How can we have let that happen? And how are we going to put it right?

A MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY BRITAIN

That's what I want to talk about today. The family-friendly Britain I want to see. A place where we feel optimistic about our children's future, not anxious and worried about what the world has in store for them.

A place which is safe for children to play in, not a place of discarded syringes and threatening gangs. A place where children have boundaries as well as freedoms, so they can properly learn and develop. Making this place real - turning it from the big promise of some politician into a reality for the families of this country - that is a great task. It's a great task for this Party, but you know what - we will only achieve it if people give us the chance to put our plans into action. And they will only give us that chance if we earn their respect and their trust. That's why the changes we've made in our Party are so important.

THE PROGRESS WE HAVE MADE

We have already made great progress. We're now the biggest party of local government - controlling twice as many councils as Labour and the Lib Dems combined. We're getting more and more women and candidates from ethnic minorities ready for Parliament. And you know one of the biggest benefits of the changes we've made? It's that today, instead of questioning our motives, people are listening to what we have to say. They're losing that out of date image of the Conservative Party which made it hard for some people to agree with us.

So now when we say it's time to scrap restrictions on stop and search, they don't say: "same old Tories...", they say "quite right, too many young black men are being shot and stabbed and we need to do something about it." When we say it's time to stop the waste of five million people out of work and claiming benefits, they don't say "there they go again banging on about scroungers...", they say, "of course, if you can work you should work and at last someone's got a plan to get Britain working again." And when we say immigration is good for Britain but it should be controlled because of the pressure on housing, on schools and hospitals, people listen to us because they feel they're listening to common sense. At last, they can agree with us without feeling that they're agreeing with intolerance, or lack of compassion, or harsh judgments about people who are less fortunate. What we've done - what you've done - these last two years is simple but profound. We've made people feel good about our Party again and that's something that everyone in this hall should be incredibly proud of.

CHANGE MUST BE SUSTAINED

But we can't sit back and think the job is done. If we really want to change our country, if we really want to tackle those big issues, there's more we've got to do. We need to show, day by day, in everything we say and everything we do, all of us together, not just the leader, not just the Shadow Cabinet, but every single person in this party, that the changes we've made are real and are here to stay.

So when we say that we'll back the NHS or lead a green revolution in our economy or make sure women are properly represented in government, let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that we mean it and we'll do it. When we say that unlike Labour we'll be competent, that we'll deliver our promises, that means being disciplined and ordered in the promises we make. No extravagant pledges. No easy answers. We've got to get real, now - not just once we're in office - about what's possible and what's not. And because when you look at the mess this government has made of the economy, remember that it's a mess that we'll have to clear up. Next year the Government is going to have to borrow 43 billion pounds - that's £1800 for every family in Britain, and that's after fifteen years of economic growth. There is not going to be some magic pot of money waiting for us when the next Conservative government is elected. So we need to get used to saying "no" more often than "yes." That is the discipline that government demands and that is the discipline that this Party has always understood.

BROKEN POLITICS

But there's one other change we need to make. Before we're entrusted with the chance to change our country, to sort out the economy, to fix our broken society, we need to fix our broken politics. This is really difficult. Because people voted for change before. They voted for a new generation, for optimism and hope. They voted for Tony Blair and he let them down. So we'll have to show that we're different. And we will have to fight the real enemy. Not only Gordon Brown, but the cynicism, the apathy and disengagement that has left people so exasperated with government, politics and the whole Westminster merry-go-round. Let's be clear what they think of us: "you lie and you spin, you fiddle your expenses and you break your promises." This isn't a 'mood.' It cuts deep. And we have to respond.

Let's not pretend that we're outsiders to Westminster, come to clean things up. We've been part of the problem and we need to sort it out from within. That's why we'll bring about a clear change in Parliament. No more MPs voting on their own pay. No more cushy final salary pensions scheme. Clear declaration of expenses and allowances.

Let me put this directly. This is public money, taxpayers money, and it is our duty to be careful with it and open about how it's spent. And I know how much this matters to all of you here. You put in the hard work. It's you who canvass, who leaflet and get our message out. You do it in the good times and you do it in the bad times and I'm not going to allow unacceptable standards at Westminster to let you down.

BOTTOM-UP, NOT TOP-DOWN CHANGE

But there's an even more profound way we'll be different to Labour. Different in our whole philosophy of government. That's why, deep down, I actually feel so optimistic about politics in our country. Because despite what many people say, there is a real difference now between the parties, and I believe we're on the winning side of the big argument. Labour believe in the wisdom and power of Whitehall. We believe in the wisdom and power of individuals, families and communities. We have an understanding of human relationships that puts people first, not political processes. Labour believe in the state. We believe in society. Their vision is top-down. Ours is bottom-up. And that brings me right back to families. Because if you believe in society, not the state; if you believe that real change comes from the bottom up, not the top down, then strengthening Britain's families is quite simply the most important thing you can do in politics.

POLITICS AND FAMILIES

And let's be honest, politics in this country has got families wrong for decades. For many years, the left refused to accept the reality that it's best for children to be brought up in a family where both parents are there to take care of them. Politicians on the left used to say it made absolutely no difference what kind of home a child grew up in. I suppose it's some comfort that at least they don't say that any more. But I'm afraid their actions speak louder than their words. And their actions - particularly on tax and benefits - are still, today, creating the incentive for parents to stay apart or split up rather than come together and stay together. That is crazy and believe me, with a Conservative government it will change.

But let's be honest with ourselves - there have been some on the right who have got families wrong too, suggesting that the only thing that matters is family structure, and the only thing parents need government to do is get out of the way. Well I'm sorry, that simply doesn't reflect the realities of bringing up a child.

SUPPORTING PARENTS

Being a parent is the most difficult job there is. The worry, the anxiety, the feeling that you're not a good parent - it never goes away. At first you think you're on your own. But then you talk to other parents - and you realise that everyone feels the same. Everyone feels they can't cope any more with getting up at 4am and then having to somehow get enough sleep so you can function at work. Everyone runs around in a panic in the morning getting the kids ready while making breakfast and ironing a shirt. What can the government do about this? After all, it can't feed the kids or iron your shirt.

But it can start by getting the framework right so the system works with parents not against them. That means supporting couples with children who want to live together - which is why we'll scrap the couple penalty in the benefits system which pays couples to live apart. And it means supporting couples who want to get married - which is why we'll reward marriage in the tax system.

BUSINESS RESPONSIBILITY

But supporting families is not just about tax and benefits. It's about almost everything else as well, to be honest. Don't you dread the adverts coming on TV and your children demanding this, that or the other? Or when you go shopping, and you have to run the chocolate gauntlet at the checkout - all the sweets lined up tempting your children and taunting you. I think it's right that we protest about bad corporate behaviour and it's good that businesses listen. When parents complained about Woolworths selling a child's bed called Lolita, they weren't interfering busybodies, they were concerned parents who care about society and in getting Woolworths to withdraw it they did a great job for all of us. It's not just about young children, either. Of course teenagers should be allowed out, should be allowed to grow, should be allowed to develop friendships. But parents want to know that the freedoms they give their children won't be exploited by ruthless marketers and shameless retailers. So making Britain more family-friendly means saying yes, we will raise the tax on alcoholic drinks aimed at children and we'll give local communities the power to force the police to take away the licences of the bad retailers who sell it to them. And making Britain more family-friendly means demanding that TV producers, magazine editors, music companies, book publishers - all media businesses accept that what they do really matters to our society. Too often, their programmes, articles, music videos and books introduce our children to sex and violence and adult emotional dilemmas at an incredibly early age. It's not right and parents want you to stop it.

EARLY YEARS

But all the research, all the evidence, everything we know tells us that the early years are when we need to help parents most. Disadvantage, inequality - the clock starts ticking as soon as a baby is born. Helping parents in their children's early years is not about one single policy. Every family is different, and every family has different needs and different pressures at different times. So we need a sensible, practical range of policies to offer help and support. Yesterday, Theresa May set out our plans to offer all parents twelve months' parental leave, to be shared by mother and father as they choose. In the last few weeks Michael Gove, Andrew Lansley, Maria Miller and Stephen O'Brien have been looking at the Dutch system called kraamzorg, which provides dedicated maternity nurses for every new mother in their home in the vital first few days. That's the sort of support we need here in Britain for everyone - not just those parents who can afford to pay for it.

HEALTH VISITORS

But let me make a firm commitment right now. Labour are planning an increase in outreach workers at Surestart centres, as one way of supporting parents with young children. That's their idea. But money is tight and we've got to make choices. So I believe that instead of more untrained outreach workers, we need more trained professionals who really know what they're doing. They exist already. They're called health visitors. Highly-trained NHS professionals who come to your home and build up a strong, trusting, personal relationship with your family. They have a huge part to play in making everything seem manageable. They don't judge, they help out. And that's why it's not surprising that overwhelmingly, parents say it's this kind of help and support they want: from a trained professional, in the home.

But under Labour, the number of health visitors is in freefall. Many are set to retire, with no plans to replace them. It's got so bad that in some parts of the country you're lucky to see one at all. According to one report, the drop in health visitors has led to serious medical conditions going unnoticed, poor diet - and even cases of rickets.

That's why I'm announcing today that a Conservative Government will provide a universal health visiting service to all parents. We're going to radically increase the number of health visitors so that every family can count on the proper, professional support they need. Another 4,200 health visitors. With money set aside for proper training and extra help for families in the most deprived areas.

Let me tell you what it could mean for every new mother. Six hours home support in the first two weeks. Then a visit every two weeks in the first six months. Monthly visits in the next six months, and two visits a year between the ages of 1 and 5.

Don't listen to the desperate Labour lie that this is an attack on Surestart. It's about making Surestart work better. And it shows the big difference between us. You've got to be careful with public money - especially when times are tough. But Labour are casual with public money - and that's why there's been so much waste. Now they want to spend £200 million on a new army of outreach workers with no medical training. Instead of endlessly dreaming up extra things for the state to do, we believe in making sure the state does the things it's supposed to do, well.

Health visitors are the kind of support that parents want. Not laissez-faire: just leaving parents to get on with it. Not nanny-state: some bureaucratic system telling parents what to do. Just sensible, practical, personal support that people trust. That's what the modern Conservative Party is all about. That's what I mean by making this country more family-friendly.

REDUCING DEMANDS ON THE STATE

More flexible working. Extending parental leave. Corporate responsibility. More NHS health visitors. I know what some of you might be thinking. All this family-friendly stuff he's going on about: it's not really very Conservative, is it? Let me tell you why I think it's not just Conservative, but it's seriously Conservative.

If we Conservatives are serious when we say we want a smaller state and lower taxes, we have to have a serious plan for making it happen. And the truth is this: you won't end up with sustainably lower taxes unless you cut the real costs of government. And the real costs of government are the social problems that cause public spending, and the state, to grow and grow. And the whole point is that we Conservatives know that government cannot solve these problems on its own. So when, for example, we discuss this with business, here is the argument I will make. You in business - you want the same things I want: less tax, less red tape. I want to help you cut your costs, the costs imposed by government. But to do that, you're going to have to help me cut my costs - the costs on society imposed by some of the things that business does.

That's why this family-friendly stuff is Conservative - seriously Conservative. It's about solving our social problems for the long term. Reducing demands on the state. And showing that the way to do it is through social responsibility, not state control.

DOCTORS ABROAD

But social responsibility does not stop at our shores. One of the great privileges of this job is the direct experience it gives you of the problems people are facing around the world. I'll never forget sitting in an AIDS clinic in Africa watching drugs being handed out that literally save people's lives. Or talking to Sharon, Andrew Mitchell's wife - a British doctor trained helping a medical team in Africa and understanding the huge difference that volunteers can make. I'm proud that for the modern Conservative Party, helping people who are living in poverty in Africa is not an afterthought - it's at the heart of what we believe. As Andrew has announced, we will introduce a new fund to strengthen the links between the NHS and healthcare systems in developing countries. It will give 250 British health workers the chance to work, train and teach in a developing country. It will say to our doctors and nurses: 'you've got the skills, you've got the passion, you've got the will - if you want to volunteer, we'll make it easier for you.'

That kind of volunteer spirit is central to Conservatism. Last July, Conservative volunteers - many of you sitting here today - went to Rwanda to build schools, train and teach, set up projects which will make a lasting difference for hundreds of families.

What you did in Rwanda last year - and will do again this year - is what this Party has always stood for. Not just talking about poverty but rolling up your sleeves and doing something about it. Not just saying you care, but showing you care. Not just sitting back and waiting for the state to do it all but understanding that real change is about social responsibility and saying yes, if I can make a difference I will make a difference, because that is what a good society is all about.

CONCLUSION

We can help build that good society. We can make change happen. We can make this country more family-friendly, so at last we get to grips with those deep, deep problems that have festered for so long. Don't fall into the cynic's trap of believing that change isn't possible. It is. We can give people the change they really want.

I've been to New York and seen how you can have zero tolerance, beat-based policing that defeats crime and restores trust in the police. And with a Home Secretary like David Davis we can do that here.

I've been to Sweden and seen how letting new schools set up in the state sector and letting parents choose can unlock innovation and quality. And we can do that here as long as we replace Ed Balls with Michael Gove. I've seen how in Ireland cutting tax rates for business can unleash a wave of enterprise, investment and wealth. I've been to California and seen how a dynamic vision of environmental change can create a greener society and a stronger economy. George Osborne gets the modern world more than anyone and with a Chancellor like him you know we can do it here. Change is already happening in our country and it's a change that we Conservatives completely understand.

It's the end of the bureaucratic age. The end of the age where people on high tell the people below how it's going to be. It's a post-bureaucratic age where people are in control, shaping their destiny, taking responsibility. That is a Conservative vision, of a country where people have more opportunity and control over their lives. Where families are stronger and society is more responsible. Where Britain is safer and greener. A home of your own. A neighbourhood you feel safe in. More time for your family. Those are the changes people want, and from us that is the change that people will get. Changes in policy. Changes in politics. Let's tell Britain we mean it when we say, enough of social decline, enough of the broken promises, enough of the indecision and dithering. Yes, our country can change. Yes, we can build a better future for ourselves and our children. Yes, we can get the change we really want."

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