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Hague: Constructive responsible foreign policy

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Cardiff.

"It is ten years now since I left office as your Secretary of State, but returning to Wales will always feel to me like a homecoming.

As some of you will recall, we worked hard at that time to bring more jobs, better education and a cleaner environment to Wales.

It has always been a regret for me that I did not have a full term of office as Welsh Secretary, instead of just two years at the tail end of our last government.

That is because I believe that the potential of Wales is far greater than anything that has yet been achieved.

I look forward to us demonstrating that one day with Conservative leadership in the Welsh Assembly and a reinvigorated Conservative government at Westminster.

Having worked with so many of the people here today as Welsh Secretary and as Leader of the Opposition, I feel that we have a lot in common. In particular, we have kept the Conservative cause alive through its darkest hours.

We started the Conservative revival in Wales by winning more council seats and getting a highly effective Conservative group elected to the Welsh Assembly.

At the last general election you achieved the important breakthrough of winning three of the Welsh seats in the House of Commons, and I can testify that in Stephen Crabb, David Davies and David Jones the Conservative Party in Wales can be proud of the hard work and dedication of its Members of Parliament.

Now we look forward to this year's Welsh Assembly elections with optimism, with our support on the rise and people knowing that Wales can do better.

And I hope you share, too, my excitement that the Conservative Party under David Cameron is well on its way to recapturing the centre ground of British politics, winning over large numbers of people who have never voted for it before, and booting out at the next election one of the worst governments we have seen in our lifetimes.

I will not waste too much time on them today but let us be clear: after a full decade of deceptive spin, meaningless summits, re-announcements, false announcements and half announcements, Tony Blair will leave office with the word of government less believed, and its basic honesty less assumed, than at any time in the modern history of Britain.

He has debased the coinage of politics, adding to widespread disaffection and distrust with the political system itself.

And Gordon Brown will take office, since no-one in the Labour Party has the courage to stop someone many of them regard as unsuitable for the highest office, claiming a strong record but with this country's proudest post-War boast - the development of a strong, long-term occupational pension provision - largely in ruins and entirely because of him.

I will never believe that someone who devastates the savings of millions of people, does so in an elaborate act of stealth, and wastes the proceeds through incompetence and failure to reform, can ever be the right Prime Minister for our country.

It may have been embarrassing for Margaret Beckett to have been tricked by Rory Bremner, but at least she told him the truth: many of her Cabinet colleagues are out of their depth.

You only have to look at how much has been spent in the Health Service in a way that has created inflation rather than output, and at the chaotic state of a Home Office that not only does not know how many illegal immigrants there are, and does not know how many foreign criminals it has deported, but even turns out to have some of those illegal immigrants working in the Home Office to see that they have been out of their depth for years.

And you would only need to sit with me, looking across at John Prescott while he glares at us all, as if it is our fault that he has been stripped of all his responsibilities, to absolutely confirm it.

But the reason I am so optimistic about what we can now achieve together as a party is that we are not relying on that government, dreadful though it is, to lose the next election.

From the moment David Cameron became Leader we have set out to win it in our own right, and from that moment we have increasingly deserved to do so. I work with David Cameron every day and I have enormous confidence in him. I came back into frontline politics because I knew, when he was elected, that if everyone that could help did help we would once again be able to present the alternative government of Britain.

And each day as I observe and work with my colleagues, such as the highly effective David Davis as Shadow Home Secretary and the hugely impressive George Osborne as Shadow Chancellor, not forgetting the excellent work of Cheryl Gillan as Shadow Welsh Secretary, I can see that this is happening.

We have a cohesive team, a strong, common sense of purpose, and a strong sense that the centre ground of politics can now be ours once again.

David Cameron is right to set the agenda on environmental issues, and utterly correct to make the Health Service our number one priority.

I know there are occasionally people who say that if only we promised specific tax reductions, made speeches about Europe, and were tougher on immigration we would sweep to victory - but I have to tell you that if this were the case we would have been swept in long ago.

Labour's failure is now so profound that Conservatives must fight across the board and show to the non-political person, worried about healthcare, schooling and crime, that help is at hand from the Conservative Party.

Our great strength as a party has always been that we have adapted to changed circumstances and applied Conservative principles to them: in the 1870s Disraeli faced up to the consequences of the Industrial Revolution and made our party a home for the working man; in the 1920s Conservatives pioneered the improvements in local government and healthcare that a more prosperous population demanded; in the 1950s Harold MacMillan emphasised the building of houses needed after the War; and in the 1970s Margaret Thatcher saw that Conservatives could enable the occupants of those houses to own them for themselves.

In leading a process of change which opens up the ranks of our party to more women and people from minorities, and which shows that public services can be improved with a strong enough sense of shared responsibility between individuals, families and the state, David Cameron is acting in the highest traditions of our party and I am proud to stand with him.

One of the refreshing changes that has come over us in recent times is that instead of asking ourselves each day "how do we embarrass the government?", we ask instead "what would we do if we were in power?"

It is an attitude that will lead to a responsible and achievable manifesto at the next general election.

We know, however, that one of our biggest challenges will be in foreign policy, for which I am now responsible.

Over the last fifteen months we have been doing a great deal of work, aided by a policy commission under Dame Pauline Neville-Jones.

This work is not yet complete, but it is sufficiently well advanced for me to summarise for you today the main pointers to our approach.

There are five principal themes to our thinking. First, and very importantly, we believe it is very important to restore proper Cabinet government to our foreign policy decision making.

The sofa style decision making of Blair's Downing Street has led to weak and last minute decision making, without the full flow of information available to Cabinet colleagues, probably contributing to serious mistakes even in circumstances of war, and this is something that David Cameron and I are determined to put right.

We are studying the proposals of our Policy Commission for the creation of a National Security Council. In the conflicts of recent years our armed forces have never let us down.

It is therefore vital that the machinery of government does not let them down.

That also means learning from past mistakes, and it is very clear that very serious mistakes have been made in the course of the occupation of Iraq.

Those of us who supported the invasion of Iraq, just like those who opposed it, must do our utmost to ensure that lessons are learned for the future: that is why we favour a Privy Council inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war and its aftermath, and if the government does not announce such an inquiry in the coming months we will table a motion in the House of Commons requiring them to do so.

The proper management of the processes of government, and learning from mistakes, is therefore one important theme.

The second theme is related to that: the effective management of the relationship with the United States of America.

The effect of ten years of the Blair government is that Britain has never seemed so uncritically aligned with the United States yet seldom found it so difficult to get its way.

Our goal is not to distance ourselves from the United States - it will remain our indispensable partner in diplomacy, intelligence and national security - but it is our goal to recover the art of managing the relationship well and making it one of permanent friendship coupled with honest criticism.

Thirdly, the extraordinarily rapid changes in the distribution of economic and political power in the world means that we will need to shift more of our weight to the relationships of the Asia Pacific region.

Last September David Cameron, George Osborne, Liam Fox and I paid simultaneous visits to India, China and Japan.

Britain has not yet been sufficiently successful at promoting trade with China and India, and has sometimes lost out to other European nations as a result.

This needs to be put right, and in parallel we need to focus much increased attention on the many friendly nations of the Middle East.

The combination of events in Iran and Iraq, the difficulties we are experiencing with Syria, and the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations means we must come to office steeped in knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs.

In recent years, some of the Gulf countries have felt that they have not received attention from senior British ministers.

We have called for a concerted national effort, pursued consistently over many years and across parties, to elevate our cultural, economic, diplomatic and parliamentary links with many of the countries of the Gulf, and possibly of North Africa, as well.

We should work on the firm anchoring of friendships between countries of the Middle East and the wider West, for while we are certainly engaged in a struggle against international terrorism, we are most certainly not engaged in a clash of civilisations.

This need for a freshening and deepening of our multi-lateral alliances leads on to our fourth theme, the need to reform leading multi-lateral and global institutions.

The UN Security Council, for instance, is out of date, in its composition, still reflecting the outcome of the Second World War.

Britain should be a powerful advocate of its reform, giving, for instance, Japan, India, Germany and Brazil permanent seats on the UN Security Council and arguing for similar reforms of the International Monetary Fund.

We have to do our utmost to galvanise NATO into doing what is necessary to make a success of the deployment in Afghanistan, persuading other countries to summon the political will to make a major contribution to what is, after all, their defence, rather than always relying on British, Canadian and American forces to take on the greatest dangers.

As for the European Union, its widening to include twenty seven members is a truly historic achievement, with enormously beneficial results for the security and prosperity of the whole continent.

That widening should continue in the future, with countries of the Balkans, Turkey, and even the Ukraine in mind.

But what Europe's leaders did not notice when they embarked upon such widening is that they simultaneously made the deepening of European integration, even if it were desirable, highly impracticable.

The recent referendum results in the Netherlands and France are symptoms of that.

European leaders should listen to their people: continued attempts to push for political centralisation, of which the European Constitution is an example, will not only fail but will create division and distraction in the meantime.

As a government we would say so.

The current government first pretended the European Constitution was unimportant, then that it was so important that we should indeed have a referendum on it, then that they were so much in favour of it that they would campaign for a 'yes' vote, then that they were so little in favour of it they did not mind that others had rejected it, and now they are neither in favour of it nor against it and hope that if they say nothing it will simply go away.

Meanwhile, they do nothing to advocate real reform in Europe, so vitally necessary to stop European countries being overtaken in research and development, economic growth and higher education by the rest of the world.

We believe Britain should be the advocate of Europe's urgent reform, and next Tuesday in Brussels David Cameron and I will join with the new Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek, to advocate a Europe which concentrates on opening up trade, becoming more competitive and safe-guarding the environment, while recognising that it does not have too little power over the nation states; it has too much.

And our fifth theme is that in all these actions and causes we must uphold and advance the basic values of our society.

It is notable that one of the motivating factors behind adherents of groups such as Al-Qaeda is a contempt for western society.

Our efforts to combat them will therefore not be successful if we fail to uphold the strongest attributes of our own society and regard them as virtues ourselves.

That means a strong attachment to human rights, a belief in the rule of law, the defence of political freedom, the promotion of economic liberalism and humanitarian intervention when it is sensible and practical.

A world without these values will be without the means for the tolerance and acceptance of diversity which is of such critical importance in a globalised age.

And of central importance to any hope of harmony in the world will be the driving forward of international agreement and action on climate change, with Britain, together with our European partners, doing everything it can with the force of its own example and the persistence of its own leadership and ideas.

These are broad themes, but they are ones which I believe will endure. And in each international crisis, they should guide us to the correct approach.

One such crisis is arising now: the apparent determination of Iran to press ahead with its nuclear enrichment processes, paving the way for its possession of nuclear weapons.

If it does so, it is highly likely that other nations of the Middle East will follow it and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a fundamental pillar of international peace and security, will lie broken and ruined.

The dangers we and other nations face in future decades will multiply rapidly.

The successful development of nuclear weapons by Iran would be a calamity. Yet military action against Iran could very well also be calamitous.

That is why I renew our call today for the maximum peaceful pressure to be placed on the Iranian government, so that any choice between war and nuclear proliferation can be avoided.

The United States has implemented financial sanctions against Iran and obstructed investment in its oil and gas fields.

If European Union countries were to do the same, the combined effect on Iran would be serious.

This is what is now needed, given Iran's continued defiance of the United Nations Security Council and refusal to co-operate with the international community.

A generous offer has rightly been made to the Iranians, by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, to assist with the development of civil nuclear power.

The incentives for co-operation are therefore clear, but the penalties for failure to do so now need to be raised. Iran's president has been much criticised within his own country in recent weeks, and he is already facing high domestic inflation and a drop in oil prices.

These next few months will be the crucial time in which responsible nations show or fail to show their resolve to apply multi-lateral legitimate and peaceful pressure on this issue.

Failure to do so will endanger the peace of the world.

Such an approach would involve working effectively with the United States, doing so constructively with our European allies, upholding the authority of global institutions, and seeking a solution which accords with our own generous and peaceful values.

It remains to be seen whether our own government will make this case but it urgently needs to do so.

This, then, is our constructive and responsible approach to the foreign policy of the next Conservative government.

It is an example of the thinking we are doing across the board: learning from the events of recent years with humility and patience; utilising the talents and ideas of people throughout our party and outside it; adopting goals which are realistic and principles which are consistent with each other; and ensuring that we will come to power with a clear sense of what we will do.

Continued over the coming months and years, such work will show not only that we can win but that we deserve to do so; not only that we have a failing government, but that we could have a successful one; and not only that we have served our country well in the past, but that we can do so again in the future.

And so I say to the Welsh Conservatives and to Conservatives across the United Kingdom, you have shared in our defeats, setbacks and many disappointments: I hope you now also share in the excitement and anticipation of what we can achieve with the next Conservative government.

We have not yet completed the task of winning the confidence of the country and turning out a government that has no more to offer but you can greet David Cameron tomorrow with absolute confidence that it is a task we have most certainly begun."

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