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Maude: Opening speech of the 2006 Party Conference

In a speech to the Conservative Party Conference, the Party Chairman, Francis Maude said:

"It's been quite a year.

The year we began our journey back to the mainstream. The year we won again in local elections, and won big. The year our party came together, while the others fell apart. And the year we elected as our leader a man who's changed the face of British politics and put us back on the road to Government.

It was also the year we rediscovered the habit of working together. It's basic I know. But we haven't always done it. Over the last year that's changed, to make this the most united Conservative Party for twenty years.

Volunteers, councillors, professionals, Parliamentarians; an end to the blame game. Liking each other. Trusting each other. Each respecting what the others do. Knowing that we're all in this together, and that together there is nothing - nothing - this party cannot achieve.

So this week, let's enjoy the progress we've made, let's celebrate our success - and let's resolve together that together we will complete the journey.

We're here, as always, to share ideas, exchange views and debate our country's future.

Last year for the first time in many years, those debates were on the floor of the conference hall. It was a bit risky, I suppose. Bringing a leadership race to the heart of our conference could have led to chaos and in-fighting. It could have been like last week's Labour conference.

But it worked. It created a palpable sense of excitement. We all left the conference feeling we'd been part of something historic. It was the Conservative Party at its open, mature, democratic best.

This year, we want to go further.

We'll be debating issues that affect all of our lives. The kind of debates that got us interested in politics in the first place.

There'll be 'Hot Topic' Debates every day, with outside speakers for and against. But most of the time will be for you. We kick off tomorrow morning at 9.10 to debate whether "It's time to consider a ban on marketing to children".

You'll be able to vote, text your comments, from inside or outside the hall, to be posted on the screen behind me.

In our "meet the candidates" slots, candidates will submit innovative policies to the scrutiny of a formidable panel - and they don't come much more formidable than Ann Widdecombe. Then you'll decide which one of them gets put forward to our policy groups.

On top of all this, you'll get to hear from some great speakers from outside. Later this afternoon you'll hear Senator John McCain, all the way from Arizona. The man who may be the next President of the United States.

But the changes go beyond this conference floor. Like we did at the Spring Forum in Manchester, we want to leave a permanent legacy with the local community after we've gone.

St Mary's in Sittingbourne is a deconsecrated church right in the heart of Bournemouth's most deprived area, a major community centre that currently lacks basic facilities.

This week we'll work with the community to transform it into a self-sustaining centre; with space for local charities, an arts studio, a neighbourhood kitchen and a venue for conferences, exhibitions and drama productions.

It'll take a lot of work - painting, cleaning, building. Lots of DIY.

This kind of social action is at the heart of the modern Conservative Party - not just talking about change, but making it happen.

So please, all of you who can - join me, David Cameron and others in the Shadow Cabinet, in giving a few hours to make it happen for St Mary's.

It's not just our conference that is changing. Politics throughout the world is changing.

Who'd have thought last year that one year on we'd have had our best local elections since 1985? Or that we'd have won 40 per cent of the vote? Or that we'd have a leader who's the 92nd sexiest man in Britain?

But then again who'd have thought those nice LibDems would have knifed their leader? That Labour would still be knifing their leader - and still failing to finish him off? Or that John Prescott would have developed such a passion - for croquet?

We know, don't we, that we can't just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. The failure of others doesn't automatically make us successful.

Some of you probably think I'm the Private Frazer of the Conservative Party, constantly telling you that "we're doomed!"

Actually I've never thought that.

But I will always be candid. Last year I didn't pull my punches. I said that if we were to succeed, we needed to take control of our own destiny. And I'm thrilled that we have.

I'm not much good at the soft option or the line of least resistance. My job as your chairman is to do what is right for the party.

A generation ago, my father was deputy chairman of the party when Margaret Thatcher was Leader of the Opposition and the party was being renewed. Looking back from this distance, what they did then looks pretty obvious. Surely it was obvious that we needed to change from a party that had lost four elections out of five into the party that won the next four elections in a row.

I remember it well. There were plenty of naysayers then who thought it was all too difficult and challenging; who were willing to accept a permanent second place in the comfort zone of the status quo.

So, as I said to you last year, modernising is one of our party's great traditions. Back then in the seventies we changed so we could win for Britain. Today we're doing the same.

And there's still much more to do.

In order to earn the right to govern Britain, we must be a one nation party, truly representative of the country we aspire to govern.

We need to continue to build back in the great cities. In the north of England. In Scotland and Wales. A great national party must be constantly campaigning with and for every community across the country.

Yes, we've made progress. But now we need to go further. In the next few months many of you here will be selecting candidates in our most crucial target seats. Already nearly one third of our candidates are women. And one in twenty are from black or minority ethnic communities. Progress for sure. But not yet enough.

For it is only when we represent all Britons that we will appeal to all Britain.

While we are changing, Labour is divided and paralysed. Just look at the way they fund their party. New Labour? It might as well be 1976.

To pay for last year's election campaign, Labour made a cosy deal with the unions.

It was pretty simple: you give us the cash and we'll give you the favours.

So the unions stumped up £12 million to fund Labour's election campaign. And in return, the favours came rolling in. There was £10 million of taxpayers' money for the Union Modernisation Fund, extra rights for strikers, and a deal which means civil servants still get to retire earlier than those in the private sector. These guys certainly know how to get value for their money.

I'll tell you this - this cosy backroom deal stinks. It undermines democracy and makes it so much harder to restore trust.

That's why we put forward proposals to end it. Under these, no one - company, individual or trade union - would be able to donate more than £50,000.

Well, perhaps we were a bit naïve.

We thought Labour might welcome the chance to break free from their union paymasters. Fat chance. Their response came winging back like an arrow. Forget it.

Some people think all this cronyism will go when Blair goes. You've got to be kidding.

Just this May, Gordon Brown took donations from three trade unions: Amicus, UNISON, the T&G. Last week, at Labour's conference, there was an anti-Blair event entitled 'new leader, new agenda'. And who do you think was paying for it? Yes, you've guessed it: Amicus, UNISON, and the T&G.

And what about Gordon?

The Chancellor who inherited the best pensions system in Europe -and made it one of the worst.

The Chancellor whose interfering obsession has left his fingerprints all over this Government's record.

A sly fine-print Chancellor; forever the stealth tax Chancellor.

Not a good Chancellor, simply a lucky one. But have I got news for you Gordon. Your luck's running out. I watched last week when you said you'd relish the chance to take on David Cameron's Conservatives. You didn't even look as if you meant it.

But we do mean it. So if you think you're up to it Gordon, bring it on and the sooner the better.

You'll find Britain doesn't need a new Labour leader. It needs a new Conservative Government.

Next week is our NHS Action Week - our campaign against Gordon Brown's NHS cuts.

And let us be clear, the task is an urgent one.

Brown and Blair have delivered an NHS over a billion pounds in debt.

They've reorganised the NHS ten times in ten years, alienating frontline staff in the process.

They've overseen 18,000 NHS job losses and then they tell us that the organisation is having its 'best year ever'. Tell that to patients whose operations have been cancelled.

24 hours to save the NHS? 24 ways to pull it down, frustrate its staff, endanger its patients. The NHS needs a champion. We're going to be that champion. The NHS needs a new Government; committed to the NHS, committed to health care for all.

It needs a Conservative Government.

To be that new Government, Britain needs to know that Conservatives have changed. This week we'll be setting out how we're changing - our new direction.

How we're more green. Climate change is the greatest challenge facing mankind today. It isn't a choice between economic growth and saving the planet. We need green growth through better technology, and with people and communities sharing responsibility with the Government.

We'll set out how we're more family friendly. We understand the pressures of raising a family while holding down full time jobs, so we need to improve childcare and help people to work more flexibly.

We'll show how we're more local. That the way to build public services fit for the 21st century is to trust people and share responsibility.

And this means giving responsibility to front-line professionals in our schools, our universities, our GP clinics and our hospitals.

More green, more family friendly, more local. These aren't passing fads or whims. They're a core part of what it is to be Conservative.

So enjoy the conference.

Enjoy that while Labour are riven by bitterness and acrimony, we're more united than ever.

And while Labour enters the dying days of its administration and as it loses the will to govern, let's show that we're bright, fresh and ambitious for our party and our country.

And above all let's not rest here. We always said we had to climb an electoral mountain. But mountains are there to be climbed, and already we're halfway up.

A year ago I started our conference with some home truths about the need for our party to change. It wasn't universally popular, I know that. I did it because I love this party and I wanted to see it regain its vigour, energy and purpose.

Today I want to thank you and I want to congratulate you for everything you've done since then. The pundits said you'd duck the challenge, go for 'safety first', settle for the suffocating certainties of second place. How wrong they were.

You seized your destiny and put your trust in a bold young leader. A bold young leader with a compelling vision for our party and this country. You decided to embrace change - knowing full well that some of it would be uncomfortable.

You took the high road and a new direction and you never faltered. I tell you this, I am proud to know you and to be of your number. And even prouder to be your chairman.

So as the next stage of our journey begins and the road rises ahead, let's stride forward, with our heads held high, every step taking us towards the peak. For at that peak lies the most precious privilege in public life; the right to serve our country in Government. Our country needs us. We cannot let it down."

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