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Ancram: A new Century - The Conservative alternative

Politeia Summer Address 2005

"It may seem somewhat strange for a former Party Chairman and the current Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party to feel the need to begin a talk with the statement 'I am a Conservative'.

I do so for good reason. At each of the last three Elections we secured the support of only one-third of the electorate. I believe that this was because the vast majority of the British people did not know what a Conservative really was or stood for. Some knew our position on certain key issues. But for most 'the soul of the Conservative Party in the 21st Century' remained shrouded in mystery.

The truth is that since Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives as a party have lacked character, coherence and context. Despite often well-worked policies, there has been no real vision, no real sense of mission, and only a limited understanding of how our country has changed.

We need urgently to achieve a consensus on what a Conservative is today. We need to express it in straightforward and unambiguous language. We must avoid false distinctions. For a start the views of 'modernisers' and traditionalists' are not mutually exclusive. We can shed our ties without shedding our principles. The Conservative Party historically has always had to bring itself up to date, but always consistent with its principles. These views, however, only become relevant once the basic principles are agreed. It is agreeing principles that must now be the priority. If we fail to take this opportunity, then our Party will remain in the political wilderness.

This is my contribution to that process, not a policy statement, but an attempt to identify the fundamental principles of Conservatism around which our Party might coalesce. I have read with interest the statements of the putative leadership contenders on the future direction of the Party. I have found much to agree with in all of them. But first we need to establish what we are and what makes us Conservative. Then we can begin to develop future direction, reflecting those principles in a modern context.

There are imperatives. Strengthening individual liberty. Pruning the power of the State. Quality support for those who need it. Putting concern for the environment at the heart of Conservatism. The defence of our sovereignty. There are key words; Freedom and Fairness, Compassion and Conviction.

We must assert our beliefs in a way to fire our passion and with it the imagination of the British people. We must not be afraid to dream a little. "Some men see things that are and ask why; I dream of things that have not been and ask why not."

Today people are increasingly suspicious of the 'Political class', that perceived coalition of politicians, academics and commentators which in the public mind pursues its own agenda regardless of the public interest. People are fed up with 'image' and 'signals' and Spin which they see as a condescending attempt by that Political class to further their own political interests regardless of what the country really needs. Across Europe those suspicions have led to growing disengagement from the democratic process.

That presents us with both a challenge and an opportunity. We must show that we are not part of that Political class; that we listen and respond to real people and not to political elites and questionable focus groups. We must be unequivocal in setting out what we stand for and who we are.

I start therefore with this declaration. I am a Conservative.

A Statement of Belief

I am sick of our country's drift towards the second-rate.

I want us to 'dream of things that have not been and ask why not'. Why not a Britain strong but at the same time kind, resilient but at the same time tolerant, outward looking but at the same time true to it instincts and values? Why not a Britain where people matter, free to control their own lives, free to enjoy the fruits of their own efforts, with their rights protected and their opportunities safeguarded? Why not a Britain where local communities matter and where being 'the Good Neighbour' comes naturally?

Why not a Britain where the State does only what it must, where quality replaces dogma in the provision of public services, where low taxation is an established objective and where regulation is the exception? Why not a Britain where caring for our environment is a natural responsibility? Why not a Britain where the family is valued and supported and where the distinction between right and wrong matters again?

Why not a Britain where the Rule of Law is respected? And finally why not a Britain where defence of our sovereignty is paramount, where pride in our country is encouraged, and where our Union flag becomes again a symbol of stability and of hope in our increasingly turbulent world?

I have a simple set of beliefs. I believe in people, not systems; I believe in people's individual freedom and their right to choose; I believe in the smaller state, in value for taxpayers' money, and in being 'the Good Neighbour'; I believe in the family; I believe in protecting and conserving our environment; I believe in the resolute defence of our sovereignty and of our country.

These are fundamental beliefs upon which to build Conservatism for the 21st Century.

Freedom and the individual

Freedom of the individual lies at the heart of Conservatism and sets us apart from those who believe the state knows best. It must be the driving engine of Conservatism today, only to be restrained when it unfairly exploits or curtails the freedom of others.

There are various forms.

Freedom to choose which depends on genuine and maximum variety in both economic and social life from within which to exercise choice. In a free society people cannot be forced to choose. Freedom to choose is a right to control their own lives if that is what people wish. Choice must be for all and not just those who can afford it. It must be based on the Conservative principle of equality of opportunity rather than the left wing aim of equality of outturn.

Freedom to decide which means removing regulations restricting decisions being taken. It means encouraging enterprise. It means, crucially through lower taxes, leaving people with more of their own money with which to make their own decisions. It means demonstrating that government does not need to keep taxes high.

Freedom to live one's own life which is central to the freedom of the individual. An individual must be able to pursue his or her freely determined choice of lifestyle so long as it is within the law.

Freedom of expression which is increasingly strangled by repressive legislation and political correctness. Free speech lies at the heart of democracy and freedom. The presumption of the Law must always be in favour of free speech.

Freedom from poverty, because poverty constrains and in the face of deprivation freedom means little. We cannot preach freedom unless we work to remove obstacles to it. The fight against poverty, domestically and internationally, must therefore be a clear Conservative priority. We must never turn away from the vulnerable. We need to encourage and promote long term self help rather than short term subsidy. We should be driven by a belief in social justice which, although often hijacked by the Left, has always been an intensely Conservative tenet . We must reclaim it and revive it.

Freedom from fear is at the heart of the quality of life. Fear of terrorism, crime and violence undermines freedom. Realistic deterrence, prevention and protection must therefore be prime Conservative aims. Fear of uncontrolled immigration undermines social cohesion. Mature discussions and decisions on sustainable levels of immigration offer the best way forward.

Freedom under the Rule of Law is a fundamental Conservative tenet. A free society is governed not by coercion but by consent. Respect for the Rule of Law has been grievously damaged and the principle of popular consent upon which it depends dangerously eroded. We must re-establish the Rule of Law not as an engine of repression but as a guarantor of freedoms.

The smaller state

In the 1980s it took a determined Conservative leader to cut an overbearing State back to size. We now face that same challenge again if in a somewhat different way.

Today's overblown, interfering and insensitive State is hostile to freedom. We need to achieve a smaller State, not just by reducing bureaucracy but by shrinking the ability of the State to intervene in the lives of ordinary people and businesses.

The protection of our civil liberties must be the overriding priority. We do not protect freedoms by restricting or undermining them. Measures to invade our privacy or impede our freedoms must be opposed. From ID cards to detention without charge we must not allow hard won rights to be dismantled. And if they are, we must promise to reinstate them

Deregulation is also fundamental. The mountain of red tape which is strangling businesses, professionals, private providers of care and many others must be levelled. Only that which clearly in the public interest needs regulating should be regulated. We must find an effective mechanism for stripping out reams of unnecessary regulations and for time-limiting new ones.

Decentralisation goes hand in hand with deregulation. Decisions should be taken at the most local practical level; the hospital, the school, the Council and the voluntary or private provider, and then by people who actively provide the services rather than by bureaucratic diktat. Unnecessary Central and Regional layers of bureaucracy must be swept away.

The small state must remain a key Conservative objective. It is what distinguishes us from other parties. The State should only do what it does best, and in doing so should transparently give best value for taxpayers' money. The State should directly provide the funding for high quality services in health, education and care for the elderly, so that all people can choose the best from public, private and voluntary provision. The State should actively encourage rather than discourage private and voluntary provision to complement that which is provided publicly. It should not seek to run businesses or create jobs, but to free up the market better to do both.

The small state and European integration are incompatible. European integration means the surrender of national sovereignty, but freedom of the citizen and the safeguarding of civil rights depends ultimately on the preservation of sovereignty. That is why I fundamentally oppose joining the Euro. It is why I oppose a European Constitution. It is why I oppose a European superpower with its own army and diplomatic service. It is why I believe that the only Europe compatible with the preservation of our sovereignty and the small state is a European partnership of sovereign democratic nations.

There are those who argue that in the modern world the small state is a chimera. I disagree. Recent research from the IMF and the ECB, published by Politeia in this country, shows that in the past two decades a number of countries have cut public spending by 10-16 % thereby reducing spending to around 35% of GDP. It can be done. It will require the unravelling of the all-pervading dependency culture which has taken such deep root in our country over the last generation. It will take determination to achieve it. It will be one of the great tests of Conservatism in the years ahead.

The family, the community and the good neighbour

The family has for centuries been the fundamental building block of communities and of society at large. Through the years it has been changing.

So what is the family today? I believe that there are certain fundamentals. The family is a cohesive unit of father, mother and children, in which the parents are committed to each other and formally accept responsibility for the children and for their upbringing. The parents should set the pattern of ethics and standards which in the end underpin a stable society. It is these characteristics which give the family its own stability and its ability to bring stability to the community as well. It is most readily, though not exclusively, found in the context of formal marriage.

Conservatives must champion the family as the foundation stone of a stable society; as the prime source of emotional stability; as the starting place for advice and understanding; and as the first teacher of values and of what is right and wrong.

The family has, however, been eroded by the growing interference of the state. We must positively promote the family by creating a structure of financial advantage, not as a moral judgement, but in recognition of the contribution family makes to the stability of the community.

The concept of 'community' has became somewhat distorted in the hands of socialists and social engineers. We must reclaim it.

Our concept of 'community', whether in the country or city, should be based on that local circle of friendships and relationships of a nature and size within we individually feel comfortable. This 'community' gains its strength from its interdependence and from the families within it, and not from centrally dictated social structures and rules. It can have formal boundaries, as for instance the village, or it could be cultural or religious or interest-group based in its origins.

That concept of Community is central to the Britain to which I aspire; interdependent, full of variety, and self-supporting. We must encourage such communities to speak for themselves and to take responsibility for their local aspirations. We should listen to their anxieties and respond to their legitimate frustrations. We should shield them from the ravages of central bureaucracy which threaten to undermine and destroy them - especially in the countryside.

Within the 'community' we not only have a duty but a right to be responsible as well. Caring in our communities has always been a Conservative quality. It has been undermined by the growth of the Nanny state, restrictive regulations and downright bureaucratic hostility. We must allow it to re-emerge.

The Good Neighbour is one who doesn't wait to be told to care, but who cares naturally while others walk by on the other side. That is a Conservative instinct. Conservatives must fight for available resources to be targeted on those in need and not consumed by an army of pen and paper pushers. We should voluntarily take the lead in providing care either to meet a deficit in public provision or to supplement it. We should lead by example. I have always believed that the Good Samaritan was a Conservative!

In the same spirit we must recognise the growing challenges of the Global Village. Modern communications bring distant humanitarian disasters into our sitting rooms and we are no longer, either emotionally or practically, untouched by them. We must play a full part in helping to eradicate global poverty by providing aid and relief in a form which delivers genuine assistance. Our aim must be to ensure that the help we give penetrates the web of corruption and tyranny which too often is the backcloth to international poverty, and actually reaches and sustains the real victims of deprivation.

The world we live in

Global warming may still be a matter for scientific debate. There is however no question that our environment is changing. As Conservatives we cannot wait until the science is resolved. We have a duty to preserve, protect and enhance our natural environment. We have a duty of stewardship towards those who will come after us. We have no right to ruin the world in which they are going to have to live. We must place conservation once more at the heart of our Conservatism.

We cannot just expect nature to solve the problems we generate. We cannot rely on nature alone to combat the poisoning of the air we breathe, the earth we depend on for sustenance and the water upon which we depend for survival or to counter the profligacy with which our essential resources of water, of oxygen-producing plants and of minerals are being exploited and expended.

We can no longer sit back and watch our climate and ecology changing without exploring how this process can be reversed. We must step up action to reduce pollution and more effectively to manage waste. We can no longer consume energy without facing up to the hard options for generating it - including alternative and nuclear sources.

Philosophically and in practice the conservationist agenda should be ours. As Conservatives we must now recapture it.

Sovereignty, security and the national interest

The first duty of Government is the preservation of our national sovereignty and of the freedom of our citizens. From which inevitably flows the defence of the realm.

Preserving our sovereignty is central to our Conservatism. Sovereignty belongs to the people, is only held in trust by Parliament, and can only be surrendered with the express consent of the people. Temporarily pooling it for strategic purposes - as in NATO - is acceptable. Permanently surrendering it - as to the European Union - is not.

There must be no further permanent surrenders of sovereignty to the EU. Indeed we must seek to retrieve those areas of sovereignty which we should never have surrendered in the first place, such as control over our fisheries and our employment laws. We will need to renegotiate existing treaties. We must never forgo our fundamental rights of self-determination. Even in an increasingly interdependent world Britain must ultimately decide what is good for Britain.

We must be clear on our position on the EU. We want to be in Europe, but not run by Europe. For that reason we must never accept the Euro. We must never accept a European Constitution whose effect is the creation of a country called Europe. We must resist the concept of a European Army within a European superstate. We must work for a Europe which is a genuine partnership of sovereign democratic nations. I look for a Europe within which we can trade freely, cooperate on matters of mutual or common interest, but within which we retain our sovereign rights of self determination. I look for a reformed less centralised and less bureaucratic Europe. Recent developments within the EU have brought that vision of Europe within reach. We can lead the rest of Europe in attaining it.

The defence of our country is essential to preserving sovereignty. We must retain our ability to deter aggression, particularly nuclear. We must be able to defend our borders against both asymmetric and conventional aggression. NATO must remain the cornerstone of our security, and any enhanced European military dimension must be within NATO and not outside it.

The national interest must be the governing principle of our foreign and security policy. It is primarily grounded in the preservation of our sovereignty and the defence of our country. It goes wider.

We must retain our freedom to pre-empt threats before they become lethal. We must also continue to focus on the global coalition to combat international terrorism wherever it raises its head, and on forestalling humanitarian crises in whose backwash we would otherwise become caught up.

To achieve these objectives we must remain at the heart of the Transatlantic Alliance upon which our long term security depends.

Matching our available resources to our policy objectives must be a firm rule. We must never again pursue international objectives without the resources and means to achieve them. We must never again undertake military initiatives without adequate equipment and backing.

A Renewed Conservative Party

Successful democratic parties constantly have to change to meet emerging challenges and changed circumstances. But change for change's sake is an arid exercise, one which is swiftly seen through by an electorate which - across Europe as well as in the UK - is already firmly convinced that the Political class is taking them for a ride.

Change must be embarked upon not because the political elite demand it, but because the people want it and it is right. A renewed Conservative Party must show that it understands the aspirations of a changing country rather than simply reflecting the agenda of the Political class.

The Conservative Party must restore integrity to the electoral system. We must ensure that voter registration is genuine. We must insist that voters vote in polling stations except where there are real and exceptional reasons for postal and proxy votes; and in these cases we must ensure that fraud cannot take place.

The Conservative Party must become more representative. We must reflect the society within which we live and which we seek to govern. That can only be achieved by expanding and broadening our membership and our parliamentary representation to echo new and changing interests. We need to reach out with a more sensitive tone beyond our natural and traditional supporters to a new following, one which in fact already shares our principles but has not yet felt sufficiently in tune with us to support them.

Extending democracy within the Conservative Party has to be part of the route to this. If we are to demonstrate our political relevance to this wider public, then we need to demonstrate the breadth of our support. The democratic relevance of our Party is hardly enhanced by reducing the franchise of our membership. Rather than restricting or removing the franchise, we should be looking to extend it in a way which will attract the enlistment of a much wider representation. To do that, we must show our membership that we value them.

A renewed Conservative Party must be a party of mass membership. If we seek to reach out to the electorate at large, then we must show we can do so within our own party as well.

Conclusion

The reason why the Conservative Party has lasted for so long is that it does not change its principles; it rearticulates them in a modern context. I am a Conservative because I still believe passionately that those principles can lead to a better life for all the British people. I am a Conservative because while our Party rearticulates its principles for the future, it also saves that which is best in its past.

I hate the current decline from a decent Britain to a cynical and venal one; from a Britain of values to a Britain with no standards, no responsibility and no shame. .

I am a Conservative because I want to see a Britain of which I can be proud again, a Britain in charge of her own destiny, a Britain in which values matter and people are paramount.

I am a Conservative - nothing more and nothing less."

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