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Howard: The issues that matter to hard working Britons

Speech launching election campaign in the South, in Winchester

"The choice before voters on May the fifth is very clear.

They can either reward Mr. Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk.

Or they can vote Conservative, to support a party that's taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard working Britons.

Conservatives will restore discipline in our classrooms by giving head teachers control over their schools.

We will clean up our hospitals by giving matrons the power to close wards that are infected with MRSA.

We will cut crime by each year putting 5000 more police officers - real police officers - on our streets and introducing tougher sentences for burglars and drug dealers.

We will reduce immigration by setting an annual limit on the number of people who can come and settle in Britain.

And we will reward hardworking Britons by giving them value for money and lower taxes.

People work hard for their money and they deserve to keep more of it.

Mr. Blair promised that he had no plans to increase tax at all.

But he has put taxes up 66 times - mostly by stealth.

And it's hurting.

According to the independent Institute for fiscal studies average incomes have started to fall for the first time in ten years.

It's not the rich getting soaked.

It is normal, hard working families trying to make ends meet.

And if Mr. Blair gets in again … taxes will go up again.

Rarely in the history of politics has a government spent so much, taxed so much and achieved so little.

People work hard, they pay their taxes and they deserve value for their money.

But today, families are paying an average of £5,000 in extra tax a year - and what have they got to show for it?

Everyone knows there is no such thing as a free lunch.

With Mr Blair you pay for lunch … and it never seems to turn up.

Britain cannot carry on indefinitely spending more than it is earning without higher taxes or higher interest rates.

If we are to secure our future economic prosperity, government must once again start to live within its means.

There are two Britains today: private sector Britain, where people are working harder just to stand still, struggling just to make ends meet.

And bureaucratic Britain, where money is no object, you spend what you like, you employ who you like.

For every job the private sector lost last year, the public sector took on almost two more. Britain cannot carry on like this without storing up huge problems for the future.

You know a country is living on borrowed time when government is the fastest growing industry in town.

So we have a plan to get a grip on government spending.

That's why a Conservative government will cut waste.

There'll be 20 per cent fewer MPs, and 20 per cent fewer government ministers.

Over 160 quangos will disappear.

235,000 bureaucratic posts will go.

We'll scrap the New Deal.

There'll be no new Supreme Court.

And as for those unelected, unaccountable regional assemblies, the playthings of John Prescott, we'll get rid of them too.

Yes, these decisions are tough - but they are right.

Right because they'll get resources to the front line - to our schools and hospitals - giving taxpayers value for their money.

Right because they'll help pay of debt and avoid Mr. Blair's tax rises.

And right because they'll enable a Conservative to lower taxes.

I believe that families are better at spending their hard earned cash than any politician.

That is why Conservatives will cut taxes.

The hardest hit by Labour's stealth taxes have been the older generation.

If you want to know about a family, look at how they treat their older relatives.

And if you want to know about a country, look at how it cares for its older generation.

How a country treats the older generation is a test of its values.

Many served our country in her greatest hour of need, fighting for liberty, freedom and Britain's independence for future generations.

We must never forget the contribution they have made - and continue to make to our communities.

But in Britain today too many pensioners are not shown the respect they deserve or given the dignity that is their due.

The older generation don't seem to feature in Mr Blair's New Britain.

New Labour's Britain is a country where the older generation has been airbrushed out.

As Frank Field, Mr Blair's own former social security minister, has said Labour took one of the best pensions systems in Europe and turned into one of the worst.

People who saved for their retirement suddenly found that the money they'd put aside simply wasn't there - that the value of their pensions had been destroyed by Mr Blair's stealth taxes.

And Labour have forced nearly half all pensioners are onto means testing.

Pensioners quite rightly resent means testing.

It is at total odds with the values of the forgotten majority - the people who work hard, who take responsibility for themselves and save for their retirement.

Means testing is wrong.

It penalises people for doing the right thing - saving for their retirement.

It sends a clear signal to the younger generation: "Don't bother to save. Spend whatever you can before you retire, because your future is one of dependency on the State".

Means testing is humiliating - forcing pensioners to go cap in hand to the State for what they are due.

And means testing is complicated. That's why over one and a half million eligible pensioners don't even claim what they are owed.

I want our country to honour our senior citizens, cherish their wisdom and care for their needs - a country where they can live in security and with dignity, respected and protected.

To those who have given so much, we must surely give what is their due.

I will increase the basic state pension in line with earnings, making pensioners up to £11 a week better off after four years.

By increasing the basic pension, we will free hundreds of thousands pensioners from the tyranny of means tested benefits - restoring their dignity, independence and self-respect.

I will give every home where the adults are sixty five and over a fifty per cent Council Tax discount up to a maximum of £500. This will ensure that Council Tax bills for five million pensioners are cut.

Taken together these proposals will mean that pensioner households will be up to £1,000 a year better off - it's a thousand pounds.

And I will stop the disgrace of elderly people being forced to sell their homes, saying goodbye forever to their independence, to pay for their residential care.

It's important that government rewards people who work hard and have contributed to our society.

And it's important too that government upholds the law.

Some people say I shouldn't talk about difficult issues like the abuse of our asylum system and those travellers who stick two fingers up to the law.

But we cannot make Britain a better place if we sweep difficult issues under the carpet.

Everyone knows you won't fix a problem if you aren't even prepared to discuss it.

I'm not prepared to appease special interest groups because I believe passionately in fair play.

We are all British and we should all have to play by the same rules.

Nor will I be distracted from doing what I believe is best for Britain by the smirking politics of Mr Blair or the woolly thinking of the Liberal Democrats.

So on each of these issues - on rewarding those who work hard and have contributed to our country, on schools, on hospitals, on crime and on immigration - we have a detailed, published Timetable for Action so you can hold us to account.

Look for this commitment in your paper, check it on the net, put it up on your fridge door - hold me to it.

And beware yet another election where Mr Blair says one thing to get your vote on polling day and does something quite different afterwards.

Mr. Blair is already secretly grinning about the prospect of his third victory.

Imagine five more years of him.

Well you don't have to settle for it.

If you're thinking what we're thinking, it's time for urgent action on the things that really matter:

- Reward for hardworking Britons;

- School discipline;

- Cleaner hospitals;

- More police; and

- Controlled immigration.

So I say again, the choice before voters on May the fifth is very clear.

They can either reward Mr. Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk.

Or they can vote Conservative, to support a party that's taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard working Britons."

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