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Duncan Smith: The lie that the Liberal Democrats are a moderate party of the centre

Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference 2003

It's great to be back in Scotland.

Betsy and I had three wonderful weeks with the children here in the summer.

I could say we came to support the British tourist industry.

In fact we came because we just love Scotland.

The Prime Minister spent his holiday abroad.

After all, he can't enjoy being in Britain much these days.

There are lots of things he probably wants to get away from.

The damning questions of the Hutton Inquiry…

…the failure of his policies on health and education…

…his own party - and Mr Cook and Ms Short in particular…

And his oldest friend, the man next door who wants his job.

Over the summer I watched the David Kelly tragedy unfold with growing horror.

In response to Dr Kelly's death a panicked Tony Blair established the Hutton Inquiry.

I welcome Lord Hutton's work and I hope it will help Dr Kelly's family to understand a little more about why this dedicated civil servant lost his life.

We called for a judicial inquiry and I, today, restate that demand for a desperately needed investigation into the many questions that the Hutton Inquiry does not have the authority to answer.

Particularly Labour's alleged manipulation of the pre-war dossiers presented to Parliament.

I will not anticipate the outcome of the Hutton Inquiry but it has already done the British people a great service.

It has exposed the deceitful and manipulative way that this Labour Government works.

This Government has been confirmed as the most closed, secretive and downright dishonest Government of my lifetime.

It took the death of a senior public servant to shine a light into the deepest and darkest workings of Tony Blair's government.

First Mr Blair denied having anything to do with the public naming of Dr Kelly and was then forced to admit that he chaired the meetings at which the exposure strategy was devised.

But there have been many other shameful episodes in the history of New Labour.

I think of the way the Paddington train crash survivors were bullied and the attempt to use the tragedy of September 11th as a good day to bury bad news.

I remember the Eccelestone, Mittalgate, Hinduja and Bristol flat affairs.

Labour's culture of spin and deceit is destroying the British public's faith in the democratic process.

Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell and Stephen Byers have been rightly blamed for contributing to this culture.

But it is not enough for each of them to have resigned.

Tony Blair appointed and directed all of these people.

Only with his departure from Downing Street will the culture of lies be shut down for good.

That's why Tony Blair should go and go now.

I've always thought that Tony Blair's support was as wide as his grin and as shallow as his record.

And on Thursday - in Brent - voters abandoned Labour in their droves.

They abandoned Labour because they saw through the veneer and saw Tony Blair's record of rising crime and failing public services.

Let me make it absolutely clear: Thursday night was a disastrous night for the Labour government and Tony Blair. A good night for us all who have opposed him.

We watched as the Liberal Democrats used the usual tricks, of course, faithful to the words of their secret campaign handbook: 'Be wicked. Act Shamelessly. Stir endlessly.'

But this week something else happened, which was different and dramatic.

The Liberal Democrats made a strategic blunder.

The lie that the Liberal Democrats are a moderate party of the centre was exposed like never before.

I am determined that the campaign which won them Brent will lose them seats all over Britain at the next election.

Charles Kennedy, in a desperate attempt to shore up his own position, attacked Labour from the left in Brent.

The result is that people who voted for Red Ken Livingstone in the 1980s are now voting for the Liberal Democrats.

As our vote held up, we saw a move from Left to Left.

The Liberal Democrats talk about honesty in politics.

But they are a Left-wing party who pretend to be moderate when it suits them.

In Brent East, Labour voters were honest about wanting to punish this government.

And so they voted for a party that wants even higher tax than Labour.

Even more spending.

That is opposed to any attempt to toughen up Labour's failing and chaotic asylum system.

That will weaken our criminal justice system by not jailing first time burglars.

And of course, that wants to scrap the pound.

Oh yes ….. The Liberal Democrats are a left wing party - proof positive is that here in Scotland, they work alongside the Labour Party in a joint administration.

But not just that.

At their party conference next week, Liberals want to abolish the monarchy, ban smacking, and impose compulsory sex education for seven year-olds.

These are offensive policies.

The idea that Thursday night's result in Brent suggests the Lib Dems are now the main party of opposition is nonsense.

Brent wasn't the only by-election on Thursday - throughout the country as many people voted in council by-elections as voted in Brent.

And the Conservatives won 45% of the vote to Labour's 25% and the Lib Dems' 16%.

And let me remind you that on May 1st, the Conservatives won control of more councils in a single night than the Lib Dems control at all and became the largest party in local government.

And in Scotland in May the party made great progress in the elections for the Scottish Parliament. We are on the move.

And I have a message for "Hurricane Charlie". Hurricanes spin round and round, making a lot of noise but they leave havoc in their wake and always blow themselves out.

We should also recognise that at last the Lib Dems said in public what we have known in private for too long.

From now on, they cannot have it both ways.

The party of Brent East cannot be the party of Newbury, Guildford, and Aberdeenshire West.

The voters of those places, and others as well, will now recognize the Liberal Democrats' deceit and double standards.

The defeat for the Labour Government is good news. We should all celebrate the fact that the electorate have punished Mr Blair.

And it is our job to remind them endlessly of the Liberal Democrats who won Brent East and ensure they never vote Liberal Democrat again.

I'm pretty used to Labour and the Liberals joining forces - I see it most weeks at Prime Minister's Questions.

In Scotland the combination has been disastrous.

Just look at the public services since 1999.

The number of people on NHS waiting lists has risen by a quarter.

Two thousand more NHS administrators.

600 less beds.

25 per cent more violent crime.

37 per cent more drug crime.

Half of all 14 year-olds not meeting the expected standards for reading or writing.

The number of assaults on teachers up an appalling 700 per cent - because of the Executive's ludicrous refusal to exclude disruptive pupils.

That is the record of Labour and the Liberals in Scotland.

So forget about the third party.

And forget about the third way.

Throughout Britain there are only two ways of doing things.

You can centralise the public services, tax and tax the public to pay for them, and blame everybody else when things go wrong.

Or you can give both power and responsibility to the people in the front line:

…the professionals who provide our public services and the citizens who use them.

That's a real devolution of power…

…the kind of 'devolution' the Scottish people deserve.

Next month, in Blackpool, our party will show that we are ready to govern again.

You'll see the first draft of the manifesto we will present to the British people at the next general election.

I want to run through the outlines of that manifesto with you today.

Even in the devolved areas of policy, I know David and his team are working along similar lines to the party in Westminster.

Britain used to have a health service and an education system as good as any in the world.

Sadly, in neither case can we be so confident anymore.

It's not that we don't have excellent heads, inspiring teachers or dedicated doctors and nurses.

We do.

And I pay tribute to their dedication and professionalism.

But the structures these professionals work in suffer chronic levels of bureaucracy.

Staff are undermined and underrated.

Neither teachers nor doctors are free to practice their vocations, to follow their training and use their experience in the service of the people.

According to Mr Blair, their experience counts for nothing.

Their commitment and knowledge of the children, the patients, the communities they serve, counts for nothing in Labour's Scotland, Labour's Britain.

What counts, said Mr Blair, is what works.

He means what works for him, and his electoral fortunes.

Labour's basic, governing belief is what I call Total Politics.

For New Labour, everything that ever happens in every school, every hospital and every police force must be directed, supervised and controlled from the centre.

Conservatives, both north and south, have a different vision from Labour.

We'll put parents and patients in charge of the services they receive.

And that means we'll give them choice.

I want to be very clear what I mean by choice.

I do not mean the choice of the high street.

I do not expect parents and patients to shop around for a school or clinic, the way they shop around for a holiday or a television.

There is a profound difference between choice in the marketplace and choice in the public services.

Choice in the marketplace means variety and abundance….

Choice in public services means a guarantee - and peace of mind.

It means that you are not stuck with second-rate services.

It means you have an alternative if you need it.

So when Conservatives say to people: We want you to have choice…

…we do not mean, you're on your own.

We mean: we will fight to ensure…

… that in the things that matter…

… - in your family's healthcare and education - …

…we will be by your side.

We will enable patients to receive their treatment anywhere in the health service…

…and if decent treatment is not available in the NHS, we will assist them to go private.

And in the inner cities, we will give parents the right to take their children's education to the school of their choice.

We will fight to ensure…

…that no-one is held back by a lack of opportunity…

… and no-one is left behind by a lack of compassion.

With choice for the users of public services, we can give freedom to the providers.

In healthcare, we will trust our hospitals to the people we trust our lives to: the people who work in them.

Doctors will follow clinical priorities, not political guidelines.

In education, Scottish Conservatives won't tell schools what to do.

We will give them the freedom they need to cater to local demand.

We will encourage a greater choice of specialist schools, including faith and Steiner schools.

And because children only get one chance at education…

…we will restore discipline in schools.

We will give head teachers the power to exclude violent or disruptive pupils who make learning impossible for everybody else.

In higher education, we will give universities and colleges back their freedom.

Independent institutions, dedicated to pursuing excellence not government targets.

And we will abolish the Lib-Lab graduate tax.

The Liberals like to peddle the fiction that there are no tuition fees in Scotland.

What you really have are fees paid through the tax system at a later date.

Combining income tax, national insurance and graduate tax, young Scottish graduate earning just £10,000 a year will be paying an effective marginal tax rate of 42%.

In England and Wales, Labour want to introduce extra fees, on top of the tuition fees they've already imposed.

Another one of Labour's broken promises.

Of course, top-up fees and graduate taxes amount to the same thing.

A tax on learning.

Almost the first thing we do will be to pay the tuition costs of all students in Scotland.

And we will increase the value of the student loan to £5,000 a year.

We will guarantee access to higher education solely on merit.

And in England and Wales we will scrap the top-up fees.

My visit to the Gallowgate estate in Glasgow was one of many I have made to hard-pressed communities since I became leader.

The places and people have been different, but the problems are the same.

Dependency, drugs, crime.

The breakdown of family and community in the face of unbearable pressure.

Everywhere the sense of hopelessness which is the unmistakable mark of real poverty.

All these communities had one other thing in common.

They've been ruled by Labour for as long as anyone can remember.

By Labour councils.

And a Labour Executive.

Labour policies.

And Labour results.

But blaming Labour isn't good enough.

We have to deliver policies that will make a difference.

If Gallowgate shames us, it also inspires us.

In the midst of despair there is hope.

Local people, abandoned by government, are finding their own solutions.

Community groups are succeeding where the politicians have failed.

But they do need the help of politicians - because we might not have the solutions to local problems…

… but we have the money, and we have the power, to remove obstacles and make local solutions really take off.

As one remarkable woman from the Gallowgate Family Support Group told me:

"We don't need more politics.

"We need more hope.

"Just give us hope and we will do the rest."

And that's what I will do.

So where do we start?

We start by taking back the streets for the law abiding citizen.

We start by winning back the estates from the muggers and the drug dealers.

We start by getting the police back on the beat.

Because there can be no end to poverty without a start to security.

Figures from the Executive show that, on average, there are only 138 police officers out on foot patrol in the whole of Scotland.

Conservatives believe in visible, effective, neighbourhood policing.

That's why in England and Wales we have pledged to put 40,000 additional police where they are needed the most - on our streets.

And why under a Conservative Government here in Scotland there would be more money to fight crime and keep you safe in your communities.

David …..

We believe in getting persistent offenders off the streets.

And we believe in fast track prosecution and stiffer sentencing for drug dealers.

Because the fight against crime and the fight against drugs are one and the same.

Since 1999, drug deaths have increased by 70%.

Every day in Scotland, a life is lost to drugs.

That is the legacy of Labour's "Know the Score" strategy.

Conservatives, north and south, are united behind a different approach.

United behind the parents and grandparents of the Gallowgate Family Support Group.

As Annabel Goldie says

"addicts need to be faced with a stark "tough love" choice between immediate and effective rehabilitation or the full force of the law."

We will give those addicts that choice.

And that is how we will give hope to their families.

In delivering a fair deal for the broken communities of our nation, we will never punish the prosperous.

That is Labour's way.

When Conservatives talk about a fair deal we mean a fair deal for everyone:

…for the poor, trapped in poverty…

…for the taxpayer, denied value for money…

…for the elderly, denied a decent pension…

…and for business people, taxed and regulated to despair.

These are not contradictory messages.

They become one message.

A fair deal for everyone.

Since Tony Blair promised 'we have no plans to increase tax', Gordon Brown has imposed sixty tax rises on the British people.

This week, I forced the Prime Minister to admit that Council Tax in England and Wales has risen by 70% since he came to power.

In Scotland, the increase has been less fast, but still an enormous 42%.

Poor pensioners are paying almost a tenth of their incomes in Council Tax.

And what are we seeing for all these increases?

Certainly not the improvements we all so desperately want.

Public sector productivity has actually declined since 1997…

… but taxes keep on climbing, and taking money which people need to save and invest.

Since 1997…

…the overall tax take has increased by half…

… but household saving is down by half.

Spending on public services has increased by 50 per cent…

…but the volume of public services we receive has increased by only 15 per cent.

But at the same time there has been a fall of 5% fall in productivity.

In the health service, Labour has spent 22% more money in the last three years.

But less than 2% more patients are being treated.

And today we hear we are to be asked to pay 5p more tax for a gallon of petrol.

That is Labour's record.

Taxing.

Spending.

Wasting.

Failing.

The next Conservative government will be different.

We will reform our public services so they deliver value for money for taxpayers.

By eliminating waste and by getting more money to the front line of our public services, we will deliver better public services…

… and, let me be absolutely clear, we will be a lower tax Government than Labour.

Down in Westminster, Scottish politics sometimes gets overlooked.

There are a lot of Scottish MPs, of course.

Half the Cabinet seem to come from north of the border.

But don't kid yourself that this Government pays a lot of attention to Scotland.

This summer's botched reshuffle saw the Secretary of State's position abolished, then reinstated.

The plaque removed from the building, then screwed back on.

And we end up with the job being done on a part-time basis by the Transport Secretary.

It's not as if Alistair Darling hasn't got enough to be getting on with - sorting out the chaos on our roads and railways!

Well at my Shadow Cabinet table Jacqui Lait is a powerful advocate for the interests of Scotland.

Thank you Jacqui for all you do.

If this Government insults the office of the Secretary of State, that is nothing to the way it insults the Scottish regiments.

Throughout the history of the Union, Scotsmen formed the backbone of the British Army.

My father used to tell me stories of the great battles fought by Scottish regiments in defence of the United Kingdom and its interests.

Battles like Waterloo and Balaclava and through both world wars all noble monuments to the bravery of the Scottish regiments.

I was proud to serve in the Scots Guards.

I am deeply troubled that the Government is considering further disbandments.

An attack on the Scottish regiments is an attack on the Union.

An attack that Scottish Conservatives must repel.

I am appalled by the false economies this Government is always trying to make at our armed forces' expense.

I know that the army is a costly asset.

But we will not save taxpayers money by weakening the defences of the United Kingdom.

Nor will we fulfill our responsibility to the environment by eroding our most precious national resources - I mean our stock of North Sea fish.

As Ted Brocklebank said recently, Scotland has the richest fishing grounds in Europe…

…and we have a duty, not only as Britons but as members of the European Union, to sustain this remarkable, renewable gift of nature for future generations.

This duty is not being met by the Common Fisheries Policy.

Over two million tonnes of healthy fish thrown back into the sea every year - and this is the how the EU tries to 'conserve' fish stocks.

What nonsense.

My commitment to conservation begins with the UK Government regaining control of UK waters.

We will do this by negotiation if possible - by unilateral action if necessary.

To those who say, you cannot withdraw from the CFP, I say: watch me.

If Parliamentary sovereignty means anything, it means that.

And while we are on that only the Conservative Party will campaign to give the British people a referendum on the European Constitution. Only the Conservative Party will give people the respect they deserve.

Parliament is also supposed to be sovereign over our borders.

But Labour's asylum and immigration system is a disgrace.

Conservatives will scrap that system lock, stock and barrel.

We'll make sure that all applications are processed offshore.

No one will be allowed to sneak into this country illegally and then claim asylum.

We will introduce a system based on quotas - so we, not the criminal gangs, decide how many people we receive and from where.

We will fulfill Britain's duty to genuine refugees but eliminate the waste, abuse and injustice of the present system.

When Conservatives take office we will cut the number of asylum seekers entering Britain dramatically.

And so as we near the next election, I want to set out two challenges to the party.

First, I want us to take over from the Nationalists as the official opposition in Scotland.

After all, as the only party on the centre-right, we're the real opposition anyway.

The only party to speak up for families, for businesses, and for the Union.

Already the Scottish people are abandoning the other parties.

The disintegration of Labour and the Nationalists is our opportunity.

In the May elections we drew level with the Nationalists, and will now charge ahead to chase Labour's lead.

And I want to pay tribute to the man who is leading that charge - the directly-elected member for Edinburgh Pentlands: David McLetchie.

David is an outstanding leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Don't take it from me.

The Times this week said that under David's leadership, the Party has - I quote - "rediscovered a confidence and a voice that it has lacked since 1997".

I have every confidence in him and his team as he leads you towards the European elections next year and the general election whenever it is called.

I have said before that a victory in the general election, without victories in Scotland, is not a complete victory.

And I stand by those words.

For this is the second challenge for the party across the United Kingdom.

I mean victory at the general election.

When I became leader two years ago I knew we had a mountain to climb.

And halfway through the Parliament, the top is finally in sight.

Trust in this Government has entirely seeped away.

Trust in the Conservatives is returning.

Back in 2001 I set my Shadow Cabinet team a task.

To develop an analysis of Labour's failure which would not just be a means of attacking the Government.

But also be a plan for our Government.

And I can tell you now that my team has delivered.

Next month we will unveil policies in health, in education, in home affairs…

…which will bring home to the British people the control over their lives that Labour has stolen.

From now until the election I will be tireless.

I will be tireless in exposing Labour's failure.

Tireless in speaking up for the victims of that failure.

And tireless in campaigning for the Conservative solution for that failure.

I know that you will be with me in this campaign.

After 11 years, many defeats and huge difficulties we gather here today all of us knowing that it is different now.

I do not stand here and tell you that victory is ours by right, it is not.

I do not stand here and tell you that the next year and a half will be easy, it will not.

However, I will tell you that for the first time in 11 years this party has at last earned the right to be heard.

That the next year and a half is for the first time in far too many years a contest.

Everyone of us is here today bound together by one strong and abiding belief that each and everyone of us loves our country.

It brought me here and it sustains me.

And I know that the British people are the most decent, determined and tolerant people that I have ever met anywhere.

And I know that they are worth fighting for.

That is our challenge.

That is also our duty.

To fight for the British people and to regain power for the British people.

Together, united, focused and determined, come with me and let us show them that we are ready for government.

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