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May: We believe in One Nation

Address by The Rt Hon Theresa May MP to the Compassionate Conservatism Conference 2003

"I am sure many people in Britain would be surprised to know that the Conservative Party has hosted such a successful conference on Compassionate Conservatism.

All too often, we have allowed ourselves to be portrayed as a party which cares nothing about compassion. As Iain Duncan Smith said earlier this year, we have let our opponents place us in a box marked self-interest. We all know that this is not the case.

We know that many Conservative Party members up and down the country are at the heart of community groups and voluntary organisations that work with some of the most vulnerable people in our country. We know that Conservative councils deliver the best services for the least well off, for the lowest tax.

Since becoming Chairman I have seen countless examples of how Conservative councils make life better for people. How they improve schools, how they make town centres safer, how they tackle graffiti and anti-social behaviour.

Today I want to give a clear message.

There is nothing inconsistent about being Compassionate and a Conservative. Indeed, compassion has always been at the heart of what we have been about. There has always been a rich vein of compassion running through the Conservative Party. We never stopped being the party of one nation, the party of the poor, or the party of the vulnerable. Conservatives have always been about providing the ladder of opportunity, and the safety net for those in need.

Labour often think history began in 1997, so let me establish a few facts about Compassionate Conservatism.

· We were the party that granted home ownership to a million and a half council tenants when we were last in office. In 1997 there were four million more home-owners than there were in 1979.

· We were the party that helped hundreds of thousands of people gain access to university. By the time we left office, one in three young people went to higher education - up from one in eight in 1979.

· We were the party that helped countless people set up their own business. There were a million more small businesses in Britain by the time we left office than there were in 1979.

· The last Conservative Government offered more help to families on low incomes, to lone parents, to pensioners and helped expand opportunity so that social mobility became a reality for many.

Labour would like us to believe that they have a monopoly on compassion.

- Tell that to people trapped in crime-ridden estates.

- Tell that to the mothers who see their children high on drugs, without any help or rehabilitation.

- Tell that to the children trapped in failing schools.

- Tell that to elderly people who use up all their life savings to pay for a vital operation that the NHS won't provide for months.

- What is compassionate about a Government that imposes so many regulations on care homes that they have to close, leaving thousands of elderly people with an uncertain future?

There is nothing compassionate about New Labour.

This is a Government that have shut the door on the policy of right to buy - denying home ownership - the fastest vehicle of social mobility to hundreds of thousands of people.

This is a Government that has already slapped thousands of pounds in tuition fees on university students, and now plans to burden them even more with top-up fees - a policy which could end up deterring thousands of academically able people from disadvantaged backgrounds from entering university. Where is the compassion in that? It is a policy I am proud to say the Conservative Party has opposed, and which we are committed to reverse.

Under Labour, the gap between the rich and the poor is wider now that it has been for over a decade. For all its talk about social justice, this is a Government in which allows a quarter of all pensioners to live below the poverty line.

In today's Britain a crime is committed every five seconds; record numbers of young people are caught up in a culture of crime and drug abuse; and people fear to walk out alone at night.

That is just a snapshot of 'compassion' in New Labour's New Britain. It is no wonder people are looking for an alternative.

When I speak to people across Britain, they tell me that they simply want things to be better.

They want better schools, better hospitals, better public transport, less crime.

They can't understand why they pay more tax, and the public services are getting worse.

They are sick of the Government's obsession with spin. They are tired of hearing about the Government's latest target or initiative. What matters to them is whether the things on which they depend - the public services - are getting better or worse.

To put it simply - they want a fair deal.

This presents us with a challenge and an opportunity.

But it is not enough for us to point out Labour's failures.

Nor can we simply point to our achievements when we were in office.

Neither of these alone provide people with a fair deal.

We have to persuade people that we can offer a genuine alternative to Labour.

We need to persuade people that we can deliver the changes in the public services they need.

For the last two years, that is what the Conservative Party, under Iain Duncan Smith, has been doing just that.

This is how we are changing.

As Iain said last week, we are now in our strongest position for ten years. We're talking about the issues that matter to people. We're offering solutions to the problems that concern people.

And instead of Labour's phoney compassion, we're offering genuine solutions.

Surely that is what opposition is about.

And that's what 'Compassionate Conservatism' is about too.

Showing that we don't have to settle for second best in the public services.

That Government isn't only about managing decline in the health service - but revitalising them.

Showing that our goal shouldn't be simply to curb crime, but to create a neighbourly society.

Persuading people that inner city children shouldn't be condemned to failing schools, but provided with a stepping-stone to success.

That opportunity should be open to the many, not the few.

Under Iain Duncan Smith, Renewing One Nation has had a central place within the Conservative Party. For that is surely our mission. To renew Britain. To breath new life into failing public services. To show that we can offer genuine alternatives.

But why should people believe us? Labour promised the earth, and failed to deliver. People feel let down. People's faith in New Labour has been betrayed.

How are we going to convince people we are different? We have to show we understand their problems. And we are changing here too.

The culture of politics is changing.

People are tired of politicians who argue by throwing statistics at each other.

They are sick of politicians who think the answer to a problem is to come up with a good slogan.

People want to know what we stand for, not simply what we are against.

On Sunday I attended the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Cookham and Maidenhead branch of Amnesty International - based in my constituency. There was a time when the idea of a conservative attending an Amnesty International event was anathema to many Conservatives. Because we had difficulties with some things they did and said, we appeared to be completely against them. Now, we are grown up enough to say 'we admire your commitment and recognise your dedication to fighting against injustice and although we don't always agree with you, we are happy to work with you when we do, such as when Caroline Spelman met representatives of the Indian Government pressing the case for Ian Stillman.

I believe that is the sort of constructive political engagement that Britain needs to reinvigorate British politics, because too many people have been put off political debate because of the way it is conducted.

Too many people have lost faith in politicians because of the culture of British politics.

That is not only bad for politics. It is bad for Britain.

People want to know that we understand what they want - not simply what makes a good headline.

We have to show people what a Conservative Government will do for them.

How a Conservative Government will make their streets safer, how it will make our schools better, how it will improve health services.

We have already made great progress doing this.

Last year's party conference was, I believe, our most successful for a decade. We unveiled 25 new policies that will begin to reverse the decline in our public services, and we have followed this with more announcements.

Oliver Letwin has set out our commitment to recruit an extra 40,000 police - the largest increase in police numbers for a generation - and our pledge to provide intensive drug rehabilitation for every young hard drug addict.

David Davis has set out our policy to allow thousands of more people to own their own homes.

Damian Green has set out how we would give children stuck in failing schools the chance to go to better schools.

Since then, we have unveiled new policies on health, crime and education.

We have launched our policy to scrap tuition fees and oppose top-up fees.

We have set out proposals to improve public health.

We have begun our consultation on improving Britain's transport.

We have produced our own Green Paper on revitalising the voluntary sector. Up and down the country, each and every day, people from all walks of life take part in voluntary activities that knit together civil society. This is the front-line of compassionate Britain. A Government which neglects this well-spring of compassion will never tackle the problems facing Britain today. We will empower civil society in Britain to be an engine of social renewal.

Labour think the answer to social problems is ever more state control. We disagree.

Last week, Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis released a major critique of Labour's culture of command and control, and promised that the next Conservative Government would cut through suffocating Whitehall bureaucracy and empower people on the front-line.

Since the last party conference Iain has toured the length and breadth of Britain, telling people what a Conservative Government would do for them.

We have been to some of our most deprived communities - the areas which have most reason to feel let down by Tony Blair.

We're not just going to these areas and telling them what we would do. Through organisations like Renewing One Nation, we are listening to them, to their problems, listening to the voice of people - people not obsessed with Westminster politics - to see what they want.

And I think the fact that this conference is taking place is testimony to how much the Conservative Party is changing.

Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith set out the Conservative Party's approach to fighting poverty. Greg Clark has set out the policies that underpin the Fair Deal. Caroline Spelman has spoken of our approach to the developing world. Peter Franklin has spoken about drug rehabilitation. Jill Kirby has spoken about the role of the family. Oliver Letwin has spoken about helping young people off the conveyor belt to crime, and our mission to create genuine neighbourhood policing.

Later we will hear from leading Conservative figures in local Government about how they are already tackling poverty and empowering communities where they live. We will hear about how Conservative principles, put into practice, can make a genuine difference.

This afternoon we will hear from David Lidington about how Conservatives will resolve tensions between different communities in Britain - something we need now more than ever before. David Willetts will speak about a Conservative approach to welfare and poverty, and how we will free people from a culture of dependency.

In a few weeks, we will meet for our annual conference, when even more policies will be set out about how we will take power out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, and give it back to the people.

We won't deal in slogans. We will set out our policies. People will know what we stand for. And then they will decide.

This year's local elections showed that people are already making that decision. Across Britain, people are deciding to come back to the Conservatives.

On May 1st, we gained over 500 council seats and we are now the largest party in local government in Great Britain.

People have realised that Labour have failed to make life better. Labour's voters are abandoning them - not simply because Labour are addicted to spin, not simply because of the war on Iraq, but because they have broken their promise to make Britain better. As Iain said yesterday, there is no heart in Labour's heartlands. Under Labour, people pay higher taxes, but live in a country of rising crime and declining public services. That is why people are turning to us to deliver a fair deal.

As this conference has reminded us - there are conservative solutions to the problems Britain faces today.

Conservative solutions that ensure no one is held back, and no one is left behind.

But we cannot be complacent. Britain does face huge problems. Too many children leave our schools unable to read or write. Too many communities and town centres have been lost to drug dealers, vandals, and criminals. Too many people wait too long for vital hospital treatment.

I believe compassionate conservatism offers the answer to these problems. Our party under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith is providing these answers.

We have to be disciplined. We have to stick to the course we have set.

Our goal - as a party and as a country - must be to turn around the decline in our public services, and restore life to our communities.

This is why we are Conservatives.

We are Conservatives because we believe in One Nation. We believe that by Conservative principles we can address Labour's failure.

Renewing One Nation will be at the heart of our campaign.

Our mission is simple. It is to make Britain better."

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