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Duncan Smith: Labour - unfair to everyone

Speech to a mixed audience of Conservative candidates, members of the Foreign Press Association and others

Last Thursday -- May 1st -- was a significant day for Britain.

Voters up and down the country sent a clear message to the Labour Government.

They want delivery - and as we saw from the results of last week's council elections - local communities are turning in ever-increasing numbers to the Conservative Party because we deliver results.

This week there is a new political reality in Britain.

And it comes in three parts --

First -- the Labour Party is now badly divided -

-- we saw it over Iraq a month ago

-- we are seeing it again over the issue of foundation hospitals

-- and we are going to see it more and more as the Old 'Tax-and-Spend' Labour reasserts itself.

Second -- the people no longer trust the Government --

-- they don't trust the government to deliver any real improvement of our public services,

-- and they don't trust the government not to break its promises - as it has already done over taxation and top-up fees.

And third - they are recognising in growing numbers that the Conservative Party delivers higher quality, reformed public services and better value for money to the British people.

Compared to 1997, there are now over 3000 more Conservative councillors making people's lives better in Britain.

Last Thursday alone, we had 650 more councillors elected and took control of 32 more councils.

It is because of our consistently better management of council services up and down the country that we are now the largest party in local government in Britain.

Local failure

Under this government, council tax has gone through the roof.

But, throughout the country, Labour have been failing their communities.

· Dirty streets

·

· Unsafe, unlit and unpoliced neighbourhoods

·

· Schools that just aren't good enough

·

Exactly six years after electing this Labour Government, the British people are fed up with their failure to deliver the better public services they want to see.

So on May 1st, the British people rejected this failure and voted for delivery.

And the results they want are the kind of results that Conservatives deliver.

Last Thursday was all about local services and local issues.

But therein lies our opportunity.

Our task is to build on the start we made with last week's success.

That task begins now.

We now have the opportunity to show more and more people what so many in Britain already know - that Conservatives deliver better quality services and a better quality of life for all, and still keep your taxes down.

And that's what matters to people…

…local services, delivered by local people in local communities…

…high quality services, where and when they need them…

…value for money services, delivered by government that is careful when they spend people's money.

Taking on the challenge at the national level

Just as we deliver those services day in day out on a local level, so it is now our duty to show that we can deliver the British people better public services nationally.

Not only can we do this -- but we must.

We must because people are losing faith.

Losing faith that government will ever make their lives better.

And no wonder.

Consider what Labour have achieved in six years.

They came in and enjoyed the most perfect of conditions for government - a buoyant economy, a massive parliamentary majority and the hopes and goodwill of the British people.

They came in with so many promises.

Promises not to destroy the foundations for the prosperity generated over the previous 18 years that had made life so much better for the British people.

And promises too, to build on that prosperity to deliver a better quality of life for people in Britain.

They promised better education for our children.

They promised to transform our National Health Service.

They promised dramatic plans for our transport system.

They promised to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime.

Six years to deliver, but how little they have achieved.

Things today, it seems, can still only get better.

Public services aren't good enough

Britain, one of the five wealthiest nations in the world, is a country where people die from diseases that wouldn't kill them if they lived in France.

We still have a million people on hospital waiting lists.

We have a quarter of a million people paying every year for their treatment, many because they can't bear to wait any longer.

Britain is proud of its tradition of education - but for how much longer can we be proud when one in four of our children leave primary schools unable to read, write and count properly?

Britain, which gave the world railways, is now a country whose own rail and road systems are so congested that people here spend more time commuting to work and back than any other people in Europe.

Britain may be served by a highly professional police force. But it is also a country where crime, and the fear of crime, are on the rise, and just one in 40 crimes committed results in a conviction.

Quality of life for people in Britain simply isn't good enough.

It doesn't matter where you live - everyone is being dragged down by the state of our public services.

But nowhere is this suffering more evident, and nowhere does this Government seem more indifferent, than in our inner cities.

I have seen the problems for myself - in Gallowgate, in Moss Side, in Easterhouse, in Bradford, in East London and in many other places.

The British people deserve better.

Economy and prosperity damaged

For not only has the Government failed to deliver the public services people in Britain are so desperate to see, but they have severely damaged our economy and prosperity in the process.

Before being elected in 1997 they told people they had changed.

They claimed they had recognised that transforming the public services was going to be about more than just spending money.

But six years later we see that spending taxpayers' money has been their only answer.

By the end of their current plans, spending in real terms on health will have doubled and on education will have risen by 50 per cent.

But we are not remotely close to seeing similarly large improvements in those services.

And furthermore, the Government has had to find a way to pay for all this spending.

That's why, under Labour, taxes and borrowing are going up at a faster and faster rate.

Before the 1997 election they were very clear on tax.

"We have no plans to increase tax at all," they said.

And: "Our proposals do not involve raising taxes."

And even: "We want people to pay lower taxes."

But in fact, the government tax take has gone up by 50 per cent since Labour came into office.That's the equivalent of an extra five and a half thousand pounds a year for every household in Britain.

And as a result of Labour's massive tax and spend gamble, we are now seeing our competitiveness eroded.

Business investment is falling and savings have collapsed.

Britain is again becoming a place where people do not want to do business.

And it is this which is at the heart of the problem with this Labour Government.

Not only are they spending more and more money without delivering the results.

And not only are they taxing people more and more as a result.

But they are steadily undermining the wealth creation upon which all this spending on the public services depends.

Without the sustainable creation of wealth, government and society can do little.

By taking our economy and the people who drive our economy for granted, this Labour government has done grave harm to the welfare of all the British people.

No reform, no direction, no answer

The root of the problem is that Labour are obsessed with structures not results.

They are control freaks and centralisers who refuse to change their methods regardless of the evidence.

Their intentions may be honourable - but when it comes to getting the job done, they are utterly incapable.

And even where their language has occasionally been radical, the politics of the Labour party means that the outcomes are not.

The Labour Party have shown they have neither the courage nor the means to implement radical and real reform.

They lack understanding of the depths of the problems and they lack the courage to embrace the solutions.

Their ideological differences and obsession with centralising government have prevented them from embarking on a serious programme for the reform of public services.

We have learnt from other countries that enjoy better public services than we do.

We have seen how schools are run in Holland.

We have studied how health services are delivered in Germany, Sweden, Australia and Spain.

We have learnt from New York's policies on policing.

But Labour have not.

Their minds are closed.

Foundation Hospitals

Look at what is becoming of Labour's proposals for foundation hospitals.

One of the cornerstones of Labour's supposed reform agenda for health has been their plan to introduce foundation hospitals.

We agree with the principles.

How could we not?

After all, the principle of taking power out of the hands of politicians and giving it back to doctors and nurses at a local level are at the heart of the proposals we have already brought forward.

But, sadly for the patients, little of that is evident in the Government's plans.

For six years, the Government has been taking power away from doctors and nurses, undermining their ability to deliver services to patients.

So we now have a Labour Prime Minister and Health Secretary pushing a policy that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has succeeded in completely neutering.

Which means that the Government's proposals are a massive retreat from what were, in the beginning, relatively modest plans for decentralisation.

Even today, the Government was in disarray, talking down the significance of its foundation hospitals policy.For under these modest plans, only a very small number of hospitals will have Foundation status.

But because of this, under the Government's proposals, a small number of hospitals will benefit at the expense of the many.

This is because the Chancellor has made it perfectly clear that, if any Foundation Hospital wants to borrow more money, it will mean other hospitals getting less.

So by limiting Foundation status to a handful of hospitals, progress at Foundation Hospitals will inevitably be at the expense of patients elsewhere.

We believe that unless the principle is extended to all hospitals and there are genuine financial and other freedoms, New Labour will have borrowed the language of reform without taking any substantial action.

And the only losers will be patients.

Shying away from real reform is the story of Labour's six years in office.

The euro

But there is one issue on which the Government does believe in genuinely radical change.

From Day One, there has been a commitment to taking Britain into the euro - if, and when, the British people would accept it.

The five tests established by Gordon Brown and on which he is about to report any day now, are a sham.

Of course they address important issues…

As the Chancellor has rightly said, it would be economically damaging to join the euro

· without 'settled and durable' convergence

·

· without sufficient flexibility to live permanently with eurozone interest rates

·

· and if joining would be bad for investment, the financial services industry, and employment.

·

But there is no case for saying that any of these tests have been met.

France has 2.5 million people unemployed; and Germany nearly double that.

In these circumstances, the Government would surely find it hard to persuade anyone that joining the euro will be good for jobs?

In fact, the opposite is true.

The essence of joining a single currency is having to adopt the same interest rate as other countries, all of the time, even when that would be clearly and unambiguously bad for Britain.

Cutting interest rates when it makes sense to put them up, or raising them when it makes sense to bring them down, would undermine the economic stability on which jobs depend.

That's why we say that the Conservatives would not take Britain into the euro.

Quite simply because we believe that surrendering our ability to set interest rates according to our economic needs would be bad for British jobs, the British economy and the British people.

But, of course, these economic tests are no more than a very elaborate smokescreen.

Because, as we all know, the only test that matters to the Government is the political one.

Just as they want to join the euro for political, not economic reasons, so their judgment as to when to try to join, is based on politics not economics.

Our challenge on the euro

The only test that really matters to Tony Blair is 'can he win a referendum?'.

I think that's an important test too.

I believe that the British people agree that joining the euro would be bad for Britain.

We don't need a referendum to tell us that.

Tony Blair clearly thinks otherwise, and it is obvious that he doesn't want to rule it out for any sustained period.

The Prime Minister would rather leave things so he can seize the window of opportunity he is hoping will arise - and go for a vote when he thinks his chances of winning it are greatest.

I think Britain needs more certainty than that.

I know British business is demanding more certainty than that.

In fact I think that the Prime Minister is taking a gamble in which the only loser will be Britain.

So if Tony Blair still believes we should join the euro…

…if he chooses to prolong the uncertainty…

…if he chooses not to deal with our public services as his first priority…

…then he should say so, and get on with calling a referendum to find out exactly what the British people think.

That way, he and his Government will be forced to get on with what should be their absolute priority -

the reform and renewal of our public services,

and the urgent need to reverse the decline in our country's competitive position.

A fair deal for no one

Last Thursday, British voters made their own views plain.

They are not willing to put up with poor services and higher taxes.

In two to three years' time, they will vote again --- this time in a general election.

And by then they will be seriously fed up.

They will have suffered a decade of rising taxes but still have public services that just aren't good enough.

They will have heard too many promises.

They will have been ripped off by this government for far too long.

And they will be wondering if any party will be able to make any real difference to their lives.

But I know, and all of you know, that there is one party that can make that difference.

That's because local Conservatives are out across the country making a difference to people's lives every day.

The British people deserve better from their national government.

For too long they have not been getting a fair deal.

There is our opportunity.

We have a duty to take it.

And we are going to.

We are going to give the British people a fair deal again.

And over the coming weeks and months I will be setting out just how we will deliver that fair deal.

A fair deal for everyone.

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