Keynote local elections speech in Guildford
I'm delighted to be in Guildford today.
And delighted to be in such fine company.
Nigel Sutcliffe is very welcome in the Conservative Party.
Today he has shown what an asset he is to our cause.
And it's great, too, to see Anne Milton - Guildford's next Member of Parliament!
On Thursday, you - and voters all over Britain - have a chance to reject Labour and Liberal Democrat councils that are delivering poor services at a massive price.
You pay that price.
Labour's just put your council tax through the roof.
On Thursday, you should take that chance for change.
Your streets don't have to be dirty.
Your neighbourhood doesn't have to be unsafe, unlit and unpoliced.
Your child's school can be much better.
Thursday is your chance to send Labour and the Liberal Democrats packing.
So, tell them:
"Your councils are charging top-rate taxes for second-rate services - it's just not good enough.
It's time for you to go - and go now."
Thursday is also your chance to vote for a job to be done well - and at a fair price.
And when people want a job done properly and fairly, they vote Conservative.
Because Conservative councils get more jobs done for less of your money.
Our councils - across Britain - have proved that.
And it's not just me who says so.
Analysis of research produced by the independent Audit Commission shows that Conservative councils provide better quality local services.
And at the same time, our councils charge band for band lower council taxes.
That's what I call a fair deal.
And that's what you can vote for on Thursday.
You can vote for a Conservative council that will start making a difference - not in theory, some time in the future - but in practice, from the moment they take office!
All over Britain, Conservative councils are already making a real difference for millions of local people.
Conservative councils spend more on street lighting.
And that's not just a statistic - it means that people can go out at night and not be so worried about walking home.
Conservative councils have fewer roadworks on busy roads.
That's not just a statistic - it gets a parent home in time for dinner with the kids.
Conservative councils have the best ratings for social services.
That's not just a statistic - it means that a house-bound pensioner gets decent home help.
Conservative councils run schools with the lowest levels of truancy and the best exam results.
That's not just a statistic - that's a solid foundation for a child in adult life.
That's the sort of better services we deliver to local communities - and it's only half of our fair deal.
The other half is what it costs you.
Conservatives councils deliver better services at a lower cost.
Despite Labour fiddling the local government grant system, the average Conservative council still charges £81 less than Labour on Band D bills.
But it could be worse.
You could live in a Lib-Dem borough -- where the yearly tax bill is about £99 more than a Conservative council.
Waste and incompetence nearly always explain why Labour and the Liberals charge so much and deliver so little.
Usually this waste and incompetence is hidden from view.
But a spectacular example of Liberal Democrat mismanagement recently came to my attention.
The LibDems in South Gloucestershire spent a huge £2m on a library that is currently standing empty because the LibDems forgot to order any books!
£235,000 of extra council taxpayers' money was needed to buy books and shelves to put them on.
The extra money bust the budget so that when it opens the library can only afford to operate for two afternoons a week and on Saturdays.
Since Labour came to power, council tax has gone up on average by 60%.
Shire counties have suffered the most -- thanks to Labour fiddling the local government funding system.
They've fleeced efficient Conservative councils in order to prop up their wasteful town hall cronies.
The dictionary calls it gerrymandering.
I call it cheating.
Despite this, Conservative councils are keeping council taxes lower.
Yet here, in LibDem-controlled Guildford, the council tax has gone up by 77%!
And so, you're asking: where has all this money gone?
Guildford isn't any greener.
The Liberal Democrats call themselves the party of the environment but this Lib Dem council recycles only 10% of waste.
That's only half of what Conservative councils next door in Tanbridge and Surrey Heath have achieved.
When it came to John Prescott's thumb-suck building targets for the South East, most of the Liberal Democrats on the South-East Regional Planning Authority fell over themselves in their rush to vote to concrete over Surrey's green fields.
Yet John Prescott and the LibDems never even bothered to ask the people of Guilford whether they wanted these houses.
They also want to impose a new tier of regional politicians on you - and at your expense.
Regional dictats will dump housing estates on Surrey's Green Belt, or impose an incinerator on Guildford, irrespective of local wishes.
Liberal Democrats aren't serious about fighting crime either.
Guildford's Liberal Democrat MP, Sue Doughty supports Labour's belief that first-time burglars shouldn't go to jail.
She'd like to soften the law on hard drugs and give jailed criminals the right to vote in elections.
No doubt she'll get a lot of support from the criminal classes on Thursday.
But I suspect that the majority of people across Britain will be looking for a fairer deal than hers.
Crime affects everyone but it preys most on society's most vulnerable people.
That's why fighting crime isn't just a priority for Conservatives; it's a moral duty.
I pledge to you: we'll put 40,000 extra police officers on Britain's streets.
That will mean more than six hundred extra neighbourhood police officers for Surrey as a whole.
Yet there is a darker shadow that falls across these elections.
I was very sorry to learn that the BNP is fielding a candidate in Guildford.
I am sorry -- and I am angry.
Sorry - because the BNP are a truly loathsome development in British politics.
Mainstream politicians of every stripe must unite to condemn these parasites on our democracy.
But I am also angry.
Angry because the BNP have only been able to crawl from underneath their little rock because of rising crime and the shambles in the asylum system.
Conservatives are very proud of Britain's ethnic diversity and I will defend that diversity with passion.
And I will defend it with actions as well as words.
Conservatives will act against the crime and racial hatred that threatens the security and peace of mind of people of every background.
But we need also to tackle the issues that feed extremism.
The BNP exploit decent people's genuine concerns at Labour's chaotic asylum system and try to make it an issue of race - it is not.
People of every race and every community agree with the recent report that described Labour's record as the worst in Europe.
And perhaps - worst of all - it is the genuine refugee fleeing persecution who suffers most.
People are rightly concerned about abuse of the asylum system because of its impact on national security and crime and taxes.
So Oliver Letwin and I have pledged to reform the asylum system so that it is fair for people fleeing from persecution and to the British taxpayer who has to fund it.
We will create a quota system for genuine refugees only - one which will restore balance and fairness.
Our democracy is also weakened by the increasing decay of the Labour Party's organisation.
Labour's heartland activists are deserting their party.
In the equivalent elections four years ago, Labour fought nearly 78% of seats.
Next Thursday they have slumped to contest only 6,836, or 65.6%, of seats.
The Liberal Democrats are faring even worse; fighting just 63% of seats.
The Conservatives are streets ahead.
Conservative candidates will be fighting 8,710, or 83.5%, of the more than ten thousand local seats that must be filled.
That's the Conservative Party's best ever performance in these seats and a real tribute to our party's health and our commitment to give more people the chance to elect good Conservative councils.
The time given to local communities by parish, district or county councillors is often taken for granted.
Well, I don't take it for granted for one moment.
Let me say thank you to all those men and women - who serve as councillors and seek to represent their local communities.
Local politics is the foundation of our democracy.
Its health should matter to all of us.
And let me tell you what healthy local government is all about.
It's a system that it sufficiently independent to serve local needs with energy, compassion and imagination.
Just about every week, since I became Leader of the Conservative Party, I've been travelling around this country.
I've met so many outstanding Conservative council candidates - people whose talents, and dedication to service, need to be put to the best use that their communities can possibly make of them.
That's why our local councils - which live and work closest to the people of this country -- need more authority, more independence, more discretion - and less financial and bureaucratic interference from Whitehall.
Local government deserves the power and adequate resources to develop and deliver innovative solutions to meet local needs.
That's the system I'm committed to.
That's the future I intend to work for.
That's the Conservatives' vision for local democracy.
It's a fair deal for local government.
Now, political memories are usually rather short.
And we've just passed through a rather long domestic ceasefire.
So I hope I've reminded you all that there are a great many things about which Tony Blair and I couldn't disagree more.
I'm not the greatest fan of his government's record, as you may know.
And looking at this audience - I suspect you feel the same.
But let me remind you briefly why I backed the Prime Minister over Iraq.
I did so because he was acting in Britain's national interest and he was freeing the Iraqi people from a dictator whom we believed then, and know for sure now, is - or maybe was - a very evil man.
I had been highlighting the threat he posed to our nation's security for eight years.
And when the time came to deal with him once and for all, I refused to play politics.
We knew our duty -- Conservatives will put Britain's security before party politics.
I've served in the army and I knew Britain's armed forces deserved our full support.
Imagine then the utter revulsion I felt, when I saw, in a letter published last month our servicemen and women described as "contract killers".
Who do you think published that letter?
Some propagandist in Baghdad or North Korea or some class war warrior from the Socialist Workers' Party?
That letter was published in Liberal Democrat News.
All decent people would share my revulsion.
Including the many decent people who did not support this war.
The Liberal Democrat leader should be ashamed that his party would print such a hateful view of our armed forces.
He should publicly apologise today.
Now that the war against Saddam is won we have to help the Iraqi people win the peace.
They have witnessed our nation's strength.
Now, I urge the Prime Minister to do all in his power to ensure that they see our nation's full humanity.
The delivery of water and aid to the Iraqis could not be more urgent.
They suffered terribly under Saddam and now they deserve our committed support as they rebuild their country.
Only the Conservative Party offers the hope of a fair and serious alternative to Labour.
In coming months I will be talking about that Conservative alternative to Labour's failed schemes.
I will be explaining my commitment to policies that will deliver a fair deal for everyone in Britain - not least the poorest communities who've been taken for granted by Labour.
Our policies will build on models of success from around the world -- like New York's successful war on crime and Holland's excellent network of high-achieving, local schools.
The same values that inspire Conservatives at a local level inspire the Conservative Party's national programme.
I look at our country today and I know there is a better tomorrow for Britain than the one Labour has planned for.
When people voted Labour in 1997 they didn't vote for their council tax to shoot through the roof to over £1,100 a year.
They didn't vote for Labour's lies on taxes.
They didn't vote for a hike in national insurance only to see it wasted on bureaucracy and fake reforms.
They voted for a tough approach to crime - not for stopping sending burglars to prison.
They voted for better hospitals - not fiddled hospital waiting lists.
They voted for better schools - not last summer's 'A' levels fiasco.
All over Britain, millions of parents and patients are living with the consequences of Labour's expensive failure to deliver the better public services they promised.
My commitment to them - and my commitment to you here now - is that the gloves are now off, and come the next General Election, Mr Blair and his Government will be made to face up to those consequences too.