Speech to Welsh Conservative Spring Conference
It's good to be here in the capital of Wales once again and to be among friends in the Welsh Conservative Party.
I'd like to start off by thanking everyone who has made this conference possible. I know how much organisation these events require, and I know many people have been working tirelessly to have it go without a hitch.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Chairman of the Welsh Party, Carole Hyde, and her team for all their work for the party over the past year…
…and - as I have not yet had chance to do so properly - I would like to pay tribute to Henri Lloyd Davies who, as you know, stood down from the Chairmanship in June after three years to take up the post of President of the Welsh Conservative Party.
Henri has given many years of service to the Party and I know he'll give us many more in whatever capacity he can.
I think you'll agree that there is some real talent in the Welsh Party - and much of it has been on display here in Cardiff for the past two days.
This conference has heard from young people seeking election to the National Assembly and from old hands such as Nigel Evans, by now a seemingly permanent fixture at Westminster and one of the most vocal critics of the Labour Government.
There have been messages from Jonathan Evans, who I'm sure impressed you as he did me when I visited him in Brussels recently, and both days have been dominated by discussion of the key issues facing the people of Wales - the health of the economy and the state of the public services.
Yet as we run the May Assembly elections, we must give our full and unambiguous support to Nick Bourne. I know you will agree that Nick has shown himself to be a strong voice for the people of Wales over the past few years. Together with his team in the National Assembly, he has exposed the failings of the Assembly Government time and time again.
So I would like to say to Nick and his team, thank you for all your hard work. Keep at it and your reward will come.
Of course, at the moment much of our attention is turned elsewhere and focused on the developing crisis in Iraq.
I know that servicemen and women from Wales are among those stationed around Iraq at the moment.
I was in Kuwait last weekend, visiting the military personnel and looking around the facilities they have at their disposal. I was taken around by a captain in the Royal Regiment of Wales.
What I found was, in general, heartening. Morale is good, with just a few concerns about the standard and availability of the equipment they have. The speed of their deployment was bound to lead to difficulties over equipment but our service personnel are overcoming them.
Some of our equipment - notably that used for surveillance by the RAF - actually surpasses that of the Americans, and our training is, as usual, second to none.
The main problem they raised is the problem of public support. One seaman on the Ark Royal told me that they just don't understand why some of the public, and sections of the press, are not backing them.
It is right of course that we should have the fullest debate in this country about any situation which could draw us into war.
I have made my position clear from the outset. I believe Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant who inflicts pain and suffering on his own people, and he stands in breach of many United Nations resolutions calling on him to disarm.
Remember, this is not a case of calling for a second resolution. There have been 17 already. The next resolution will be the 18th.
Let us also remember that Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to cause just as much harm to people in this country through the Weapons of Mass Destruction he has built up over the years.
There is no question that the Conservative Party will give its full support to our troops.
Not for us the games that the Liberal Democrats play - they chase the tide of shifting public opinion like children on a beach.
Charles Kennedy has been:
· In favour of the UN route - then against it
· Certain of the need for a second resolution - then not so certain.
· Anti-war then pro-war.
· Pro-American then anti-American.
· Pro-sanctions then anti-sanctions.
You can only face one way, which way is it Mr Kennedy?
Today as we stand on the threshold of war I say to our forces - the greatest in the world - our thoughts and prayers are with you and with your families. We wish you God Speed and a safe return.
With such momentous events taking place, it would be easy to forget about the domestic agenda.
But we must not do so. There is too much at stake here at home.
And here in Wales there are important elections in May that will set the agenda for Wales for the next four years.
The choice is a simple and a clear one.
If you believe things are going well, that the Assembly is delivering, that all the extra money you are paying in tax is producing the results you expect - fine. Let things stay as they are.
If, on the other hand, you think things are not going well, that the hopes of devolution have not been realised, that you are paying more and more in tax but getting less and less in return as I do - then choose change this May.
The people of Wales do not have to accept things as they are.
There is nothing inevitable about failing public services.
There is no necessary reason for taxes to keep going up and up.
There is no excuse for policies that make life in Wales worse.
Yet Wales is held in the grip of the worst kind of political dogma and left-wing extreemism. The iron fist of Rhodri Morgan dominates every decision. The heavy and incompetent hand of Government stifles every initiative.
The Welsh Assembly Government has achieved the impossible - it has made Tony Blair look reasonable.
They are slowly turning Wales into a laboratory where all the worst excesses and instincts of the Labour and the Liberal Parties are being tested to destruction.
When I'm elsewhere in the country, I often find myself talking about Wales - not because of the special affinity I feel for Wales, but because in so many ways the people of Wales are suffering the worst of our opponents' political failures.
Take the health service.
If I had told you six years ago that Government Spending on the NHS in Wales would increase by 30 per cent but that waiting lists would rise and that there would be no significant change in activity or capacity, you would have shaken your head.
But this is precisely what has happened.
Now, there's no question that Labour are putting the money in. What I do question, however, is where it's all gone! What on earth have they done with it? Because the Welsh People haven't seen it!
Next month the Chancellor's new National Insurance hike - the jobs tax - will hit wage-packets.
Now, this new tax is supposed to go towards the National Health Service. But the Secretary of State for Health himself appears to have serious doubts about whether this spending will make any difference at all to the Health Service.
Alan Milburn told a private meeting of health professional just two weeks ago that this extra money will be wasted.
Well, if that's the case, then far better, surely that this tax not be taken at all!
It's either that - or the public's anger will grow still further.
We should not kid ourselves - the public are angry.
They are angry with politicians of all parties for failing to deal with their concerns.
They are angry with the government for breaking promise after promise after promise.
They are angry with a political elite they believe to be increasingly out of touch, who live privileged lives and don't have anything like the same sorts of problems as the people they are supposed to represent, and who do their business at a level that is really very remote from the daily lives of ordinary people - in Wales, or anywhere else in Britain.
And yet, this is what devolution was supposed to be about. It was this that devolution was supposed to solve. It was supposed to bring government closer to the people. It was supposed to restore trust in the political process. It was supposed to bring political decision-making closer to ordinary people, and give them some ownership of those decisions.
But here in Wales it has failed to do any of that, and the blame for this lies squarely at the door of the people running the Assembly - Labour and the Liberals.
I was in Scotland yesterday, and something I said there is also true here. I said that I didn't know why the Liberal Democrats are still standing under their own names. They should just change their name and have done with it.
They should call themselves the Labour Democrats. That's what they are. Lapdogs of the Labour Party. A Labour Party branch office. Unprincipled, dishonest political chameleons.
It's the same here as it is in Scotland. Political failure by Labour and the Labour Democrats hurting those who can least afford to be hurt.
And when they obsess with talking up their own titles or building their own empires. . .
When they squabble among themselves about who should get the credit or the blame for a particular policy…
When they decide that their priority is an expensive new politicians' palace - poorly conceived, badly executed and embarrassingly continued - at the expense of a much-needed new children's hospital…
Then it's little wonder, really, that devolution has been discredited.
There are many people in Wales who believe the Assembly is still unnecessary. To all those people I want to say this:
You will not solve this by failing to vote in May.
You can begin to solve it by voting for the only credible alternative, the Welsh Conservatives.
It is the administration of Labour and Labour Democrats who have failed you - and you should vote to kick them out.
We are the alternative.
And every time Charles Kennedy claims to be the effective opposition in Westminster, we have to remind him that he's Labour's staunchest ally in Wales.
Every Government failure in Wales carries the stamp of approval from the Labour Democrats.
It is hardly surprising. They just weren't able to resist the morsel of power they were offered. But what have they done with it?
I noticed earlier this week they released a survey showing that the Welsh public are dissatisfied with the state of local rail services in Wales.
Well that's hardly a shock. But who do they think is to blame? Which party is propping up the Labour Administration in the Assembly? They are: The Labour Democrats.
You see - only Labour Democrats can believe in everything and nothing at the same time.
It's no good - they share the jobs and the perks so now I say they'd better share the blame for the failure as well.
Perhaps instead we should ask which party is spending all its time talking about changes to the constitution instead of focusing on the things that really matter? Well that's Plaid Cymru through and through.
But which party is setting out a sensible and principled opposition to the failed policies of the Assembly Government? The Welsh Conservative Party.
The Party that has an ambitious agenda for Wales. The Party that believes things can be better than they are. The Party that knows how to make them better than they are.
We will apply the same principles in Wales that we seek to apply elsewhere in the UK.
Policies may be different - that is what devolution means - but principles are universal.
The Government off your back.
An economy that is strong because it is competitive. An economy that is competitive because taxes are low and regulations are cut to an optimum.
It is the Conservatives who are believers in lower tax, enterprise and well-run public services. The Audit Commission's report a couple of months ago said that people believe Conservative Councils offer the best value.
And last December's Comprehensive Performance Assessment of councils across England showed that, on average, Conservative Councils had a higher overall service score, and a better performance rating.
More Conservative run councils were judged to be 'excellent' than for any other political party.
Conservatives are careful with your money, they do not waste money. That is what Nick and his team will do here in Wales.
Overall a commitment to better public services, to improving the way things work -- because, unlike Labour, we know it's not just about more schools and hospitals but about better schools, and better hospitals, better transport and safer streets.
And unlike Labour, we don't pretend governments have all the answers.
Sometimes the answers are found closer to home - in communities and families, voluntary groups and local charities.
The institutions that build society, not the structures that bolster the state.
And by focusing on these institutions we can reach out and help everyone in society - whoever they are and wherever they are.
Because if there's one thing that marks this Government out as a particular failure it's the extent to which they have created divisions between different sections of society.
They have pursued uniquely urban policies and have ignored the needs of rural people.
On the economy, on public services, on farming, they have let rural Britain and rural Wales down and left them to fend for themselves.
Two years later, rural Wales is still waiting for the public inquiry into the handling of the foot and mouth epidemic which decimated the industry across Britain.
Farmers are still reeling from the unnecessary delay in lifting the 20-day standstill rule, and the restrictions are even now still in place against the wishes of 90% of Welsh farmers.
Meanwhile, rural communities across Wales are suffering from the closure of many local schools with the tacit approval of the Welsh Education Minister.
Labour Ministers who preached inclusion while in opposition have forgotten that inclusion must mean everyone, both town and country.
Conservatives do recognise that, and by empowering communities we will empower everyone to make the best of their own lives.
So our theme from now until May, and then beyond into the next General Election must be one of hope.
Hope for a better future for our country, where the potential of every individual is realised and the aspirations of every person met.
Hope for a peaceful nation and a better society, where troubles are dealt with and problems are solved.
Hope for an improved relationship between government and people, where promises made are promises kept and trust once given is properly repaid.
We must be confident and positive, because we offer the only alternative to the status quo, and because that alternative is based on tried and trusted principles and ideas.
The choice is a simple one.
The challenge for you - the challenge for Nick Bourne, the challenge for me, is to show the people of Wales there is an alternative.
If they're tired of a failing health service.
If they're tired of poor education for their children.
If they're tired of rising levels of crime and violence.
If they're tired of the growing number of bogus asylum seekers.
If they're tired of higher and higher tax.
If they're tired of growing government waste.
If they're tired of the way that Labour and the Labour Democrats have abandoned our young to drug addiction and crime.
Then they need an alternative.
It won't come from Labour and the Labour Democrats - they're responsible for the mess already.
It won't be Plaid Cymru - they just want more of the same but detached from Britain.
It must be the Conservatives - a genuine alternative that puts people first.
With Nick Bourne you'll get that.
Together we can build a Wales and a Britain we can all be proud of.