New Year's message to constituency chairmen
The Bali bombing last October offered us a stark reminder that Britain is engaged in a War against Terrorism.
In the coming weeks and months, British troops may be engaged in trying to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction.
As Conservatives we have always been proud to back our servicemen and women and we will continue to do so.
But our country also faces challenges at home which require a real Conservative alternative.
Over the past year our Party has taken the first steps on the long road back to electoral victory.
I know it hasn't always been easy, but it has been essential.
If we are to win again, we need to get back in touch with the things that matter most in people's lives.
That's why we have rededicated ourselves to finding ideas that will fight the crime on our streets, improve the state of our schools and hospitals, and cut the burdens of tax and red tape on our businesses.
For people to trust us, we have to show that the policies we come up with are based on Conservatives principles.
That's why we have restated our belief in people and helping them to achieve independence and freedom by supporting enterprise, extending choice, and offering security at home and abroad.
For people to vote for us, they have to know that we have rediscovered the values that have always allowed us to renew our appeal to voters down the ages.
That's why I am determined that everyone knows that we are a decent, honest and tolerant Party.
This October, in Bournemouth, we held our most successful and exciting Party Conference in a generation.
We unveiled 25 new policies:
to fight crime and the scourge of drug addiction on our streets;
to increase standards and discipline in our schools;
to help patients forced to pay for treatment outside the NHS;
and to make working hard and saving hard pay again.
But we did more than launch new policies, we engaged a new generation of Conservative activists and we invited speakers not normally associated with the Conservative Party to contribute to our debates.
There must be no no-go areas for the Conservative Party.
Public service reform
I and my Shadow Cabinet team have visited most of Europe and beyond to look at how other countries deliver higher quality public services than we do in Britain.
The experience has been eye-opening and humbling.
You shouldn't have to travel abroad to see doctors and nurses treating patients in the way that they want to be treated or to find countries where long waiting-lists are unheard of.
But you do, and we have, so that we can learn the lessons and apply them here.
That work goes on. We will continue to listen to the people who run our public services and those who rely on them so that we can create services that are fit for the century we are now living in.
Helping the vulnerable
And there is so much more that needs to be done in Britain. We all love our country and believe in it passionately - that is what holds us together as Conservatives.
But our pride in our country must not blind us to the fact that Britain can be so much better than it is today.
We live in a country where the scourge of drugs has torn apart communities and broken-up families. I've seen at first hand the damage they can do.
And I've also been inspired by local groups in places like Easterhouse or Gallowgate in Glasgow where neighbours help each other and support each other in ways that governments simply cannot comprehend.
If we are to rebuild our society we must trust and support groups like these because together they are the backbone of the kind of Britain we want to build.
From the New Year we will be concentrating on education. Our nation's future depends on being able to teach our young people properly.
And yet the gap between standards in our inner city schools and the rest of the country is growing.
We need to return civility to our classrooms and raise expectations among our pupils.
We have to stop the conveyor to belt of crime which sees children travel from indiscipline at home and at school to petty law-breaking and vandalism to prison and a life of crime.
As I travel up and down the country, I have seen the difference that good local community groups and supportive councils can make to people's lives.
Where Conservatives have been entrusted with power we have repaid that trust by offering good quality local services at low levels of Council Tax.
Even when Labour are trying palm-off the blame for their stealth tax increases onto local councils, our councillors are delivering our policies to the public, day-in and day-out at price they can afford.
This coming May, every seat in the Scottish Parliament, every seat on every council in Scotland, every seat in the Welsh Assembly and more than half the council seats in England are being contested.
For us the campaign has already started.
We need to show people on the ground that local problems require local solutions and that it's local Conservatives who can deliver.
Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action. That is what Campaign 2003 is all about.
We face a cynical and increasingly discredited Government.
A Government that is putting up taxes on people and businesses and weighing down our enterprises with red tape.
And yet one which is failing to deliver better public services or safer streets.
Our challenge is to show the public that there is a real alternative.
Not the pale imitation offered by the Liberal Democrats, but the decent, honest and clear opposition that they will get from us.
I know how hard you have all worked, I know the support you have given me since you elected me as the Leader of our Party. And I want you to know that I am hugely grateful for the work that you do.
I know how tough it can be out on the frontline and how much we depend on you.
But more than that I also believe that 2003 will be the year when all that hard work and patience you have shown will begin to pay off.
Betsy and I wish you all a happy and successful New Year.