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May: Making life better for Wales

The theme of this conference is making life better for Wales.

Today, I want to talk about why we are the Party fit for that purpose.

We are the Party that recognises the value of community.

We are the Party that wants to push power down to people, not take it away from them.

We are the Party in politics today which knows that we need to change the way we think about public services if we are to give the public the schools, hospitals and railways they deserve.

We are changing as a Party - not who we are or what we believe, but how we express what we believe.

We stand by our Conservative principles - freedom, responsibility and choice.

But we are looking at how we apply these to the 21st Century.

And to do this, we are learning from local people.

My Shadow Cabinet colleagues and I have been travelling throughout Britain to see how people are making a difference in their own communities.

We all know that people no longer hold politicians in high regard. They have seen too many broken promises to believe much of what we say.

So in many communities they are rejecting politics and finding different ways of improving their quality of life.

They are building neighbourhoods.

Our challenge now is to support these local neighbourhoods and to support local people who want to help themselves.

Too often, politics acts as a barrier to community.

For five years we have been governed by a party which sees community as a threat. Labour have been the most centralising government for decades.

But they haven't simply centralised power and decision-making in Whitehall - they've actually put it in the hands of just a few people.

I know this better than anyone.

I have the task of trying to root the truth out of anything Stephen Byers says.

We all know that he has great difficulties in remembering quite what he's said to whom and what people have said to him. It doesn't matter whether it's the Chairman of BMW, the rail regulator, the chairman of Railtrack or his own press officer.

So it's little wonder the Prime Minister has taken his responsibilities from him and given them to an unelected adviser - Lord Birt.

He's not elected. He's not accountable. His only record on transport is running up a massive taxi bill at the BBC. Yet the Prime Minister would rather he decided transport policy than his own Transport Secretary.

This is an example of how Labour works.

They put power in the hands of the few - not the many.

They take decisions behind closed doors. They dictate to people through centralised plans and national targets. They think they know best.

They don't trust you to take your own decisions.

Here in Wales, they said that devolution would bring power closer to the people - but do people here in North Wales feel any better off because there's an Assembly in Cardiff?

For too long we have allowed Labour to claim the mantle of devolution.

We need to reclaim that mantle. Today, it is we Conservatives who believe in a genuine devolution of power.

It's not about local politicians. It's about local people.

Because the Labour LibDem coalition has not delivered real devolution. But let's be clear about why.

It's not because they couldn't make life better in Wales if they wanted to. It's not because they need greater powers or more money.

It's because Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians simply don't know how to deliver better services to people in Wales.

It's because they think politicians and the state run things better than people and communities.

They have increased centralised control over public services.

On education, housing and social services they dictate policies from the centre.

They cream off resources that are meant to go to schools.

They offer councils financial incentives, but only if they sign-up to what they want.

They believe uniform policies work better than local initiatives.

Today, I have seen first-hand how this approach impacts upon vulnerable people.

Earlier this morning, Nigel Evans and I visited a care home here in the town - in fact, as we speak Nigel is still there. We heard from elderly residents who thought they had found a long-term home. It is a community in itself. The residents know their neighbours; the residents know the staff; and the staff know the residents.

But a politician somewhere has decided that it has to close. It may not have been the intention of the decision they took, but by imposing centrally decided standards on care homes while failing to back them up with resources, they have condemned the residents of plas-y-dre to an uncertain, and perhaps an unhappy future.

This is the politics of last century.

So what a relief that we have such a strong team of Conservative AMs in Cardiff.

A group who have worked to try and make the Assembly deliver the better quality of life the people of Wales were promised.

A group who are on their side.

What would the Assembly be without a Conservative group who recognise that people want decent public services not decadent politicians' palaces?

And a group who are being straight-forward and honest with people about what they can achieve in Wales.

I would of course love to see a Conservative victory at next year's elections.

A Conservative led Assembly would put to rest the myth that the only problem with it is that it doesn't have enough power.

And we will fight every seat vigorously to achieve that success.

Half of our candidates are already chosen. Soon we will have our full team in place.

But it's not just about having the right team - it's about having the right policies.

Later this afternoon you will hear more about the policies our Conservative Assembly Members will be putting forward to the people of Wales next year. Nearer the time they will publish their full manifesto.

But it is important that in building these policies we have been talking to the people who matter.

On education, we've been talking to parents and teachers. We've been finding out about their concerns. We know what they want, and we know how to deliver it.

They want local schools to have the freedom, the flexibility and the finance to deliver world-class education. So we need to stop politicians and bureaucrats dipping into their budgets by ring-fencing the money they are given.

On health, we've spoken to doctors, nurses and patients. They think Jane Hutt's plans to replace 5 health bodies with 37 different organisations are mad. 80 per cent of NHS managers have already said such a reorganisation won't achieve better health care. So we should take the politicians out of the NHS and let doctors, nurses and patients decide the best way to organise themselves.

On transport, we recognise that the best way to improve public transport is not to tax the motorist off the road. For many people in Wales the car isn't a luxury - it's a necessity. So we need to improve the road and rail links throughout Wales. Anyone trying to get here to Llandudno will testify to that.

None of these things can be solved by money alone.

You don't improve schools, hospitals or the transport system by simply throwing more money at it. Unless you are also prepared to think about how you spend the money, unless you are prepared to consider changing the systems you are spending it on, then all the money in the world won't deliver the world-class public services people want.

And the tragedy is that when public services fail it is vulnerable people who suffer the most.

It's the vulnerable who are suffering most as a result of our failing health service. It's ok if you can afford to buy your way out of it. If you can afford to travel to France or South Africa to receive treatment then the spiralling waiting lists need not affect you. But why should people have to spend their life savings to save their own life?

It's ok if you can afford to send your children to private schools. People should of course have that right. But what happens to the children whose parents can't afford it? What happens to the community where one child is well educated while the next one isn't?

How do you build social cohesion when your quality of life depends more on what you have in your pocket than on what you bring to your community?

That's why this week Iain Duncan Smith said that his most important priority - and our Party's most important priority - is to ensure equality of opportunity in our schools for all children, wherever they live, however much their parents earn.

In the past, we have allowed ourselves to be portrayed as a Party which only cares about money. People felt we were prepared to let vulnerable people suffer.

It was of course a caricature, but people believed it.

But under Iain Duncan Smith the Party is changing.

It's changing to focus on improving public services; changing to be more representative in our constitution of the society we seek to represent in our politics; changing to give support to our communities and to their people.

And people are responding to that change.

That's why here in Wales people are joining us from all areas of the political spectrum.

That's why former Liberal Democrat candidates and councillors now sit under the Conservative umbrella; and why a former organiser for Plaid Cymru is your Assembly candidate here in Conwy.

And haven't we seen Plaid's true colours in the past week? At least people in Merthyr and elsewhere can now see through their false promises and platitudes and recognise the true nature of the party underneath.

It is clear that we are the only credible opposition in Wales.

In the Assembly, Nick Bourne and his team are the only Members standing up for the interests of all the people of Wales.

Jonathan Evans is our strong voice in Europe. He has already shown that he can lead where Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians - to their shame - try not to follow.

And you can take it from me - the Welsh Conservative voice is heard loud and clear around the Shadow Cabinet table from Nigel Evans.

We are all united in one aim.

We want to give power back to local people. We want to push power down; support community and voluntary groups who seek to help themselves; support local councils who want to be free to innovate and try new ways of doing things.

That's the message I'm giving to local councillors as I travel around England. Our commitment in Wales is no different.

Conservatives believe in local people whoever, and wherever, they are.

It is not always about winning votes for the Conservative Party.

There are some areas of Wales where a Conservative is seen as an outsider. These are the areas we have to reach.

It is often in these areas that people need help the most.

It is often here that the schools, hospitals and transport systems are worst.

But many of them have one very important thing - community spirit. We can harness this for the good, or dampen it to everyone's detriment.

We have made our choice, and Iain Duncan Smith is leading the way.

So over the next year we have to go into these areas and reach out to these people. Show them that we are on their side. Tell them what a Conservative administration and a Conservative government will do for them.

Tell them that we trust them to run their own lives, but that we are ready to help where we can.

This is what devolution is really about.

People not politicians.

Communities not committees.

Pushing power down, not pulling power up.

We have listened and learned. We are changing. We know that people deserve better than they have had in the past, and much better than what they are getting now.

It is as true in Wales as it is in Westminster.

It is the message we shall pursue up until next year's elections and beyond.

It is how Conservatives will make life better in Wales.

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