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Hague: Vote for what you value

In a speech in Bradford to a Conservative Party Rally, the Leader of the Conservative Party, the Rt Hon William Hague:

"Don't let anyone tell you that this election doesn't matter. Don't let anyone tell you that all parties are the same.

"In six days' time, we will decide whether we want to live in an independent Britain.

"In six days' time, we will decide whether we want to carry on determining our own destiny at future general elections.

"In six days' time, we will decide whether to hand on intact to future generations the freedoms that we inherited from our parents.

"Say whatever else you like about this election. But don't say it doesn't matter. Don't say that all parties are the same.

"This election is about values. Our values as a party, and our values as a country. The values that make up the British character: tolerance and freedom and indignation at injustice; civic pride, patriotism and respect for the law.

"These are not, as some politicians seem to think, just words to be dropped into speeches during election campaigns. They ought to be reflected in public policy. And how this is done is what defines us as a nation. That is what is at stake on Thursday.

"It's no good talking about personal responsibility when more and more of our people are being driven into means-tested dependency.

"It's no good talking about the importance of family when the last recognition of marriage has been removed from the tax system.

"It's no good talking about law and order when we have a criminal justice system that is more frightening for victims than for criminals.

"And it's no good talking about patriotism when you risk handing away in peace-time the very independence which previous generations defended in war.

"I want to talk tonight about our Conservative values. I want to talk about how our principles will guide our practice. And I want to talk about what it is we are asking you to vote for.

"Let's start with the question of honesty. I don't just mean the integrity of individual politicians. I mean something much bigger. I'm talking about whether parties as a whole keep faith with the country. Whether spin is more important to them than substance. Whether they govern in order to be elected or are elected in order to govern.

"Four years ago, Tony Blair won office with a big majority and even bigger promises. All of you here will know people who voted Labour: people who wanted to give them a fair crack of the whip. Now, many of those people are feeling let down and conned.

"They voted for a party that had "no plans to increase taxes at all". But they've been taxed for marrying, taxed for driving, taxed for wanting to own their own home, taxed for putting a little aside each month, taxed for growing old.

"They voted for a party that promised to be tough on crime, but they've seen 35,000 criminals let out of prison without even serving half their sentences: criminals turned on to the street while police are taken off the street.

"They voted for a party that said it would "save the NHS" and that promised to make "education, education, education" its top three priorities. But morale in our public services is at rock bottom, with nurses, teachers and police officers leaving in record numbers.

"They are not waiting until next Thursday to pass their judgement on Labour's promises. The best, most committed professionals we have are already voting with their feet.

"Today, Britain's family doctors have threatened to leave the NHS altogether because they are not allowed to spend enough time with their patients. They are tired of being told who to treat by politicians, tired of poor working conditions, tired of this Government's failure to listen.

"So tired in fact that more than four out of five of the nation's GPs, who together treat 90% of all patients in this country, are prepared to turn their backs on the Health Service they have devoted their lives to.

"Labour are promising to recruit more teachers, more nurses and more police, when everyone knows they cannot even keep the teachers, nurses and police we already have.

"In just four years Tony Blair has become so divorced from reality that he cannot understand what everyone else knows to be true. You cannot put schools and the Health Service first, when you place teachers, doctors and nurses last.

"And voters believed Tony Blair when he said he loved the pound. But now they know he intends to scrap the pound at the first opportunity.

"They were promised a Government that would be "purer than pure". But they've had Lord Simon and his shares, Lord Irvine and his wallpaper, Formula One and tobacco advertising, Robin Cook and Sierra Leone, Geoffrey Robinson and his offshore trust, Stephen Byers and his non-existent writ, Peter Mandelson and his undeclared loan, and, of course, Keith Vaz and everything you've ever heard about him.

"They've seen Labour break its word again and again. And now they can only watch in astonishment as Labour comes back and says: give us another chance. This time we'll keep our promises. This time we really mean it.

"I say: Labour doesn't deserve another chance. Britain deserves another Government.

"I am not going to stand here tonight and offer you the Earth. I'm not going to wave fancy pledge cards around. I am only going to promise what I know I can deliver.

"So to everyone who has had enough of spin; to everyone who is sick of politicians who talk big and then don't deliver, I say: come with us. If you value honesty in politics, vote for what you value.

"And I say the same to people who believe in personal freedom. If freedom means anything at all, it means being able to live with dignity, without having to depend on the state. It means being able to provide for a secure retirement. And it means being allowed to spend your own money, rather than having it confiscated from you and spent on your behalf by Gordon Brown.

"There is nothing inevitable about rising tax. Tax levels are up to you. You can vote Labour or Liberal for higher taxes, or you can vote Conservative for lower taxes.

"Everyone accepts that decent public services need to be properly funded. People don't object to paying for roads or schools or hospitals. But they do object when the money going into the NHS is spent, not on improving patient care, but on preparing hospital accounting systems for the euro. They object when hundreds of millions of pounds of their taxes are squandered on keeping the Millennium Dome open. They object when Labour is spending over £100 million a year on Government advertising.

"I say that if the Government has got enough of your money left over to spend £100 million a year on telling you what a good job it's doing, then it's taxing you too much.

"That's why the next Conservative Government will give you a refund.

"We will cut taxes for small for small businesses and married couples and savers and pensioners and people with children.

"We will abolish taxes on savings and dividends. People who try to put a little aside each month are doing the right thing. They've already been taxed for earning the money; they shouldn't be taxed again for wanting to save it.

"We will cut tax for pensioners. The men and women of my parents' generation, who have spent a lifetime supporting and helping others, have the right to dignity, comfort and independence in retirement. So we will raise pensioners' tax allowances, lifting a million pensioners out of tax altogether and cutting the tax paid by millions more. Pensioners have already paid tax throughout their working lives; they shouldn't have to go on paying in retirement.

"And we will tackle the problem of the state confiscating the life savings and homes of those who have put money aside for their long term care. We will work to protect the assets of people who have tried to make reasonable provision for themselves. It cannot be right that those who have spent their lives building up something to pass on to their children and grandchildren risk losing nearly everything they have, while those who haven't saved a penny are paid for by the state.

"With the Conservatives it will pay to do the right thing.

"And we will cut taxes for drivers. Just because John Prescott treats his two Jags as a luxury, that doesn't mean the rest of us can afford to. For many people, there is no alternative to driving. For disabled people, for elderly people, for parents needing to ferry their children to school and back, for women who don't like to walk home from the station after dark, for people who live in rural areas, the car is not a luxury but a necessity.

"John Prescott may regard petrol duty as an ethical tax. But I don't see anything ethical about a tax on disabled people, on elderly people, on young families, on women and on the countryside. That's why the next Conservative Government, in its first budget, will cut petrol tax by 6 pence a litre, 27 pence a gallon.

"So to everyone who believes that taxes are too high; to families trying to stretch their budget just that little further; to pensioners who want independence in retirement; to people who need to drive; to everyone who thinks they can spend their own money more wisely than Gordon Brown, I say: come with us. If you value self-reliance, vote for what you value.

"And I say the same to all those who believe in law and order.

"Did you see the response that Jack Straw got when he tried to address the Police Federation two weeks ago? He was jeered and slow handclapped.

"And can you blame the delegates? Over the past four years, our police officers have watched 35,000 criminals - some of them convicted for assaults on the police - set free by Labour before completing even half their sentences. Many of those criminals have gone on to commit monstrous crimes while out on early release: burglaries, muggings, even rapes.

"Under Labour, police have been taken off the street as criminals are turned on to the street. Many officers, fed up with being pushed around and blamed, are taking early retirement.

"We cannot fight the war against crime if police officers have one hand handcuffed to their desks.

"The next Conservative Government will allow the young men and women who join the force to get on with protecting the public.

"That means offering the police political backing instead of political correctness so that they can become the strongest, most professional and best-respected force in the world.

"It means scrapping Labour's early release scheme, and taking back the get-out-of-jail-early cards which 80,000 convicts will cash in if this Government is re-elected.

"It means, as an immediate step, reversing Labour's cuts in police numbers.

"It means winning back the trust of the public in the forces of law and order, not trying to silence their anger.

"So to everyone who feels that the balance has again swung too far towards the offender; to everyone who wants to see a police patrol on their street again; to everyone who feels that their city centre is closed to them on a Saturday night, I say: come with us. If you value law and order, vote for what you value.

"Civic order goes hand-in-hand with civic pride. And I want to talk tonight about how we can bring back the sense of municipal pride which was once so much a feature of our great cities.

"I have spoken many times during this campaign about Labour's shameful neglect for the countryside. But it bears repeating again and again that the health of our countryside depends on the health of our cities. If we want to preserve our green fields, we have to make our cities places where people want to live.

"For four years, Labour has allowed the quality of life in our inner cities to deteriorate. Crime is rising in our metropolitan areas, especially violent crime. Taxes have gone up for people with low incomes. 700,000 more people have been driven into poverty. The budget for urban regeneration has been cut.

"Instead of practical initiatives to revitalise our cities, Labour have given us an untidy mess of taskforces and special areas and action zones and quangos. But nothing is actually improving on the ground.

"The next Conservative Government won't deliver gimmicks. We will deliver action. We have a comprehensive programme for urban regeneration. We will offer tax incentives to investors in urban areas. We'll reduce business rates. We will cut council tax on houses that were previously empty. We will encourage home-ownership by cutting stamp-duty for first time buyers.

"And we will transform the physical landscape of our inner cities. Within our first term, we'll clear away the shoddiest and most brutal of the tower blocks thrown up in the 1960s. We will create more green spaces in our town centres, using a combination of private investment and lottery grants. And we'll make sure that two thirds of new housing is built on brownfield land.

"The next Conservative Government will make our cities places to be proud of again.

"We'll take action against the nuisance neighbours who make life such a misery on some estates. We'll concentrate on improving inner city schools, with our Partner Schools scheme.

"Above all, we'll crack down on urban crime. We won't just have more police. We'll also have more visible police: police who are active in the community. And we won't tolerate the so-called petty crimes which, in practice, can make life unbearable.

"An estate which is covered in graffiti is sending out a signal. It is saying to potential criminals: the rule of law does not apply here. Why not try your luck? An estate which is plagued by vandalism and litter is not just an uglier place to live. For decent residents, it is also a more frightening place to live.

"The next Conservative Government will not turn a blind eye to supposedly petty crime. We will crack down on all crime.

"In Oldham last week, we saw how quickly disorder can descend into violence. That the police coped with such a difficult situation made worse by provocation from far-Right extremists, shows once again the debt we owe them and why we need more police on our streets particularly in our metropolitan areas.

"But the revival of our urban communities - of communities like Oldham - is not just a question of law enforcement, or physical regeneration. And it is not just a job for the Government. The revival must also come from within the community.

"Governments must also leave room for churches, for charities, and for individuals. The state does not have a monopoly on compassion.

"There was a time, not long ago, when almost every adult, seeing a child out of school during term time, would stop that child and say: "Why aren't you in class?" Now, that is seen as the state's responsibility.

"There was a time when all of us saw it as our job to keep an eye out for elderly neighbours; to make sure they were collecting their milk every morning. Now, that too is seen as the state's job.

"Our sense of community is being nationalised. And that process is diminishing people's sense of personal responsibility. It is fraying the bonds which once tied societies together.

"And the parties that are speeding this process now have the nerve to turn around and claim that they are acting in the name of compassion. I say there is nothing compassionate about trapping whole communities into the misery of dependency.

"I want to encourage more action by charities, by individuals and families, and by faith-based communities.

"This afternoon, I spoke to a number of Muslim community leaders here in Bradford. We spoke, as we often do on such occasions, of the benefits brought to this country by its Muslim community. Of the way in which Muslim values are being built into the edifice that is modern Britain.

"Those values - family, tradition, enterprise, charity - are our values, too. They are central to our Conservative beliefs.

"But values need to be put into action.

"It's all very well saying you believe in marriage. But this Government has destroyed the last recognition of marriage in the tax system. Married people provide stable homes for children: they need real support, not just words. That's why the next Conservative Government will bring back a Married Couple's Allowance worth up to £1,000 a year

"And it's all very well saying that you want people to help their own communities. But many faith-based charities find that they are discriminated against in the allocation of grants. I want faith-based groups to take on a bigger role in society, and not to be undermined for the sake of political correctness.

"And it's all very well saying you believe in the family. But it's hard to see what this has to do with an obsessive campaign to scrap Section 28 in our schools.

"And it's all very well saying you believe in decency. But it seems extraordinary that the only kind of broadcasting that is restricted is religious broadcasting.

"The next Conservative Government will work with faith-based groups of all denominations. We will support the work they do in their communities. I'm not in the business of preaching. If politicians want to help our religious communities, they should do so through practical help, not by flaunting their own piety. Under the next Conservative Government, faith-based organisations will get that practical help.

"So to everyone who believes that the state is not the source of all good in society; to everyone who believes that more can be done by churches and charities; to everyone who believes that communities, with proper assistance, can find solutions within themselves; I say: come with us. If you value a strong civic society, vote for what you value.

"And I say the same to people who are worried about the abuse of our asylum system.

"Here in Bradford, there are many people who have made new lives for themselves in the United Kingdom. People who had the courage and the spirit to leave their homes and begin again in a new country. People who have brought that courage and that enterprise to Britain, and contributed to our national life.

"Many British Asians have told me that they are especially worried about the break-down of our asylum system. They have played by the rules. They have often had to wait patiently to be joined by a spouse or a fiancée. And they can see that something is going wrong when tens of thousands of people are now evading our immigration rules altogether.

"The British people are not ungenerous; but they do not see why we should have an asylum system that is unfair. Unfair particularly to genuine refugees who are elbowed aside in the mismanagement and chaos we see at present.

"So we will introduce secure reception centres where asylum applications are dealt with quickly. Those with genuine claims will be given help and support to stay in our country, but the current trade in human beings will not be allowed to pay.

"And so to everyone who wants to see the rules obeyed; to everyone who wants to help genuine refugees, I say: come with us. If you want Britain to be a safe haven, not a soft touch, vote for what you value.

"That is my message for everyone who is registered to vote on Thursday. Vote for the things you believe in. Make your voice heard.

"If you value a responsible society, vote for what you value.

"If you value the family, vote for what you value.

"If you believe that we should bring back balance to our constitution by having English votes on English laws, vote for what you value.

"If you believe that individuals and communities can achieve more than politicians, vote for what you value.

"If you value discipline, standards and choice in schools, vote for what you value.

"If you want doctors and teachers and policemen to be allowed to get on with their jobs, vote for what you value.

"It is you choice; and it is your responsibility.

"Above all, I carry that message to everyone who believes in Britain. To everyone who believes that we have achieved things that are worth preserving. To everyone who believes that we should be in Europe, not run by Europe.

"Last week, Tony Blair called for an honest debate about European integration. This week, he got one.

"On Sunday, Lionel Jospin, the prime Minister of France, spoke with exemplary honesty. He wants an operational EU police force; a common criminal justice system; uniform asylum and immigration policies; a European foreign policy conducted by an EU diplomatic corps; and full economic union, including a mechanism for fiscal transfers.

"On Monday, the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, was no less candid. He called for the EU to be allowed to levy its own taxes.

Well I'm going to be equally honest tonight. The next Conservative Government will reject that agenda lock, stock and barrel.

"We will not accept a European Army or a European police force or a European criminal justice system. We will renegotiate the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, so that many of the decisions now taken at EU level can instead be taken by the nations. And we will pass a Reserved Powers Act, to ensure that our Parliament cannot be over-ruled by activist European judges.

"Be in no doubt as to the importance of the choice we will face in six days' time.

"This election is not just about who will form the next Government. It's also about whether we continue to have a Government that is sovereign in this country. It's about whether we carry on deciding our own affairs at future general elections.

"Tony Blair has made his intentions clear. If he is re-elected, he will speed up the process of European integration. He plans to scrap the pound within two years.

"In order to meet his timetable, Mr Blair would have to launch the transition process right away. Businesses would have to prepare for the changeover, throwing out their tills, changing their software, retraining their staff, adopting new accounting methods. The public and private sectors would need to find £36 billion for the conversion.

"£36 billion. The equivalent of £55 million in this and every other constituency. The equivalent of £1,500 for every household in the United Kingdom. The equivalent of building a whole new Millennium Dome every month for the next three years.

"And it would have to begin right away. It's not a question of waiting until the referendum - even if you believe that the referendum would be free and fair. A Labour Government elected on June 7 would begin to scrap the pound on June 8.

"Tony Blair wants us to believe that Labour can now be trusted on the economy. But why should anyone else trust him when he so obviously does not trust himself? This must be the first time that a party has sought office by promising to give up the right to govern. If re-elected, Labour would contract out the management of our economy: our interest rates would be set in Frankfurt and our taxes in Brussels.

"So I am not choosing my words lightly when I say that this could be the last general election of its kind. The last time that the people of the United Kingdom are able to elect a Parliament which is supreme in this country.

"We need to be in Europe, but we must not be run by Europe.

"This is an issue that ought to transcend party politics. I know that there are many decent, patriotic people, who are not natural Conservatives, but who are just as concerned as we are about preserving our self-government. People who may be lifelong Labour or Liberal voters, but who want to keep the pound.

"I am appealing to those people this evening. Lend us your vote. Lend us your vote this time, so that your vote will still mean something next time. Vote Conservative this one time, so that we can carry on having meaningful general elections in an independent Britain.

"This is a question, ultimately, of self-confidence. Do we have faith in our capacity to thrive as an independent country? Or do we feel that we must go along with every new Brussels initiative for fear of being left out?

"Labour and their Liberal allies seem to have no confidence in Britain. They evidently believe that we are too small to survive on our own.

"Too small? We're the fourth largest economy in the world. We're the fourth greatest military power on Earth. We're one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of the Group of Eight industrialised nations. We have unparalleled links with the United States, the Commonwealth and the rest of the English-speaking world. How much bigger do we have to be before we can run our own affairs in our own interest?

"I believe in Britain. I don't believe that we have to be part of a single currency to prosper. That's why I will keep the pound.

"Six days to save the pound. Six days to secure our independence. Six days to decide whether our children and grandchildren will inherit the same freedoms that we inherited in our turn.

"And so to everyone who believes in keeping the pound, to everyone who wants to preserve our democracy I say: come with us. If you value Britain's independence, vote for what you value.

"The Conservative Party is ready to govern for all the people. For people in the countryside, who have almost given up on ministers ever understanding them. For people in our inner cities, struggling to bring up families on crime-ridden estates with failing schools. For people in towns and suburbs all over Britain, who are watching their green spaces disappear inexorably under concrete.

"We will govern for taxpayers wanting to see some return on their taxes. For nurses and teachers and policemen who want to get on with their jobs, not be snowed under with paperwork. For people who believe that the countries of the United Kingdom have achieved more together than they would separately, and who refuse to feel ashamed about our history.

"And so I say to the people of Britain: vote for what you value on Thursday.

"If you believe in a country where your taxes are wisely and carefully spent,

"If you believe in a country where pensioners who have built up an income for retirement are rewarded, not penalised,

"If you believe in a country whose criminal justice system is frightening to the criminal, not to the victim,

"If you believe in a country where teachers who run disciplined classrooms should get our support, not end up in court,

"If you believe in working hard, saving hard and trying to be independent of the state,

"And if you believe in an independent Britain,

"Come with me, and I will give you back your country."

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