Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Hague: I will give you back your country

In a speech at a Conservative Party rally in Brighton tonight, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Opposition, will say:

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

This election matters because it is the moment when Britain chooses between being an independent nation and becoming part of a larger European bloc.

It matters because this is the moment when the British people decide whether or not they have confidence in their own institutions.

And it matters because this election will settle what kind of Britain our children inherit.

Do we want to build a responsible society, or do we want more and more of our people to be drawn into means-tested dependency?

Do we want to put more police on the street, or more criminals on the street?

Do we want to improve our schools, or are we content to carry on producing some of the worst qualified school leavers in the industrialised world?

Do we want to leave future generations with a vibrant rural economy, or are we content to see our countryside disappear, year by year and mile by mile, under concrete?

These are real and immediate questions. They are questions that go to the heart of what kind of society we want, and what kind of people we are. And we have nine days to answer them.

Say whatever else you want about this election, but don't say that all the parties are the same.

The Conservative Party will not give up on Britain. We will fight in this and every other target seat, for as long as there is breath in our lungs and strength in our legs, so that we can secure a Conservative majority in Parliament.

You'll often hear it said that people are becoming apathetic about politics. And it's true. But the way to deal with apathy is to tackle the sense of disenchantment and betrayal that has made people apathetic in the first place.

Four years ago, Tony Blair won office with a big majority and even bigger promises. All of you here will know people who voted for him: people who wanted to give Labour 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', that said they would 'save the NHS' and that promised to make 'education, education, education' their top three priorities.

But morale in our public services is at rock bottom, with nurses, teachers and police officers leaving in record numbers.

They were told that Labour would govern 'for the many not the few'. But they've seen rural Britain sidelined and scorned.

The 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.

It's no wonder that people are feeling cynical. It's no wonder that some of them are switching off politics altogether. They are beginning to think that nothing will ever change. That taxes will only ever go in one direction. That violent crime can only get worse. That no one will sort out the chaos on our roads and railways. Even that the euro is inevitable.

I say that none of these things is inevitable. Not all parties are the same. It is possible to make a difference.

But making a difference is up to you: it's up to every one of you who is registered to vote next week.

You can make a difference on tax. 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.

And we will cut tax for pensioners.

Labour has the nerve to call themselves the party of pensioners. But they insulted them with the 75p increase and then called them 'racist' and said there was 'no mileage' to be had from listening to their concerns.

I will not brush aside those who have done so much to build the country we live in today, the people of my parents' generation. They are men and women who have spent a lifetime supporting and helping others. They have the right to expect some 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.

We will keep the Winter Fuel Allowance, the free TV licences and the Christmas Bonus and make them more widely available by giving the cash equivalent, tax-free, to those in care homes, those living abroad and people over 75 without a TV.

And we will raise the basic pension for everyone and give extra help to those aged over 75.

Above all 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.

It is an obscenity that Tony Blair promised to tackle in his last election manifesto. But since then a Royal Commission has come and gone and 160,000 people have been forced to sell their family homes to meet their care costs.

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.

So the next Conservative Government will look at ways of protecting the assets of people who make sensible provision to meet the costs of their long term care.

If people have used their savings, or the lump sum from their pension or contributions from family members to cover the expected cost of long term care we do not believe that the state should take their assets if the actual cost turns out to be more.

Not all parties are the same. With the Conservatives it will pay to do the right thing.

We will bring back a recognition of marriage to the tax system. Married couples are providing stable homes for their children. They should be supported. That's why we'll introduce a new Married Couples Allowance worth up to £1000 a year. Let's not be afraid to say it: we believe in marriage.

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.

Labour and the Liberals 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 don't let anybody say this election doesn't matter.

It matters a great deal to those on tight family budgets working hard to make ends meet. It matters to those for whom a car is not a luxury but a necessity. It matters to those who are torn between going out to work to supplement the family income and staying at home to bring up their children.

And it matters to those who want to plan ahead, to save for the future so that they and those who rely on them can enjoy some independence and security in their retirement.

Above all it matters because if Labour are elected again on June 7th, the taxing and the failure to deliver will begin all over again.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown plan to spend money faster than taxpayers can earn it. This means they have to find another £10 billion in new taxes, on top of all the taxes they've already raised.

They could put it all on petrol, their favourite stealth tax raising the price to £6 a gallon.

They could put it on National Insurance, scrapping the ceiling and effectively increasing income tax to 50%. Or they could raise the ceiling to the level of the top rate of income tax. Either way it would mean millions of people paying more income tax, including teachers, police officers, doctors and nurses.

Gordon Brown refuses to tell us where the money will come from. All Labour will say is that they won't increase income tax rates or extend the scope of VAT. These are weasel words from a party which broke the promises they made on tax before the last Election within months of taking office.

So not all parties are the same when it comes to tax. And not all parties are the same when it comes to the services that those taxes pay for.

Labour came to office asking to be judged on the public services. Well, the public services have clearly passed their own judgment on Labour during this Election campaign. Jack Straw has been slow handclapped by the Police Federation. Alan Milburn didn't even dare show his face at the Royal College of Nursing.

After four years of Labour, waiting times are longer and class sizes are bigger. Doctors, nurses, teachers and policemen are leaving in droves. They're demoralised and dejected and sick of being pushed around by politicians.

Teachers want to get on with inspiring our young people. They have had enough of being loaded with yet more paperwork and yet more assessment forms. They've had enough of being taken for granted.

The next Conservative Government will make sure that our schools are places where all children can learn, all teachers can teach and all heads can lead. And we will give schools an extra £540 per pupil per year on average to help them. We will extend opportunities to every pupil wherever they live or whatever their parents earn.

I was lucky. I went to an excellent comprehensive. But other children who lived in the neighbourhood never had that opportunity. Simply because of where they lived, they often had to make do with schools where they were never stretched, where their ambition was never kindled, where their potential was poured away.

There should be no such thing in Britain as a failing school. We are the fourth largest economy in the world, but too many of our schools are second rate.

I will give parents the schools they want; the schools Britain deserves. Some people say it is unfair to expect children from disadvantaged backgrounds to strive for the same standards as everyone else. I say it is unfair to expect anything less.

So we will offer schools where discipline is upheld and respected. Schools where standards are set and maintained. Schools that hold parents to account, and that are themselves accountable to parents. Schools worthy of our country.

Not 'education, education, education', but discipline, standards, choice.

And it's not just teachers who feel under-valued. Police officers have been leaving the force in record numbers.

They're fed up with watching people who have assaulted police officers let out under Labour's early release scheme. They're fed up with being blamed and accused by the Government. And they want to be out catching criminals, not handcuffed to their desks.

We cannot fight the war against crime if the forces of law and order have one hand tied behind their back. Under the next Conservative Government the police will police. 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 which has already let 35,000 criminals walk out of prison early, often to re-offend, 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 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. It means electing a Government which is prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk about being tough on crime.

Because I promise you this. No one will hit crime harder than the next Conservative Government. Rising crime is not inevitable. Not all parties are the same.

They are certainly not the same when it comes to the issue of asylum.

Labour and the Liberals say they agree with us that Britain has responsibilities to those who have been displaced by war or persecution. But they do not practice what they preach.

They pretend that our asylum controls haven't broken down. They try to fool the public and only succeed in breeding anger and resentment, then they turn round and attack the Conservatives for being prepared to put the principles we all share into effect.

The British people are not bigoted or ungenerous, but they do not see why we should have an asylum system that is chaotic and 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.

Under a Conservative Government I promise you this. Britain will be a safe haven, not a soft touch.

And not all parties are the same when it comes to the countryside.

Labour ministers seem to have no grasp of how serious things have become in rural Britain. The foot and mouth crisis has come in the middle of the worst agricultural depression in generations. Over the past four years, farm incomes have halved and halved again. Forty thousand farming jobs have been lost in the last two years alone, as families who have managed their land for generations are being forced to sell up.

The epidemic has driven many country people over the edge. Coming after so much hardship, even strong men and women have given in to despair. When I say that we are witnessing the slow suffocation of rural Britain, I am not choosing my words lightly.

Labour's stewardship of the countryside has been a sorry tale of indifference, neglect and contempt. It's not just farming. Rural police stations are being closed and violent crime is on the increase, so that people in places that were once peaceful and safe often feel isolated and afraid.

The next Conservative Government will move immediately to implement our Strategy for Recovery, containing steps to stamp out Foot and Mouth once and for all, to help our struggling tourism industry and other rural businesses and firm action to prevent this terrible disease entering Britain again.

But the countryside doesn't just need a one-off cash transfusion. It needs a vibrant and successful economy.

We will use money from the budgets of Labour's Regional Development Agencies to cut business rates of up to £1,000 a year for vulnerable businesses such as rural shops, pubs, garages and village post offices. We will introduce a benefit card so that people can continue to draw payments from their village post office.

We are going to give our farmers a fair chance to compete by applying to imported food more of the food hygiene and animal welfare standards we expect of our farmers here at home.

Our farmers are among the most dedicated and innovative in the world. On a level playing field, they'd acquit themselves against all comers. But they cannot compete properly as long as they are confined by the current Common Agricultural Policy.

The next Conservative Government will re-negotiate the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy so that many decisions currently taken at EU level would be taken by at national level.

And we will cancel Labour's house building targets. Under John Prescott's development plan, swathes of rural England would disappear. Parts of West Sussex would become a more or less continuous metropolis. Crawley and Horsham will become a single conurbation. Countryside which has grown up over centuries would disappear in months.

We will allow local authorities to take their own planning decisions. We will encourage the use of brown-field land for development. We will not allow the individual character of the Downs, or any other parts of rural Britain, to be drowned under the relentless spread of concrete.

Not all parties are the same. We believe in the United Kingdom. We are a Unionist Party. And we will never be ashamed of making the case for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

When Scotland voted for devolution we accepted that democratic verdict as the settled will of the Scottish people. It is now the settled will of the Conservative Party to make devolution work.

But Labour's ill thought through and botched devolution settlement has left us with constitutional imbalances that continue to put the future of the Union at risk. The anomaly of Scottish MPs at Westminster being able to vote on legislation that affects only England cannot be right.

Conservatives will sort out Labour's constitutional mess. We will restore balance to the constitution. Within days of coming to power we will change the rules of the House of Commons to establish the principle of English votes on English laws.

Above all, not all parties are the same when it comes to our relations with the European Union.

Last week, Tony Blair called for an honest debate about Europe. Yesterday, he got one. Lionel Jospin, the prime Minister of France, has spoken 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; full economic union, including a mechanism for fiscal transfers.

The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, has been equally candid. Today, he has described the introduction of a European tax to replace national contributions as 'a sound solution'.

Well I'm going to be equally honest tonight. The next Conservative Government will reject that agenda lock, stock and barrel. Put together, these proposals would amount to an unacceptable loss of self-government - without even considering the effect of giving up the pound.

So be in no doubt as to the importance of the choice we will face in nine 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 and his Liberal sidekicks 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: a sum that dwarfs the £8 billion difference between the tax and spending plans of the two parties.

£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.

But you do not have to wait until June 8 to see what the consequences would be. Already Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are wrestling with a terrible dilemma. What rate should Britain join the euro at? Is he happy to lock the Pound into the Euro at its current level for all eternity? Or is the Iron Chancellor to be humiliated by devaluing the Pound?

Because joining the euro is not just a question of changing our notes and coins. It's a question of how we manage our economy. Under Labour, our interest rates, our exchange rates and even our tax rates would be set, not to suit Britain, but to meet criteria set in Brussels.

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.

Joining the euro is not just an economic decision. It is also about democracy. If key decisions about our interest rates, our exchange rates and our tax rates were made abroad, by people over whom we have no direct control, the electoral process would be diminished. Parties would still frame their policies. Candidates would still wear rosettes. But general elections would no longer mean what they do today.

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.

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, and the time after, and the time after that. Vote Conservative this one time, so that we can carry on having meaningful general elections in an independent Britain.

The question of whether we scrap the pound will settle our country's future, possibly for generations. It will determine whether we live in a free and independent country, or whether we become part of a larger bloc.

It 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 have faith in Britain. I am proud of our past and confident about our future. We are a people whose enterprise and energy has touched every Continent; a nation with friends and allies in every part if the world. I simply don't believe that we need to be part of a single European currency to prosper.

Whether we give up the pound is the single biggest decision our country has faced since the war. It is a decision faced by every single person who is registered to vote at this election. And it is a decision that we must take in just nine days.

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

Not all parties are the same. Only the Conservatives will keep the pound.

And so to everybody who shrugs in despair at politics, who thinks that nothing can be done about higher tax and more crime and European federalism and the asylum crisis, I say: something can be done.

We are 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:

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."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech