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Hague: Conservative Women 2000

This week Tony Blair's Government looks like one of the communities struggling to cope with the rising flood water - awash with problems, increasingly without power, and cut off from the rest of the world.

Because for the first time in a generation, there is a very real sense of crisis in the country. Thousands of homes are flooded and many thousands more are at risk. The rail network is paralysed. There are queues of cars outside petrol forecourts. The NHS is facing potentially massive winter problems. The schools chief has resigned. Crime is rising. Hard-working people have been taxed and taxed with nothing to show in return, and they are in revolt. And a public that expects their Government to be in control knows that this Prime Minister and this Government has lost control.

Of course, some events are acts of God. Even the best-prepared government cannot guarantee that there will never be flooding. Terrible accidents can happen on even the most modern of railway systems.

But when Tony Blair pleads with the public and says: 'don't blame me for the country's problems, I'm only the Prime Minister', his washing of hands convinces no one.

That is because the public knows that so many of the problems now facing Britain have either been caused by, or made much worse by, the actions of this Labour Government.

So when Tony Blair says 'don't blame me for NHS winter crises', the public won't listen to him. We saw last year how the ability of hospitals and GPs to cope with winter pressures has been undermined by a Government that that has systematically puts political targets above the clinical need of patients. And the Health Secretary's last-minute plan to draw on the resources of the private health sector would have been far more effective if Labour hadn't spent the last two years attacking private medicine and introducing regulations that have destroyed 15,000 places in private residential care homes.

Similarly, when Tony Blair says 'the growing crisis of confidence in our law and order is not my fault', the British people don't agree with him. The official Home Office figures show that last year there were 190,000 more criminal offences than the year before - the first rise in crime in six years. And the reason why crime is rising is not some obscure mystery. It is because a Labour Home Secretary took the deliberate decision to cut the number of police, increase the red tape they have to cope with and then let out thousands of criminals early from prison.

Or education. When Tony Blair claims that the 'crisis of teacher morale and recruitment has nothing to do with me', no one believes him anymore. For everyone knows that he has undermined school discipline, increased teacher paperwork, pushed up secondary school class sizes, abolished Assisted Places and grant-maintained schools, waged a war against grammar schools, restricted the freedom of head teachers and brought political correctness back into the classroom. As that champion of high standards, Chris Woodhead, freely admits: it was his 'increasing frustration' with what Labour is doing to our schools that was one of the reasons his quit as Chief Inspector last week, leaving the Government's education policy in tatters.

So when the Prime Minister and his Cabinet tell the people of Britain that they should be grateful for everything that this Government have done, the public rightly feel nothing but contempt.

For they know that our streets are unsafe, and that our hospitals are stretched to breaking point, and that our children's schools are not improving. They can see for themselves that, despite all the election promises and all the spin about extra resources, Britain's public services are now in a permanent state of crisis.

It is because the Government are wasting money, and failing to improve public services, that people particularly resent paying the Government's stealth taxes.

Tony Blair is so out of touch that he still does not understand what the fuel protests are really about. He thinks he is confronting a small number of protestors, and so this time he is doing what he knows best: talking tough about how he's going to defeat them. It is a typically stupid and short-sighted approach that has already failed.

Because all the Government's talk about bringing out the army and stockpiling emergency reserves of petrol, has quite predictably caused the very crisis they claimed that they were trying to avoid. As anyone who has tried to fill up with petrol this weekend knows, ministerial grandstanding has led to panic buying.

The way to resolve the fuel crisis is to realise that what is actually taking place is a widespread taxpayers revolt involving millions of hard-working families, and to cut their taxes.

Many of these families voted for Tony Blair at the last election because he promised them 'no tax increases at all'.

Since then he has put up taxes on their mortgages and marriages, on their cars and their pensions, on their homes and the businesses they work in.

As a result of Labour's tax increases, the typical working family is now paying £670 more a year in tax.

Of course, the Chancellor extracted the taxes in stealthy ways because he hoped that no one would notice. They were wrong. They public have noticed. They notice every time they see that MIRAS and the Married Couples Allowance are not on their payslips. They notice when their pension fund asks them for bigger contributions to offset the tax increases. They notice every time they buy a house or get their road tax disc. And they most certainly notice every time they fill up their car at the petrol station.

Labour boasts that they got off the fuel escalator; what they don't say is that they then got into a lift. Petrol taxes have gone up a third since Labour came to office. Up 15 pence a litre, making Britain's petrol the most expensive in Europe.

Tony Blair is making a big mistake if he thinks that he can deal with the fuel crisis by simply buying off special interests with concessions in Wednesday's Pre-Budget Report.

For the exorbitant cost of petrol is not just destroying the livelihoods of many farmers and road hauliers. It is also punishing the millions of families on a tight budgets who use the car to deliver their children to school and to do their weekly shopping. It is punishing the millions of rural people for whom the car is a necessity, not a luxury. It is punishing It is punishing the thousands of small businessmen and women who rely on their car to make a living.

That is why my message to Tony Blair today is: don't think you can buy off the special interests, your stealth taxes affect everyone; don't think you can get away with simply freezing the duty, that would lock in your stealth taxes for ever.

It is time to cut taxes for everyone - and that means a cut of at least 3 pence in the tax on a litre of petrol and diesel. If Labour won't; we will.

If Labour's won't cut taxes on hard-working families; we will.

If Labour won't root out the waste and inefficiency in government; we will.

If Labour won't introduce the tough law and order policies to win the war against crime; we will.

If Labour won't improve discipline and standards in our school classrooms; we will.

If Labour won't stop playing politics with the health service; we will

If Labour won't tackle the crisis in Britain's public services; we will.

If Labour won't take control of events, then, with the help of the people of Britain, we will."

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