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William Hague: The change this country needs

In Brighton this weekend, we, the Conservative Party, come together firm in our conviction, confident in our purpose and resolute in our determination that we will provide the change, the new direction and the new government that this country so urgently needs.

This is a party, out of government for these long years, that has once again planted its roots deep in the soil of Britain; a party that stands unambiguously for family and community, for facing problems together, for responsibility and backing those who do the right thing, for hard work and for saving, for aspiration and optimism, for opening up our own party to people of every background, for releasing the enterprise of a bold and ingenious nation, for giving people more control over their own lives, for giving people the belief they have lost – that they can once again respect their own country and know the rest of the world will do the same.

Britain’s most crucial election for a generation will be held in a matter of weeks. Gordon Brown will not so much decide to call it as be finally dragged kicking and screaming to call it. His decision will be made for him, as so many of them are, by time running out. This is a Prime Minister who got ready for an election when he thought he could win it, then was too frightened to hold it, then has dragged out this miserable parliament to its fullest, bitter end, dithering and vacillating over every decision; a Prime Minister no one ever elected kept in office by Lord Mandelson who no one voted for at all, and who should have had the moral courage and political decisiveness to hold an election long ago.

And I say it is that most crucial election because I believe the choice for Britain is as stark as this: it is change or ruin.

When Gordon Brown took over, this, our great country, was the 4th largest economy in the world. Now it is falling behind and forecast within 5 years to be the 11th, behind not just growing giants like China, but behind our neighbours France and Italy. We were ranked 7th in the world for the competitiveness of our economy. Now we are 13th. We were 4th in the world for our tax and regulation. Now we are 84th and 86th. We are the last G20 country to emerge from recession. We are borrowing almost as much of our income as Greece, but the Greeks have more plans than Gordon Brown, like everyone else in the world, to do something about it.

We are telling the British people the truth: we cannot go on like this.

We say to them now: it is time, it is time to make the break. We cannot go on just borrowing money from China so that we can buy their goods and then borrow some more. Gordon Brown is like a credit card company who will always send you another letter saying it would be so easy when in debt to borrow even more. Every family, every small business, everyone except this Government knows it is the road to ruin.

Last week Gordon Brown said the election should not be a verdict on the Government’s past record. Let me tell him this: we will ensure that a country that wants to look to the future is fully aware of his record. He may not want to discuss his pension destroying, gold selling, golden rule-breaking, national debt-doubling, money wasting, tax raising, colleague rubbishing, pledge betraying, election bottling record but, oh boy, we do.

He says voters should give him a second chance. Look here Gordon, you’ve had 13 years now. You’ve had your second chance and your third. No one in Britain can afford to give you a fourth chance: no one in this country can afford another 5 years of Gordon Brown.

So it is time for change. And if we do not take this opportunity, grasp this hour, to set a new direction for Britain, then I tell you in all frankness that it will be too late. It will be too late in 5 years’ time to say we should have got rid of them, too late to reverse the decline: the debt will be too big, the bureaucracy too bloated, the small businesses too stifled, the slope Britain is sliding down will be too steep.

So to every voter listening to us now we say solemnly, if not now it will be too late. It is time, time to say we can rescue our country, time to refuse to get poorer and more indebted, time to say Britain is not doomed to decline, time to let the Labour party fight its squabbles out of power where it can do no harm, time to invite the forces of hell to get the hell out of Downing Street.

The spectacle of a Prime Minister too disloyal to support his own colleagues but too weak to sack them is a pitiful one. The contrast before the country could not now be greater, for over the last four years it has been my good fortune to work with a leader who treats his colleagues like a team, who wins on his merits their own loyalty and respect, who finds the ground that unites people rather than the lines that divide them, who has the combination of steely determination and earthy common sense that will make for a great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and that leader is David Cameron.

I have known to some degree every person who has been Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition in my adult lifetime. I have spent thousands of hours with David Cameron and I can tell you this: he has a passionate belief that life can be improved, that our National Health Service can give of its best, that our schools can beat the world, that our environment can be saved, that government can so organise itself, its taxes, its civil servants and its laws that the energy and goodness of each individual can be released into the world, and these passions – made from Britain at it strongest and Conservative values at their deepest – will form the central, driving energy of a Government of which British people will be proud.

And he likes to take decisions with a cool head inside him and well-informed colleagues around him. It has emerged at the Iraq inquiry that in the vital matters of our national security, of foreign relations and the deployment of our troops, this Government made its decisions without properly consulting the experts, without papers, in casual meetings and ‘little chats’. David Cameron and all of us around him are determined that Cabinet Government will be restored, that we will create a true National Security Council. And ,yes, shocking as it may be to today’s ministers, it will include experts; it will have minutes; it will expect government departments to be co-ordinated with one another: our armed forces have never let this country down and the way we make decisions about their deployment must never let them down.

It is when you think of how badly government is conducted in Britain today, and then of how well it could be conducted with change and new direction, that you grasp both the urgency of our task and the inspirational opportunity now at hand. For, yes, this will be very difficult, both the election against opponents who have nothing to lose except the power that is all they live for, and governing afterwards when they will have left us the worst situation faced by a new government since, well, since the last time a Labour government left office in 1979.

It will be difficult, but it can be done. To those people who have always voted Labour, let us spell out Gordon Brown’s record: the worst of modern times. To those who think they can ignore the election, or vote for Liberals or fringe parties, let us state bluntly you cannot leave it to other people: change will only come if you vote for it and the only vote for change in this election is a vote for a Conservative candidate.

And to those who say they do not know what the Conservatives will do, let us tell them. We will cut the spending that cannot go on and the borrowing that leads to ruin. We will help the hard-pressed taxpayer, by freezing council tax for two years, abolishing stamp duty for most first time buyers, and helping small businesses. If we can, we will spare millions of working people Labour’s extra tax on jobs due next year. We will create a culture of saving instead of a culture of debt, helping people to stay in the home they worked all their lives to pay for, and removing millions of middle-income people from the inheritance tax they should never have been expected to pay.

We will work for George Osborne’s vision of a Britain open for business again – aiming to give Britain the most competitive tax environment in the G20, encouraging multinational companies to locate here and creating the best environment for intellectual property of any major economy.

We will reform welfare, create more apprenticeships, make sure new regulations mean the end of old ones, fund more university places this year and scrap a large slice of expensive quangos. Imagine what our country would be if we could do these things; how the gathering gloom of Gordon Brown’s Britain could be dispelled; how the excitement and energy could pulse through a new generation of entrepreneurs.

And imagine too, far beyond material wealth, the enduring strength we could return to our society. We will make Britain the most family friendly country in Europe. We’ll back the NHS, which matters more to families than anything else. We will strengthen communities by the biggest transfer of power this country has ever seen to councils and communities to decide on what is built, what is spent, what is saved and what is preserved in their city, town and village.

We will bring to education the galvanising effect of new schools in the state sector but not run by the state and a long overdue emphasis on discipline and standards for all. We will give our public sector workers the biggest opportunity they have ever had to run things themselves, as they know best.

This would be, when you repeat it and think about it, the salvation of our country. Let no voter say, by election day, that they do not know what the Conservatives will do. And it doesn’t stop there. Where Labour have refused to control immigration we will properly control it; where they betrayed democracy by refusing a referendum we will build a referendum whenever the powers of the voters are given away into our law; and where they have presided over the greatest disillusionment with politics and government in centuries we will reduce our own salaries as ministers, cut the size and cost of parliament, make the House of Commons more democratic let everyone see how their taxpayers’ money is spent – and demonstrate that people can have faith in their leaders again.

This is a vision of a Britain restored. This is a Britain that would be listened to in the world again. And it is a Britain that would have, with us, a distinctive British foreign policy, making the most of our European and transatlantic alliance, but doing something Labour have never done – elevating our relations in culture, education, commerce and diplomacy with many friendly nations of the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, intensifying the friendships that will give British people opportunity, employment and security for generations to come.

So I say imagine what we could do. If we could do these things, we would take our country in a new direction and show that politics has a purpose; that it can turn a country round and get it moving again.

Imagine what we can do, and you know beyond doubt that our efforts are worth it; that these things are worth each one of us fighting for, worth the voters who want change voting for, worth millions of British people hoping for.

In Brighton this weekend we present the choice: five more years of Gordon Brown’s tired Government making things worse. Or David Cameron and the Conservatives with the energy, leadership and values to get the country moving. Five years from now it will be too late. Tomorrow David Cameron will ask you to vote for change. It is time, now, for our great leader, our strong team, our clear policies and our vision of the future, to be the change this country needs.

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