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

Nick Herbert: Time to repair our broken politics

Addressing the Conservative Party Conference today, Shadow Justice Secretary, Nick Herbert said:

"Ladies and Gentlemen ...


Gordon Brown needs your help.

He wants to write a statement of British values.

I won't speculate why a Scottish Prime Minister is suddenly so desperate to talk about Britishness.

But Gordon is searching for a motto which expresses the nation's ideals.

Like France's "Liberté, égalité, fraternité".

So what would the right British motto be?

The BBC's website was flooded with helpful suggestions from the public.

The most popular was "Please form an orderly queue."

Others included "Is it still raining?"

And "It's more than my job's worth."

But my favourite was: "Mustn't grumble."

That seemed to capture perfectly the great British value of stoicism.

But if Gordon's having trouble coming up with his own slogan, let's give him a helping hand.

Because it's not hard to find the phrases to describe Labour's Britain.

"Our borders are always open."

"Lane closures ahead."

"Standing room only."

"Due to Health & Safety regulations, this event is cancelled."

"No accident and emergency at this hospital."

"Police station - open 10 am to 4 pm, Mondays to Fridays."

That's if you can find a police station at all.

I could go on.

But, frankly, we don't need a statement of values to tell us what it means to be British.

We don't need Gordon Brown to repeat the word "British" 71 times to know who we are.

We don't need to be instructed by a politician to fly the union flag in our gardens.

Because we know what it means to be British.

To believe in our country.

To value liberty, free speech and tolerance.

To cherish our history and institutions.

We stand by these values.

And we've watched as this Government has systematically undermined British values in the last ten years.

The idea of Britishness can't be reduced to one of New Labour's slogans.

The Government says it's going to engage people by holding citizens' juries.

Well, not very many people.

You've got about as much chance of getting onto one of Labour's juries as winning the lottery.

But what's the point of convening a jury if the verdict is ignored?

Over a million people signed a Downing Street petition against the Government's plans for roads pricing. They were ignored.

Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of people have protested against closure of their local A&E or maternity units. They're being ignored, too.

Citizens' juries aren't part of a new politics - they're junk politics.

They won't rebuild trust.

They'll make people even more cynical.

Because the public knows they're a total gimmick.

If there's going to be a citizens' jury, there's only one person who should be in the dock, and that's Gordon Brown.

So let's deliver our verdict on him now.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, on the first charge, a tax raid that wiped billions from the value of pensions, how do you find the defendant, Gordon Brown? Guilty or not guilty?

On the second charge, refusing to build more prisons, releasing thousands of criminals onto our streets, how do you find Gordon Brown? Guilty or not guilty?

On the third charge, promising 8,000 more uniformed officers on our streets at the last election and then reneging on that pledge, how do you find Gordon Brown? Guilty or not guilty?

For the serial offence of raising taxes by stealth more than a hundred times, how do you find Gordon Brown? Guilty or not guilty?

Yes, guilty on all counts. Convicted of defrauding the country, convicted of putting the public at risk, convicted of saying one thing and doing another.

Now we know what Gordon Brown means when he says he's a conviction politician.

But don't worry, Gordon. You won't have to worry about punishment under this Government.

Prison sentences for criminals are now automatically halved.

Let's be clear about the difference between the Conservatives and Labour on crime, between our values and their values.

They think it's alright to release violent offenders before they've even served half of their sentence.

We don't.

So I make this pledge today. We will introduce honesty in sentencing so that prisoners serve a minimum sentence without possibility of parole.

The new Ministry of Justice isn't only responsible for the state of our prisons. It's also responsible for our Constitution.

But the Constitution doesn't belong to any one party.

And it must not be reformed for partisan political purposes.

Labour's unbalanced devolution in Scotland and Wales has fuelled the flames of nationalism.

The West Lothian question, first posed by a Scottish Labour MP about devolution, remains unanswered.

Why should Scottish MPs have a right to vote on laws affecting hospitals and schools in England, when English MPs have no say over these issues in Scotland?

The Government is following the principled advice of Lord Irvine - that's Lord Irvine of the wallpaper, in case you'd forgotten - who said that the best answer to the West Lothian question was not to ask it in the first place.

But we believe in the United Kingdom.

And we believe in fairness.

So we will re-balance our constitution to strengthen the Union ...

by ensuring that English Members of Parliament have the decisive say over English laws.

Ken Clarke's Democracy Taskforce is looking at how this work in detail, and we look forward to his report.

Gordon Brown says he wants to re-build trust in politics.

But what really damages trust is when politicians promise something they know they won't deliver.

Gordon Brown has repeatedly said that he would make a statement on troop withdrawal to Parliament when it returns.

He has repeatedly said that he wants to strengthen Parliament.

And today he has made an announcement on our troops in Iraq, an announcement of major significance, not to Parliament but to the press.

That's how much respect Gordon Brown has for Parliament.

That's how much respect he has for the public - saying one thing and doing another.

Last week Jack Straw said he'd review the law to ensure that people can defend themselves from attack without fear of prosecution.

But Jack Straw was this Government's first Home Secretary. In four years he did nothing.

We repeatedly urged a change in the law so that people can protect themselves from intruders in their homes.

Jack Straw and his fellow Labour MPs fought us year after year against the idea.

The last time the Government grabbed a headline by signalling a change on this, they reneged within weeks.

This is the worst kind of cynical politics. It's exactly what turns people off. And it says everything you need to know about this Government's lack of integrity.

Gordon Brown played the same game last week.

He said that foreigners in our country who deal in drugs or use guns should be deported.

But he knows that he can't remove thousands of foreign criminals from our country.

Because Labour's own laws prevent him.

He can't even deport the murderer of Philip Lawrence because of an EU Directive which Labour negotiated and the Human Rights Act which Labour introduced.

I believe we hear too much about people's rights ... and too little about the responsibilities which should go with them.

Too much about entitlements ... and too little about the obligations we all have to society.

Too many demands to protect the freedoms of criminals ... and too few voices for the interests of victims.

We cannot stand by while our country and citizens are put at risk ...

... by legislation which fails to protect liberties that really matter, such as the right to free speech or trial by jury.

So we will scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights that sets out rights ­and responsibilities ...

... and which allows us to take the action we need to defend our citizens against serious crime and our country against terrorism.

We've talked about our broken society ...

But I believe politics is broken, too.

Our national debate has been disfigured by New Labour's conduct in government.

They, more than anyone, bear the responsibility for the breakdown of trust in politics.

It isn't just the spin, the subversion of Parliament, the abuse of the honours system.

Trust has been broken by the arrogant exercise of power which has over-ridden local communities.

When the people said 'no' to a regional assembly in the North East, that should have been the end of regional government.

Instead, unelected regional assemblies lived on.

At last they are to be scrapped. About time, too. But instead of the powers being returned to local councils, they're being handed to unelected regional development agencies.

And a new unaccountable planning quango will over-ride the objections of local communities.

People are shut out of decision-making, even over issues which are most local or personal to them.

Communities have no say over the future of their local hospitals.

No say over how their neighbourhood is policed.

No say if their local school is closed.

Labour's phoney consultations pretend to give the public a voice. The reality is that people are given no choice.

We live in a new world ...

In a country liberated by Conservative economic reforms ...

In communities which want to control their own affairs ...

In a society in which people want to make their own decisions.

But old politics is holding people back, denying them a say, refusing them a choice.

We must change politics, to give people more power over their lives ...

Change government, to make it accountable for the taxpayers' money it spends ...

Change public services, to make them responsive to the citizens who rely on them.

So we'll make the police accountable to the communities they serve.

We'll give patients more choice, doctors more freedom, parents more say, and teachers more control.

Our approach is rooted in a profound understanding about our country and our democracy.

It's that power doesn't belong to unelected quangos, civil servants or bureaucrats.

Power doesn't belong to politicians.

Power belongs to the people.

The Labour Party, 'the masters now', founded on the idea of central control, will never understand this essential truth.

That's why the single most important act to change politics in this country

To re-build trust ...

To renew democracy ...

to return power to the people ...

Will be to sweep this Labour Government from office.

and put David Cameron into Downing Street."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech