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Cheryl Gillan: Wales is ready for change

To the Conservative Party conference fringe meeting Welsh Conservatives – New Opportunities

"Cast your mind back ten years. As a party in Wales, we reached rock bottom. Why?

Labour had sought to poison Wales against us. It suited Labour to portray us - quite unfairly - as anti-Wales. As though supporting a United Kingdom meant we were against its constituent nations.

In turn, Labour set about a constitutional settlement to try to permanently exclude the Conservatives from government in Wales and Scotland.

Devolution - they calculated - would successfully immunise Labour rule in Wales and Scotland from a future Conservative government, while they would continue to marshal their Welsh and Scottish MPs to shore up their position in England.

What they didn't reckon on was the resilience of Welsh Conservatives, and their commitment to making devolution work for the people of Wales.

They didn't reckon on our determination to offer the people of Wales a real alternative. I spoke to a Labour peer recently. He explained what had gone wrong for Labour.

They had, he said, planned for a Labour Assembly and a Conservative Parliament. They had never considered that Labour might so mishandle Wales it would end up - twice - unable to muster a majority in its supposed heartlands.

Labour has taken Wales for granted. In May we successfully showed that there was an alternative to Labour's stale, top-down politics.

We have come an enormous way - from not a single Welsh MP in 1997 to the official opposition in the Assembly in 2007. We have done it by showing that it is Welsh Conservatives - not Labour - who have adapted best to the new politics in Wales.

Peter Hain now admits that the May election results were devastating for Labour. Well, that's a lot more honest than 'a perfectly good springboard for the next general election', which is what he said at the time.

If anyone has a springboard for the election it is us. We should acknowledge what we have achieved in Wales and the opportunity it provides for us.

We are now the Official Opposition. Five constituency seats - constituencies where we will push for victory in the General Election.

While Plaid and the Liberals were split over whether to go into coalition, and with whom - we were the ones who showed we are ready to work for Wales and to put the interests of Wales first.

While Peter Hain and Rhodri pick turf wars, we have a cohesive team - in Cardiff, in Westminster, and in the constituencies.

We have in David Cameron someone who has shown how devolution is an extension of freeing communities and individuals to govern themselves.

We have in Nick Bourne a man with all the makings of a future First Minister. I want to express my admiration for how the party in Wales handled the negotiations over the summer.

We showed that we are willing to put aside differences to act in the interests of the Welsh people. And we have in Nick's front bench team, and indeed in all our AMs and MPs, people who have a vision for a better Wales.

Our vision is of a strong Wales in a strong United Kingdom. A Wales in which power is devolved, not just to Cardiff Bay, but to local communities and - crucially - beyond that to individuals and families.

But one in which we never forget that we are stronger together than apart.

Our vision is of a Wales in which public servants - teachers, doctors, police officers - are empowered to deliver public services. In which we trust the professionals on the front line.

They - you - are the people who know the challenges they face, not some anonymous civil servant in Cardiff or London.

Our vision is a Wales no longer defined by the decline of its industrial past, but by its economic future. We need to create an environment in which business can thrive, by targeting regulations which act as a drag on enterprise.

An environment in which individuals and families take greater control of their careers. That means choice in public services. It means improving social mobility so everyone, whatever their background, is able to fulfil their potential.

It means encouraging flexible working, so people can combine family life and working life - contributing to both the economy AND society.

Our vision is of a greener Wales, whose coastline and windswept hills, can be tapped to provide a powerhouse for sustainable energy, for agriculture, and tourism.

And by shifting the burden of taxation from taxes on work to taxes on pollution, we could encourage enterprise and hard work while protecting our natural heritage for generations to come - that is a truly Conservative vision.

It is not Labour's vision.

Labour, with or without Plaid, offer only more central control in our public services. Meaning services which aren't responsive to local needs. It wasn't doctors and nurses who have been dictating the closure of local health services.

It wasn't out police officers who chose to waste a fortune on ill thought-out and abortive reorganisation.

Labour, offer only more dependency. In Wales, after ten years of Labour government, we have over a hundred thousand hidden unemployed cast onto incapacity benefits. Half of the jobs created in Wales are in the public sectors. That is Labour's record. Handouts - not measures to revitalise communities and restore civil pride.

And as a result, Wales is the poorest part of Great Britain. Over a hundred and fifty thousand people in Wales are out of work. And our economy lags behind the UK average.

That is what Labour offer. Red tape and regulation strangling businesses. Labour offers more squabbling. We can see the tensions being played out between Rhodri Morgan and Peter Hain.

One holding out the prospect of a stronger Assembly, the other vetoing measures which seek to do that. Rhodri goes into coalition with Plaid and the next day Peter Hain describes them as the enemy.

Rhodri promises Plaid a referendum on increasing the Assembly's powers - and Peter Hain says not in the foreseeable future.

A Labour politician who breaks a promise to hold a referendum - I wonder who he got that idea from!

Petty arguments over who takes the decisions. Rather than focusing on the big picture - what can politicians in Cardiff and in London - and in Welsh town halls - do for local communities.

In short, Labour offers more of the same. That is not the Wales I want. The people of Wales aspire to more than that. We can offer Wales much more than that. And we are placed to deliver much more than that. We can offer a vision of a different Wales.

A greener Wales. A modern, business friendly Wales. Stronger families. Stronger and prouder communities. Safer streets. Public services where professionals are freed to teach, to treat patients, to target crime and anti-social behaviour.

Public services that are responsive to the public, rather than crippled by outdated dogma. A vision of government that exists to support and enable, not to bully and control.

Above all, a vision in which power is devolved to nations, and beyond that to communities, so that people have a stake in their own governance.

That is not Labour's vision for Wales. Labour wants devolution to work for Labour. We want devolution to work for Wales. I know that in the Assembly, in Town Halls and in Westminster - and whenever the election comes, out there on the stump - that is what all of us - will deliver.

Wales, more perhaps than anywhere else, is ready for a change. And that is what we offer."

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