Speeches recovered from the Conservative party‚Äôs online archive More…

William Hague: Opening speech of Blackpool Conference

In the opening speech of Blackpool Conference, William Hague said:

Welcome to Blackpool, where this week the Conservative party gathers to show it has the ideas, the candidates, the determination and the leadership, to be the next government of our country.

Welcome to a Blackpool which for the first time in twenty years is Conservative controlled. In this year's local elections our councillors campaigned on cleaning up the town centre and making it a family friendly resort again, and they swept to victory - let's congratulate the leader of the council, Peter Callow.

Yet the victory here in Blackpool was only a microcosm of our national success that night. The pundits said we would be lucky to gain a few hundred seats. We gained 900 seats. There are fewer Labour councillors today than at any time for more than thirty years.

Ah, said the pundits, clutching at their next bit of gloom, you may make gains but they won't be in the north.

Well let me introduce you to Steve and Mary Robinson, new councillors on South Ribble District Council, where Conservatives made no fewer than 24 gains after a brilliant campaign.

Let's celebrate the landslide wins we saw from Chester in the west to the East Riding of Yorkshire in the east. And the fact that across the north we contested more seats than ever before and more than any other party. And that in Yorkshire and the North West Conservatives now control as many councils as Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined.

Let's applaud those councillors who don't stop campaigning when they win control, such as the Selby Conservatives who took 5 more seats from Labour - here is Councillor Ruth Sayner.

But most of all, let us congratulate those councillors who, through sheer hard work on issues that matter to local people, are now rebuilding our party in towns and cities Labour once claimed as their own. That is what is being achieved by councillors like John Galvin in York, going from no seats to 8 in one election and Charles Johnson in Darlington, who campaigned against Labour's cuts in the police budget. And on Thursday night in Sunderland we had yet another stunning Conservative gain in a seat we had never won until this year - here is the council leader and parliamentary candidate who has made central Sunderland into a marginal seat, Lee Martin.

The work of Lee and those like him should be an inspiration to us all. It is thanks to them that our revival in the north of England is gathering pace.

With our fundraising soaring, in the first seven months of this year we raised more money across the north of England than in the whole of last year. That has enabled us to double the number of our campaign staff and open new regional campaign centres in Newcastle, Bradford and Salford. And, looking ahead, our Conservative Future branches in Lancaster, Leeds and Durham are among the largest in the country.

So as we launch Campaign North today we want everyone to know that we northerners have the confidence and the determination, step by step, to win. And now let that be the spirit of this week: let us make it clear and let it ring out from our conference today: the Conservative Party is ready, it is hungry for victory and if Gordon Brown ever summons up the courage to call an election we are going to beat him.

We are ready to replace a Government which has driven Britain down every league of economic performance, doubled violent crime, brought tens of thousands of job cuts to the health service, and left a trail of abandoned targets, broken promises, squandered budgets, false announcements and re-announcements that have left the word of government less believed than ever in the history of our country. A Government that poses as one that can handle a crisis, but is now having to contain a disastrous outbreak of foot and mouth disease which is a direct result of its own unforgivable incompetence.

I have a question for Gordon Brown while he dithers about going to the people. It's about his prior commitment to consult the people. For if you say, as you do, that Labour ministers have got to honour their election manifesto to maintain trust in politics, and if that manifesto contained, as it did, a solemn pledge to put the European Constitution to a referendum, is it not the very opposite of honour and trust now brazenly and arrogantly to refuse to do so?

What is the point of citizens' juries, if on the one issue on which all parties made a pledge to consult the nation, this Government is too weak in its arguments, too deceitful in its conduct and too cowardly in its politics to seek the verdict of the jury of the nation?

Ten years ago I asked him another question, as he sat down after his first budget. I asked him how his new taxes would hit pension funds. He then denied they would have any impact at all.

We now know, of course, that officials warned him at the time that he would cause a huge shortfall in pension fund assets. We know they warned him that poorer pensioners would be hit the hardest. And we know that he spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money fighting to prevent that knowledge being released under the Freedom of Information Act to Conservative MPs.

And now we know also, according to pension fund experts, that the total amount removed by Gordon Brown from Britain's pension funds in the last ten years stands at one hundred thousand million pounds - all of it spent, and most of it, as recent reports on the health service show, tragically and stupidly squandered. It makes Robert Maxwell look like an amateur.

To me it is as simple as this: I do not believe that a politician who does such violence to the lifetime savings of millions of hardworking British people can be the right Prime Minister for our future.

Over a hundred stealth taxes later, in a country where pensioners often struggle to meet their bills, council tax has nearly doubled in Brown's ten years. In a country where so many people find it hard to afford to buy a house, stamp duty has been mercilessly increased. In a country where people want the right to pass on their savings to the next generation, the number of households forced to pay inheritance tax has doubled.

How does he have the nerve to pose as tough on law and order while releasing 25,000 criminals early because of his own failure to plan, to call for the NHS to be more easily available when half the population now can't even find a dentist, to say our armed forces should be better treated after a decade of inaction, and to give a patronising nod towards the countryside after wiping thousands of post offices from the face of rural Britain?

And then, ludicrously, to stand up and say 'I won't let you down.'

Yet now this Prime Minister, whose last budget included a fake tax cut exposed within minutes as a con-trick and sharp rise in taxes for small businesses that was all too true, suddenly announces himself as a 'conviction politician' and declares his admiration for Lady Thatcher.

In this Government, it is not only their photographs that are fakes.

Could this be the same man who once spoke of 'Thatcher's children - excluded, embittered, unable to respond when jobs become available and their wasted talents are needed', or was he just referring to how he felt waiting for Tony Blair to go?

Could it be the same man who said the Thatcher Government had failed to prepare our economy for the 1990s, who said the free market had failed, that we should nationalise multinationals, that Trident missiles put Britain at risk, called the City 'Britain's biggest casino' and fought tooth and nail against every one of Lady Thatcher's vital reforms?

Well, yes it could. Oh yes, he has convictions. And if you don't like them, he has others.

His speech last week contained so many old announcements it was about as inspirational as watching paint dry for the third or fourth time in a row. But in it he borrowed certain turns of phrase from America; so let me borrow another one and say this to Gordon Brown. Some of us stood here thirty years ago with Margaret Thatcher. We, Gordon, backed her when she rescued our country in the face of every denunciation and insult from the likes of you. Margaret Thatcher would never have devastated the pension funds of this nation, nor kicked its small businesses in the teeth. So you may fawn now at the feet of our greatest Prime Minister, but you are no Margaret Thatcher.

Gordon Brown is not a conviction politician. He is a calculation politician. He calculates that people will forget who caused the current crises in our health service, our prisons and our pensions.

He calculates that he can pretend to be a new government. But he is the old government, and after ten years of failure and disappointment, he cannot be the change the country needs.

So, now, Conservatives, this is our opportunity, to show this week the real change that Britain needs. We live in a new world, and the old politics of Gordon Brown are no longer enough.

We should be proud that our party has undertaken the most searching policy review of a generation. The six reports of our policy commissions provide the framework for this conference, and when you look, for example, at the compelling work done by Iain Duncan Smith's social justice group on the breakdown of family life, you find the real substance that should shape our policies - a world away from the re-heated sound-bites of Labour in Bournemouth.

600,000 more people live in deep poverty - in our prosperous country - than ten years ago. There could not be a more damning verdict on a Labour Government. That is why we should be proud too that our party has set out, as it did under Peel, Disraeli, Macmillan or Thatcher, to apply enduring Conservative principles to the new challenges of our own times.

From the beginning, David Cameron asked us to change. And we have responded. I am proud that today we have more women candidates than ever before and more from ethnic minorities than ever before. But I would not have returned to the frontbench and I would not be standing here today were it not for something else: that I have found that when you know David Cameron and you work with David Cameron you find a man whose combination of tenacity and intelligence makes him the best of us, and we have at our helm someone who would make a remarkable and brilliant Prime Minister.

I respect him, too, for leading a genuine team in the Shadow Cabinet and for reinvigorating our party. I find in him a leader who listens and leads, and who takes sound advice - and when those of us who have held high office in our party wish to give frank advice we owe that to him, delivered in private confidence, never through public self-indulgence.

For we all have a responsibility - to do our utmost this week to ensure that the millions of our fellow Britons who hope and long for change find a clear and purposeful voice in the Conservative Party.

This week we will announce some of the policies we will implement when entrusted with the governing of our country.

They are designed, first of all, to give people more opportunity, and power over their lives: moving from today's broken housing ladder to help for first-time buyers; from NHS cuts and targets to personal control and professional freedom; from red tape and regulation to free enterprise and responsible business; from soggy school standards to new schools, rigour and discipline.

And giving people more power over their lives means moving from centralisation of power to freedom for local councils, and - something I will say more about on Tuesday morning - moving from Brown's broken promise to a referendum on the EU constitution.

Second, they are designed to make families stronger and society more responsible: taking our country from punishing married couples to rewarding them; from means-testing pensioners to a savings culture and security in old age; from run-down estates to urban renaissance and civic pride; from uninspired teenagers to a National Citizen Service for every school leaver.

And third, our policies will make Britain safer and greener. For the new challenges are to move from taxing families to taxing pollution; from overstretched armed forces to valuing our troops; from an open-door Britain to tough new border controls; from more laws to more law and order.

It is to achieve these things, dear to the heart of every Conservative but dear too to the vast majority of British people, that we will dedicate ourselves at the next election and it is to make the case for the change that is required that we are gathered in Blackpool this week.

The circumstances of this conference mean that it may be one of the most crucial of our times. The willingness of our country to vote for change depends on our ability to show that we are ready to fight back, to win, and to govern. We have strong leadership, clear direction, and policies our country needs. So let us make the most of all of that, and so conduct ourselves this week that people can see the relish, the confidence and the optimism with which we approach our task.

Let this week be a reminder never to underestimate the Conservative Party, and a demonstration of how we can serve a country where it is time for change. It's time for change. And let it now begin.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech