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Bourne: A vision of change for Wales

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Cardiff.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Croeso, maen bleser mawr I siarad i'r gynhadledd yma y prynhawn 'ma

It's a great opportunity to speak to conference this afternoon.

Last week we witnessed the Labour party coming apart at the seams. We saw the Prime Minister, Tony Blair clinging to the wreckage. We saw Peter Hain fighting to become deputy leader of the wreckage and we saw Rhodri creating yet more wreckage.

As if that wasn't enough, there came the news that Michael Meacher was going to mount a serious challenge to Gordon Brown to become the next leader.

To be fair to Michael Meacher there is obviously a gap in the market on the left wing of British politics an opportunity for someone to represent those who own six or more properties, the Prime Minister only owning five.

In fact so landed and wealthy is Mr Meacher that when people ask what wing he is in, nobody really knows whether it means left wing or right wing or east or west wing of one of those country estates.

In any event it seems like a dream ticket to me Michael Meacher leading the party and Peter Hain as his deputy.

Peter Hain did say when he first visited Hillsborough Castle as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, one of his two jobs, that he had always dreamt of living in a large house with a butler, well he will have plenty of choice if he's Michael Meacher's deputy.

And is if that wasn't enough we have Rhodri Morgan undermining one of the areas that will be a Blair legacy -the peace process in Northern Ireland, with that offensive and ridiculous joke about Ian Paisley.

We are no strangers in Wales to Rhodri Morgan's gaffes, we won't forget the D Day landing debacle, we won't forget the fact that uniquely amongst politicians and the population at large indeed, Rhodri Morgan has no view on the Iraq War.

We won't forget that Rhodri Morgan believes that he can recline on his lilo in a sun drenched Wales taking advantage from climate change.

Sadly, Rhodri Morgan is to statecraft what Jade Goody is to geography.

How different this conference is, how different this party is.

Just two months away from the Assembly elections there is a real air of excitement around this conference and in our party.

David Cameron has led us brilliantly over the past year.

The party has changed for the better and the public has recognised that we offer a forward-looking alternative to tired Labour governments both in Westminster and Cardiff.

It is David Cameron who has set the wheels in motion and we have good reason to be optimistic about our future right across the UK.

And thanks too to Cheryl Gillan - a first class Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

I must also thank Lyndon and Matt for their outstanding work leading the charge from Welsh Conservative HQ.

Thanks also to Jonathan Evans and Wyn Roberts for their help and support.

And I pay tribute to our truly exceptional candidates who are working feverishly.

I am very confident we will be winning seats from Labour and increasing our representation.

We have an extremely hardworking and successful team of Assembly Members and I look forward to adding to our number as we encourage Wales to vote Welsh Conservative for a change.

The best thing about this process of change is that it's a team effort. Everyone has been involved - David Cameron, our Welsh MPs, Assembly Members, candidates, councillors and you all - our fantastic members across Wales.

I would like to thank you all for your hard work.

Whether it's filling envelopes, pounding the pavements, raising funds or contributing to our policy review.

Every contribution, however large however small, is vital to our success. Thank you.

But we are not there yet!

The next two months means more late nights, countless leaflet drops and lots of door knocking. We are ready for it!

David Cameron's emphasis on quality of life issues, like the environment, social justice and the state of our NHS, has struck a chord here in Wales.

These are things Welsh Conservatives in the Assembly believe resonate with the Welsh public at large and they have been reflected in our policy review.

We have spent the past year and more listening to the views of thousands of people across Wales.

This process has formed the backbone of our manifesto. Thank you for your input and special thanks to David Melding for all his hard work.

What our consultation has told us is that there needs to be a significant shift of power and trust from central government out into our communities.

All too often, Rhodri Morgan's government has been meddlesome and interfering, bossy and bureaucratic.

This has had a damaging effect in all aspects of government.

Whether it has been the constant stream of targets for the NHS or the diktats telling teachers how best to do their job whatever Labour's good intentions.

We would give greater power to communities.

Whether it's to our professionals in local schools and hospitals or to individuals giving up their time voluntarily to make a positive difference to their local area.

We must trust our teachers, doctors and nurses to make the best decisions for their communities.

Perhaps one of the most enduring and cherished characteristics of Welsh life is our strong community spirit.

Welsh Conservatives are fiercely proud of the bonds that tie us together in our villages and towns.

When a post office shuts or a local hospital is under threat the repercussions are massive.

People depend on these services, especially those who are most vulnerable like the elderly - the loss isn't just a loss of convenience it's a logistical and financial headache.

Jobs are lost.

People are isolated.

What is worse, the human face of a community is also jeopardised.

The friendly chatter and local support is gone.

For without these networks neighbourhoods become ghost towns, a community loses its soul.

Our big idea is to start small - to develop social responsibility and act locally. What do local people think is best for their community?

We would restore the Post Office Development Fund, so that post offices can look at what extra services they can offer to meet local need and guarantee a viable future.

Where a local village school is struggling or a hospital is threatened with closure we would involve local people in deciding the best way ahead.

That is why one of the key planks of our manifesto is to help social enterprises and voluntary groups.

These organisations are doing fantastic work in our communities and many of you will be involved in them in some form or another.

When people roll up their sleeves to make a difference they should be encouraged not hampered by regulation.

We would improve the advice available to social entrepreneurs and develop the social economy in our poorest areas.

A grant scheme would be made available to encourage joint ventures between the private sector and social enterprises. We would also provide extra drug and alcohol detox places and we are committed to further investment in social housing.

As David Cameron has said, "strong communities" also means "sustainable communities".

No challenge is more pressing than the urgent need to tackle climate change. Rhodri Morgan's woeful remarks that climate change is, and I quote, 'hardly unhelpful' to Wales is staggering.

The First Minister wants Wales to sit back, soak up Mediterranean temperatures and take a competitive advantage, despite the misery it would bring to millions around the globe with massive shifts of population and the possible flooding we could expect in Wales.

David Cameron is absolutely right; climate change is too big an issue to become the victim of party politics: we need a determined and united effort to take big decisions and make difficult changes. We are all in this together.

We need to change our behaviour individually and on a national scale.

There are examples of excellent work across Wales on conservation, on recycling and on energy efficiency.

But government must take a greater lead.

Farmers play a crucial role as the custodians of our countryside - we will protect the level of investment in agriculture and listen to the concerns of those living in the countryside.

We must encourage people to buy locally and reduce food miles. We need to rapidly develop renewable energy technologies and ensure an independent body sets annual targets to reduce carbon emissions. Supermarket packaging must be reduced and our recycling record improved. New homes must be more energy efficient.

We would give every household in Wales low energy fluorescent light bulbs in return for an amnesty on the traditional incandescent bulbs. We must have a national rethink on our energy consumption. Creating a greener, more socially responsible society will make our communities stronger, healthier and happier.

Helping families is at the very heart of the Welsh Conservative manifesto.

We would improve childcare facilities and encourage more flexible working times to help families juggle work and home life. We would invest in public transport, helping our economy and our environment. And to encourage safety on school buses, we would draw upon the success of the Yellow Buses scheme in America, no overtaking and designated seats for ever child.

Regenerating our towns and villages is one of the best ways we can help lift families out of poverty.

Under a Welsh Conservative government, Welsh seaside towns will benefit from European funding to stimulate local economies and attract tourism. Business regulation will be cut.

It is a shameful fact that 170,000 children in Wales live in poverty.

These children are more at risk from drug and alcohol abuse, crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

Around 1,000 teenagers in Wales are leaving school each year with no qualifications at all - many of them are from troubled backgrounds.

Truancy rates under Labour have risen and teachers often feel unsupported in matters of discipline.

I believe in a government that gives every child opportunity and hope.

Welsh Conservatives want greater investment in every school in Wales. We would work towards closing the funding gap that exists between Welsh and English schools.

A new emphasis on the merits of vocational education would provide disillusioned young people with a worthwhile career and help plug the skills gap.

Teachers would receive better support in matters of discipline and parents would be encouraged to take greater responsibility for their children and, when things go wrong, excluded children would be given greater help to get them back on track.

For young people, we would invest extra money to narrow the university funding gap between Wales and England.

It was a Welsh Conservative motion which ensured that Welsh students do not pay top up fees at Welsh institutions -

And we would keep Wales top up free for Welsh students.

An extra £16m would be injected into the housing budget. This would help young people find a home.

For older people, we would provide £100 to every pensioner household every year to help tackle the soaring council taxes we have witnessed under Labour. And we will fight for dignity in old age.

In order to ensure our Welsh language flourishes in our communities we must encourage and develop Welsh in school, at home and in the workplace.

We would review the Welsh Language Act which has served us well to ensure that Welsh has official language status and that an independent language commissioner is appointed.

Politics must be taken out of our language and culture. Our arts companies must be assured of their creative freedom and we believe that our country deserves a long overdue National Art Gallery. Our cultural and sporting ambitions are bold. Welsh Public Records Office and bidding for the Commonwealth Games are just some of our plans.

Every family's number one priority is to be assured of good healthcare and yet Welsh Labour's biggest failure has been in the area of health - despite massive extra sums of public money and good intentions.

Broken promises on waiting lists and free home care for the disabled, the ambulance crisis, bed blocking, the list of negative headlines on health in Wales goes on and on.

Public trust has been eroded again and again.

Welsh Conservatives back our NHS - and improving the health of Wales is at the top of our campaign. We would give clinicians and patients more power.

We would fully fund our national children's hospital and provide help for our excellent air ambulance. We would improve access to modern medicines and pilot nurse-led walk-in centres. We would halt Labour's abysmal hospital reconfiguration process and properly consult on the best way forward to restore trust in our communities.

Improving people's quality of life means promoting healthier lifestyles.

If we are to reverse the rise of obesity in Wales we need to engender lifestyle changes.

That means encouraging everyone to participate in sporting activities - whether it's taking advantage of the fantastic range of adventure sports Wales has to offer or simply opting to walk more often.

Better nutrition also plays a vital part.

We need to build on the Jamie Oliver agenda.

I want to see school dinners improved and children taught more effectively of the benefits of a balanced diet.

We would also promote better meals in our care homes and hospitals and increase local procurement by our local authorities.

Welsh Conservatives want to make Wales a nation that provides opportunity for everyone in society.

No one must be left behind.

Our policies would benefit every family, every community across Wales.

Old and young, families and individuals.

Labour and Plaid are relying on easy gimmicks to win over voters. We will not engage in Labour's consistent negative campaigning tactics.

Over the past eight years we have seen that Labour's promises cannot be trusted, sadly they have broken promise after promise.

And their gaffe-prone leader, Rhodri Morgan is looking forward to his retirement.

At Welsh Labour's conference last week Rhodri attacked David Cameron for being posh. Later on he embarrassed Peter Hain and Tony Blair with a tasteless joke about Ian Paisley. Rhodri can't help it.

He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

Meanwhile, barely had the New Year fireworks died down and with the New Year being welcomed in - The Liberal Democrats told us there would be a key policy initiative every day from the New Year until the Assembly elections.

They are after all the never mind the quality feel the width party.

But they weren't wrong, Day 1 we had key policy initiatives launched in Hello Magazine with pictures of Lembit Opik with the cheeky girls at Lake Vrynwy in Montgomeryshire.

Day 2 Eleanor Burnham, the Segolene Royal of the Liberal Democrats announced her leadership bid and was busily putting in phone lines to deal with the media interest.

All very predictable or to use what could pass as one of Mike German's very strangled mixed metaphors on a transport theme, the Liberal Democrat jump jet was becalmed in reverse gear, unable to get off the runway on the end of platform 9a.

What of the nationalists?

Ieuan Wyn Jones leads a divided and misguided nationalist party.

Their most telling moment so far in the run up to the Assembly elections was the challenge from one of their Westminster MPs - Westminster please note - that the Unionist parties in Wales should not take funds from England to help with the Assembly election campaign except presumably sizable bequests left by rich benefactors living in Bloomsbury, which seem to have benefited the nationalists recently.

The truth is Plaid Cymru is a party racked by inconsistencies, against nuclear power except at Wylfa on Ynys Mon, now why can that be?…

Dubious about defence establishments altogether and certainly against British ones, they seek to claim some of the credit for the successful bid for the British defence academy at St Athan, but if Plaid Cymru had their way there would be no Britain.

There are many other key questions that Plaid have not answered and perhaps have not thought about, what currency would Plaid have in an independent Wales? Would it be Sterling or the Euro?

They are a republican party too, so what would become of the Monarch? Would she be replaced by a President - President Ieuan, President Helen Mary?

These questions, despite the knockabout are serious questions and they are questions that need to be addressed.

I think we are entitled to be told what would happen if Plaid's goal of independence were ever achieved.

We have been determined that what we offer in our manifesto is carefully thought through, an honest, coherent, realistic platform for government.

A properly costed alternative programme worthy of proper consideration. The public is tired of broken pledges, abused trust and empty words.

Our focus is clear: our environment, families, communities, our NHS and our Welsh language.

The manifesto is in its final stages.

We have the candidates and we have the policies.

The stage is set.

We now need to go out there, to every community in Wales and get our message across.

We have already come a long way and yet the hard work has only just begun.

Welsh Conservatives have changed and with the support of the public we can bring about a change of government and a new direction for Wales.

Ladies and Gentlemen let the message go out -

Vote Welsh Conservative for a change."

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