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

Cameron: We must make changes that are built to last and we must make them fast

Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Perth

"I come here to Scotland with great pleasure and pride. But I'm not here to tell you what to do. I want to help you do what you want to do. I believe in the Union. I believe profoundly in the Union. In the arts, in science, in business, in peace time and in progress, in war and in difficulty, our nations have achieved so much together.

But our party must go beyond arguments about devolution - and be the party that makes devolution work. Devolution must mean you are free to serve the people of Scotland, to do what's in their best interests. But real devolution means much more than that. It means more than the Scottish Parliament. It even means more than giving power back to local government. It means giving power to people to make decisions, and run their own lives.

Whether it's power to the professionals in health and education, or the power to own your own home, to start your own business, to have a stake in your own community. That's what real devolution is and that's what the Conservative Party will deliver.

Our Party's on the march again, south and north of the border. Since December we've attracted around 20,000 new members - including around 2,000 in Scotland. In local government by-elections we've won 41 per cent of the vote - up from 35 per cent when those seats were last fought. It's a sign of the progress we're making. And it shows that right across Britain people are starting to listen to our message of change, optimism and hope.

I stood for election as leader of our Party because I was fed up with hearing that Conservatives are out of touch, backward-looking and lack compassion. That's not the Conservative Party I'm leading. The Party I lead will be in touch with modern Britain, focused on the future, and in it for everyone. That's why change is so important.

If we stand still, frozen in time, we betray the very purpose that brought us into politics. Let's remember why we're here. We're the Conservative Party. We're not a newspaper column. We're not a debating society. We're here to deliver good government. To improve people's lives. To set them free, to be all they can be.

Inspired by our historic duty, guided by our enduring values, we must, once again, face the future with confidence as we say to our country: we're here. We're here for you. We're here for all of you.

To anyone who tells you it doesn't really matter, who wonders why you bother with politics when all the big decisions are made somewhere else, by someone else, by global forces beyond our control. Ask them this. Ask them what makes a country great in the twenty-first century. And how that greatness is achieved.

I'll tell you what I think. A great country needs a dynamic economy, to generate the jobs and wealth and opportunity that we all depend on. So we need a Government that cuts regulation and makes our tax competitive - not one that introduces 15 new regulations every working day and has given us tax levels higher than Germany.

A great country needs a strong society, to create the secure foundations on which people can build their lives. So we need a Government that backs families, backs marriage, and supports civic society - not one that undermines all three.

And a great country needs a sustainable environment, not just to pass on to the next generation but to make life better in this generation too. In a world where droughts and floods and extreme weather conditions are affecting lives here and now, tackling climate change is not a distant and remote concern, but an urgent priority. So we need a Government that has the courage to set annual targets for cutting carbon, not one that just talks and talks and talks, and fails to act.

Meeting these challenges. A dynamic economy. A strong society. A sustainable environment.

That's what makes a country great. Always moving forward, striving for the best, not settling for less. And greatness won't be achieved by accident. By unconnected strokes of random good fortune. Greatness is achieved by the people of this country, yes. But by the power of positive politics too.

In the 1980s, through the power of Margaret Thatcher's positive politics, Conservative values and Conservative ideas enabled Britain to become great again. Our values were right for the times; our ideas were ahead of the game. It was here, in the Conservative Party, that you could find all the creative thinking, all the best ideas, all the exciting visions. That was a generation ago.

And a great Party, a Party like ours, will always have its ups and downs. But it will never lose its spirit, never lose its will. Nelson Mandela put it well. He said: "the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall."

That's exactly what we're doing today. We've had our falls. We've had our setbacks. We've had our years on the sidelines while our opponents made the running. Well those years are over. This Party's on the rise. This is our time.

It's our time because our values are the right values for success in this fast-changing, interconnected world. Our values are clear. They've never changed. We believe in trusting people. We don't assume that we know best, we assume the best in others. We have faith in the human condition. We work with the grain of human nature.

So we believe that the more you trust people, the stronger they and society become.

And we believe in sharing responsibility. We don't presume that government has all the answers. We have faith in society, in all its fantastic variety. So we understand that we're all in this together - government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals.

Trusting people, and sharing responsibility. These are our values. They are the foundation of everything we do. They're not learnt from a book or taught in a classroom. They come from the heart. Ours is an instinctive creed, a passionate faith.

Yet for too long we've allowed our values to be masked by the misrepresentations and distortions of others. Well not any more. Not on my watch. I won't let our good name and our noble aims be taken in vain. We are Conservatives and proud of it.

That's why, this week, I've published our statement of aims and values. We've never done it before. But it's vital we do it now. Some argue that it's not very Conservative to publish a document saying what we stand for. I argue that unless we do it, people will keep saying that we stand for things that aren't Conservative.

And it's never been more important to be clear about our values and how they apply to the challenges that we face today. That's what the changes I am making are all about. We must show that building a dynamic economy means putting economic stability first, before tax cuts, so people know their mortgages are safe. Building a strong society means accepting that the right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich. Improving public services for everyone, not helping a few to opt out. And building a sustainable environment means putting climate change and environmental policy at the heart of our agenda, not just an afterthought. This is modern compassionate Conservatism. This is the change we're making, and we must show that it's built to last.

The Labour party will never meet the big challenges of our age. They've had eight years, and they haven't done it. But they could have eighty years and they still wouldn't do it. Not because they have the wrong motives. Not because they have the wrong priorities. It's because they have the wrong values. If you have the wrong values, you end up with the wrong policies, and the wrong responses to the challenges of government.

Labour don't trust people: they think they know best. So they tell people what to do, they boss them around, they ban things and pass new laws instead of giving people power and responsibility to grow stronger. And Labour don't share responsibility: they think that government has all the answers. So they end up producing a never-ending stream of quangos and laws and regulations. A vast and growing maze of bureaucracy, pen-pushing and paper-chasing. It's now moving towards its grotesque conclusion in the nightmare, waste and shambles of Labour's ID cards scheme: costing billions, curtailing our freedom, and failing to protect us in these dangerous times. This costly ID card scheme, this plastic poll tax, will be a monument to the failure of big government. And we must tear it down.

But above all, Labour don't think for the long term. Their idea of solving a problem is to announce a government scheme. Well if it was that easy, don't you think they would have sorted things out by now? They've certainly announced enough government schemes. And in particular, don't you think they would have sorted things out in Scotland, where their high-spending, big government ideas have been given their head?

In Scotland, spending on health has almost doubled since 1997. But waiting lists have risen. Spending on education has more than quadrupled since 1997. But half of all 14 year-olds can't write properly. Public spending takes up at least half the economy. The number of quango staff is up two fifths since devolution, while the Scottish economy has grown even slower than the UK as a whole.

But the thing that makes me most angry about Labour's record in Scotland is the unfairness. Labour told us they would bring social justice to our country. But look what they've done, these Labour politicians who claim a monopoly on compassion.

The Scotsman has documented the neighbourhoods that Labour have effectively written off. It described the hundred most deprived postcode areas as 'Third Scotland' because of their Third World level of life outcomes. This description may seem unfair - but just look at the facts.

In Third Scotland, average male life expectancy is only 64 years. That's lower than Bosnia. Lower than Iran. Lower - than North Korea. In Calton, in Glasgow's east end, 57% of adults don't work at all. Two out of every five adults claim incapacity benefit.

In Hamiltonhill, 61% of children live in workless households. This is true for 58% in Drumchapel. Gordon Brown is losing the war on poverty in his own Scottish backyard. If his values aren't working here, they won't work anywhere. More of the same Labour values will just give us more of the same long-term failure.

It's not good enough for Scotland, it's not good enough for Britain, and it's our job to put it right.

And let's be clear about one thing: not only can we put it right; we are the only party that can put it right. In the twenty-first century, it's no good trying to build a dynamic economy with Labour's old-fashioned approach, letting the state take an ever-increasing share of the nation's income.

We need an approach based on Conservative values, sharing the proceeds of economic growth between public services and lower taxes.

In the twenty-first century, you can't improve public services with Labour's old-fashioned approach, issuing targets and instructions in centralised state monopolies. We need an approach based on Conservative values, trusting the professionals in our schools and hospitals to give of their best. We need an approach that recognises that while public services must be available to all, they don't all have to be provided by the state.

And in the twenty-first century, it's hopeless to think that we can build a sustainable environment through government action alone. We need a Conservative response to the environmental challenge, sharing responsibility between government, business and individuals.

Last week, we saw clearly why Labour will never deliver the changes Britain needs. It was supposed to be Tony Blair's finest hour. The climax of his Premiership. We were told this was a seminal moment. An "historic turning point". The point when he ensured the 'L' word - his legacy. His Education Bill heralding the reforms in England that would finally provide the world-class schools we have a right to expect.

Instead, he's spent every waking hour bogged down haggling and trading over every dot and comma. Not with the opposition. But with his own party, sitting behind him, the Jurassic Park of British politics. Instead of a great leap forward, all we got was a timid shuffle forward. It's not good enough for our children, it's not good enough for parents and it's our job to put it right. And we will.

We aren't tied down by the outdated dogma which holds Labour back. We have the courage and the confidence to argue for the changes that will raise the quality of education for every child in Britain. Setting for every child. More trust in the professionalism of teachers. More faith in the judgement of headteachers. It's now clear that dramatic improvements in public services will have to wait for a Conservative Government.

And it's not just in education. It now falls to us to become the furnace of new ideas and fresh thinking. Just as in the 1980s we set the pace and led the way, so we are moving ahead once again. While Labour sit around discussing why they're failing on climate change, we're pioneering ideas like decentralised energy. While Labour tie the voluntary sector up in red tape, we're pioneering a programme for school leavers to inspire them with a sense of self-worth and responsibility. While Labour mull over their umpteenth review of Incapacity Benefit, we're pioneering partnerships with social enterprise to help people back into work. And while Gordon Brown scratches his head about how to restore trust in politics, we're pioneering ways to strengthen Parliament and make government more accountable.

So the choice in British politics is becoming clearer every day. Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats made their choice. And I wish Ming Campbell well. But I say to him, as I say to his neighbour Gordon Brown: your old-fashioned ideas are yesterday's solutions to yesterday's problems. We're fighting for the future, for jobs and opportunity in a dynamic economy, for better schools, a better NHS and safer streets in a strong society, and to protect and improve our environment for the long-term. By trusting people, and sharing responsibility. That's our mission, that's what we stand for, and that's what we're fighting for.

It's urgent, and pressing because I warn you today that we need to be ready for anything. Gordon Brown is running out of money. He's running out of ideas. And he's running out of time. Don't assume we have three years or more until the next election. We must be prepared for Gordon Brown to cut and run. So we must not only show that the changes we're making are built to last. We must make those changes fast.

Don't tell me I'm going too quickly.

Press me and the Conservative team to work harder, to move faster, to make the changes we need.

If we do, if we make the changes that will make us a modern, compassionate Conservative Party, we will once again, in this generation, confident in our values and clear in our ambitions, be able to fulfil the dreams that bring us all together.

The Conservative vision of a society where there is no limit to where your talents will take you, and no barrier to hold you back, wherever you live, whatever your background. The Conservative vision of a nation proud and free, strong and secure, a beacon of hope to the world. That's the Conservative vision, of a better Britain, built to last."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech