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Bourne: Welsh Conservatives - Making a Difference

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party policy forum in Llandudno.

"Ladies and Gentlemen

Cadeirydd, diolch am y gwahoddiad i siarad yn y gynhadledd yma heddiw.

I believe that there is only one party that has a positive vision for Wales.

Only one party that is building momentum. Welsh Conservatives are gaining ground.

In Wales, as in the rest of the UK, we are winning the argument and the electorate is realising that we mean business.

Blackpool demonstrated that Conservatives are serious about change. It is a tribute to Michael Howard that we are having a vibrant and fascinating debate on the future of our party and, more importantly, the future of our country.

It is not enough to elect a new leader; it is not enough to gain seats at the next Assembly election or even to win the next general election; we have to set our sights much further, to show how we would improve the everyday lives of people across Britain.

Welsh Conservatives are key players in that future direction.

I am thrilled that both leadership candidates have visited Wales over the past few weeks. David Cameron was here in Llandudno just last week and both Davids know how important North Wales is to our party.

The Blackpool buzz has given us a spring in our step and I am determined to build on that in Wales in the months ahead. For me, my sights are firmly set on the Assembly elections in 2007 - just over a year away.

Representation in Parliament and the Assembly means that Welsh Conservative AMs and MPs are working in tandem making sure that our voice is heard loud and clear both in Wales and in the heart of the UK government.

David Jones has made a flying start as the new MP for Clwyd West. And I'd like to thank Mark Isherwood and Brynle Williams for their enthusiasm and work across North Wales. They are two outstanding Assembly Members.

With more Welsh Conservative Assembly Members in 2007 we will be in even better shape. In 1997, critics said that Welsh Conservatives were a dead force in Welsh politics. They were wrong - and for the other parties it was wishful thinking.

They know that a Conservative party on form, one that is united and focused, one that is in tune with the views of the electorate is a force to be reckoned with.

We are proving that to be true. In the course of two Assembly terms, we have completely turned our fortunes around.

We are leaving Plaid Cymru for dust. They have failed to come to terms with their pounding at the polls in consecutive elections.

They have failed to resolve leadership conflicts. And they are failing to bring any hope to their grassroots supporters.

The old Plaid Cymru guard are talking about staging a comeback in a last ditch attempt to save the party.

But they are in danger of looking like an ageing rock band that has had its day - out of fashion and rather ragged round the edges.

There is no appetite for Wales to break away from the UK. In fact, while Plaid is in free fall it could be said that perhaps we are the main beneficiary of devolution.

This is because Welsh Conservatives find no contradiction in being proud of being Welsh and British and we will fight for Wales in Cardiff and at Westminster with equal vigour.

In the Assembly, Welsh Conservatives have shown that with hard work and commitment the people of Wales will give us their support.

It's an open secret that Labour perceives us - not Plaid Cymru - to be their greatest threat - and they'd better believe it.

At the same time the Lib Dems have flatlined. Trying to mop up votes on the Labour left, their opportunist twists and turns are not lost on the electorate.

All things to all people, they have more costume changes than the Welsh National Opera. It is up to us to take the fight to Labour. The Labour government is devoid of answers to the problems in our public services.

If you take education, the government is more obsessed with free breakfasts than funding for frontline education.

In health, while hospital waiting lists have rocketed Labour is concentrating on free prescriptions.

Busy chasing cheap headlines with gimmicks and publicity stunts the government is spinning out of control.

You don't have to look far around you to see Labour's failures.

The difficulty people are facing to get an NHS dental treatment. Dentists in Conwy and Denbighshire are no longer taking new NHS patients.

The hardship faced by households crippled by rocketing council tax. Average council tax in Anglesey, Denbighshire, Conwy and Flintshire has literally doubled under Labour.

Rhodri Morgan paints a picture of a Wales where the sky is permanently blue and the clouds fluffy and white.

In some areas we moving in the right direction, unemployment is down for example.

But there are also dark clouds - threatening the state of our nation's health and economy.

The creeping burden of stealth taxes is having a damaging effect. Wales is unable to compete effectively within the UK, let alone within the global market place.

The government is happy to raise spending levels but not to ensure that funding is reaching the frontline.

There is an acceptance in the Labour corridors in Cardiff Bay that as long as Labour protects the socialist ideal it is alright for Wales to limp behind.

Their monopoly on power in Wales has meant that they have put dogma before delivery time and again.

For a minister that loves the limelight, Jane Davidson has been strangely quiet on Blair's plans for greater autonomy for schools.

The proposals in the Education White Paper in England have been ignored in Wales - Welsh Labour is sticking doggedly to its clear red water.

They are embarrassed by their New Labour colleagues in London. Meanwhile, schools in Wales are being left behind.

I am sure many of you heard about Chris Bryant MP's criticisms of his Assembly colleagues last week.

He accused Rhodri Morgan of being 'dangerously naïve' in pursuing his clear red water agenda.

Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies quickly tried to smooth over troubled waters saying that Labour AMs have a "very good relationship at an individual level" with Labour MPs - I guess it just depends which individual.

The Prime Minister is trying to pay lip service to choice and diversity in England. In Wales, choice is off the radar.

Well Welsh people do have a choice - at the next election. They can show Labour what they think of their decisions.

Why should Wales play second fiddle to England? Why should schools and hospitals across the border in Cheshire and Shropshire - despite the professionalism of Welsh teachers and NHS staff - look more appealing than those here in North Wales?

It shouldn't be just a matter of matching England in public services and economic growth - we should be aiming to outperform our neighbour.

After all, it is not as if Labour is delivering in England - it is only the comparison with Wales that makes conditions over the border look so favourable.

I am fed up with trying to play catch up with England, when Wales could and should be moving ahead. With Welsh Conservative proposals we would be.

A few months ago there was a big fuss in the Assembly when word went round that the First Minister was going to make a big announcement.

We checked the newswires and TV screens, and then the news broke, he announced he would retire in ... dry ice, flashing lights, drum roll ... 2009. 2009!

The First Minister needs reminding that he is in charge of a minority government. We have come to expect this sort of behaviour from Welsh Labour - it is a party that believes it has a right to rule in Wales.

The First Minister has openly said he will ignore defeats in plenary and carry on regardless. His arrogance is quite staggering.

But Labour's majority in the Assembly has disintegrated and their support is dwindling.

For how much longer will the Welsh people put up with a government that is spending vast amounts of public money but not coming up with the goods?

It was a Welsh Conservative motion that agreed that walk-in centres should be part of the Welsh health service.

Taking the pressure off our Accident and Emergency departments and adding another vital front line facility. Wrexham and Llandudno could benefit from these.

It was a Welsh Conservative motion that ensured that Welsh students will not pay top up fees in Wales.

Saving young people from further debt and ensuring that people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to gain a university education. Good news for NEWI and Bangor.

And on the Assembly's budget, Labour has been defeated. Welsh Conservatives are fighting for more resources for front line education, relief for council tax payers hit by revaluation and help for small schools - many of them here in the North.

We are looking at ways to build on these successes to form the basis of our Assembly election manifesto.

To protect pensioners from the massive impact of council tax hikes. Help Welsh language communities. Small schools. Local businesses.

Here in the North it is stating the obvious to say that we need to improve road and rail links.

This would go some considerable way to overcome the feeling of isolation from our capital city in the South.

As a party we made a terrific breakthrough in the general election. David Jones did tremendously well to win Clwyd West - although we knew from his work in the Assembly what a successful candidate he would be.

Now Clwyd West is high up on our hit list for 2007 and there are other parts of the North where we can make real progress.

In order to win over more voters we have not only to show that we are listening and changing - we have to get out there and roll up our sleeves as well.

Every vote is ours for the taking.

It's a simple truth that some people vote Labour or Plaid Cymru only because they haven't seen a Conservative in their area for years - if ever.

Who can blame them - it makes them think we are not prepared to go the extra mile for their vote.

That is changing. Welsh Conservatives have adapted to the new political landscape. We have shown more than any other party that we have listened to what the Welsh people want and now we are consulting on policies for the next four years.

My challenge for everyone here today is to leaflet an extra street you don't normally cover. Knock on a few extra doors. Get involved in our policy consultation and encourage others to make their views known.

What policies do you believe should be in our Assembly election manifesto?

How do you think we can best tackle deprivation? How can we improve our public services? How can we build a vibrant economy?

I want meaningful and exciting solutions to the problems faced by Welsh people day in and day out.

Welsh Labour has tried to rewrite history. They would like people to forget that Conservatives breathed new life into a failing economy. Gave the Welsh language an enormous boost. Broadened university access and built up the health service.

There is no doubt that when we left office in 1997 there were areas where we needed to do better - problems in society that needed to be tackled; public services that were in need of reform.

But eight and a half years later, Labour cannot blame the ills in society on the Conservatives. They need to look closer to home.

Children who were in primary school when Labour came to power in 1997 are now able to vote; they are embarking on university educations or going out into the workplace.

Rhodri Morgan has had nearly six years to show that his clear red water policies are ones worth pursuing. They are not.

And yet, he believes he will be First Minister in four years time - regardless of the Assembly election in 2007.

He has forgotten that that decision rests with the people of Wales.

That is why it is so important for Welsh Conservatives to remain focussed on the job in hand.

So important to remain united and take our fight to Labour. I am not prepared to lose the impetus we have worked so hard to gain.

We are a great party and everyone in the Welsh Conservative party has a big part to play in the months and years ahead.

It is Welsh Conservatives that are out-performing, out-shining and out-classing all the other parties in Wales.

Welsh Conservatives are on the up."

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