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Davis: We must champion the victims of Labour failure

Speech in Maidstone, Kent

"In 1979 the British people turned to the Conservative Party because the nation was in trouble.

Militant trade union barons had captured James Callaghan's Labour government.

Rising inflation and rising taxes were the result.

Over the coming years the Conservative government rescued Britain from economic decline. The sick man of Europe was transformed into the continent's fastest growing economy.

I don't need to tell this audience that that transformation was hard work.

Mrs Thatcher often had to choose unpopular options.

Although she never ran too far ahead of public opinion she was not afraid to lead and shape the national debate.

She was never afraid to take tough decisions.

At the next election the Conservative Party again be ready to step into the breach. We must take up the challenge of becoming the champions of the victims of Tony Blair's repeated failures.

We must rescue businesses from the taxes and regulations that are seeing Britain slide down the world competitiveness league.

We must free nurses, doctors and teachers from the centralised systems of bureaucratic control that are stopping our schools and hospitals from becoming world class.

We must rescue the world's best civil service from Tony Blair's clone-like spinmeisters.

Britain will not be enjoying good times by the time of the next election and it won't want another good times candidate.

It will be looking for a party and a leader who can take the tough decisions that tomorrow's challenging circumstances will demand.

Tough decisions to restore our country's economic competitiveness.

Tough decisions to protect our homeland from terrorism.

Tough decisions to ensure that more taxpayers' money goes directly to patient care and into the classroom.

All of us are affected by Labour's failures.

We're all paying extra taxes.

We all know that our schools and hospitals aren't as good as those in France or Germany.

We all know friends and family members who have been victims of crime.

We all find the public sector bureaucracy infuriating - its rules, its forms, its slowness.

But Labour's failures have hurt some people most of all.

They are the people least able to absorb those failures.

I think of the poorest, oldest and most vulnerable members of society.

For them the tough times have never gone away.

They need a party that will champion their cause and save them from the bitter consequences of repeated Labour failure.

I want to build a Conservative Party that will rescue disadvantaged people from crime-ridden estates and failing schools.

I want to build a Conservative Party that can deliver one nation. One nation where everyone has a chance to succeed in life - the chance that this nation gave me.

One nation where everyone - regardless of income - has access to a good school and excellent healthcare.

One nation where every child grows up in a warm home and where every pensioner enjoys a safe, financially secure retirement. It's the vision of a nation described by our century's other great Conservative Prime Minister - Winston Churchill.

He said that "there is a limit beneath which no man may fall, but no limit to which any man might rise".

Many people will be sceptical about the Conservative Party presenting itself as a party that cares for society's neediest members. I understand that.

But we can overcome that scepticism.

I will renew the Conservative Party's one nation heritage by achieving two vital goals.

One: I will make social justice part of everything the party does from now until the next General election and every day thereafter. People won't be convinced if we talk occasionally about social justice - or unveil a few compassionate policies on the eve of polling day.

That casual, last minute approach to politics is one of the reasons why voters haven't believed us on tax at the last two elections.

Our dearest beliefs need to be on display often and early.

Every policy document and every conference will demonstrate that a Conservative government would care for the least well-off.

I will constantly visit schools, charitable projects and neighbourhoods that can teach us how we overcome today's great social problems.

These visits won't be mere photo opportunities.

They'll be serious opportunities to learn why Labour has failed and how to learn from Britain's blossoming army of successful social entrepreneurs.

Two: We will show that Conservatives already believe in compassionate policies and principles.

Conservatives do not have to reinvent ourselves to help the poor.

We have to show that the best of Conservative ideas are more likely to elevate the condition of the poor - as Disraeli once described it - than the failed ideas of the liberal left.

Labour have sunk more money into an unreformed welfare state and the problems of our country's hardest-pressed neighbourhoods have only got worse.

Some of us can - for the time-being, at least - afford Labour's policy mistakes.

Too many cannot.

For people and communities who are living on the edge a bad policy

can be the difference between contentment and doom.

A failing school can kill a child's chances of getting on in life.

Cannabis can be the difference between someone passing their exams and failing them.

An unhappy home life makes children more likely to end up on the

conveyor belt to crime.

Gordon Brown's stealthy taxes can put an indebted family on the wrong side of Micawber's rule of finance.

It is possible for richer people to cope with a bad school or a broken home.

I'm not saying that any of these things are ever good for anyone but they are not as dangerous as they are for vulnerable people who are already living on the edge.

We don't need to wear Labour's clothes to show that Conservatives can help the poor.

That's the last thing we should do.

A transformation of the role of the voluntary sector, a tough approach to crime, and a family-friendly agenda are distinctively Conservative and they are socially just.

But we won't win people over by fine words, we will need good solid practical policies that show we really are serious about this agenda. So let me give you some examples of what I believe we should do.

The welfare state was supposed to ensure that no one was left behind. But one of the worst scandals in Britain today is the number of vulnerable people who fall through the cracks in the system.

You try to find the public agency which really will take responsibility for housing and supporting a drug addict with mental health problems recently released from prison or a young mother on her own who just can't cope and is collapsing with exhaustion and depression.

The conventional welfare state is letting these people down because it is divided into a host of different agencies, endlessly shifting responsibility between each other. There are far too many people out there who just are not getting the help they need. For them the welfare state has become a labyrinth in which they are trapped but

never rescued.

We have to change all this if Britain really is to be a strong society. And Conservatives know how to tackle the problem. We should turn to the voluntary sector which has a far greater ability to take a holistic approach, taking responsibility for the problems of the whole person.

Why not have a charity as the lead agency for someone in dire need, responsible for supporting them and getting their lives back on track?

Imagine one agency, with one person in the lead, that was on your side, trying to help get you off drugs, find you accommodation, and get you into a job.

There are charities that try to do just this but they have a hard time getting reliable core funding for their responsibilities: we should change all that. We would then be able to rescue people shockingly let down by the system today.

Then there is the appalling problem of crime which ravages our poorest estates most of all.

My experience as shadow Home Secretary has taught me that many young criminals live for the present. They just cannot link their behaviour now to consequences in the future. If they see a girl or a car or a mobile phone that they fancy they just want to grab them. They have little self control. That is why they do need to experience swift and efficient justice.

Going on trial six months after the offence is far too late: there is no connection in their minds between the offence and the punishment.

Way back in their 1997 manifesto Labour promised faster justice. They have failed to deliver on that. In despair Tony Blair has recently started talking of summary justice which by passes the courts entirely. This is a counsel of despair.

We should combine our commitment to efficiency with our belief in justice by delivering swift justice by removing the blockages in the system that delay cases going to court.

We must strengthen the family too. This is not just a matter of taxes and benefits, important though these are. We need to look way beyond the tax and benefit system if we are really to strengthen families in Britain today.

Again, let me give you a practical example. One of the biggest social changes of the past twenty years has been the massive increase in the role which grandparents play in raising their grandchildren.

With more mothers out to work there is more childcare delivered by grandparents than ever before. But the government has failed to catch up with this change. Nowhere is this more damaging than in something I care about passionately - adoption. There are cases where a child has lost contact with one parent and the other may sadly be unable to manage but that child is put up for adoption even when the grandparents would be willing to take on parental responsibility themselves. Excluding grandparents from taking on family responsibilities is an appalling ageist prejudice which damages some of the most vulnerable children in our country. We must change this.

Policies on school choice, a tough approach to crime and a family-friendly agenda are distinctively Conservative and they are socially just.

Let me be direct with you.

The rediscovery of social justice is what will take this party from opposition to government.

Of that I have no doubt.

Most of the British people agree with the Conservative Party on Europe, tax, immigration and a tough approach to crime.

We don't need to surrender those beliefs that we have put in the front of the shop window over recent years.

We need to do more to show how those beliefs help the poorest families

How low tax lifts the poor into work and how neighbourhood policing can help protect the poorest neighbourhoods from crime and drugs.

We must not throw away our core beliefs - we need to rediscover the breadth of the conservatism of Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and Churchill.

A commitment to social justice is not a bolt on extra to my conservatism. It is at the heart of my conservatism.

Some people seem to think that there is a contradiction between wanting to role back the state and this agenda for compassionate Conservatism. Indeed I have heard it said that in America "compassionate" means higher spending and "conservatism" means lower taxes.

But actually I believe that a stronger society and a smaller state depend on each other . In fact it is only if we are able to help make Britain's society stronger that we will be able to cut taxes.

By instinct I'm a fighter.

My whole life has been a story of fighting for something better for myself and for my family.

I'm now ready to fight for the young families who don't have the chances I had.

To rescue them from tax and benefits traps.

To rescue them from failing schools.

To rescue them from crime-ridden neighbourhoods.

I will fight tirelessly for social justice to be at the heart of the Conservative Party.

Commentators talk about the wristband generation.

I want to win the wristband generation for the Conservative Party.

This is the generation who wears the 'make poverty history' wristbands. They display their intolerance of racism with their white and black bands. The blue bands have raised money to highlight awareness of bullying. This generation wants a government that hates injustice as much as it does. It doesn't just want a government that helps them. It wants a government that also helps their neighbour. I will deliver that government for them. A Conservative government."

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