Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2005
"I stand here today - unashamedly - to praise our armed forces.
If you think about it, there isn't a lot in Blair's Britain to praise.
But our armed forces remain a shining example of all that is best in this country of ours.
A shining example of courage, of professionalism, of commitment, of loyalty.
They make me proud to be British.
And I gladly pay tribute to them today.
My team, Gerald Howarth, Julian Lewis, Andrew Robathan, Lord Astor, Lord Luke and in Europe Geoffrey van Auden, we are all driven by our deep belief in our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen.
How very different from Tony Blair.
Oh yes, he promises them more - but then gives them less.
He urges them to fight for the rights of others - but then denies them their own right to vote.
He praises their courage - but then hangs them out to dry.
And doesn't he love being photographed with the troops. One of the lads. The hand of history on his shoulder!
But it's not his shoulder that takes the strain. It's theirs.
The strain of being under-equipped, under-trained and undermanned.
Tony Blair has consistently asked our armed forces to do more.
Five wars in eight years - Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan - Iraq. What a commitment - and all of it ongoing.
On any view this should have meant more equipment and more men.
Instead, both have been slashed.
The Navy will shortly have lost ten thousand men since Blair came to power, the Army nine thousand and the RAF sixteen thousand.
A fifth of our tanks gone, 130 of our aircraft and a quarter of our surface ships too.
On the 200th anniversary of the great victory of Trafalgar our Navy is now smaller than that of France. What a disgrace!
Incidentally, did you notice how the political correctness brigade tried to stop us celebrating Trafalgar for fear of upsetting the French. Blue fleets and red fleets!
Next they'll tell us it wasn't a French defeat at all, just a deferred success!
But how do the Government explain their cuts?
Just as you would expect.
They peddle myths of increased spending.
They describe plunging recruitment as 'buoyant'.
They even use the TA to paper over the cracks.
May I say, our Territorial Army does a fantastic job. But there is a limit to what they can be asked to do. And they have reached it.
The elastic is now stretched so tight, it is in danger of snapping.
And our service men and women know it.
They feel the pinch. They suffer the consequences.
And what is more they observe this government, so slow to equip them for battle, all too quick to see them prosecuted for actions taken in the heat of that battle.
No wonder they feel betrayed.
No wonder retention is so hard and recruitment even harder.
There is a simple principle. A government committing troops to active service has a total responsibility to support them.
And in this, Tony Blair's government has shamefully failed.
And they continue to fail.
They fail even as our forces face growing dangers in Iraq.
Dangers, I may say, which would have been so much less but for the stupidity of dismantling Iraq's own internal security forces after the war.
I warned at the time that was wrong.
Yet Blair signed up to it, and as a result helped to create the enormous and totally predictable security black-hole into which the insurgents have poured.
And our troops are bearing the consequences of that blunder today.
Labour's spin-merchants now blame Geoff Hoon for it.
Tony Blair now blames Geoff Hoon.
Even Geoff Hoon is now blaming Geoff Hoon!
As for John Reid…
Do you know, in Brighton last week in his 25 minute speech he devoted less than 1 minute to our armed forces. That's how much he cares!
Let me remind him. He is the British Defence Secretary. And the buck stops with him.
But don't look to the Liberal Democrats for the answers.
Do you remember the Lord of the Rings? Gollum - two personalities in one.
One minute, doe eyed and caring. The next minute vicious and sneering.
Just like the Liberal Democrats on Defence.
In one constituency pro-military, in another against. At one moment signing petitions to save the regiments, at the next railling against their deployment.
Going in every direction and going nowhere.
Just like their logo - falling apart on takeoff!
(And they are still the dirtiest fighters in British politics.)
So what would we do? Let me tell you.
We would acknowledge the dedication which our armed forces bring to those commitments.
Just look at the shining examples.
In Iraq - Private Johnson Beharry... Victoria Cross.
In Afghanistan - Major Colin Risso... Military Cross.
We would take into account the imminent Nato requirement to increase troop deployments to Afghanistan.
Surely if ever there was a time not to disband great regiments it is now. Surely if ever there was a time not to cut the number of infantry battalions it is now.
We need more frontline troops, not less. More 'boots on the ground'. More Beharrys, more Rissos.
And we would never commit troops to action inadequately equipped, or with melting boots, or unserviceable firearms, or lacking ammunition or having to buy their own body armour.
Let me make one thing clear. Our commitments would be matched by resources.
Of course change is inevitable, and the armed forces cannot be exempt.
But there is a world of difference between being changed and being short-changed.
And that would be the greatest difference between us and Mr Blair.
And now our national security faces another challenge.
For over half a century Nato has been - and must continue to be - the cornerstone of our security - with Europe alongside America playing a vital role within it.
However, today, there are movements within Europe to undermine the Transatlantic Alliance and to create a separate European army.
Those who pursue that aim are quite open about it. The first moves have already been made.
They want Europe to be a 'superpower' to rival America.
They have engineered the idiotic split command between Nato and the EU in Darfur.
And now - at a time of great tension - they are trying to create the same damaging split in Afghanistan.
They despise Nato. They are the architects of a single European security and defence policy - and they must not be allowed to succeed.
We believe in Nato and will not let them succeed.
It is always said that the first duty of government is the defence of the Realm.
What does it mean?
It means being ready to repel threats of aggression against our country.
It means maintaining our defences, including our nuclear deterrent.
It means creating the flexibility to meet new and increasingly unpredictable threats.
It means defending innocent citizens from terrorist attack, and pursuing terrorism to its end.
But it means more than that.
It means standing by those who have stood by us, like the Falklands and Gibraltar. They must know that we will never let them down.
And at heart it means defending what our country stands for - our national values, our historic rights.
That's not easy today.
After eight years of Blair, we live in a Britain whose institutions have been subverted, whose democracy has been emasculated and whose values have been tainted.
We live in a Britain where deceit and corruption lie at the very heart of government itself.
We live in a Britain where if you criticise the government you are met by character assassination, by moral blackmail - even by hounding to the grave.
That's not the kind of Britain I want to defend.
There is a far better Britain.
A Britain which will take strong leadership to arouse it, and bold vision to inspire it.
"Some men see things that are and ask why. I dream of things that have not been and ask why not."
We need to "dream of things that have not been and ask why not".
Why not a Britain where honesty, and integrity and the spirit of public service prevail?
Why not a Britain where the citizen does more and the state takes less?
Why not a Britain where people are free to control their own lives and to enjoy the fruits of their own efforts?
Why not a Britain where the family is valued, where caring is instinctive and where our environment matters?
Why not a Britain that uses the dynamism of its diversity to build a common sense of nationhood.
And why not a Britain where we - and not Brussels - decide our own future for ourselves?
That is a Britain worth fighting for.
Permit me a personal note.
Over the summer I have reflected long and hard about our great Party and its future leadership.
I have set out my views.
I have tested the water.
I have today concluded, realistically and without rancour, that my views do not command the level of support which would have encouraged me to run.
I will not be throwing my hat into the ring.
Over the last seven years I have been immensely privileged to have been both Chairman and Deputy Leader of our Party.
It is now time for others to play their parts.
In December we will elect a new leader. He will have my loyalty.
And once that new leader is elected I intend to return happily to the freedom of the backbenches.
I therefore want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for the immense support you have given me over these last eight years.
You have inspired me and sustained me through times which have not always been the easiest.
You are real friends - and I salute you.
I have one abiding aim.
It is to see our great Party back at the helm of this nation once more.
That task starts here. And it must start today.
Michael Howard at the general election pointed the way and we thank him for it.
But it will take more than leaders to achieve it.
It needs all of you.
Because, come rain or shine, you are the voice and face of Conservatism where it counts - in the streets and on the doorsteps.
You are this Party's beating heart.
And neither you nor I can rest until we have driven this self-serving, self-seeking, second-rate, sycophantic, sad excuse for a government out of the corridors of power and into the wilderness where they belong.
So let's go out and fight to win."