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Fox: Together we will win

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2005

"We face a historic choice this week. To return to office, does our Party simply require a makeover or does it require a fresh Conservative agenda?

I think that politics should be about setting out what you believe, arguing your case and persuading others of its merits. There's no leadership in just telling people what they want to hear.

I want to talk today about what I believe our agenda should be so that when people ask you on the doorstep "what do the Conservatives stand for" you have a clear answer. We have to be bold enough to lead - but we also have to be big enough to listen.

One thing I learned as a young doctor was that if you don't listen to what the patients think is wrong with them, they won't listen when you tell them what is wrong with them. We could learn a lot from that.

But I would like to start with a couple of "thank you"s.

The first is to Michael Howard. Over the past 12 years, I have valued his guidance and friendship. He has both commanded loyalty and shown loyalty, the great tests of leadership.

We owe you a great debt of gratitude.

I'm also grateful to all of you who helped me campaign as Chairman. I can see many familiar faces here today. We worked hard and had a lot of fun. For the first time in years we actually have to squeeze up on our benches at Westminster. Thank you.

At this conference, we're having a leadership contest but we shouldn't forget our enemies are Labour and the LibDems. We're all on the same side.

I play tennis with David Cameron and we're friends even though he beats me. I like and have worked closely with David Davis for many years. I was Ken Clarke's whip at the Treasury where his record is hugely underappreciated and Malcolm Rifkind was a terrific boss when I was a junior Foreign Office Minister.

This party needs to concentrate all our efforts on setting out a vision for the country we want to lead. And we mustn't lose sight of our own achievements. I am proud of how this party changed the face of Britain.

You don't set an agenda for the future by trashing your past.

The world around us is changing at a phenomenal rate. Old certainties are dissolving away and new giants are strutting the world stage. China and India are reshaping the world economy. They are producing goods and services much cheaper than any western country, including ours.

Britain needs to change to survive. We need to produce a new prosperity agenda that creates wealth not just redistributes it. We need to return to basic economic truths. Let me give you one. There is no such thing as government money- only taxpayers money. Let me give you another. You cannot go on squeezing wealth creators to finance an ever hungrier government machine.

We need less regulation, better education and lower taxes. We need to reward risk and creativity. We need to build a Britain that is dynamic, innovative, entrepreneurial, that invents and reinvents

And we must not allow an obsession with the European Union to blind us to the challenges and opportunities in an ever more dynamic world.

Europe is becoming economically stagnant, its share of world trade falling. That is bad news for Britain because it will damage our prosperity. That is why we need to have a bold new vision for Europe. The EU is locked in the past. We need an agenda for the 21st century.

We need to break away from the whole outdated concept of "ever closer union". The inevitable destination of 'ever closer union' is union. The Conservative Party should never accept that Britain's destiny lies in a United States of Europe. We need to lead a Europe that is decentralised, outward looking, and competitive. We need fewer regulations and powers brought back to the nation states. We should be leading New Europe where the Czechs,the Poles, the Baltic states share our view of the world. Many have just shaken off one oppressive foreign regime- why would they want another based in Brussels.

That is why I believe we should end our current relationship with the European People's Party. We cannot be seen to be saying one thing at home and another in Brussels. We must have consistency. We should form a new, forward thinking and outward looking group in the European Parliament that is pro-market, non-integrationist and Atlanticist. We must work in tandem with the United States- for seeing America as a rival rather than a partner is a French view of the world, not a British one. It is not a question we can duck. It is a test of our sincerity.

But we must look beyond Europe much more than at present. We must be good global citizens- for today's world and for future generations.

I will put respect for human rights and the rule of law at the heart of our foreign policy. That is why I set up the new Conservative human rights group.

Every so often, we hear or see something that touches us. Here's an example:

"It was the rainy season, and we fled for hours to reach the hiding place in the jungle, because the SPDC and the KNLA were fighting. When we got there we were so tired, but too scared to light the fire for cooking or to warm ourselves, so we went to sleep without food, under the trees. We didn't care, and weren't scared of leeches any more. If our baby cried, we put a piece of cloth in his mouth to stop him crying".

This is the testimony of a woman of the Karen people of Burma who was driven from her home by the Burmese army. This sort of description, with only marginal differences, could have come from Darfur today, the Balkans in the 1990s, Nicaragua in the 1980s or Cambodia in the 1970s. We have to give a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves.

But we should also do what we can to champion those who are moving their countries along the sometimes difficult road towards democracy, to bring to their people the freedoms that we too often take for granted.

Nowhere is that more true than in Iraq.

Many people have reservations about what is happening there.

I resent the way we were misled, in my view wilfully, over the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And I greatly regret some of the post war mistakes, not least, the premature disbanding of the security forces. Our government and the American government have certainly made mistakes.

But I see it like this.

It has to be right to want people to determine for themselves who governs them. It has to be right to help people to enjoy free speech and a legal framework that they themselves design. It has to be right to free them from a vicious and bloody tyrant who used chemical weapons against his own people. And it has to be a good thing to see the end of a regime that had started two wars, a regime that was almost certainly sanctions busting and attempting to gain nuclear technology.

Those who take a contrary view need to explain why Iraq, the Middle East and the rest of the world would be better off with Saddam still in control.

Like everyone else here I want to see our troops come home as soon as possible but I want them to do so with honour and pride, with their heads held high, knowing that their sacrifices have given hope to those who could not help themselves. I am proud of what they have done.

There are growing voices in this country, even in this Party, who believe this should be nothing to do with Britain - that we should only focus on issues closer to home. I believe they are profoundly wrong.

I don't want to live in a country that looks the other way.

I want a confident outward looking Britain that plays its part in global security that is proud to promote ideas of democracy, free markets and human rights. I want Britain to shape the world not just be shaped by it.

But we also have to shape Britain itself. I suppose it's natural that people constantly try to draw comparisons with the 1970s when we were last preparing to return to government. Yet there are many profound changes in our country that we need to understand. We are psychologically a very different nation. For example, back then people worried more about their disposable income whereas today they worry about their pensions, the value of their property and their long term security. Back then people had to think mainly about what would happen to their children. Now they have to worry about what will happen to their children and their parents. It has changed the way we view our society.

And, under this Labour government, we can all see what I call a broken society. I'm sure you know what I mean.

More marriages breaking down.

Rising levels of violent crime.

Record truancy rates from schools.

More domestic violence.

Increasing numbers of suicides.

Too many young people, especially young men, with no role models, running wild in our communities.

And we need to deal with a whole range of other social problems facing us.

Take the example of mental illness- an issue that I feel passionately about. One in four of us will suffer from it at some point in our lives. From bullied children who self-harm to young mums with post natal depression to grandpa with Alzheimer's. Yet our mental health services are shamefully inadequate. How many of you are aware that every year over 1000 patients with mental illness kill themselves. Can you imagine the outcry and the acres of press coverage there would be if that number died in train crashes? Yet it is met with indifference and silence.

Too many people with mental health problems end up in our prisons.

For a society like ours that's just not good enough.

That's why I launched my leadership campaign at one of the few centres that do offer to help. For me it is a priority. It should also be a priority for our party.

Another similar scandal is domestic violence. We've just been through an election where law and order was supposedly a major issue. So how many of you are aware that 40% of all murders in this country are women who are murdered by their partners? Yet in London there are more places of refuge for pets than there are for women escaping violent partners. What does that tell us about our values.

We cannot go on like this. We must turn the tide and start to build a more cohesive society where people of all ages and backgrounds can feel secure in their lives.

And there's one final thing we need to do. We need to re-establish pride in what it means to be British. Pride in our National identity. We have spent so long focussing on diversity that we have forgotten to focus on what we have in common. Free speech. A fair rule of law. Our history and heritage. Economic liberty. And democratic government based at Westminster.

There are two things I want to see put back into our politics - proportion and reality.

Its time to put reality back in our politics too.

When I suggested recently that all schools in Britain should fly the Union flag as a symbol of what unites us I was told it was racist. By what possible stretch of the meaning of the word could even the most crazed member of the politically correct brigade regard flying your own flag outside your own schools as racist.

Let us send them a message: this conference will never be ashamed of the Union Flag.

So much about today's politics is about personality these days. So, let me tell you a few things about myself.

My father was a teacher. My mother was a housewife.

My grandfathers were both miners.

I went to the local comprehensive.

I trained in medicine and worked in the NHS as a hospital doctor and a GP.

None of these are reasons for me to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

We should elect leaders because of where they are going to- not where they have come from.

And where we are going to should be an optimistic picture of the Britain we want to see.

Where those who fail do not feel abandoned.

Where it is safe to walk down the street after dark.

Where children get an education to suit their individual talents

Where hardworking people get to keep more of their own money

A Britain where people can look forward to their later years without fear

A Britain that cares about people with mental illness.

A Britain that will speak up for oppressed peoples of the world.

But above all a Britain that values each individual for what they try to contribute to our country and does not judge them by where they come from, who their parents were, their creed or their colour.

We can repair our broken society, create a prosperity agenda and stand proud in the world.

We can shape the future. We can make it happen. And together we will win."

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