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Howard: You can vote for a better, brighter tomorrow

Speech at a Youth Rally in Leeds

"It's great to be in Leeds.

And it's great to see so many local Conservative candidates here - candidates who've been campaigning hard on the issues that matter to local people: more police; lower taxes; cleaner hospitals; school discipline; and controlled immigration.

But Conservatives won't just make a difference - we'll be different. We'll only promise what we know we can deliver; we won't promise one thing before an election, and then do something quite different afterwards; and we'll be accountable for our actions.

Accountability makes Mr. Blair angry. Well, come May the Fifth Mr. Blair is going to be very angry indeed: because every day from now until polling day we're going to hold him to account for the promises he's broken; the money he's wasted; and the contempt he's shown for his office.

In the real world if you screw up you can lose your job. Not in this Government. But I don't see why politicians should be any different. So in the Government I lead, if ministers don't deliver, they'll go. That's right - they'll go.

Of course this election isn't just about the last eight years. It's also about Britain's future. And you are that future. You are why Britain has such a bright future.

Our country has everything going for it: creative flair; a talent for enterprise; hardworking and industrious people.

People just want the freedom, security and opportunity to get on in life, and get on with life.

They want the freedom to take the important decisions about their lives and to keep more of the money they earn.

They want the security that goes with owning your home, saving for your retirement, living in a safe neighbourhood.

And they want the opportunity that comes from a thriving economy and a good education.

Education: The Key to Opportunity

Education is the key to opportunity.

I know.

I come from an ordinary family.

If the teenage Michael Howard were applying to Cambridge today, Gordon Brown would love me. My socio-economic background ticks every one of his politically correct boxes: the child of immigrants; from a small town in Wales; a family with modest means; educated in a State school. And of course, Gordon Brown would despise Tony Blair.

My parents ran a clothes shop in Llanelli. We didn't have any special privileges. But we were lucky enough to live in a town with a first class State school. It was the best start any child could have in life. Fifty years on I want everyone to have that quality of education.

Let's be clear - the quality of Britain's education system today, will determine our success as a society tomorrow.

If children don't learn respect for authority in class, they're much less likely to respect others when they grow up.

If youngsters aren't taught to read or write properly at school, they'll find it that much tougher to get a job when they leave - so the chances of their getting into crime will be that much higher.

And if British companies can't recruit employees with the right skills, they'll find it even harder to compete.

Conservatives will start by giving head teachers control over their schools. They will have the power to expel disruptive pupils. I will not allow the minority to ruin the education of the majority.

Of course, a child's future is far too precious simply to be written off if they are expelled from school. So we'll invest in new Turnaround Schools to give troubled youngsters the help they need: learning the basics; a practical skill so that they can get a job when they leave; drug treatment if they need it.

And we'll ensure that children are challenged and tested at school by raising exam standards. Only a fixed percentage of the top students will be awarded "A" grades at A Level. It's tough - I know. But we need an exam system in which employers and universities can have confidence.

All over the country, more and more students are backing the Conservatives. And the Conservatives are backing students.

Tuition Fees

Let me tell you how our policies for higher education are different from Mr. Blair's. He broke his Manifesto promise not to introduce top up fees. We are keeping ours. No ifs. No buts. No tuition fees under the Conservatives, either up front or after graduation.

In almost every way, Labour's plans for student finance are wrong, wrong, wrong. And ours are right, right, right.

Labour's plans are wrong because they will cost more than they actually raise. Our plans are right: over the long-term, our universities will benefit by £21 billion.

Labour's plans are wrong because they will increase student debt. Our plans are right because they will cut student debt.

Labour's plans are wrong because they will keep their mean-spirited means-test. Our plans are right because we will scrap the means test - and keep the maintenance grants for students on low incomes.

Mr. Blair now promises that he will cap fees at £3,000 a year - just as his Manifesto promised in 2001 that "we will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them".

But his words aren't worth the paper they are written on.

Leaked government documents have shown that Labour want to increase fees to £5,000 a year.

As one source who had met Number 10 officials said "They had to set the level at £3,000 to buy off backbenchers. As far as they are concerned they want the cap gone".

So there you have it - if Blair gets in again, "top-up" fees will go up.

May the Fifth is your chance to send Mr. Blair a message - enough is enough.

Students cannot afford any more stealth taxes.

Access to universities should depend on ability to learn, not ability to pay.

Vocational Training

Of course not everyone is academic. One of the tragedies of our education system is we have attached too little importance to the acquisition of technical or practical skills.

It's time to end that snobbery. Further education should no longer be the forgotten garden of the education world. A talented bricklayer, an accomplished electrician, a capable plumber - these are skills our society needs.

Ask anyone whom they would value most: a good lawyer or a good plumber? And speaking as a lawyer, I'm afraid I know what their answer would be. And it wouldn't necessarily be my profession!

I want everyone, whatever their background or the colour of their skin, to be able to make a success of their chosen career; to have the opportunity to make the most of their individual skills; and be given the chance to make a real contribution to the future of our country.

Education is, for me, more than a policy area, it's a passion. A passion rooted deep in my own experience - my own education. I know that every child is good at something. The challenge of education is to unlock the individual talents that each child has within them.


Personal Security

But there can be no opportunity without security. Now it's a fact that young men are more likely to be the victims of crime than … an older person like me.

It's quite wrong that in many towns and cities today young people have to put their own safety at risk to have a good night out.

Tony Blair has quite simply lost the plot when it comes to crime. Just look at what he's been up to today - he's been patting himself on the back for the latest crime figures; trying to explain the problem away; even claiming that violent crime has fallen. Mr. Blair - welcome to the real world.

Violent crime has almost doubled and there are now a million violent crime committed every year. I know: my wife, Sandra, and my daughter Larissa have both been mugged.

And now after eight years in power and just two weeks before an election - Mr. Blair's promising a new target to cut crime by 15 per cent if he gets in again. What planet is he on? Crime's gone by over 15 per cent since 1998. And behind those statistics are people - real people who've been robbed, assaulted, mugged.

What's Mr. Blair's message to them? "Give me one more chance".

He just doesn't get it, does he? People want action not words - and I'll tell you what actions a Conservative Government would take. More police, less paperwork and tougher sentences.

That's why we'll recruit 5,000 more police - real police - every year.

That's why we'll get rid of the new, absurd, politically correct form the police have to fill in every time they stop someone - just stop someone, not stop and search. It has 40 questions on it. It takes 7 minutes to fill in. I want the police out on our streets keeping them safe, not filling in forms.

And we'll end Mr. Blair's early release scheme. Over four and a half thousand crimes have been committed by criminals let out early from prison by Mr. Blair - and over five hundred of them were violent crimes.

It's quite wrong. And under the Conservatives it will stop. There'll be no more half time sentences for full time crimes.

And do you know the Liberal Democrat policy on repeat rapists? It's to scrap the automatic life sentence. That's right - scrap it. No wonder they want to give prisoners the vote - who else would vote for a policy like that?

Now I know some people say that by talking about crime you simply increase people's fear of it.

Well people are frightened of crime because there's a lot of it about.

Pensioners are frightened of going out during the day, not because of what they read in the papers, but because of what they see on their streets.

And couples stay in rather than go out on a Saturday night, not because of some TV reality show they've watched, but because they've seen for themselves the havoc and mayhem drunken yobs can cause.

Decent, hard working families shouldn't have to settle for this.

I don't want members of the public looking over their shoulders - I want criminals and yobs looking round in fear.

It's time to give the yobs a dose of the fear they've been dishing out to the rest of us.

And by putting fear into the hearts of yobs - we'll give hope to the decent law abiding families who do the right thing and play by the rules.

Oh and by the way if you are watching this on TV and you are a yob, a burglar, a mugger whatever.

I suggest you think twice before voting Conservative: because people have had enough and we're not going to settle for it anymore.

You may think you're tough - but a Conservative Government will be tougher.

Financial Security

People don't just want personal security - they want financial security: the security that comes from owning your own home and saving for your retirement.

I believe in a Britain where government helps people who help themselves; a government which rewards families who work hard; a government that does right by people who do the right thing.

By saving two pence in every pound a Conservative Government will stop Labour's planned stealth taxes dead in their tracks.

And we'll be able to reward people who do the right thing by lowering taxes for millions of homebuyers and people saving for pensions.

Today I announced that a Conservative Government will abolish Stamp Duty for the average home in Britain - if you're buying a home worth less than £250,000 you won't pay a penny of Stamp Duty on it.

This will help young people to get onto the property ladder. And it will make it easier for young couples starting a family to buy a bigger home.

Six years ago, you paid £900 on the average house in England and Wales. Under Mr. Blair, it's risen to £1,800. With a Conservative Government, it will be zero.

It used to be said that Mr. Blair stole all the Conservative Party's best ideas.

Not any more.

He'd like to - but he can't afford to.

Mr. Blair is spending your money so quickly and so wastefully that he needs to take more and more of it.

Today independent experts confirmed what we've been saying all along: vote Labour or Liberal Democrat and your taxes will go up. There's only one party that will lower taxes - our Party the Conservative Party.

The Choice at the Election

Two weeks today, Britain will give its verdict on Mr Blair's government.

In schools and church halls, millions of people will go into polling booths, pick up that stubby little pencil, and put a cross against the name of one candidate.

When you vote, you're actually sending politicians a message.

The choice before voters here in Leeds on May the fifth is very clear.

They can either reward Mr. Blair for eight years of broken promises, and vote for another five years of talk.

Or they can vote Conservative, to support a party that's taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard working Britons.

Some people may be thinking about voting Liberal Democrat. But no matter what you think of your local candidate, when you vote you're not just voting for someone to represent you locally - you're voting for a national government.

So if you think that crime's too high, immigration is out of control and Mr. Blair has hit you with too many stealth taxes - then you need to send him a very clear message.

Enough is enough.

And you can't do that by voting Liberal Democrat. You can only do it by voting for your local Conservative candidate.

So to those who voted Labour last time, who dream of a better life, who work hard, but feel let down, I say, come and join us.

We are the only choice if you want a government that gives you lower taxes and value for money.

To those who voted Liberal Democrat last time, who have lost faith in a criminal justice system with twisted priorities, who yearn for a time when children can walk home safely from school, I say, come and join us.

We are the only choice if you want a government that will wage war on crime.

And to those who have given up on politics, who do not believe that casting a vote will ever make any difference to their lives, I say, come and join us.

We are the only choice if you want a government that is responsible and accountable to you.

It's your choice - and it's your opportunity.

You can vote for Britain to change direction.

You can vote for a better, brighter tomorrow.

You can vote Conservative."

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