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Howard: Fair play and equal treatment under the law

Addressing an election campaign meeting of Conservative candidates and activists in Watford

"It's a great pleasure to be here in Watford this morning.

I'm 63 years old.

So why, you might ask, haven't I decided to hang up my boots, enjoy my retirement and spend more time with my grandchildren?

The answer's very simple.

As the child of immigrants, as a state school pupil, as the first person in my family to go to university, I owe everything to Britain.

I love my country and I want to give something back.

Some of you may know that Sandra and I live in Kent.

Now our house certainly wouldn't win first prize in a beauty contest. In fact it's quite ugly. But it has one of the most glorious views in Britain.

It looks down over the mysterious beauty of Romney Marsh and out across the Channel.

And when I look at that view I think about Britain's history and our future.

My constituency sent a representative to Simon de Montfort's Parliament, England's first Parliament, in 1265. And it's sent them to every Parliament since.

It was on the Romney coast, some say, that William the Conqueror first tried to land on our shores.

From my kitchen I can see container ships going along the Channel - bearing their cargoes to and from all corners of the world.

And it reminds me that Britain's greatness is built on our trade, on our openness, on our integrity, on our enterprise.

On a clear day, when the sun's shining, from one corner of our garden, I can even see France. And much though I love France, I always think how intensely grateful I am that I was born on this side of the Channel.

I am deeply proud of being British - so I suspect are all of you here today.

We're proud of our history, our traditions.

We're proud of the contribution our country has made to the world.

And we're proud of that essential British value: fair play.

Fair play is at the heart of what it means to be British.

Whatever our backgrounds - our religion, the colour of our skin, our families' wealth - we are all equal and we all have to play by the same rules.

We are one country, one nation, and there shouldn't be special privileges for special interest groups.

A belief in fair play has enabled Britain, over many generations, to benefit from the arrival of new people, new ideas and new cultures.

One of the undoubted glories of modern Britain is the cultural vitality we now enjoy. We are a stronger richer country because of the immigrant communities that have settled here.

Britain has been a refuge for those fleeing persecution for hundreds of years, from the Huguenots to the Ugandan Asians and the victims of modern tyrannies like Zimbabwe.

And people like my parents choose to come and settle here - not because of the weather - but because of Britain's tolerance, love of freedom and sense of fair play.

The fact that genuine refugees look to Britain for sanctuary - that hard working families want to settle here and make a contribution to our society - demonstrates that British values stand for something in the world. They're precious. They're worth fighting for.

And we have to fight for them today. We have to fight for them in this election campaign: because this election is not just about policies, programmes and priorities, important though they are. It's about values: our values; British values; values which aren't recognised or respected by this Government.

It astonishes me that the people who rule us today - the Government and the new Establishment - seem to have a completely different set of values to everyone else.

Let me give you an example.

Recently I spoke out against the abuse of our planning laws by the small minority of travellers who have no respect for the law.

I didn't claim it was the most important issue facing Britain today.

And I didn't tar all travellers with the same brush.

All I did was point out that if you or I want to build a house, we have to get planning permission first. Yet - thanks to the Human Rights Act - a minority of travellers have been able to build what they like, where they like.

Lots of hard working families who've seen their communities turned upside down as a result came out to support me: but not the Government or its supporters. Their reaction was truly astonishing.

A senior Labour MP, Kevin McNamara, said that my remarks had "the whiff of the gas chamber about them."

Far from denouncing Mr. MacNamara's outrageous smear, Alan Milburn proceeded to jump on the bandwagon.

And Mr Blair's Planning Minister, Keith Hill, accused me of indulging in "the politics of the gutter."

These reactions go to the very heart of what's gone wrong in our country. Some people call it political correctness. Others call it moral relativism. I call it madness.

Common sense has been stood on its head. The victims have become the aggressors and the aggressors have become the victims.

It's this kind of madness that is creating a growing gulf between the people and the new Establishment.

Most people have no difficulty telling right from wrong. But Mr. Blair and his powerful friends seem ever ready to blur the distinction.

In fact, some senior politicians, journalists and broadcasters give every appearance of being on the side of the troublemakers, the rulebreakers and the mickeytakers.

And, as I've discovered, when someone stands up and says it's wrong they are attacked ferociously.

Of course, I'm all right. I've been around a bit. I can look after myself.

The people I worry about are the ordinary, decent folk, who know that things are wrong but are being intimidated into silence.

People who see the values they grew up with and still believe in trashed.

No one worries about their sensitivities.

No one cares if they feel excluded.

No one stands up for them.

Well I will.

The British public deserves to be heard.

I'm talking about real people, with real concerns, whose voices are simply not heard in the national debate: people of all ages; all races; and all backgrounds who hold true to the notion of fair play.

People who don't ask for special favours and can't believe that they've been pushed to the back of the queue by a government that seems obsessed with the rights of wrongdoers.

The Liberal Democrats say they want killers like Ian Huntley to be allowed to vote in elections while serving their sentences.

And, recently, a convicted murderer used Mr Blair's Human Rights Act to demand hard core pornography in jail - and won.

Do you know anyone who thinks that's right? I don't - yet things like this seem to keep happening.

That's one of the reasons why we're reviewing the Human Rights Act. And if it can't be improved we will scrap it: because I believe in a Britain where fair play matters.

Our country has everything going for it: creative flair, a talent for enterprise, hard working and industrious people.

But today Britain is heading in the wrong direction.

In his desire to please everyone, Mr. Blair has undermined Britain's values and with it the sense of fair play that's so central to our national identity.

Well you don't have to settle for that - there is a choice, a Conservative choice.

So let me tell you exactly how we're going to be different

We will govern with the right values. Upholding the law and rewarding people who do the right thing: who work hard; play by the rules; and take responsibility for themselves and their families.

First, we're going to stop people abusing Britain's generosity.

All of us here today want to give refuge to people genuinely fleeing persecution.

But we all recognise that there are literally millions of people from poorer countries who would like to settle here, and that Britain cannot take them all. We are a small and densely populated island.

Only two out of ten people who claim asylum in Britain today are genuine refugees. So what happens to the people who are not genuine refugees? Are they sent home? No. There are now almost 250,000 failed asylum seekers living in Britain today.

People know that even if their asylum claim is rejected, they are more than likely to be allowed to stay here. So our system effectively penalises those who apply to come here legally, and rewards those who trick their way into the country.

It's hardly surprising so many people who are not genuine refugees don't play by the rules - and use the asylum system to get round Britain's immigration controls.

That's not fair. It's not the British way of doing things. It offends all our values.

So a Conservative government will put in place 24-hour security at ports to prevent illegal immigration.

We'll create a new British Border Control Police. Britain will have one face at the border: one police force; with one chief constable; with just one job - securing Britain's borders.

We'll pull out of the 1951 UN Convention so that we can deport people who are not genuine refugees more effectively - or who pose a risk to our national security.

And we'll take genuine refugees from the United Nations - rather than simply accepting those who are smuggled to our shores.

These are tough decisions. But they're right. I said we had to fight for our values - and I mean it.

You're never going to deliver fair play by being all things to all people.

All my political life I have stood up for people who play by the rules and pay their dues. Respect for the law, respect for others and respect for property: these values are the bedrock of our society.

But the decline in personal responsibility, the proliferation of so-called human rights and this Government's failure to draw a clear distinction between right and wrong have left communities across Britain paralysed - unable to get a grip on rising crime and disorder.

Cutting crime is a matter of values and confidence. It's about believing that the rights of our communities are just as important as so-called human rights. And it's about having the confidence to say enough is enough. If you cross the line between right and wrong there will be consequences.

We need a criminal justice system that gives police officers the confidence to tackle, confront and challenge every kind of crime and disorder, right down to graffiti and litter.

The tragedy today is that our police - brave, hard working men and women who take risks every day that most of us never take in a life time - are handcuffed by paperwork and political correctness.

The police now spend more time behind their desks filling in forms to do with the latest ministerial gimmick than they do on our streets.

So we'll recruit 5,000 more police - real police - every year.

And we'll get rid of the paperwork and political correctness that tie their hands.

So I will scrap the politically correct, 40 question form the police have to fill in every time they stop someone - that's right just stop someone, not stop and search.

I want policemen and women to have the confidence to eyeball these characters; to invade their personal body space, just like they're invading ours; to confront and challenge their unacceptable behaviour.

But today if a police officer stops half a dozen yobs out on the town on a Saturday night, he or she will have to spend the best part of an hour filling in forms.

Of course I entirely accept the need for the police to record stop and search because it is intrusive. But the stop form is symptomatic of the political correctness Whitehall has imposed on our police.

It's hardly surprising we have a thriving "yob" culture in Britain today - the effects of which are being felt across our country.

We all know about people who no longer risk walking home from the local pub on a nice evening; about fathers that daren't take their kids to the park to play football anymore; and about the vile obscenity of racial abuse faced by too many British families.

That's not fair. It's not the British way of doing things. It offends all our values.

What does it say about our society that we let youngsters - mere teenagers - get away with terrorising our communities?

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

But tackling the yob culture is not just a question of policing.

It's also about parents and their responsibilities too.

There are a tiny minority of parents in this country today who refuse to take responsibility for their children.

So we will give local authorities the power to withhold housing benefit from families whose immediate members are convicted three or more times of anti-social behaviour.

These troublesome families need to understand that, if they don't mend their ways, they risk being forced to leave their neighbourhood.

This is tough I know.

But we've got to take a stand.

Local communities should not have to settle for this nonsense.

These arrogant yobs aren't above the law, as they seem to think.

With a Conservative Government they'll have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.

So people will face a clear choice at the election - a choice between a Conservative Government which upholds the law and Mr Blair who turns a blind eye when the rules are bent or abused.

Mr. Blair never tires of saying he's for the many not the few.

Well that's not how it looks to the rest of us.

The lives of many people are made a misery by the behaviour of a few yobs and their irresponsible parents.

Yet the criminal justice system - with its warped values - seems to look after the few and let down the many.

The education of many kids is ruined by a few disruptive pupils.

Yet the politically correct establishment seems more interested in the rights of the few than the future of the many.

The quality of life in many communities has been blighted by the actions of a few travellers who think they are above the law.

Yet the so-called Human Rights Act seems to protect the law breakers and penalise the law abiding.

Let me remind you about British values Mr. Blair - fair play is not about the many, or the few. It's about everyone getting equal treatment under the law.

Today Conservatives share the values of the British people.

There was a time when our Party appeared out of touch with mainstream Britain. Not quite able to adapt to our changing society.

Not any more. Our values haven't changed but our Party is now more inclusive, more diverse and more dynamic than ever before.

In many ways Conservatives are leading the way. Operation Black Vote, the respected pressure group that encourages ethnic minority participation in politics, has released figures showing that the Conservative Party has more ethnic candidates at this general election than Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

And this has happened without any positive discrimination, quotas or all black short lists.

If you see someone wearing a blue rosette you know that he or she has been chosen on merit alone. All our candidates are excellent but I want to single out just one today.

A man who has proved his worth and impressed the people he's met; a man who has outfought both Labour and the Liberal Democrats; a man who works tirelessly for his local community - Ali Miraj.

We're on the rise because we're open to all who share our values and our ambitions for Britain.

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 recognises and rewards families who work hard.

To those who voted Liberal Democrat last time, who have lost faith in a criminal justice system with twisted priorities, who yearn for a government that upholds the law, 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 believes in fair play and will be accountable to you.

The people of our country face a clear choice on May the fifth.

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

Or you can vote 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, our asylum system 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.

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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