Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2004
"Who governs matters, but how we are governed matters too.
It defines who we are as a nation.
It will determine our future
It should reflect our history.
Despite all Mr Blair claims, we are an old country.
And no government has the right to rubbish the history of your country, to erode your freedoms, to destroy the historic institutions that protect your liberty and your security.
But that is exactly what Labour is doing.
When they mock our national institutions, they mock our values and our people.
When New Labour scorn the monarch, or royalty, or the symbol of the crown, they scorn the continuity and stability that is the foundation of the world's oldest democracy.
When Peter Mandelson sneers at the cap badges of our historic army regiments, they sneer at the unbelievable bravery, service and sacrifice.
When the Prime Minister disregards Parliament, he disregards democracy itself.
At the next election, you can choose how you want to be governed.
Either by an elective dictatorship, by a spin doctor Prime Minister who treats Parliament like a puppet on a string.
No proper discussion of bills; the Lords packed with Labour placemen.
Or by Conservatives, whose core values are founded on democracy, accountability and the rule of law
By a government which will strengthen Parliament.
By a Prime Minister, Michael Howard, who knows that power is held on behalf of the people.
"Trust" - not a word that the present prime minister finds very comfortable.
The paradox is that this British Government, is profoundly anti-British.
This government understands nothing of the separation of powers, of checks and balances, of history, of constitution, of liberty - which previous generations gave so much to establish, and lost so much to preserve.
This Government rushed through the so-called Human Rights Act - as though we had no rights until New Labour invented them.
They ignorantly thought they could abolish the Lord Chancellorship overnight.
They now plan to extinguish our national sovereignty by adopting the EU constitution.
The final insult to our democratic heritage?
You could be forgiven for thinking so.
But the national sovereignty they seek to extinguish they also seek to divide.
They set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly without a thought for the consequences for the governance of England.
And England, mother of Parliaments, does not want - and does not need - to be divided into regions.
As Shadow Regions Secretary, I suppose that makes me the nearest thing to Shadow Secretary of State for England.
What does that make John Prescott?
He's not fit to run England.
Last weekend, the Prime Minister left him in charge of the whole country.
You never thought you would be so relieved to see Mr Blair back in Downing Street!
Just look at Mr Prescott's track record!
What happened to his integrated transport policy? Re-written.
What happened to his promise to cut traffic? Scrapped.
This is the man that set up the so-called Strategic Rail Authority!
It's going to be abolished.
How can anyone trust what he promises now?
He says regions, "bring decision-making closer to the people".
In fact, they take power away from local government, abolishing hundreds of part-time local councillors.
He says an elected assembly "will allow the region to truly take control of its destiny".
In fact, they will have no power to call their own.
The word Secretary of State appears no less than 229 times in the draft assemblies bill, each time setting Whitehall targets and reserving his powers.
He says regions will "reduce bureaucracy".
In fact, the experience in Scotland, Wales and London is that bureaucracy will only increase.
More ministers, more special advisers, more spin doctors, more official cars, drivers, secretaries, expenses.
Then he says this will all save money.
In fact, Ken Livingstone's council tax doubled in just four years.
He admits each assembly member would cost at least a million pounds.
A million each!
And £30 million pounds just to set the thing up!
But wait a minute.
Didn't Labour promise that the Scottish Parliament would only cost £40 million.
And the bill - so far - is £440 million.
Regions are another wasteful, bureaucratic tier of government, which will not add a single, extra teacher, nurse or policeman to our failing public services.
Do people really want more paid politicians and higher council tax to pay for this fake devolution?
That there's some corner of every English field, that shall be forever Whitehall?
Labour promises democracy, but delivers bureaucracy.
Progress so far
At first, Labour thought their plans to dismantle England were going quite well.
They planned three referendums this autumn - in the North-West, in Yorkshire and in the North-East.
So we backed the three cross-party no-campaigns.
And we started to set out our alternative to regions.
Real decentralisation - giving back powers to counties, cities, boroughs and districts - to communities with a real, historic sense of identity.
Our vision is to restore the authority and independence of local councils.
I give you this pledge.
Every power that Labour gives to regional assemblies, we will give back to local councils.
• spacial development
• waste management
• fire and rescue.
We'll end Labour's phoney regional agenda.
We'll cut down the regional government offices.
Councillors should be free to serve their communities.
They should not be working for Whitehall.
Let's pay tribute to our councillors.
They have to cope with Labour's interference, day in and day out.
There will be a clear choice at the next election.
Either you let Labour carry on nationalising local councils.
Or you vote Conservative, and we will give local councils back to the communities that elect them.
The All-postal voting fiasco
Do you remember in the spring, Labour rolled out their scheme specially designed to inflate voting figures and to disguise apathy.
It's called all-postal voting.
Oh yes, this lot really know how to wreck a democracy.
Just look what happened in the June elections!
We harried the government in Parliament for their recklessness and incompetence.
Labour then cancelled two of the three referendums.
The Electoral Commission has now roundly condemned all-postal voting.
Another government shambles from John Prescott.
All that's left now is just one referendum in the North East.
The decision in North East referendum is one for the people of the North East, and we will respect their clear decision.
Lets hope the people vote 'no' vote, but I will make one certain forecast.
Nobody's really interested in Labour's plans.
In this referendum, apathy will be the only winner.
England under Labour
Apathy is the latent anger that sums up England under Labour.
Apathy wraps around the disappointment, the helplessness that people feel about New Labour.
You know, we must stop saying that Britain is no longer the sick man of Europe - because Labour has made Britain sick again.
And Mr Prescott's elected assemblies are not the cure, but more of the disease.
Higher council taxes will hit hardest those whom Labour has betrayed, particularly pensioners.
Under Labour, crime is up, NHS waiting lists up, too many schools are failing and, despite our national wealth, so many of our elderly people are unable to live in dignity.
There is no excuse for so much misery in the fourth richest country of the world.
If we Conservatives were not the Party of hope, we would have no claim to office.
We are the Party of Shaftsbury, who fought for social justice.
We are the party of Disraeli, who made it our mission to draw together the two nations of our society, the rich and the poor.
It's not for us to promise the New Jerusalem or to promise to wipe away all the tears.
But let's be clear.
Nor are we the party for those who would pass by on the other side.
This week, we have been setting out our plan for action to serve those whom Labour has failed -
• Increased pensions, not increased council taxes
• More police, instead of more politicians
• Less waste in government, not more bureaucracy
• Less regulation on business
• Discipline in schools
• Clean hospitals
• Stronger armed forces
• No EU constitution and no Euro
The United Kingdom should be a sovereign nation and a free people.
Not slaves to a new layer of regional government.
England is a great nation in the greatest nation
Not nine regions in a Euro-superstate!
Think of the power of real ideas.
Enterprise and social conscience
Individual opportunity and cohesive communities.
Freedom and order.
Regions won't deliver any of that.
We are the Party who brought people the freedom to prosper beyond the state. We are the party who sees it as a duty to serve the needs of those whom Labour have failed. And, led by Michael Howard, we will carry the values of these people - into government."