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Letwin: Action on tax

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2004

"Do you remember?

Do you remember when Tony Blair offered us a new kind of politics? Do you remember that?

Well, we've had a new kind of politics.

It's a kind of politics where nobody any longer trusts a word that politicians have to say.

We've had a new kind of politics.

We have a civil service, bigger than Sheffield. We have!

We have more officials in one department, the Department of Work and Pensions, than there are soldiers in the whole of the British Army. That's a new kind of politics.

A new kind of politics, where a pensioner in my constituency is spending a third of her entire disposable income on council tax. That's a new kind of politics.

Or the young person whose trying to get a foot on the ladder, trying to get a house for the first time, buying a house for £60,000 and 1 pence and they're paying £600 of stamp duty.

Or the family expecting to inherit an ex-council house, and they're paying death duties. That's a new kind if politics.

It's a new kind of politics.

When the Prime Minister, the first Lord of the Treasury hasn't a clue what's going on in the Treasury. Has to smuggle officials through the back door of No 10 to find out. That's a new kind of politics.

Do you remember something else? Do you remember when they told us there was going to be justice for all? Social justice.

So when that pensioner in my constituency is paying a third of her income, her disposable income, on council tax, is that social justice? No.

Or when that young person, trying to get their foot on the ladder, is clobbered with £600 of stamp duty, is that social justice? No.

Or when that family expecting to inherit that ex-council house is paying inheritance tax, is that social justice? No.

You know what makes it all desperately unfair, so unjust, is that these people aren't even getting value for money.

Do you remember the story of the woman who found that her rubbish was being collected half as often as before? The government said is it was some kind of directive, and the council said it was some kind of directive and they couldn't do it anymore as well as they used to. And what did she do? She was probably a Conservative. She went out. She hired a private firm and she charged her neighbours and they were happy to pay. They pay all that council tax and then pay, on top, to have their rubbish collected.

Is that value for money?

Or when you're sitting in a traffic jam, and you're thinking of all those taxes you're paying, is that value for money?

Or the parent who desperately wants to send their child to the school of their choice, and they're appealing, and they know that 80% of the appeals in inner cities are turned down. Is that value for their taxpayer's money?

Or your grandmother. The grandmother whose trying to get into hospital. She's waiting 6 months and after paying taxes all her life. She gets in. She gets MRSA. Is that value for her taxpayer's money? No. No.

And can we do something about all this? Can we take action to change things, to make a difference? You bet we can!

We can thin down this fat government by getting the money, from the taxpayer, the frontline where it's needed. We can give the taxpayers of this country, something that they haven't had these last seven years.

We can give the taxpayer value for money.

We've shown what that means. You saw the video.

You saw how line by line, department by department, we've been working through the fat bureaucracies. Working out how we can thin them down. Just last week Nicholas Soames and I announced what that means for frontline defence. By saving on the fat bureaucracies elsewhere in Whitehall, and by slimming down the bureaucracy within the Ministry of Defence, we can bring £2.7 billion more to frontline defence between now and 2008 than Labour plans, and that means we can save our regiments.

There is somebody else who's heard about all this. Somebody who gets most of his best ideas from our programmes. You guessed it, Tony Blair.

So, he rings his neighbour next door, the neighbour from hell.

So it's our Tony and our Gordon.

And Tony says to Gordon: "Gordon these guys, these Conservatives, they seem to be on to something. Couldn't we do something to thin down the fat bureaucracies you've created?" Note the "you".

And Gordon says: "Tony, give us a break. We're Labour, we specialise in fat bureaucracies."

And Tony says to Gordon: "Well Gordon, couldn't we at least pretend that we're going to do something to slim down the fat bureaucracies. Give us a hint Gordon."

And Gordon says to Tony: "Now you're talking. I can say we'll cut 104,000 jobs out of the bureaucracy. 20,000 of those, well they'll be in the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. We don't have to do anything about them. 11,000? They'll be reallocated. They won't go anywhere. And to make up for the remaining 73,000, well, I'll make up for them by hiring another 200,000 bureaucrats over the next 3 years, so we'll end up with more than we started with."

It's a sham.

It's a pretence.

And it means just one thing. It means Labour's third term tax rises.

It means council tax on the average home rising to £2,000 a year.

It means £900 more of national insurance from the average earner.

It means Labour's third term tax rises.

And can we do anything about that? Yes, indeed we can.

By thinning down those fat bureaucracies. By sticking within my tight spending plans. We can fill in Gordon Brown's black hole and prevent Labour's third term tax rises.

And by sticking to my tight spending plans, we should enable ourselves to do more.

We should enable ourselves to do something serious. To give us a simpler and a fairer tax system.

We should enable ourselves to give this country a serious remedy, for that pensioner who's paying a third of her disposable income on council tax.

We should enable ourselves to give that family which has a person in it, a young person trying to get on the housing ladder, paying that £600 of stamp duty, some relief.

We should enable ourselves to give to the other family that's expecting to inherit the ex-council house, some relief from the inheritance tax.

Yes. We should expect to be able to do something serious for those people.

Now, I know what many of you expect me to say next.

I know what some people in some sections of the media think it would be courageous if I said next.

They think it would be courageous if the next thing I said is: I promise you to cut taxes by so much and such-and-such a day.

It wouldn't be courageous at all. It would be very easy.

I'd say it. You'd cheer. We'd all leave, and no one out there would believe us at all. Because there have been too many broken promises on tax, from too many politicians.

The sad truth is when we were in office, we made promises on tax we couldn't keep.

And everybody knows what happened when Tony Blair said he had no plans to increase tax at all and then raised them 66 times by stealth.

So no more broken promises on tax.

Instead of promises, actions

Instead of words, deeds,

The next Conservative government will act to make a difference, to make Britain better.

On the first day of that government I will freeze civil service recruitment.

In the first week of that government I will lift the controls those wretched best-value, comprehensive, performance, assessment regimes off Labour government.

And in the first month of that Conservative government I will delivery a budget which will implement the James reforms, and begin the thinning down of those fat bureaucracies and set Britain on the path to a lower tax economy.

Actions. Measurable, accountable actions to make this country a better place to live in.

Shouldn't be any kind of surprise to hear Conservatives talking about actions.

As we go forward into the next election, as we face that great test and meet that great challenge, let's remind ourselves who we are.

We are the party of action.

We are the party of Shaftesbury who first took action to bring compassion into British politics.

We are the party of Wilberforce who freed the slaves.

We are the party of Disraeli, who elevated the condition of the people in order that he could make a Britain one nation.

And yes, we're the party of Margaret Thatcher, who gave people the right to own their own homes, and gave Britain back her freedom and her security.

And now, our party, under the leadership of Michael Howard, as the next government of this can set Britain free again."

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