Speech to Conservative Party Spring Conference 2004
"Mr Chairman, Conference,
What a fantastic Conference this has been. This weekend we have shown that we have recovered our confidence and our self-belief. We are now all waiting to hear Michael Howard's first speech to Conference as the Leader of our Party. As we all know, the election of Michael Howard has had a profound effect upon the Conservative Party and on British politics. The Conservative Party is back in business. We're proud to be Conservatives again.
Michael has united our Westminster team, he has revitalised our professional organisation, and he has renewed the enthusiasm and determination of Conservatives everywhere.
The British political scene has been transformed. We are now universally recognised as real challengers to this tired and tawdry Labour Government.
It is remarkable that all this has been achieved in just a few short months. And, shortly, we will be thanking Michael for his leadership in bringing this about. We will rightly cheer our Leader to the rafters. But I think there is something we must give Michael that is much more important than our thanks and cheers.
We have work to do.
In less than a 100 days, Britain will vote in three vital elections.
It is essential that we win our target councils in England and Wales. I thank and congratulate Gordon Keymer and his council colleagues on already making the Conservatives the largest party in local government. We must build on that on the 10th of June.
It is essential that we challenge Ken Livingstone's rotten record in London, and we wish Steve Norris and the GLA candidates all success in their campaigns.
But, there is one election on the 10th of June which is of crucial importance in giving us the platform for victory at the General Election - the European Election. The reason is simple. This is the only election between now and the General Election in which every British voter can cast a vote. It is the key test of national public opinion. It will be a major test of our Party's political revival.
Every one of us owes it to Michael to make sure we deliver victory in these elections. Victory will show that the Conservatives are ready for government and that in Michael Howard, we have a great Prime Minister for Britain.
Yes, we have work - a lot of work to do. But, we are going to do it - and we are going to win.
Back in 1999, when we were 27 points behind in the opinion polls, we defied the pollsters and the pundits and scored a spectacular victory over Labour. This year, we have an even better opportunity to repeat that success. So, let us promise Michael today that we are going to work for victory on the 10th of June - and we are going to win - and win well.
When we vote in June, we will be joined by seventeen thousand electors on a rock in the Mediterranean. Gibraltar, after a long fight, has secured the right to be represented in the European Parliament. Our Party stood shoulder to shoulder with the Gibraltarians in their fight for recognition. And, we did so against the shabby attempts of Tony Blair and Jack Straw to sell out their sovereignty. We have always made it clear that our Party will never abandon the people of Gibraltar.
I am now in my third year as Leader of our 36 Conservative MEPs. We are the largest British political group in Brussels, and the second largest national delegation in the European Parliament.
For the past five years, we have fought hard to deliver the manifesto on which we were elected. And what did we promise? 'In Europe, not run by Europe'. I can tell Conference today that we have kept that pledge. We have not let you down. And here is the fundamental difference between us and Tony Blair's Labour Party. While we keep our pledges, you can't trust a word Labour says.
We believe in working with others in Europe to deliver policies based on our Conservative beliefs.
- Yes to nations working closely together, but no to more integration.
- Yes to economic reform, but no to the endless stream of regulations and red tape from Brussels.
- Yes to strong defence, but no to a common European defence policy or European army.
- And, yes to working with our friends in the United States, but no to new European structures that undermine NATO. NATO has been our collective security shield for over fifty years, and we will resolutely oppose any attempts to weaken it.
And, when it comes to the draft Constitution for Europe, our policy is simple and clear.
We are against it.
Our principled opposition stands in stark contrast to the inept approach of this Labour Government. Be in no doubt, this constitution represents a fundamental change in the relationship between our country and the European Union.
- The German Government has called it 'worthy of the word historic'.
- The French Government has called it 'the setting up of a new political age'.
- The Spanish Government says it is 'a legal revolution without precedent'.
- The Belgian Government calls it 'the capstone of a federal state'.
- And the Labour Government says: It's just a 'tidying-up exercise'!
That's why Conservative MEPs are at the forefront of the campaign for a referendum on this constitution. We launched our 'Put it to the People' campaign last year. Hundreds of you have been in town centres up and down the country spreading the message. We have backed this up with an advertising campaign in over 250 regional and local newspapers, and thousands have written in support. I want to thank all of you for your help and hard work in this campaign. It is our duty to alert the British people to the dangers of this constitution. Mr Blair may spin and duck and weave, but listen to Labour's own nominee on the European Convention. Gisela Stuart said this: ' … it is clear that the real reason for the constitution - and its main impact - is the political deepening of the (European) Union.'
She is right.
It is the very reason we oppose this constitution.
- We don't want a President of Europe
- We don't want a Foreign Minister for Europe
- We don't want to give away any more powers to Brussels
- And, we don't want to give up the power to decide our own policies on asylum, immigration and border controls.
Such fundamental issues should be decided here in Britain, not in Brussels.
Conference. If a referendum on this constitution is good enough for the peoples of Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Ireland, then I say it is good enough for the people of Britain too.
So, what do we Conservatives want from Europe?
- We want to scrap damaging European legislation
- We want to end the disaster of the Common Fisheries Policy
- We want real reform of the CAP
- We want to break down the barriers for British business in Europe
- We want to stamp out fraud and waste
- And, we want to work with our friends in the United States, not against them.
This is what we want. And, Conference, more importantly, it's what the British people want.
So, this is the choice in these European Elections. We need more Conservative MEPs in order to promote our distinctive Conservative agenda. The alternative is Labour MEPs selling out the interests of the British people, selling out British business, selling out British farmers and fishermen - every day for the next five years - just as they have every day for the last five years.
Look at Labour's record in Europe. Five years ago, Tony Blair said: 'It is because we want Europe to succeed that we want it reformed'. And, he said, who better to lead reform in Europe 'than Neil Kinnock'. Britain, with Neil, would be 'in the lead again'. Conference, it was all Blair hot air. No surprise really if Neil Kinnock's involved.
Labour is certainly not in the lead in fighting for reform.
Blair's government has signed-off the flawed EU accounts every single year since it was elected. So have Labour MEPs.
And, those same Labour MEPs have voted day in day out to pile on more and more European red tape on British business.
So much for Labour.
What about the Liberal Democrats?
What a useless shower.
The party that would sell this country down the river in pursuit of its own federalist ambitions.
They are, quite simply, the 'say yes to everything in Europe' party.
They say yes to the euro,
to everything in the EU constitution,
to a European army,
to a President of Europe -
And they even say yes to giving up Britain's seat at the UNITED Nations Security Council to the EU.
Conference, when it comes to Europe, Charles Kennedy and his party are not sitting on the fence, they are off the wall.
They are a menace to our national interests, and we should expose them for what they are.
So, there you have it. The clear choice in this election campaign.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are Europe's representatives in Britain. We Conservatives are Britain's representatives in Europe.
I have worked for this Party for over thirty years. I have been proud to represent our cause in the House of Commons, in Government and now in Europe. For too long, we have had to endure this useless and failing Labour Government. At last, under the leadership of Michael Howard, we have found the unity, determination and will to take them on.
Throughout this conference, we have shown the country that we are positive, upbeat, united and disciplined - ready for the battles that lie ahead.
In Michael Howard, we have a leader who has galvanised our Party, and who can take us to victory at the next General Election.
We have re-discovered confidence in the values of Conservatism.
We are on the move - and we are moving forward.
Britain has been waiting too long for the return of Conservative Government.
At these elections on the 10th of June, we owe it to Michael to win for him - and win for Britain."