Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Iain Duncan Smith: The first Conservative Government of the 21st Century

Speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in London

As I said last night, out there in Smith Square, it has been an immense honour to have led the Conservative party for the last two years.

I very much hope that - as tonight seems likely - my successor is chosen quickly, so that we can all get behind the leader.

The new leader will have my absolute loyalty.

And I encourage all those members of the voluntary party who made me the first leader of the party elected by the grass roots, to also give that leader their whole-hearted support.

From this moment onwards, we must never again allow our own private interests and squabbles to distract us from the task of opposition -

…the task of exposing this government's manifold failures and defeating them at the next election.

This speech was planned a little time ago, as the beginning of our great push to communicate the policies we announced at Blackpool.

I decided I wanted to make the speech here at the CPS.

This think-tank has always performed the role of intellectual pioneer for the Conservative Party, and, indeed, for the country…

…and I could think of a no better place to set out the programme for the first Conservative government of the 21st century - the government I hoped to lead.

Events, you might have noticed, have somewhat overtaken me.

But last night, after hearing the result of the confidence vote, I decided that I would still make this speech.

Because although I will not lead the first Conservative government of this century, I believe I have provided its manifesto, its policy prospectus.

I believe our Party now has an agenda as radical and attractive as that drawn up by Keith Joseph at the dawn of the Thatcher era.

I'd like to take this opportunity to pay particular tribute to Greg Clark and his team in the Policy Unit.

I know Greg has worked closely with the CPS in recent years and I am sorry he isn't here tonight.

He wisely went on holiday to Mexico at the end of last week!

But he and his team - some of whom I see here - deserve the thanks of the entire party for what they have done.

It is my deepest wish that the policies they have worked on for so long will form the programme of the next Conservative government.

It is a settlement which, after much hard work, has won the support of all wings of the party - but which has lost none of its radicalism in the process.

Tonight I want to talk about four inter-linked principles which I hope Conservatives will continue to stand for, whoever is elected leader -

…the principles which will be my legacy to this Party.

The first is the need for a complete renewal of our public services.

The second is the need to place social justice, and concern for the plight of the vulnerable, at the very core of Conservative thinking.

The third is the need for freedom, the rule of law and a strong and competitive economy.

And the fourth is the need to defend the state itself, and the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.

The first task of the next Conservative government must be public service renewal.

Of course, Conservatives were the joint authors of the welfare state.

It was the Conservative health minister in Churchill's wartime government who drew up the first plans for the NHS.

It was Rab Butler who passed the great Education Act of 1944, ensuring mass education for Britain's children.

It was Harold Macmillan who, as housing minister in the early 50s, built up the public housing stock.

Conservatives can share the credit for the creation and maintenance of the welfare state…

…but we must also take our share of the blame for its failures - and commit ourselves to its renewal.

The era of uniform, comprehensive, state-run services is over.

Consumers are no longer prepared to be told to get what they're given and be grateful.

The professionals who deliver public services are no longer prepared to be treated like cogs in the machine.

Taxpayers are no longer prepared to be billed, again and again, to pay for the ever-rising cost of a failed system.

If the plans I have laid down are followed by my successor…

…the next Conservative government will make a real and immediate difference to people's lives.

Every parent in England and Wales will have a Better Schools Passport, giving them total control over the education of their child.

Every citizen will have a Patient's Passport, entitling them to free care anywhere in the NHS.

And if, for whatever reason, they have to go private, they will get help to do so.

The right-to-buy programme will be extended…

…so that housing association tenants can also experience the satisfaction and responsibility of home ownership.

We will scrap Labour's tuition fees for students and stopped their plans for extra top-up fees.

And we will work to end the means test for pensioners and improve and incentivise saving for retirement.

We will begin this process by raising the basic state pension in line with earnings.

All these are radical, feasible, Conservative policies.

They are based on the simple principle of trust.

The welfare state was founded in a period when people were expected to trust the government - not government to trust the people.

We'll reverse that relationship.

Under the first Conservative government of the 21st century, the state will not be a monopoly provider of education and healthcare.

It will primarily be a funder, and a regulator.

Government will trust teachers and doctors, managers and ministers, to make the decisions about how they work.

Politicians often talk about how much we value our public service professionals.

Conservative policies prove we mean it.

Second is my commitment to one nation Conservatism.

A child born into poverty in the first decade of the 21st century is more likely to stay poor than a child born into poverty in the 1950s.

This is a shameful fact.

Sadly, this Labour government - despite its best intentions - has not succeeded in reversing the trend.

Inequality has actually widened under Tony Blair.

Gordon Brown's notional target of lifting a million children out of poverty has only been met by lifting families from just below the poverty line to just above it.

Persistent poverty - real, grinding hardship - has often got worse under Labour.

For too long the Labour Party have abused a monopoly position on these issues.

Labour have failed to address the material roots of poverty and haven't even begun to address the relational and spiritual dimensions of deprivation.

But if Conservatives are to become an effective party of social justice we must not just oppose the worn-out approach of the liberal left…

We must also oppose the nihilistic individualism of the libertarian right.

One nation will never be built if public policy ignores some of the leading causes of poverty…

Causes like family breakdown and drug addiction.

There is nothing compassionate about weakness in the face of the drug menace.

Social justice will never be achieved if government undermines society's most basic institution -

…the marriage-centred family and the many people of all backgrounds who benefit from its care.

The poverty and crime killing so many communities won't be defeated if we don't help young people stay off drugs and recover from their addictions.

That much was made clear to me when I met with a support group for the parents and grandparents of drug addicts in Glasgow.

The faith and courage of the Gallowgate Family Support Group also taught me that drugs can be defeated.

As Jim Doherty of that support group told me - "just give us hope and we will do the rest."

If the Conservative Party has half as much courage as those parents and grandparents,

…then we will go forward to the next election with a policy on drugs that does - indeed - bring hope to Britain's hard-pressed communities.

We will also need courage if we are to do the right thing by Britain's hard-pressed families.

Those who believe that family breakdown is a purely private matter are blind to the enormous public consequences -

…as well as the personal consequences for the children to which we all owe a duty of care.

I am personally determined that a hard-headed and open-hearted approach to questions of poverty becomes a central theme of conversation and debate within the Conservative Party.

An effective approach to drugs.

Help for families to stay together.

And a renewal of very local forms of voluntary activity and social entrepreneurship that often succeed where the centralised state fails.

These should be the leading ingredients of one nation Conservatism in the twenty-first century.

My social justice agenda springs from my visit to Easterhouse in February 2002.

That was dismissed by many as a media stunt.

But that visit - and many more to hard-pressed neighbourhoods since - have had a profound impact on me.

If my main legacy to the Conservative Party is a body of policy…

…my commitment to fight poverty is that body's beating heart.

In the coming weeks I intend to think carefully about how I, personally, will take that commitment forward.


The third principle I wish to leave my successor is the enduring Conservative commitment to freedom.

Not a freedom that cuts people off from one another…

…but build communities where no one is held back by a lack of opportunity, and no one is left behind by a lack of compassion.

Today, Britain feels like a place where you need a license to live your life.

Taxes have risen by a half since 1997 - regulations rule every aspect of our lives.

We must cut taxes and red tape.

The next Conservative government must be a low tax government.

It was John Stuart Mill who said: 'a state that dwarfs its citizens, will find that with small men, no great things can be accomplished'.

Today we are too afraid of risk…

…the risks that bring reward.

Everything I have been talking about tonight tends to this: we must unleash the creative energies of the British people…

…to serve themselves, their families and their communities far more effectively than the state ever will.

But there is another freedom - the freedom from fear.

You can't have a free people without order.

That's why the fight against crime is a fight for freedom.

Conservative proposals will deliver 40,000 extra policemen and give every local community real control of their local force.

I now come to my third principle of my legacy to the Conservative Party.

Labour has not only undermined the cultural defences of civilisation.

It has undermined the state itself.

It has politicised the civil service.

Eroded civil liberties.

Suborned our once-independent intelligence services.

Neglected the armed forces.

And held in Parliament in contempt.

I have talked about a Government that trusts people.

We also need a Government that people can trust.

Conservatives must restore the integrity of our national institutions - and restore integrity to public life.

Most of all, we must have some honesty about Europe.

Because we are now, truly, at a fork in the road.

It has been the genius of our evolving Constitution that every step forward has been the continuation of an older tradition.

But this is different.

The proposed EU Constitution represents an explicit and total break with the past.

The Constitution gives EU law primacy over UK law, and creates the European Court of Justice as the sovereign legal authority of the United Kingdom -

…the position previously held by the Queen in Parliament.

This Treaty is something no Government can accept on the authority of its own elected mandate.

The British Constitution is not the property of Tony Blair, to do with as he will.

It is the property of the British people, held by the Government only in trust.

No Prime Minister or Member of Parliament can vote away the basis on which he holds his office or his seat.

So I have established the Conservative Party policy on this question: we are against the European constitution in principle.

Three months ago, in Prague, I set out Conservative policy clearly and simply - and with the support of all wings of the party.

Under the Conservatives, Britain will reclaim exclusive control of agriculture, fisheries and foreign aid.

We will stem the tide of European regulation, and refuse to be part of a common foreign policy or a European army.

And we will retain control of our borders and of our economy.

This is not a blueprint for withdrawal from the EU.

It is a positive step towards the sort of EU which most Europeans want: diverse, flexible, comprising independent states.

We must build a new Europe.

Not a single, unitary and unaccountable super-state -

…but a loose association of independent democracies, co-operating as they see fit but retaining their sovereign right to run their own affairs.

We must take this vision forward.

A great deal has changed for me over the past two years.

Serving as leader of the opposition meant challenges on a scale that no one who hasn't done the job can appreciate.

There have been some privileges - but many more problems!

All of this - from the sweet moments of victory to the bitter moments of defeat - have changed me.

I'm still stubborn, and self-opinionated - and I'm still almost always right!

But anyone with a modicum of sensitivity and insight - and I hope I've got at least a bit of both -

…couldn't help but be changed by what I've seen and done since 2001.

So I've got an admission.

I've been on a journey.

A political journey as well as one all around this country.

I've been appalled by much of what I've seen.

In 21st century Britain, children dying of drugs that their parents died of too.

In 21st century Britain, poverty still real.

In 21st century Britain, pensioners trapped in their homes by fear of crime.

On this journey, I've been reminded of something that lies deep in the Conservative conscience…

…buried too deep for too long…

…that our party fulfils its greatest purpose when we bring social solidarity by delivering social justice.

The people who taught me this lesson weren't academics.

They certainly weren't the national media.

Our party is sometimes accused by the media of being out of touch with modern Britain.

In truth, the whole political class has lost touch with those in greatest need.

Can we wonder that millions despair of politicians - and so opt out of the political process?

My teachers were those often patronisingly described by those on the Westminster scene as 'ordinary people'.

In Gallowgate and Easterhouse, Hackney and Handsworth…

…I've met extra-ordinary people who fight for the poorest Britons, in communities ruined by drugs and crime.

These remarkable men and women taught me more about leadership than any politician could have.

They are real leaders.

Their strength is their certain belief in the most profound of human qualities - hope, compassion, and a sense of fairness -

…beliefs derived from real lives, lived on the front line.

The only meaningful freedoms for them are the freedom from fear and want, crime and addiction - they yearn not for license, but for order.

My journey is not a trip to an uncertain future - but the journey home.

To a Conservative home, where the security of family and community bring hope and fairness.

My journey is not over.

My mission will continue.

It is the Conservative mission for fairness…

…true to our inheritance…

…vital for our people…

…worthy of our nation.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech